427 U.S. 215 (1976), 75-252, Meachum v. Fano

Docket Nº:No. 75-252
Citation:427 U.S. 215, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451
Party Name:Meachum v. Fano
Case Date:June 25, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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427 U.S. 215 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451

Meachum

v.

Fano

No. 75-252

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1976

Argued April 21, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment held not to entitle a duly convicted state prisoner to a factfinding hearing when he is transferred to a prison the conditions of which are substantially less favorable to him, absent a state law or practice conditioning such transfers on proof of serious misconduct or the occurrence of other specified events. Such a transfer does not infringe or implicate a "liberty" interest of the prisoner within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. Pp. 223-229.

(a) Given a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty to the extent that the State may confine him and subject him to the rules of its prison system so long as the conditions of confinement do not otherwise violate the Constitution. P. 224.

(b) The Due Process Clause does not, in and of itself, protect a duly convicted prisoner against transfer from one institution to another, and that life in one prison is much more disagreeable than in another does not, in itself, signify that a Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest is implicated when a prisoner is transferred to the institution with the more severe rules. P. 225.

(c) To hold that any substantial deprivation imposed by prison authorities triggers the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause would subject to judicial review a wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators, rather than of the federal courts. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, distinguished. Pp. 225-227.

(d) Whatever expectation the prisoner may have in remaining at a particular prison so long as he behaves himself, it is too ephemeral and insubstantial to trigger procedural due process protections as long as prison officials have discretion to transfer him for any reason whatsoever, or for no reason at all. P. 228.

520 F.2d 374, reversed.

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WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 229.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here is whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment entitles a state prisoner to a hearing when he is transferred to a prison the conditions of which are substantially less favorable to the prisoner, absent a state law or practice conditioning such transfers on proof of serious misconduct or the occurrence of other events. We hold that it does not.

I

During a 2 1/2-month period in 1974, there were nine serious fires at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk -- a medium security institution. Based primarily on reports from informants, the six respondent inmates were removed from the general prison population and placed in the Receiving Building, an administrative detention area used to process new inmates. Proceedings were then had before the Norfolk prison

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Classification Board with respect to whether respondents were to be transferred to another institution -- possibly a maximum security institution, the living conditions at which are substantially less [96 S.Ct. 2535] favorable than those at Norfolk. Each respondent was notified of the classification hearing and was informed that the authorities had information indicating that he had engaged in criminal conduct.1

Individual classification hearings were held, each respondent being represented by counsel. Each hearing began by the reading of a prepared statement by the Classification Board. The Board then heard, in camera and out of the respondents' presence, the testimony of petitioner Meachum, the Norfolk prison superintendent,

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who repeated the information that had been received from informants. Each respondent was then told that the evidence supported the allegations contained in the notice, but was not then -- or ever -- given transcripts or summaries of Meachum's testimony before the Board. Each respondent was allowed to present evidence in his own behalf; and each denied involvement in the particular infraction being investigated. Some respondents submitted supportive testimony or written statements from correction officers. A social worker also testified in the presence of each respondent, furnishing the respondent's criminal and custodial record, including prior rule infractions, if any, and other aspects of his performance and "general adjustment" at Norfolk.

The Board recommended that Royce be placed in administrative segregation for 30 days; that Fano, Dussault, and McPhearson be transferred to Walpole, a maximum security institution where the living conditions are substantially less favorable to the prisoners than those at Norfolk, and that DeBrosky and Hathaway be transferred to Bridgewater, which has both maximum and medium security facilities. The reasons for its actions were stated in the Board's reports,2 which, however,

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were not. [96 S.Ct. 2536] then available to respondents. Although respondents were aware of the general import of the informants' allegations and were told that the recommendations

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drew upon informant sources, the details of this information were not revealed to respondents and are not included in the Board's reports which are part of the record before us.

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The Board's recommendations were reviewed by the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Classification and Treatment and by the Commissioner of Corrections on the basis of the written report prepared by the Board. They accepted the recommendations of the Board with respect to Fano, Dussault, Hathaway, and McPhearson. DeBrosky and Royce were ordered transferred to Walpole.3 The transfers were carried out, with two exceptions.4 No respondent was subjected to disciplinary

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punishment upon arrival at the transfer prison. None of the transfers ordered entailed loss of good time or disciplinary confinement.5

Meanwhile respondents had brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners Meachum, the prison superintendent; Hall, the State Commissioner of Corrections; and Dawber, the Acting Deputy for Classification and Treatment, alleging that respondents were being deprived of liberty without due process of law in that petitioners had ordered them transferred to a less favorable institution without an adequate factfinding hearing. They sought an injunction setting aside the ordered transfer, declaratory relief, and damages.

The District Court understood Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), to entitle respondents to notice and hearing, and held both constitutionally inadequate in this case. Respondents were ordered returned to the general prison population at Norfolk until transferred after proper notice and hearing. Petitioners were also ordered to promulgate regulations to establish procedures governing future transfer hearings involving informant testimony. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, 520 F.2d 374, holding that the transfers from Norfolk to maximum security institutions involved "a significant modification of the overall conditions of confinement," and that this change in circumstances was "serious enough to trigger the application of due process protections." Id. at 377-378.6

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We granted the prison officials' petition for writ of certiorari, 423 U.S. 1013 (1975), in order to determine whether the Constitution required petitioners to conduct a factfinding hearing in connection with the transfers in this case where state law does not condition the authority to transfer on the occurrence of specific acts of misconduct or other events and, if so, whether the hearings granted in [96 S.Ct. 2538] this case were adequate. In light of our resolution of the first issue, we do not reach the second.

II

The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any State from depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The initial inquiry is whether the transfer of respondents from Norfolk to Walpole and Bridgewater infringed or implicated a "liberty" interest

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of respondents within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. Contrary to the Court of Appeals, we hold that it did not. We reject at the outset the notion that any grievous loss visited upon a person by the State is sufficient to invoke the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause. In Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564 (1972), a university professor was deprived of his job, a loss which was surely a matter of great substance, but, because the professor had no property interest in his position, due process procedures were not required in connection with his dismissal. We there held that the determining factor is the nature of the interest involved, rather than its weight. Id. at 570-571.

Similarly, we cannot agree that any change in the conditions of confinement having a substantial adverse impact on the prisoner involved is sufficient to invoke the protections of the Due Process Clause. The Due Process Clause, by its own force, forbids the State from convicting any person of crime and depriving him of his liberty without complying fully with the requirements of the Clause. But, given a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty to the extent that the State may confine him and subject him to the rules of its prison system so long as the conditions of confinement do not otherwise violate the Constitution. The Constitution does not require that the State have more than one prison for convicted felons; nor does it guarantee that the convicted...

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