Sandin v. Conner

Decision Date19 June 1995
Docket Number931911
Citation115 S.Ct. 2293,132 L.Ed.2d 418,515 U.S. 472
PartiesCinda SANDIN, Unit Team Manager, Halawa Correctional Facility, Petitioner, v. Demont R.D. CONNER et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

In this suit, respondent Conner alleged that petitioner and other Hawaii prison officials deprived him of procedural due process when an adjustment committee refused to allow him to present witnesses during a disciplinary hearing and then sentenced him to segregation for misconduct. The District Court granted the officials summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Conner had a liberty interest in remaining free of disciplinary segregation and that there was a disputed question of fact whether he had received all of the process due under Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935. The court based its conclusion on a prison regulation instructing the committee to find guilt when a misconduct charge is supported by substantial evidence, reasoning that the committee's duty to find guilt was nondiscretionary. From that regulation, it drew a negative inference that the committee may not impose segregation if it does not find substantial evidence of misconduct, that this is a state-created liberty interest, and that therefore Wolff entitled Conner to call witnesses.

Held: Neither the Hawaii prison regulation nor the Due Process Clause itself afford Conner a protected liberty interest that would entitle him to the procedural protections set forth in Wolff. Pp. ____.

(a) Under Wolff, States may in certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause. But these interests will generally be limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. See also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 49 L.Ed.2d 451. The methodology used in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 103 S.Ct. 864, 74 L.Ed.2d 675, and later cases has impermissibly shifted the focus of the liberty interest inquiry from one based on the nature of the deprivation to one based on language of a particular regulation. Under Hewitt § methodology, prison regulations, such as the one in this case, have been examined to see whether mandatory language and substantive predicates create an enforceable expectation that the State would produce a particular outcome with respect to the prisoner's confinement conditions. This shift in focus has encouraged prisoners to comb regulations in search of mandatory language on which to base entitlements to various state-conferred privileges. Courts have, in response, drawn negative inferences from that language. Hewitt creates disincentives for States to codify prison management procedures in the interest of uniform treatment in order to avoid the creation of "liberty" interests, and it has led to the involvement of federal courts in the day-to-day management of prisons. The time has come to return to those due process principles that were correctly established and applied in Wolff and Meachum. Pp. ____.

(b) Conner asserts, incorrectly, that any state action taken for a punitive reason encroaches upon a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause even in the absence of any state regulation. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), and Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S.Ct. 1401, 51 L.Ed.2d 711 (1977), distinguished. Pp. ____.

(c) Conner's discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a State might conceivably create a liberty interest. At the time of his punishment, disciplinary segregation mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. Moreover, the State later expunged his disciplinary record with respect to the more serious of the charges against him. And, his confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either duration or degree of restriction. Conner's situation also does not present a case where the State's action will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence, since the chance that the misconduct finding will affect his parole status is simply too attenuated to invoke the Due Process Clause's procedural guarantees. Pp. ____.

15 F.3d 1463 (CA9 1993) reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, J., joined. djQ Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to reexamine the circumstances under which state prison regulations afford inmates a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.

I

DeMont Conner was convicted of numerous state crimes, including murder, kidnaping, robbery, and burglary, for which he is currently serving an indeterminate sentence of 30 years to life in a Hawaii prison. He was confined in the Halawa Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in central Oahu. In August 1987, a prison officer escorted him from his cell to the module program area. The officer subjected Conner to a strip search, complete with an inspection of the rectal area. Conner retorted with angry and foul language directed at the officer. Eleven days later he received notice that he had been charged with disciplinary infractions. The notice charged Conner with "high misconduct" for using physical interference to impair a correctional function, and "low moderate misconduct" for using abusive or obscene language and for harassing employees.1

Conner appeared before an adjustment committee on August 28, 1987. The committee refused Conner's request to present witnesses at the hearing, stating that "[w]itnesses were unavailable due to move [sic ] to the medium facility and being short staffed on the modules." App. to Pet. for Cert. A67. At the conclusion of proceedings, the committee determined that Conner was guilty of the alleged misconduct. It sentenced him to 30 days disciplinary segregation in the Special Holding Unit 2 for the physical obstruction charge, and four hours segrega- tion for each of the other two charges to be served concurrent with the 30 days. Id., at A66-67. Conner's segregation began August 31, 1987, and ended September 29, 1987.

Conner sought administrative review within 14 days of receiving the committee's decision. Haw.Admin.Rule § 17-201-20(a) (1983). Nine months later, the deputy administrator found the high misconduct charge unsupported and expunged Conner's disciplinary record with respect to that charge. App. 249. But before the Deputy Administrator decided the appeal, Conner had brought this suit against the adjustment committee chair and other prison officials in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii based on Rev.Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His amended complaint prayed for injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages for, among other things, a deprivation of procedural due process in connection with the disciplinary hearing. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the prison officials.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment. Conner v. Sakai, 15 F.3d 1463 (1993). It concluded that Conner had a liberty interest in remaining free from disciplinary segregation and that there was a disputed question of fact with respect to whether Conner received all of the process due under this Court's pronouncement in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974). 15 F.3d, at 1466. The Court of Appeals based its conclusion on a prison regulation that instructs the committee to find guilt when a charge of misconduct is supported by substantial evidence. Haw.Admin.Rule § 17-201-18(b)(2) (1983).3 The Court of Appeals reasoned from Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 109 S.Ct. 1904, 104 L.Ed.2d 506 (1989), that the committee's duty to find guilt was nondiscretionary. From the language of the regulation, it drew a negative inference that the committee may not impose segregation if it does not find substantial evidence of misconduct. 15 F.3d, at 1466. It viewed this as a state-created liberty interest, and therefore held that respondent was entitled to call witnesses by virtue of our opinion in Wolff, supra. We granted the State's petition for certiorari, 513 U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 305, 130 L.Ed.2d 217 (1994), and now reverse.

II

Our due process analysis begins with Wolff. There, Nebraska inmates challenged the decision of prison officials to revoke good time credits without adequate procedures. Wolff, 418 U.S., at 553, 94 S.Ct., at 2973. Inmates earned good time credits under a state statute that bestowed mandatory sentence reductions for good behavior, id., at 546, n. 6, 94 S.Ct., at 2970, n. 6, revocable only for " 'flagrant or serious misconduct,' " id., at 545, n. 5, 94 S.Ct., at 2969, n. 5 (citation omitted). We held that the Due Process Clause itself does not create a liberty interest in credit for good behavior, but that the statutory provision created a liberty interest in a "shortened prison sentence" which resulted from good time credits, credits which were revocable only if the prisoner was guilty of serious misconduct. Id., at 557, 94 S.Ct., at 2975. The Court characterized this liberty interest as one of "real substance" ibid., and articulated minimum procedures necessary to reach a "mutual accommodation between institutional needs and objectives and the provisions of the Constitution." Id., at...

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