Case: McDonnell v. Wolff

4:72-cv-01722 | U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska

Filed Date: 1972

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

Inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, represented by private counsel, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in the District of Nebraska, against officials of the Nebraska State Prison system. Plaintiffs complained of limitations on their access to the law library, legal services, and visitation with the inmate legal assistant. Plaintiffs also complained that disciplinary proceedings at the Complex were conducted without regard for procedural or substantive due process and t…

Inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, represented by private counsel, filed a Section 1983 class action suit in the District of Nebraska, against officials of the Nebraska State Prison system. Plaintiffs complained of limitations on their access to the law library, legal services, and visitation with the inmate legal assistant. Plaintiffs also complained that disciplinary proceedings at the Complex were conducted without regard for procedural or substantive due process and that the regulations regarding prisoners' mail violated the attorney-client privilege.

In April 1972, the District Court (Judge Robert V. Denney) held that prison regulations limiting the number of inmates who could access the legal library at any one time and the hours during which inmates could visit with the legal assistant were both reasonable. However, the court held that the prison regulation limiting an inmate's time for independent legal research to seven hours per week was unreasonable. The court also held that defendants were not required to afford procedural due process to inmates in disciplinary hearings, but that they were required to afford substantive due process to inmates and that a regulation requiring that all incoming and outgoing mail be read and inspected was improper. McDonnell v. Wolff, 342 F. Supp. 616 (D. Neb. 1972). Plaintiffs and defendants appealed.

The Eight Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. McDonnell v. Wolff, 483 F.2d 1059 (8th Cir. 1973). The Court of Appeals held that the district court erred by holding that defendants were not required to afford procedural due process and remanded to determine what procedures were necessary to meet minimum procedural due process standards and whether they were being met. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). Writing for the majority, Justice White held that prison officials must observe certain minimal due process requirements. The Court clarified that prisoners facing disciplinary charges are entitled to 24 hours notice before a hearing, a written statement of the reason for the disciplinary hearing, and the right to call witnesses and present evidence. However, the Court also held that prisoners do not have the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses or to have the assistance of counsel. The Court concluded that prisoners are entitled to an impartial tribunal, but held that a committee of prison officials was sufficiently impartial. The docket for this case is not available on PACER, and therefore our information ends with the last reported decision in 1974.

Summary Authors

Eoghan Keenan (6/10/2005)

People


Judge(s)

Denney, Robert Vernon (Nebraska)

Heaney, Gerald William (Minnesota)

White, Byron Raymond (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Duchek, Douglas F. (Nebraska)

Kammerlohr, Melvin K. (Nebraska)

Other Attorney(s)

Active

Judge(s)

Denney, Robert Vernon (Nebraska)

Heaney, Gerald William (Minnesota)

White, Byron Raymond (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Duchek, Douglas F. (Nebraska)

Kammerlohr, Melvin K. (Nebraska)

Other Attorney(s)

Bork, Robert Heron (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

4:72-cv-01722

Memorandum Decision

April 21, 1972

April 21, 1972

Order/Opinion

72-01331

72-01332

Reported Decision

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Sept. 12, 1973

Sept. 12, 1973

Order/Opinion

73-00679

Memorandum Decision

Wolff v. McDonnell

Supreme Court of the United States

Jan. 21, 1974

Jan. 21, 1974

Order/Opinion

73-00679

Reported Opinion

Wolff v. McDonnell

Supreme Court of the United States

June 26, 1974

June 26, 1974

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated Sept. 5, 2022, 3:14 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Nebraska

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1972

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, State

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1974 - None

Issues

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system

Disciplinary procedures

Law library access

Library (non-law) access

Mail

Search policies

Visiting

Discrimination-area:

Discipline

Type of Facility:

Government-run