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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