University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name McDonnell v. Wolff PC-NE-0004
Docket / Court 72-L-1722 ( D. Neb. )
State/Territory Nebraska
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
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, ... read more >
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.

Eoghan Keenan - 06/10/2005


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Law library access
Library (non-law) access
Mail
Search policies
Visiting
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex
Plaintiff Description inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration 1974 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Unknown
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Links The Oyez Project, Wolff v Mcdonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)
www.oyez.org
Posted: Apr. 22, 1974
By: Oyez Project (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Memorandum Decision 04/21/1972 (342 F.Supp. 616) (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0004-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Reported Decision 09/12/1973 (483 F.2d 1059)
PC-NE-0004-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Memorandum Decision 01/21/1974 (414 U.S. 1156)
PC-NE-0004-0004 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Reported Opinion 06/26/1974 (418 U.S. 539)
PC-NE-0004-0003 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Judges Denney, Robert Vernon (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0004-0001
Heaney, Gerald William (Eighth Circuit)
PC-NE-0004-0002
White, Byron Raymond (SCOTUS)
PC-NE-0004-0003
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Duchek, Douglas F. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0004-0001 | PC-NE-0004-0002 | PC-NE-0004-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Kammerlohr, Melvin K. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0004-0001 | PC-NE-0004-0002 | PC-NE-0004-0003
Other Lawyers Bork, Robert Heron (District of Columbia)
PC-NE-0004-0003

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -