T.J. Bowman and Skylar Peyton.
School of Law students T.J. Bowman (l) and Skylar Peyton.

Appellate Clinic Students Argue to U.S. Court of Appeals

Third-year students in the University of St. Thomas School of Law Appellate Clinic argued a constitutional case involving the use of force by a correctional officer against a prisoner before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, California, on April 2.

The case, DaJuan Williams v. David Winget, et al., was argued by students T.J. Bowman and Skylar Peyton, who worked on behalf of the school’s Appellate Clinic led by Professor Gregory Sisk. The appellate team began working on the case in summer 2023, drafting both an opening brief and a reply brief and then preparing for oral argument.

St. Thomas School of Law Professor Gregory Sisk

“It was an honor to represent DaJuan Williams, not only to protect his rights, but also to influence how the court decides these types of prison excessive force claims in the future,” Peyton said.

Williams, who is incarcerated in Arizona, said that a correctional officer attempted to suffocate him by shoving a shirt down his throat while he was being escorted through the yard after an altercation with other correctional officers. Because Williams was restrained at the time, covered in pepper spray, handcuffed, and held on each arm by two correctional officers, he contends that the pushing of a pepper-spray infused fabric into his throat was a violation of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Williams, acting pro se, brought claims in the U.S. District Court in Arizona. The trial court granted the state defendants’ motion to dismiss on summary judgment. After appeal to the 9th Circuit, the court appointed Sisk as pro bono counsel to represent Williams as part of the University of St. Thomas Appellate Clinic.

At the oral argument, the three judges asked Bowman and Peyton numerous questions about the factual allegations involving the episode in the yard, including the injury sustained, the use of racist slurs by the correctional officer, any perceived security risk, and the arguable confession of a retaliatory motive by the correctional officer when talking later with other prisoners.

“It was intimidating and I was nervous, but I really enjoyed the experience,” Peyton said. “Overall, I was really proud of how T.J. and I argued.”

“Skylar and I fielded many great questions from the judges within a very short amount of time,” Bowman added. “That said, once you get your first question from the judges, you begin to settle in. I loved every second of it.”

The Appellate Clinic is one of 10 legal clinics at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. It is a yearlong course of study in written and oral advocacy, appellate courts, appellate jurisdiction, and the rules of appellate procedure. Clinical students represent a prisoner client pro bono under faculty supervision, briefing and arguing appellate cases on their behalf. The Appellate Clinic is led by Professor Gregory Sisk, Laghi Distinguished Chair in Law. This is the 12th year of pro bono work by the Appellate Clinic, which has established a record of prevailing in nearly two-thirds of the appeals it has taken.

“I am grateful for the Appellate Clinic for giving me the opportunity to argue my first real case at the second highest court in the country,” Bowman said.