Meachum v. Fano

427 U.S. 215 (1976)


There were nine serious fires at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk -- a medium security institution. Ps were removed from the general prison population. Proceedings were then had before a prison Classification Board to determine whether Ps were to be transferred to another institution. Ps were notified of the classification hearing and were informed that the authorities had information indicating that he had engaged in criminal conduct. Hearings were held, and each P was represented by counsel. The Board then heard, in camera and out of Ps' presence, the testimony of D, the Norfolk prison superintendent, who repeated the information that had been received from informants. Each P was then told that the evidence supported the allegations contained in the notice, but was not then -- or ever -- given transcripts or summaries of D's testimony before the Board. Ps were allowed to present evidence and each denied involvement in the particular infraction being investigated. 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 and that DeBrosky and Hathaway be transferred to Bridgewater, which has both maximum and medium security facilities. The findings were reviewed and accepted. Fano (P) then filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Meachum (D), prison officials, alleging that Ps were being deprived of liberty without due process of law in that D had ordered them transferred to a less favorable institution without an adequate factfinding hearing. The District Court understood Wolff v. McDonnell to entitle Ps to notice and hearing and held both constitutionally inadequate in this case. Ps were ordered returned to the general prison population at Norfolk until transferred after proper notice and hearing. Ds 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 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.' The Supreme Court granted Ds' petition for writ of certiorari, in order to determine whether the Constitution required Ds 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 this case were adequate.