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Mathews v. Fairman

December 18, 1985


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Danville Division. No. 80 C 2016-Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Author: Coffey

Before COFFEY and FLAUM, Circuit Judges, and WRIGHT, Senior Circuit Judge.*fn*

COFFEY, Circuit Judge. The appellant, Tumery Mathews, appeals the entry of a directed judgment in favor of the defendants. Mathews' action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleged that the defendants deprived Mathews of a constitutionally protected liberty interest without due process of law. We affirm.


In 1979, Tumery Mathews was serving a 50-100 year sentence for murder in Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"). Mathews was assigned a maximum security classification, and consequently resided in the maximum security unit at Pontiac. The maximum security unit housed between 1,600 and 1,700 inmates, with two inmates generally assigned to share a cell. Inmates were only permitted to leave their cells under the escort of a prison official and were allowed one or two showers per week. The maximum security unit housed prisoners with maximum, medium and minimum security classifications.

Pontiac also maintained a medium security unit, commonly referred to as "the farm." The farm housed approximately 150 inmates with either medium or minimum security classifications. Inmates in the farm were generally assigned one per room. Each inmate was given a key to his room and was permitted to move about the farm unescorted. Although both maximum security unit and the farm provided recreational equipment and educational opportunities, residents of the farm had greater access to these resources because they enjoyed substantially greater freedom of movement than residents of the maximum security unit.*fn1

In early 1979, Mathews applied to the Assignment Committee for a reduction in his security classification and for assignment to the farm.*fn2 The Committee approved Mathews' application and he moved to the farm in April 1979. Mathews never received a reprimand or disciplinary charge while he was a resident of the farm.

In December of 1979 two prisoners escaped from the farm. In response to the escape, Warden Fairman ordered an investigation, with the result that prison officials interviewed each resident of the farm. Two days after the escape, Mathews was transferred back to the minimum security unit and was placed in a cell with another inmate. One of the prison officials who executed the transfer told Mathews, "Mat, we know you didn't do nothing, but the Warden said bring you back inside the walls, so you have got to go." Mathews was called before the Assignment Committee, chaired by defendant Louis O'Shea, on January 2, 1980. O'Shea informed Mathews that he had been reassigned to the maximum security unit pursuant to A.R. 802(II)(C)(1) on the basis of a confidential investigation. The vote sheet from the Assignment Committee meeting also disclosed that his transfer was not a disciplinary transfer and therefore no increase in security classification was recommended. The Assignment Committee approved Mathews' transfer, and Mathews' subsequent appeal to the Institutional Inquiry Board was denied. Mathews remained in the maximum security unit at Pontiac until November 1980 when he was transferred to the Menard Correctional Center. He retained his medium security classification for the duration of his time at Pontiac.

Mathews, along with three other prisoners who had been transferred from the farm to the maximum security unit at Pontiac at the same time as Mathews, commenced this lawsuit against James W. Fairman, Warden of the Pontiac Correctional Center, James Thieret, Assistant Warden and Louis O'Shea, Clinical Services Supervisor. The plaintiffs' complaint alleged that their reassignments to the maximum security unit were in violation of A.R. 802, were discriminatory transfers in violation the plaintiffs' right to due process of law. One of the plaintiffs was dismissed before trial for failure to prosecute, and the remaining plaintiffs' case was tried before a jury in March 1984. After plaintiffs presented their case, the district court, sua sponte, dismissed the complaint and directed that judgment be entered for the defendants. The district court concluded that the plaintiffs' proof failed to sustain the proposition that the reassignment to the maximum security unit was disciplinary in nature. The district court also concluded, "There is no procedural or substantive due process question that arises in connection with a transfer under A.R. 802" because A.R. 802 in no way limits the discretion of the Administrative Officer to transfer inmates from one segment of the general prison population to another. On appeal, Mathews contends that A.R. 802(II)(C) creates a liberty interest by limiting the discretion of prison administrators to reassign prison inmates and also contends that the trial court erred in not allowing the jury to consider whether his reassignment was disciplinary in nature.


Mathews contends that A.R. 802(II)(C) creates a liberty interest in limiting the discretion of prison officials to reassign inmates. According to Mathews, A.R. 802(II)(C) establishes procedures for establishing an inmate's permanent assignment and provides that a change in assignment may be made for three reasons only: (1) the inmate's inability or incompetence in completing a work, training or study assignment; (2) an inmate's violation of a rule after the inmate has been adjudged guilty in accordance with the provisions of A.R. 804,*fn3; or (3) placement in segregation under the provisions of A.R. 804. Mathews construes A.R. 802(II)(C)(1), cited by the Assignment Committee as the basis for Mathews' reassignment only for work-related problems. Since there was no evidence that Mathews had any problems in completing work assignments, he contends that the provision does not justify his reassignment to maximum security. Further, Mathews argues that A.R. 802 (II)(C)(2) & (3) permit the reassignment of an inmate only when the prison officials have acted in compliance with A.R. 804.

The defendants argue to the contrary that A.R. 802 does not implicate any constitutionally protected liberty interest. Unless the regulation expressly justifies the expectation on the part of a prisoner that "transfer [would] occur only on the occurrence of certain events," the state has not created a constitutionally protected liberty interest. According to the defendants, to create a constitutionally protected liberty interest, the state must do more than create a procedural structure but must employ clear, mandatory language and provide that the action in question will not occur absent "specified substantive predicates." Thus, the defendants urge that a state regulation does not create a liberty unless it clearly limits the discretion of the prison officials. The defendants construe A.R. 802(II)(C)(1) as placing no limit on an Illinois prison official's discretion to reassign a prisoner. We initially note that the Supreme Court has recognized "that prison officials have broad administrative and discretionary authority over the institutions they manage and that lawfully incarcerated persons retain only a narrow range of protected liberty interests." Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 467, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675, 103 S. Ct. 864 (1983). "Prison administrators . . . should be accorded wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979). "Liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment may arise from two sources-the Due Process Clause itself and the laws of the States," Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 466, but "to hold. . . that any substantial deprivation imposed by prison authorities triggers the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause would subject to judicial review a wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts." Id. (emphasis original) (quoting Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225, 49 L. Ed. 2d 451, 96 S. Ct. 2532 (1976)). Thus, the Supreme Court has:

"consistently refused to recognize more than the most basic liberty interests in prisoners. 'Lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.' Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285, 68 S. Ct. 1049, 1060, 92 L. Ed. 1356 (1948). Thus, there is no 'constitutional or inherent right' to parole, Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates, 442 U.S. 1, 7, 99 S. Ct. 2100, 2103, 60 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1979), and 'the Constitution itself does not guarantee good-time credit for satisfactory behavior while in prison,' Wolff v. McDonnell, supra, 418 U.S., at 557, 94 S. Ct., at 2975, despite the undoubted impact of such credits on the freedom of inmates. Finally, in Meachum v. Fano, supra, 427 U.S., at 225, 96 S. Ct., at 2538, the transfer of a prisoner from one institution to another was found unprotected by the 'Due Process Clause in an of itself,' even though the change of facilities involved a significant modification in conditions of confinement, later characterized by the Court as a 'grievous loss.' Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9, 97 S. Ct. 274, 279 n.9, 50 L. Ed. 2d 236 (1976). As we have held previously, these decisions require that '[a]s long as the conditions or degree of confinement to which the prisoner is subjected is within the sentence imposed upon him and is not otherwise violative of the Constitution, the Due Process Clause does not in itself subject an inmate's treatment by prison authorities to judicial oversight.' Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 242, 96 S. Ct. 2543, 2547, 49 L. Ed. 2d 466 (1976). See also Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493, 100 S. Ct. 1254, 1263, 63 L. Ed. 2d 552 (1980)."

Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 467-68. Thus, "it is plain that the transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for nonpunitive reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence," and thus does not implicate a prisoner's liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 468. Thus, Mathews could not and in fact does not contend that a nonpunitive assignment to maximum security implicates a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause. Instead, Mathews urges that A.R. 802 "limits the discretion of prison officials to reassign an ...

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