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Involuntary PC Violates Due Process

Gregory Howard is a Michigan state prisoner. Howard was a prisoner at the state prison in Jackson when he requested placement into protective custody (PC) for protection from asserted enemies in the general prison population. He was transferred to a close custody prison for a psychiatric evaluation and placed in general population. A few weeks later he was transferred to a maximum security prison and placed in protective custody. At no time did Howard receive notice or a hearing concerning the transfers nor placement back into protective custody. The transfer to the maximum security prison was a mistake and he was transferred back to Jackson and again placed in protective custody without any type of hearing or notice. Shortly after his return to Jackson, Howard indicated a desire to return to general population and on December 21, 1986, the deputy warden at the prison concurred with the recommendation that Howard be released to general population. Despite bi-monthly status reports indicating this, Howard remained in PC during his entire stay at Jackson until March 3, 1988. Howard filed suit under § 1983 claiming that the repeated refusal by prison officials to release him from PC violated his due process rights. The district court dismissed the suit finding that prisoners have no liberty interest to remain in or out of PC or general population. The court of appeals for the sixth circuit reversed and remanded.

The appeals court notes that prisoners have no federal constitutional right to remain in general population. However, such rights can be created by the states. The court examined Michigan Administrative Code (MAC) Rule 791.4401 which governs the security level classifications of Michigan state prisoners and found that the rule does in fact create a liberty interest which can be enforced in federal court under § 1983. "Accordingly, an increase in plaintiff's security level classification level without notice and hearing could, under certain circumstances, constitute a violation of plaintiff's liberty interests."

The appeals court found that Howard's transfer without notice or hearing to the maximum custody prison was in violation of Michigan DOC regulations. It also found the lower court's finding that the transfer had been made for medical reasons, which would have eliminated the need for the hearing and notice, to be erroneous.

The district court had also concluded that Howard had no real desire to be released to the general population. The appeals court found that this finding facially conflicted with the record which contained ample evidence of Howard's requests to be released to general population. "Based on this overwhelming evidence, it is clear that Howard genuinely desired to be returned to the general prison population and that his continued confinement in protective custody violated proper administrative procedure. The district court's findings to the contrary are accordingly clearly erroneous."

The appeals court remanded the case back to the district court to determine if the prison officials conduct constituted gross negligence or deliberate indifference necessary to award damages and, if so, the amount of damages Howard is entitled to. See: Howard v. Grinage , 6 F.3d 410 (6th Cir. 1993).

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