Hudson v. Commissioner of Correction

Decision Date29 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. 97-P-1027,97-P-1027
Citation46 Mass.App.Ct. 538,707 N.E.2d 1080
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Richard C. McFarland, Bridgewater, for the defendants.

Mac S. Hudson, pro se.



Mac S. Hudson, an inmate serving his sentence at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction (MCI--Cedar Junction), 2 was subjected to restrictive confinement and a prison disciplinary proceeding in June, 1996, on a charge of fighting with another inmate. The proceeding resulted in a finding that Hudson was guilty of assaulting the other inmate and a sanction of loss of television, radio, canteen, and telephone privileges for two weeks, suspended for sixty days. He continued in restrictive confinement until July 23, 1996. On that date, Hudson commenced an action in the nature of certiorari, pursuant to G.L. c. 249, § 4, against the named defendants in Superior Court challenging his prison disciplinary process. His complaint also sought declaratory relief under G.L. c. 231A, § 1, damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and an order for civil contempt (see note 5, infra), all on account of the defendants' alleged deprivation of his rights by virtue of the restrictive confinement and defects in the disciplinary process. After a hearing on cross motions for summary judgment, a Superior Court judge allowed the defendants' motion as to all of Hudson's claims and ordered entry of final judgment for the defendants. In his appeal, Hudson challenges the Superior Court's ruling as erroneous on a number of grounds. We conclude that none of his contentions presents a ground for reversal and affirm.

The essential facts underlying this controversy are undisputed. 3 As of June 1, 1996, Hudson was residing in a cell in a general population unit of the prison called "Essex II." On that date, he and another inmate, Antwine, were placed on "awaiting action" status in Essex II 4 in connection with an investigation of an apparent bloody altercation in or about a stairwell of the unit earlier in the day. Three days later, on June 4, 1996, Hudson was transferred to the more restrictive "Essex I" unit of the prison and was formally notified that he had been placed on "awaiting action/pending investigation" status in connection with his role in a June 1 assault on Antwine and his suspected involvement in a subsequent assault on Antwine on June 4 5 by several other inmates in the Essex II unit.

On June 11, 1996, a disciplinary report was issued to Hudson alleging that he had assaulted inmate Antwine on June 1, 1996, and was implicated in the subsequent June 4, 1996, assault on Antwine. Those incidents were stated to constitute offenses contrary to 103 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 430.24(2), (8), (18) (1993) (violating prison rules or regulations; interfering with or disrupting the security or the orderly running of the prison; fighting with or assaulting another person). A disciplinary hearing was scheduled for June 19, 1996.

Prior to the hearing, Hudson requested that he receive certain documentary evidence and that correction officer Turner, unit manager Devine, unit sergeant Bailer, and inmate Antwine be called as witnesses. Hudson was provided with copies of the relevant incident reports and (at the hearing) a copy of the informant checklist; his request to examine the informant reports themselves was denied because of the risk of exposure of the informant, and his request for Antwine's medical records was denied on the ground of confidentiality. (Hudson did not, apparently, ask Antwine to waive confidentiality). His request to call Antwine was denied on the basis of security concerns, but he was permitted to submit an affidavit from Antwine (which, to the extent the almost illegible copy in the record can be deciphered, exculpated Hudson). Hudson's request for Bailer's testimony was denied because that testimony would have been cumulative of Turner's and Devine's. The hearing officer denied Hudson's request to tape record the hearing (apparently made only at the hearing) because Hudson had not taken the appropriate steps in a timely fashion under the regulations to make funds (which he sufficiently had in his savings account) available for that purpose.

The hearing took place on June 19 and 20, 1996, with Hudson in attendance. On June 20, 1996, the hearing officer issued his written decision, finding Hudson guilty, by a preponderance of the evidence (including physical evidence, observations of correction officers, and reliable and credible information from an informant with personal knowledge), of the 103 Code Mass. Regs. § 430.24(18) offense, involvement in the June 1, 1996, fight with Antwine. The other charges were dismissed. The hearing officer recommended a sanction of two weeks' loss of television, radio, canteen, and telephone privileges, all sanctions suspended for sixty days. 6 Hudson appealed the decision of the hearing officer to the superintendent, whose deputy denied the appeal. Hudson remained in the Essex I unit for approximately thirty days after the hearing officer issued his decision. 7

Hudson's principal appellate claim is that the Superior Court judge erred in not ruling that his placement in the more restrictive confinement of the Essex I unit on June 4, 1996, and his remaining there for a period of approximately six or seven weeks, constituted a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in that it denied him his Federal and State guaranteed due process rights. 8 There is no merit to his position for the simple reason that he received all process due him as a regulatory and constitutional matter.

It is clear that his placement and confinement, both before and after his disciplinary hearing, were explicitly authorized by unchallenged applicable regulations. See note 4, supra; 103 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 430.21(1) & 430.25(1) (1993). Contrast Royce v. Commissioner of Correction, 390 Mass. 425, 429-430, 456 N.E.2d 1127 (1983); DeLong v. Commissioner of Correction, 46 Mass.App.Ct. 353, 356-358, 706 N.E.2d 707 (1999). Moreover, he received the limited procedural safeguards required to justify the decision to place in administrative segregation an inmate who has (as Hudson asserts he does, but see discussion, infra at 1085-1087) a liberty interest: notice of the charges and an opportunity to present his position to the appropriate prison official. See Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 476, 103 S.Ct. 864, 74 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983); Brown v. Plaut, 131 F.3d 163, 170-171 (D.C.Cir.1997), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 2346, 141 L.Ed.2d 716 (1998). 9 See also Daigle v. Hall, 564 F.2d 884, 885-886 (1st Cir.1977); Johnson v. Fair, 697 F.Supp. 567, 570-571 (D.Mass.1988); Leacock v. Dubois, 937 F.Supp. 81, 83 (D.Mass.1996); Torres v. Commissioner of Correction, 427 Mass. 611, 617-619, 695 N.E.2d 200, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 119 S.Ct. 543, 142 L.Ed.2d 451 (1998). In short, Hudson could lawfully be deprived of the liberty interest he asserts once the State afforded him the requisite due process. McGuinness v. DuBois, 891 F.Supp. 25, 35 (D.Mass.1995).

Contrary to Hudson's reiterated contention (made without citation to relevant supporting authority) that his due process rights under the Massachusetts Constitution are greater than those available under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, his claims also fail under the State Constitution. The Supreme Judicial Court has never held that the due process provisions of our State Constitution (Part II, c. 1, § 1, art. 4; arts. 1, 10, and 12 of the Declaration of Rights) provide inmates with more extensive rights than those available under the Federal Constitution; rather, the court has consistently equated as comparable, both generally and in the prison environment, the due process protections of the two fundamental documents. See Pinnick v. Cleary, 360 Mass. 1, 14 n. 8, 271 N.E.2d 592 (1971); Zeller v. Cantu, 395 Mass. 76, 83-84, 478 N.E.2d 930 (1985); Boston v. Keene Corp., 406 Mass. 301, 308 n. 8, 547 N.E.2d 328 (1989); Carleton v. Framingham, 418 Mass. 623, 630, 640 N.E.2d 452 (1994); Hastings v. Commissioner of Correction, 424 Mass. 46, 51-52, 674 N.E.2d 221 (1997); Torres v. Commissioner of Correction, 427 Mass. at 617-619 & n. 11, 695 N.E.2d 200; 'Abdullah v. Secretary of Public Safety, 42 Mass.App.Ct. 387, 390, 391, 393, 677 N.E.2d 689 (1997).

Indeed, as a matter of State law, our courts have long recognized the broad discretion of the Commissioner of Correction to transfer inmates within the prison system or within a particular institution. See Jackson v. Commissioner of Correction, 388 Mass. 700, 703, 448 N.E.2d 60 (1983); Hastings v. Commissioner of Correction, 424 Mass. at 49-50, 674 N.E.2d 221. Neither the governing statutes nor our State Constitution imposes substantive standards that limit prison officials' discretion to transfer an inmate "to higher security," so long as the exercise of that discretion does "not affect the duration of ... [his] sentence[ ] or subject [him] to conditions different from those customarily applied to other inmates ...," even if the officials' action results in the inmate "suffer[ing] a serious loss." Hastings, 424 Mass. at 52, 674 N.E.2d 221 (upholding against Federal and State constitutional challenge the transfer, from work-release status at pre-release facilities to imprisonment inside a correctional institution, of individuals who had had exemplary institutional and work records, a far more severe and less merited deprivation than that complained of by Hudson).

One of the "conditions ... customarily applied" to inmates of Massachusetts prisons is, as the judge below accurately noted, the reasonable use of "awaiting action" status by correctional officials in managing their institutions, including its use in the form of administrative segregation as an...

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