472 U.S. 445 (1985), 84-438, Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional

Docket Nº:No. 84-438
Citation:472 U.S. 445, 105 S.Ct. 2768, 53 U.S.L.W. 4778
Party Name:Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional
Case Date:June 17, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 445

472 U.S. 445 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 2768, 53 U.S.L.W. 4778

Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional

No. 84-438

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1985

Institution at Walpole v. Hill

Argued March 25, 1985



Respondent inmates in a Massachusetts state prison each received disciplinary reports charging them with assaulting another inmate. At separate hearings, a prison disciplinary board heard testimony from a prison guard and received his written report. According to this evidence, the guard heard some commotion in a prison walkway and, upon investigating, discovered an inmate who evidently had just been assaulted, and saw three other inmates, including respondents, fleeing down the walkway. The board found respondents guilty and revoked their good time credits. After an unsuccessful appeal to the prison superintendent, respondents filed a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court alleging that the board's decisions violated their constitutional rights because there was no evidence to support the board's findings. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for respondents, holding that the board's findings of guilt rested on no evidence constitutionally adequate to support the findings, and ordered that the lost good time be restored. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.


1. Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court interpreted a state statute as providing for judicial review of respondents' claims, there is no need to decide whether due process would require judicial review. Pp. 449-453.

2. Assuming that good time credits constitute a protected liberty interest, the revocation of such credits must be supported by some evidence in order to satisfy the minimum requirements of procedural due process. Such a requirement will help to prevent arbitrary deprivation without threatening institutional interests or imposing undue administrative burdens. Ascertaining whether the "some evidence" standard is satisfied does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of witnesses' credibility, or weighing of the evidence, but, instead, the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record to support the disciplinary board's conclusion. Pp. 453-456.

3. In this case, the evidence before the disciplinary board was sufficient to meet the requirements imposed by the Due Process Clause

Page 446

of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the evidence might be characterized as meager, and there was no direct evidence identifying any one of the three fleeing inmates as the assailant, the record is not so devoid of evidence that the board's findings were without support or otherwise arbitrary. Pp. 456-457.

392 Mass.198, 466 N.E.2d 818, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, and III of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 457.

Page 447

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Massachusetts inmates who comply with prison rules can accumulate good time credits that reduce the term of imprisonment. Mass.Gen.Laws Ann., ch. 127, § 129 (West 1974). Such credits may be lost "if a prisoner violates any rule of his place of confinement." Ibid. The question presented is whether revocation of an inmate's good time credits violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if the decision of the prison disciplinary [105 S.Ct. 2770] board is not supported by evidence in the record. We conclude that where good time credits constitute a protected liberty interest, a decision to revoke such credits must be supported by some evidence. Because the record in this case contains sufficient evidence to support the decision of the disciplinary board, we reverse.


Respondents Gerald Hill and Joseph Crawford are inmates at a state prison in Walpole, Mass. In May, 1982, they each received prison disciplinary reports charging them with assaulting another inmate. At separate hearings for each inmate, a prison disciplinary board heard testimony from a prison guard, Sergeant Maguire, and received his written disciplinary report. According to the testimony and report, Maguire heard an inmate twice say loudly, "What's going on?" The voice came from a walkway that Maguire could partially observe through a window. Maguire immediately opened the door to the walkway and found an inmate named Stephens bleeding from the mouth and suffering from a swollen eye. Dirt was strewn about the walkway, and Maguire viewed this to be further evidence of a scuffle. He saw three inmates, including respondents, jogging away together down the walkway. There were no other inmates

Page 448

in the area, which was enclosed by a chain link fence. Maguire concluded that one or more of the three inmates had assaulted Stephens, and that they had acted as a group. Maguire also testified at Hill's hearing that a prison "medic" had told him that Stephens had been beaten. Hill and Crawford each declared their innocence before the disciplinary board, and Stephens gave written statements that the other inmates had not caused his injuries.

After hearing the evidence in each case, the disciplinary board found respondents guilty of violating prison regulations based on their involvement in the assault. App. 19, 27. The board recommended that Hill and Romano each lose 100 days of good time and be confined in isolation for 15 days. Respondents unsuccessfully appealed the board's action to the superintendent of the prison. Id. at 23, 30. They then filed a complaint in the Superior Court, State of Massachusetts, alleging that the decisions of the board violated their constitutional rights because

there was no evidence to confirm that the incident took place nor was there any evidence to state that, if the incident did take place the [respondents] were involved.

Id. at 10. After reviewing the record, the Superior Court concluded that "the Board's finding of guilty rested, in each case, on no evidence constitutionally adequate to support that finding." App. to Pet. for Cert. 8b. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for respondents and ordered that the findings of the disciplinary board be voided and the lost good time restored.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed. 392 Mass. 198, 466 N.E.2d 818 (1984). Inmates who observe prison rules, the state court noted, have a statutory right to good time credits, and the loss of such credits affects a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 201, 466 N.E.2d at 821. The Supreme Judicial Court then observed that an entitlement to "judicial review of the sufficiency of the evidence to warrant

Page 449

the board's findings" logically follows from Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). 392 Mass. at 201, 466 N.E.2d at 821. Without deciding whether the appropriate standard of review is "some evidence" or the stricter test of "substantial evidence," id. at 203, n. 5, 466 N.E.2d at 822, n. 5, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the trial judge that the record failed to present even "some evidence which, if believed, would rationally permit the board's findings." Id. at 203, 466 N.E.2d at 822 (footnote omitted).

The Massachusetts Attorney General filed a petition for a writ of certiorari urging this Court to decide whether prison inmates have a due process right to judicial review of prison disciplinary proceedings [105 S.Ct. 2771] or, alternatively, whether the standard of review applied by the state court was more stringent than is required by the Due Process Clause. Pet. for Cert. i, 20-21. We granted the petition, 469 U.S. 1016 (1984), and we now reverse.


Petitioner first argues that the state court erred by holding that there is a constitutional right to judicial review of the sufficiency of evidence where good time credits are revoked in a prison disciplinary proceeding. Ortwein v. Schwab, 410 U.S. 656 (1973) (per curiam), petitioner contends, found no denial of due process where a filing fee prevented claimants from obtaining judicial review of an administrative decision reducing welfare payments. Petitioner urges that a similar conclusion should apply here: respondents were afforded all the process due when they received a hearing before the disciplinary board. Cf. id. at 659-660 (pretermination evidentiary hearing met requirements of due process despite lack of judicial review). Respondents answer by noting decisions of this Court which suggest that due process might require some form of judicial review of administrative decisions that threaten constitutionally protected liberty or property interests. See, e.g., St. Joseph Stockyards Co. v. United States,

Page 450

298 U.S. 38, 51-52 (1936); Ng Fung Ho v. White, 259 U.S. 276, 284-285 (1922).

The extent to which legislatures may commit to an administrative body the unreviewable authority to make determinations implicating fundamental rights is a difficult question of constitutional law. See, e.g., Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 109 (1977); 5 K. Davis, Administrative Law Treatise § 28:3 (2d ed.1984); Hart, The Power of Congress to Limit the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: An Exercise in Dialectic, 66 Harv.L.Rev. 1362, 1375-1378, 1388-1391 (1953). The per curiam opinion in Ortwein did not purport to resolve this question definitively; nor are we disposed to construe that case as implicitly holding that due process would never require some form of judicial review of determinations made in prison disciplinary proceedings. Cf. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 87 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) ("under certain circumstances, the...

To continue reading