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SUPERINTENDENT v. HILL ET AL.

decided: June 17, 1985.

SUPERINTENDENT, MASSACHUSETTS CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION AT WALPOLE
v.
HILL ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS.

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.

Author: O'connor

[ 472 U.S. Page 447]

 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 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.

I

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

[ 472 U.S. 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

[ 472 U.S. 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 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.

II

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, 298 U.S. 38, 51-52 (1936);

[ 472 U.S. Page 450]

     Mass. Gen. Laws Ann., ch. 249, § 4 (West Supp. 1984), which provides in pertinent part:

"A civil action in the nature of certiorari to correct errors in proceedings which are not according to the course of the common law, which proceedings are not otherwise reviewable by motion or by appeal, may be brought in the supreme judicial or superior court."

Petitioner notes that there is no statutory provision for judicial review of decisions by a prison disciplinary board. Nonetheless, the Supreme Judicial Court has observed that "'[in] the absence of a statutory method of judicial review, certiorari is an appropriate mode for correcting errors of law arising out of an administrative action.'" Taunton Eastern Little League v. Taunton, 389 Mass. 719, 720, n. 1, 452 N. E. 2d 211, 212, n. 1 (1983), quoting Reading v. Attorney General, 362 Mass. 266, 269, 285 N. E. 2d 429, 431 (1972). In the present case, the Supreme Judicial Court expressly stated that respondents, who framed their complaints as petitions for a "'writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum,'" should have brought civil actions pursuant to § 4. 392 Mass., at 199, n. 2, 466 N. E. 2d, at 819, n. 2. The state court supported this conclusion by citing its previous decision in Boston Edison Co. v. Board of Selectmen of Concord, 355 Mass. 79, 242 N. E. 2d 868 (1968), and the decision of the Appeals Court of Massachusetts in Cepulonis v. Commissioner of Correction, 15 Mass. App. 292, 445 N. E. 2d 178 (1983).

Boston Edison relied on § 4 to review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support decisions by town selectmen denying rights-of-way for power lines. At the time Boston Edison was decided, § 4 allowed a party to petition the Supreme Judicial Court for a writ of certiorari on a claim "that the evidence which formed the basis of the action complained of or the basis of ...


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