Wolff v. Donnell 8212 679, No. 73

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
Citation94 S.Ct. 2963,418 U.S. 539,41 L.Ed.2d 935
Docket NumberNo. 73
Decision Date26 June 1974
PartiesCharles WOLFF, Jr., etc., et al., Petitioners, v. Robert O. McDONNELL, etc. —679

418 U.S. 539
94 S.Ct. 2963
41 L.Ed.2d 935
Charles WOLFF, Jr., etc., et al., Petitioners,

v.

Robert O. McDONNELL, etc.

No. 73—679.
Argued April 22, 1974.
Decided June 26, 1974.

Syllabus

Respondents, on behalf of himself and other inmates at a Nebraska prison, filed a complaint for damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which he alleged that disciplinary proceedings at the prison violated due process; that the inmate legal assistance program did not meet constitutional standards; and that the regulations governing inmates' mail were unconstitutionally restrictive. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court granted partial relief. Though rejecting respondent's procedural due process claim, the court held that the prison's policy of inspecting all attorney-prisoner mail was improper but that restrictions on inmate legal assistance were not constitutionally defective. The Court of Appeals reversed with respect to the due process claim, holding that the procedural requirements outlined in the intervening decisions in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L.Ed.2d 484, and Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778, 93 S.Ct. 1756, 36 L.Ed.2d 656, should be generally followed in prison disciplinary hearings, but leaving the specific requirements (including the circumstances in which counsel might be required) to be determined by the District Court on remand. The Court of Appeals further held that Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439, forbade restoration of good-time credits in a § 1983 suit but ordered expunged from prison records misconduct determinations reached in proceedings that had not comported with due process. The court generally affirmed the District Court's judgment respecting correspondence with attorneys, but added some additional prescriptions and ordered further proceedings to determine whether the State was meeting its burden under Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 89 S.Ct. 747, 21 L.Ed.2d 718, to provide legal assistance to prisoners, a duty the court found to extend to civil rights cases as well as habeas corpus proceedings. Under Nebraska's disciplinary scheme forfeiture or withholding of good-time credits or confinement in a disciplinary cell is provided for serious misconduct and deprivation of privileges for less serious misconduct. To establish misconduct (1) a preliminary conference is held with the chief corrections supervisor and the charging party, where the

Page 540

prisoner is orally informed of the charge and preliminarily discusses the merits; (2) a conduct report is prepared and a hearing held before the prison's disciplinary body, the Adjustment Committee (composed of three prison officials), where (3) the inmate can ask questions of the charging party. Held:

1. Though the Court of Appeals correctly held that restoration of good-time credits under § 1983 is foreclosed under Preiser, supra, damages and declaratory and other relief for improper revocation of good-time credits are cognizable under that provision. Pp. 553—555.

2. A prisoner is not wholly stripped of constitutional protections, and though prison disciplinary proceedings do not implicate the full panoply of rights due a defendant in a criminal prosecution, such proceedings must be governed by a mutual accommodation between institutional needs and generally applicable constitutional requirements. Pp. 555—556.

3. Since prisoners in Nebraska can only lose good-time credits if they are guilty of serious misconduct, the procedure for determining whether such misconduct has occurred must observe certain minimal due process requirements (though not the full range of procedures mandated in Morrissey, supra, and Scarpelli, supra, for parole and probation revocation hearings) consonant with the unique institutional environment and therefore involving a more flexible approach reasonably accommodating the interests of the inmates and the needs of the institution. Pp. 556—572.

(a) Advance written notice of charges must be given to the disciplinary action inmate, no less than 24 hours before his appearance before the Adjustment Committee. Pp. 563—564.

(b) There must be 'a written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and reasons for (the disciplinary action).' Morrissey v. Brewer, supra, 408 U.S., at 489, 92 S.Ct., at 2604. Pp. 564—565.

(c) The inmate should be allowed to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense if permitting him to do so will not jeopardize institutional safety or correctional goals. Pp. 566—567.

(d) The inmate has no constitutional right to confrontation and cross-examination in prison disciplinary proceedings, such procedures in the current environment, where prison disruption remains a serious concern, being discretionary with the prison officials. Pp. 567—569.

(e) Inmates have no right to retained or appointed counsel

Page 541

in such proceedings, although counsel substitutes should be provided in certain cases. Pp. 569—570.

(f) On the record here it cannot be concluded that the Adjustment Committee is not sufficiently impartial to satisfy due process requirements. Pp. 570—571.

4. The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the due process requirements in prison disciplinary proceedings were to be applied retroactively by requiring the expunging of prison records of improper misconduct determinations. Morrissey, supra, 408 U.S., at 490, 92 S.Ct., at 2604. Pp. 573—574.

5. The State may constitutionally require that mail from an attorney to a prisoner be identified as such and that his name and address appear on the communication; and—as a protection against contraband—that the authorities may open such mail in the inmate's presence. A lawyer desiring to correspond with a prisoner may also be required first to identify himself and his client to the prison officials to ensure that letters marked 'privileged' are actually from members of the bar. Other restrictions on the attorney-prisoner mail procedure required by the courts below are disapproved. Pp. 574—577.

6. The District Court, as the Court of Appeals suggested, is to assess the adequacy of the legal assistance available for preparation of civil rights actions, applying the standard of Johnson v. Avery, supra, 393 U.S., at 490, 89 S.Ct., at 751, that 'unless and until the State provides some reasonable alternative to assist inmates in the preparation of petitions for post-conviction relief,' inmates could not be barred from furnishing assistance to each other. Pp. 577—580.

483 F.2d 1059, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Melvin Kent Kammerlohr, Lincoln, Neb., for petitioners.

Page 542

Solicitor Gen. Robert H. Bork for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Douglas F. Duchek, Lincoln, Neb., for respondent pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted the petition for writ of certiorari in this case, 414 U.S. 1156, 94 S.Ct. 913, 39 L.Ed.2d 108 (1974), because it raises important questions concerning the administration of a state prison.

Respondent, on behalf of himself and other inmates of the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, Lincoln, Nebraska, filed a complaint under42 U.S.C. § 19831 challenging several of the practices, rules, and regulations of the Complex. For present purposes, the pertinent

Page 543

allegations were that disciplinary proceedings did not comply with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution; that the inmate legal assistance program did not meet constitutional standards, and that the regulations governing the inspection of mail to and from attorneys for inmates were unconstitutionally restrictive. Respondent requested damages and injunctive relief.

After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court granted partial relief. 342 F.Supp. 616 (Neb.1972). Considering itself bound by prior Circuit authority, it rejected the procedural due process claim; but it went on to hold that the prison's policy of inspecting all incoming and outgoing mail to and from attorneys violated prisoners' rights of access to the courts and that the restrictions placed on inmate legal assistance were not constitutionally defective.2

Page 544

The Court of Appeals reversed, 483 F.2d 1059 (CA8 1973), with respect to the due process claim, holding that the procedural requirements outlined by this Court in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L.Ed.2d 484 (1972), and Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778, 93 S.Ct. 1756, 36 L.Ed.2d 656 (1973), decided after the District Court's opinion in this case, should be generally followed in prison disciplinary hearings but left the specific requirements, including the circumstances in which counsel might be required, to be determined by the District Court on remand. With respect to a remedy, the court further held that Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973), forbade the actual restoration of good-time credits in this § 1983 suit but ordered expunged from prison records any determinations of misconduct arrived at in proceedings that failed to comport with due process as defined by the court. The court generally affirmed the judgment of the District Court with respect to correspondence with attorneys,3 but ordered further proceedings to determine whether the State was meeting its burden under Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 89 S.Ct. 747, 21 L.Ed.2d 718 (1969), to provide legal assistance to prison inmates, the court holding that the State's duty extended to civil rights cases as well as to habeas corpus proceedings.4

I

We begin with the due process claim. An understanding of the issues involved requires a detailing of the prison disciplinary regime set down by Nebraska statutes and prison regulations.

Page 545

Section 16 of the Nebraska Treatment and Corrections Act, as amended,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16307 practice notes
  • Justice Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service,
    • United States
    • Federal Register August 26, 2002
    • August 26, 2002
    ...319 (1976). The Department agrees that some form of hearing is appropriate and beneficial under the circumstances. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557-58 (1974). However, due process is not ``a technical conception with a fixed content unrelated to time, place and circumstances,'' Caf......
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...411 U.S. 778, 93 S.Ct. 1756, 36 L.Ed.2d 656 (1973), but has refused to extend it to prison disciplinary proceedings. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974). Determination of whether a substantial liberty interest is at stake is Whether any procedural protecti......
  • Gifford v. Kampa, No. 2:17-CV-2421-TLN-DMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • March 25, 2021
    ...at 37. The Due Process Clause protects from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In order to state a claim of deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must allege the existence of a liberty interest for which t......
  • Franklin v. District of Columbia, No. 97-7162
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 22, 1999
    ...interest" before considering what process is due under the Fifth Amendment (or the Fourteenth Amendment). See, e.g., Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556-58, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 474, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995). This is ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16318 cases
  • United States v. Fatico, No. 76-CR-81.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • December 1, 1977
    ...411 U.S. 778, 93 S.Ct. 1756, 36 L.Ed.2d 656 (1973), but has refused to extend it to prison disciplinary proceedings. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974). Determination of whether a substantial liberty interest is at stake is Whether any procedural protecti......
  • Gifford v. Kampa, No. 2:17-CV-2421-TLN-DMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • March 25, 2021
    ...at 37. The Due Process Clause protects from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In order to state a claim of deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must allege the existence of a liberty interest for which t......
  • Franklin v. District of Columbia, No. 97-7162
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 22, 1999
    ...interest" before considering what process is due under the Fifth Amendment (or the Fourteenth Amendment). See, e.g., Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556-58, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 474, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995). This is ......
  • Groseclose v. Dutton, No. 3-84-0579.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • May 24, 1985
    ...U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 Although conditions of confinement are unquestionably a proper subject for Eighth Amendment scrutiny, Hutto, 4......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 books & journal articles
  • PROTECTING THE SUBSTANTIVE DUE PROCESS RIGHTS OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES: USING COVID-19 TO CREATE A NEW ANALOGY.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 112 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...(213) See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 540 (1979). (214) Id. at 546 (quoting Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (215) See, e.g., Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581, 603 (1889) (concluding that the federal government has unrestricted sovereign power over immigration laws); se......
  • ARBITRARY PROPERTY INTERFERENCE DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND BEYOND.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 45 Nbr. 1, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...J. Eagle, The Four-Factor Penn Central Regulatory Takings Test, 118 Penn St. L. Rev. 601, 613-14 (2014). (8.) See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S 539, 558 (1974); Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 272 (1994); E. Enters. v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498, 556-57 (1998) (Breyer, J., dissenting); Randy E. Ba......
  • Schoolhouse Property.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 5, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...the Due Process Counterrevolution, 75 DENVER U. L. REV. 9,17 (1997). (117.) See Goldberg, 397 U.S. at 266-71. (118.) Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557-58 (119.) Goldberg, 397 U.S. at 266-71. The Court has held on several occasions that the degree of formality that the Due Process Clause......
  • Correctional Case Law: 2004-2005
    • United States
    • Criminal Justice Review Nbr. 31-2, June 2006
    • June 1, 2006
    ...(S.D. Ohio 1993)Wilkinson v. Austin, 125 S. Ct. 2384 (2005)Wirsching v. Colorado, 360 F.3d 1191 (10th Cir. 2-19-04)Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)Worthen v. Hall, 2005 WL 1950250 (E.D. Okla. James E. Robertson is a professor of corrections and correctional law at Minnesota State Uni......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT