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VITEK v. JONES, 445 U.S. 480 (1980)

U.S. Supreme Court

VITEK v. JONES, 445 U.S. 480 (1980)

445 U.S. 480

VITEK, CORRECTIONAL DIRECTOR, ET AL. v. JONES.
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA.

No. 78-1155.

Argued December 3, 1979.
Decided March 25, 1980.

Appellee, a convicted felon, was transferred from state prison to a mental hospital pursuant to a Nebraska statute ( 83-180 (1)) which provides that if a designated physician or psychologist finds that a prisoner "suffers from a mental disease or defect" that "cannot be given proper treatment" in prison, the Director of Correctional Services may transfer the prisoner to a mental hospital. In an action challenging the constitutionality of 83-180 (1) on procedural due process grounds, the District Court declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to appellee, holding that transferring him to the mental hospital without adequate notice and opportunity for a hearing deprived him of liberty without due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and that such transfers must be accompanied by adequate notice, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, a written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision, and the availability of appointed counsel for indigent prisoners. The court permanently enjoined the State from transferring appellee (who meanwhile had been transferred back to prison) to the mental hospital without following the prescribed procedures. Subsequently, appellee was paroled on condition that he accept mental treatment, but he violated that parole and was returned to prison. Relying on appellee's history of mental illness and the State's representation that he was a serious threat to his own and others' safety, the District Court held that the parole and revocation thereof did not render the case moot because appellee was still subject to being transferred to the mental hospital.

Held:

The judgment is affirmed as modified. Pp. 486-497; 497-500.

Affirmed as modified.

WHITE, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, IV-A, and V, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part IV-B, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 497. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C. J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 500. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 501.

Melvin Kent Kammerlohr, Assistant Attorney General of Nebraska, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief was Paul L. Douglas, Attorney General.

Thomas A. Wurtz, by appointment of the Court, 441 U.S. 960 , argued the cause and filed a brief for appellee.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV-B.

The question in this case is whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment entitles a prisoner convicted and incarcerated in the State of Nebraska to certain procedural [445 U.S. 480, 483]   protections, including notice, an adversary hearing, and provision of counsel, before he is transferred involuntarily to a state mental hospital for treatment of a mental disease or defect.

I

Nebraska Rev. Stat. 83-176 (2) (1976) authorizes the Director of Correctional Services to designate any available, suitable, and appropriate residence facility or institution as a place of confinement for any state prisoner and to transfer a prisoner from one place of confinement to another. Section 83-180 (1), however, provides that when a designated physician or psychologist finds that a prisoner "suffers from a mental disease or defect" and "cannot be given proper treatment in that facility," the director may transfer him for examination, study, and treatment to another institution within or without the Department of Correctional Services. 1 Any prisoner so transferred to a mental hospital is to be returned to the Department if, prior to the expiration of his sentence, treatment is no longer necessary. Upon expiration of sentence, [445 U.S. 480, 484]   if the State desires to retain the prisoner in a mental hospital, civil commitment proceedings must be promptly commenced. 83-180 (3). 2  

On May 31, 1974, Jones was convicted of robbery and sentenced to a term of three to nine years in state prison. He was transferred to the penitentiary hospital in January 1975. Two days later he was placed in solitary confinement, where he set his mattress on fire, burning himself severely. He was treated in the burn unit of a private hospital. Upon his release and based on findings required by 83-180 that he was suffering from a mental illness or defect and could not receive proper treatment in the penal complex, he was transferred to the security unit of the Lincoln Regional Center, a state mental hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Institutions.

Jones then intervened in this case, which was brought by other prisoners against the appropriate state officials (the State) challenging on procedural due process grounds the adequacy of the procedures by which the Nebraska statutes permit transfers from the prison complex to a mental hospital. 3 On August 17, 1976, a three-judge District Court, convened [445 U.S. 480, 485]   pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2281 (1970 ed.), 4 denied the State's motion for summary judgment and trial ensued. On September 12, 1977, the District Court declared 83-180 unconstitutional as applied to Jones, holding that transferring Jones to a mental hospital without adequate notice and opportunity for a hearing deprived him of liberty without due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment and that such transfers must be accompanied by adequate notice, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, a written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision, and the availability of appointed counsel for indigent prisoners. Miller v. Vitek, 437 F. Supp. 569 (Neb. 1977). Counsel was requested to suggest appropriate relief.

In response to this request, Jones revealed that on May 27, 1977, prior to the District Court's decision, he had been transferred from Lincoln Regional Center to the psychiatric ward of the penal complex but prayed for an injunction against further transfer to Lincoln Regional Center. The State conceded that an injunction should enter if the District Court was firm in its belief that the section was unconstitutional. The District Court then entered its judgment declaring 83-180 unconstitutional as applied to Jones and permanently enjoining the State from transferring Jones to Lincoln Regional Center without following the procedures prescribed in its judgment.

We noted probable jurisdiction 434 U.S. 1060 (1978). Meanwhile, Jones had been paroled, but only on condition that he accept psychiatric treatment at a Veterans' Administration Hospital. We vacated the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case to that court for consideration [445 U.S. 480, 486]   of the question of mootness. Vitek v. Jones, 436 U.S. 407 (1978). Both the State and Jones at this juncture insisted that the case was not moot. The State represented that because "Jones' history of mental illness indicates a serious threat to his own safety, as well as to that of others . . . there is a very real expectation" that he would again be transferred if the injunction was removed. App. to Juris. Statement 24. Jones insisted that he was receiving treatment for mental illness against his will and that he was continuing to suffer from the stigmatizing consequences of the previous determination that he was mentally ill. On these representations, the District Court found that the case was not moot because Jones "is subject to and is in fact under threat of being transferred to the state mental hospital under 83-180." Ibid. The District Court reinstated its original judgment. We postponed consideration of jurisdiction to a hearing on the merits. 441 U.S. 922 (1979). Meanwhile, Jones had violated his parole, his parole had been revoked, and he had been reincarcerated in the penal complex.

II

We agree with the parties in this case that a live controversy exists and that the case is not moot. Jones was declared to be mentally ill pursuant to 83-180 and was transferred to a mental hospital and treated. He was later paroled but only on condition that he accept mental treatment. He violated that parole and has been returned to the penal complex. On our remand to consider mootness, the District Court, relying on Jones' history of mental illness and the State's representation that he represented a serious threat to his own safety as well as to that of others, found that Jones "is in fact under threat of being transferred to the state mental hospital under 83-180." We see no reason to disagree with the District Court's assessment at that time, and the reality of the controversy between Jones and the State has not been lessened by the cancellation of his parole and his return to the state prison, [445 U.S. 480, 487]   where he is protected from further transfer by the outstanding judgment and injunction of the District Court. The State, believing that the case is not moot, wants the injunction removed by the reversal of the District Court's judgment. Jones, on the other hand, insists that the judgment of the District Court be sustained and the protection against transfer to a mental hospital, except in accordance with the specified procedures, be retained.

Against this background, it is not "absolutely clear," absent the injunction, "that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur." United States v. Phosphate Export Assn., 393 U.S. 199, 203 (1968); County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979); United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 633 (1953). 5 Furthermore, as the matter now stands, the 83-180 determination that Jones suffered from mental illness has been declared infirm by the District Court. Vacating the District Court's judgment as moot would not only vacate the injunction against transfer but also the declaration that the procedures employed by the State afforded an inadequate basis for declaring Jones to be mentally ill. In the posture of the case, it is not moot.

III

On the merits, the threshold question in this case is whether the involuntary transfer of a Nebraska state prisoner to a mental hospital implicates a liberty interest that is protected by the Due Process Clause. The District Court held that it did and offered two related reasons for its conclusion. The District Court first identified a liberty interest rooted in [445 U.S. 480, 488]   83-180 (1), under which a prisoner could reasonably expect that he would not be transferred to a mental hospital without a finding that he was suffering from a mental illness for which he could not secure adequate treatment in the correctional facility. Second, the District Court was convinced that characterizing Jones as a mentally ill patient and transferring him to the Lincoln Regional Center had "some stigmatizing" consequences which, together with the mandatory behavior modification treatment to which Jones would be subject at the Lincoln Center, constituted a major change in the conditions of confinement amounting to a "grievous loss" that should not be imposed without the opportunity for notice and an adequate hearing. We agree with the District Court in both respects.

A

We have repeatedly held that state statutes may create liberty interests that are entitled to the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. There is no "constitutional or inherent right" to parole, Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979), but once a State grants a prisoner the conditional liberty properly dependent on the observance of special parole restrictions, due process protections attach to the decision to revoke parole. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972). The same is true of the revocation of probation. Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973). In Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), we held that a state-created right to good-time credits, which could be forfeited only for serious misbehavior, constituted a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. We also noted that the same reasoning could justify extension of due process protections to a decision to impose "solitary" confinement because "[it] represents a major change in the conditions of confinement and is normally imposed only when it is claimed and proved that there has been a major act of misconduct." Id., at 571-572, n. 19. Once a State has [445 U.S. 480, 489]   granted prisoners a liberty interest, we held that due process protections are necessary "to insure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated." Id., at 557.

In Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976), and Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236 (1976), we held that the transfer of a prisoner from one prison to another does not infringe a protected liberty interest. But in those cases transfers were discretionary with the prison authorities, and in neither case did the prisoner possess any right or justifiable expectation that he would not be transferred except for misbehavior or upon the occurrence of other specified events. Hence, "the predicate for invoking the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied in Wolff v. McDonnell [was] totally nonexistent." Meachum v. Fano, supra, at 226-227.

Following Meachum v. Fano and Montanye v. Haymes, we continued to recognize that state statutes may grant prisoners liberty interests that invoke due process protections when prisoners are transferred to solitary confinement for disciplinary or administrative reasons. Enomoto v. Wright, 434 U.S. 1052 (1978), summarily aff'g 462 F. Supp. 397 (ND Cal. 1976). Similarly, in Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates, supra, we held that state law granted petitioners a sufficient expectancy of parole to entitle them to some measure of constitutional protection with respect to parole decisions.

We think the District Court properly understood and applied these decisions. Section 83-180 (1) provides that if a designated physician finds that a prisoner "suffers from a mental disease or defect" that "cannot be given proper treatment" in prison, the Director of Correctional Services may transfer a prisoner to a mental hospital. The District Court also found that in practice prisoners are transferred to a mental hospital only if it is determined that they suffer from a mental disease or defect that cannot adequately be treated within the penal complex. This "objective expectation, firmly fixed in state law and official Penal Complex practice," that [445 U.S. 480, 490]   a prisoner would not be transferred unless he suffered from a mental disease or defect that could not be adequately treated in the prison, gave Jones a liberty interest that entitled him to the benefits of appropriate procedures in connection with determining the conditions that warranted his transfer to a mental hospital. Under our cases, this conclusion of the District Court is unexceptionable.

Appellants maintain that any state-created liberty interest that Jones had was completely satisfied once a physician or psychologist designated by the director made the findings required by 83-180 (1) and that Jones was not entitled to any procedural protections. 6 But if the State grants a prisoner [445 U.S. 480, 491]   a right or expectation that adverse action will not be taken against him except upon the occurrence of specified behavior, "the determination of whether such behavior has occurred becomes critical, and the minimum requirements of procedural due process appropriate for the circumstances must be observed." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S., at 558 . These minimum requirements being a matter of federal law, they are not diminished by the fact that the State may have specified its own procedures that it may deem adequate for determining the preconditions to adverse official action. In Morrissey, Gagnon, and Wolff, the States had adopted their own procedures for determining whether conditions warranting revocation of parole, probation, or good-time credits had occurred; yet we held that those procedures were constitutionally inadequate. In like manner, Nebraska's reliance on the opinion of a designated physician or psychologist for determining whether the conditions warranting a transfer exist neither removes the prisoner's interest from due process protection nor answers the question of what process is due under the Constitution.

B

The District Court was also correct in holding that independently of 83-180(1), the transfer of a prisoner from a prison to a mental hospital must be accompanied by appropriate procedural protections. The issue is whether after a conviction for robbery, Jones retained a residuum of liberty that would be infringed by a transfer to a mental hospital without complying with minimum requirements of due process.

We have recognized that for the ordinary citizen, commitment to a mental hospital produces "a massive curtailment of liberty," Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 509 (1972), and in [445 U.S. 480, 492]   consequence "requires due process protection." Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 425 (1979); O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 580 (1975) (BURGER, C. J., concurring). The loss of liberty produced by an involuntary commitment is more than a loss of freedom from confinement. It is indisputable that commitment to a mental hospital "can engender adverse social consequences to the individual" and that "[w]hether we label this phenomena `stigma' or choose to call it something else . . . we recognize that it can occur and that it can have a very significant impact on the individual." Addington v. Texas, supra, at 425-426. See also Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 600 (1979). Also, "[a]mong the historic liberties" protected by the Due Process Clause is the "right to be free from, and to obtain judicial relief for, unjustified intrusions on personal security." Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673 (1977). Compelled treatment in the form of mandatory behavior modification programs, to which the District Court found Jones was exposed in this case, was a proper factor to be weighed by the District Court. Cf. Addington v. Texas, supra, at 427.

The District Court, in its findings, was sensitive to these concerns:

Were an ordinary citizen to be subjected involuntarily to these consequences, it is undeniable that protected liberty interests would be unconstitutionally infringed absent compliance with the procedures required by the Due Process Clause. [445 U.S. 480, 493]   We conclude that a convicted felon also is entitled to the benefit of procedures appropriate in the circumstances before he is found to have a mental disease and transferred to a mental hospital.

Undoubtedly, a valid criminal conviction and prison sentence extinguish a defendant's right to freedom from confinement. Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates, 442 U.S., at 7 . Such a conviction and sentence sufficiently extinguish a defendant's liberty "to empower the State to confine him in any of its prisons." Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S., at 224 (emphasis deleted). It is also true that changes in the conditions of confinement having a substantial adverse impact on the prisoner are not alone sufficient to invoke the protections of the Due Process Clause "[a]s long as the conditions or degree of confinement to which the prisoner is subjected is within the sentence imposed upon him." Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S., at 242 .

Appellants maintain that the transfer of a prisoner to a mental hospital is within the range of confinement justified by imposition of a prison sentence, at least after certification by a qualified person that a prisoner suffers from a mental disease or defect. We cannot agree. None of our decisions holds that conviction for a crime entitles a State not only to confine the convicted person but also to determine that he has a mental illness and to subject him involuntarily to institutional care in a mental hospital. Such consequences visited on the prisoner are qualitatively different from the punishment characteristically suffered by a person convicted of crime. Our cases recognize as much and reflect an understanding that involuntary commitment to a mental hospital is not within the range of conditions of confinement to which a prison sentence subjects an individual. Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 (1966); Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605 (1967); Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504 (1972); Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 724 -725 (1972). A criminal conviction and sentence of imprisonment extinguish an individual's [445 U.S. 480, 494]   right to freedom from confinement for the term of his sentence, but they do not authorize the State to classify him as mentally ill and to subject him to involuntary psychiatric treatment without affording him additional due process protections.

In light of the findings made by the District Court, Jones' involuntary transfer to the Lincoln Regional Center pursuant to 83-180, for the purpose of psychiatric treatment, implicated a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Many of the restrictions on the prisoner's freedom of action at the Lincoln Regional Center by themselves might not constitute the deprivation of a liberty interest retained by a prisoner, see Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S., at 572 , n. 19; cf. Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 323 (1976). But here, the stigmatizing consequences of a transfer to a mental hospital for involuntary psychiatric treatment, coupled with the subjection of the prisoner to mandatory behavior modification as a treatment for mental illness, constitute the kind of deprivations of liberty that requires procedural protections.

IV

The District Court held that to afford sufficient protection to the liberty interest it had identified, the State was required to observe the following minimum procedures before transferring a prisoner to a mental hospital:

A

We think the District Court properly identified and weighed the relevant factors in arriving at its judgment. Concededly the interest of the State in segregating and treating mentally ill patients is strong. The interest of the prisoner in not being arbitrarily classified as mentally ill and subjected to unwelcome treatment is also powerful, however; and as the District Court found, the risk of error in making the determinations required by 83-180 is substantial enough to warrant appropriate procedural safeguards against error.

We recognize that the inquiry involved in determining whether or not to transfer an inmate to a mental hospital for treatment involves a question that is essentially medical. The question whether an individual is mentally ill and cannot be treated in prison "turns on the meaning of the facts which must be interpreted by expert psychiatrists and psychologists." Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S., at 429 . The medical nature of the inquiry, however, does not justify dispensing with due process requirements. It is precisely "[t]he subtleties and nuances of psychiatric diagnoses" that justify the requirement of adversary hearings. Id., at 430.

Because prisoners facing involuntary transfer to a mental hospital are threatened with immediate deprivation of liberty [445 U.S. 480, 496]   interests they are currently enjoying and because of the inherent risk of a mistaken transfer, the District Court properly determined that procedures similar to those required by the Court in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972), were appropriate in the circumstances present here.

The notice requirement imposed by the District Court no more than recognizes that notice is essential to afford the prisoner an opportunity to challenge the contemplated action and to understand the nature of what is happening to him. Wolff v. McDonnell, supra, at 564. Furthermore, in view of the nature of the determinations that must accompany the transfer to a mental hospital, we think each of the elements of the hearing specified by the District Court was appropriate. The interests of the State in avoiding disruption was recognized by limiting in appropriate circumstances the prisoner's right to call witnesses, to confront and cross examine. The District Court also avoided unnecessary intrusion into either medical or correctional judgments by providing that the independent decisionmaker conducting the transfer hearing need not come from outside the prison or hospital administration. 437 F. Supp., at 574.

The District Court did go beyond the requirements imposed by prior cases by holding that counsel must be made available to inmates facing transfer hearings if they are financially unable to furnish their own. We have not required the automatic appointment of counsel for indigent prisoners facing other deprivations of liberty, Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S., at 790 ; Wolff v. McDonnell, supra, at 569-570; but we have recognized that prisoners who are illiterate and uneducated have a greater need for assistance in exercising their rights. Gagnon v. Scarpelli, supra, at 786-787; Wolff v. McDonnell, supra, at 570. A prisoner thought to be suffering from a [445 U.S. 480, 497]   mental disease or defect requiring involuntary treatment probably has an even greater need for legal assistance, for such a prisoner is more likely to be unable to understand or exercise his rights. In these circumstances, it is appropriate that counsel be provided to indigent prisoners whom the State seeks to treat as mentally ill.

V

Because MR. JUSTICE POWELL, while believing that Jones was entitled to competent help at the hearing, would not require the State to furnish a licensed attorney to aid him, the judgment below is affirmed as modified to conform with the separate opinion filed by MR. JUSTICE POWELL.

Footnotes

[ Footnote 1 ] Section 83-180 (1) provides:

[ Footnote 2 ] Section 83-180 (3) provides:

[ Footnote 3 ] After initially certifying this case as a class action, the District Court decertified the class, but permitted intervention by three individual plaintiffs, including Jones. The District Court subsequently dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs except Jones, who is the sole appellee in this Court.

[ Footnote 4 ] The statute authorizing the convening of a three-judge court, 28 U.S.C. 2281 (1970 ed.), was repealed by Pub. L. 94-381, 90 Stat. 1119, effective for actions commenced after August 12, 1976. Because the instant action was filed on November 12, 1975, the three-judge court was properly convened.

[ Footnote 5 ] Because Jones has not completed serving his sentence, he remains subject to the transfer procedures he challenges, unlike the plaintiff in Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147 (1975), where a challenge to parole procedures was held to be moot because plaintiff had completed his sentence and there was no longer any likelihood whatsoever that he would again be subjected to the parole procedures he challenged.

[ Footnote 6 ] A majority of the Justices rejected an identical position in Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 166 -167 (1974) (opinion of POWELL, J., joined by BLACKMUN, J.), 177-178 (opinion of WHITE, J.), 210-211 (opinion of MARSHALL, J., joined by Douglas and BRENNAN, JJ.). As MR. JUSTICE POWELL'S opinion observed:

[ Footnote * ] This part is joined only by MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring in part.

I join the opinion of the Court except for Part IV-B. I agree with Part IV-B insofar as the Court holds that qualified and independent assistance must be provided to an inmate who is threatened with involuntary transfer to a state mental hospital. I do not agree, however, that the requirement of independent assistance demands that a licensed attorney be provided. 1   [445 U.S. 480, 498]  

I

In Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973), my opinion for the Court held that counsel is not necessarily required at a probation revocation hearing. In reaching this decision the Court recognized both the effects of providing counsel to each probationer and the likely benefits to be derived from the assistance of counsel. "The introduction of counsel into a revocation proceeding [would] alter significantly the nature of the proceeding," id., at 787, because the hearing would inevitably become more adversary. We noted that probationers would not always need counsel because in most hearings the essential facts are undisputed. In lieu of a per se rule we held that the necessity of providing counsel should be determined on a case-by-case basis. In particular, we stressed that factors governing the decision to provide counsel include (i) the existence of factual disputes or issues which are "complex or otherwise difficult to develop or present," and (ii) "whether the probationer appears to be capable of speaking effectively for himself." Id., at 790, 791.

Consideration of these factors, and particularly the capability of the inmate, persuades me that the Court is correct that independent assistance must be provided to an inmate before he may be transferred involuntarily to a mental hospital. The essence of the issue in an involuntary commitment proceeding will be the mental health of the inmate. The resolution of factual disputes will be less important than the ability to understand and analyze expert psychiatric testimony that is often expressed in language relatively incomprehensible to laymen. It is unlikely that an inmate threatened with involuntary transfer to mental hospitals will possess the competence or training to protect adequately his own interest in these state-initiated proceedings. And the circumstances of being imprisoned without normal access to others who may assist him places an additional handicap upon an inmate's ability to represent himself. I therefore agree [445 U.S. 480, 499]   that due process requires the provision of assistance to an inmate threatened with involuntary transfer to a mental hospital.

II

I do not believe, however, that an inmate must always be supplied with a licensed attorney. "[D]ue Process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972). See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 -335 (1976). Our decisions defining the necessary qualifications for an impartial decisionmaker demonstrate that the requirements of due process turn on the nature of the determination which must be made. "Due Process has never been thought to require that the neutral and detached trier of fact be law trained or a judicial or administrative officer." Parham v. J. R., 442 U.S. 584, 607 (1979). In that case, we held that due process is satisfied when a staff physician determines whether a child may be voluntarily committed to a state mental institution by his parents. That holding was based upon recognition that the issues of civil commitment "are essentially medical in nature," and that "`neither judges nor administrative hearing officers are better qualified than psychiatrists to render psychiatric judgments.'" Id., at 607, 609, quoting In re Roger S., 19 Cal. 3d 921, 942, 569 P.2d 1286, 1299 (1977) (Clark, J., dissenting). See also Morrissey v. Brewer, supra, at 489; Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 271 (1970).

In my view, the principle that due process does not always require a law-trained decisionmaker supports the ancillary conclusion that due process may be satisfied by the provision of a qualified and independent adviser who is not a lawyer. As in Parham v. J. R., the issue here is essentially medical. Under state law, a prisoner may be transferred only if he "suffers from a mental disease or defect" and "cannot be given proper treatment" in the prison complex. Neb. Rev. [445 U.S. 480, 500]   Stat. 83-180 (1) (1976). The opinion of the Court allows a nonlawyer to act as the impartial decisionmaker in the transfer proceeding. Ante, at 496. 2  

The essence of procedural due process is a fair hearing. I do not think that the fairness of an informal hearing designed to determine a medical issue requires participation by lawyers. Due process merely requires that the State provide an inmate with qualified and independent assistance. Such assistance may be provided by a licensed psychiatrist or other mental health professional. Indeed, in view of the nature of the issue involved in the transfer hearing, a person possessing such professional qualifications normally would be preferred. As the Court notes, "[t]he question whether an individual is mentally ill and cannot be treated in prison `turns on the meaning of the facts which must be interpreted by expert psychiatrists and psychologists.'" Ante, at 495, quoting Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 429 (1979). I would not exclude, however, the possibility that the required assistance may be rendered by competent laymen in some cases. The essential requirements are that the person provided by the State be competent and independent, and that he be free to act solely in the inmate's best interest.

In sum, although the State is free to appoint a licensed attorney to represent an inmate, it is not constitutionally required to do so. Due process will be satisfied so long as an inmate facing involuntary transfer to a mental hospital is provided qualified and independent assistance.

[ Footnote 1 ] I also agree with the Court's holding that this case is not moot. The question is whether appellee faces a substantial threat that he will again be transferred to a state mental hospital. See Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 930 -932 (1975); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 458 -460 (1974); Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 188 (1973). He was involuntarily transferred from the prison complex to a mental institution, and thereafter paroled upon condition that he continue to receive psychiatric treatment. When he violated parole, he was returned to prison. The State advises us that appellee's "history of mental illness indicates a serious threat to his own safety, as well as to that of others," and "there is a very real expectation" of transfer if the District Court injunction were removed. App. to Juris. Statement 24. The District Court concluded that appellee is under threat of transfer. In these circumstances it is clear that a live controversy remains in which appellee has a personal stake. See Seatrain Shipbuilding Corp. v. Shell Oil Co., 444 U.S. 572, 581 -583 (1980).

[ Footnote 2 ] The District Court specifically held that "a judicial officer is not required, and the decisionmaker need not be from outside the prison or hospital administration." Miller v. Vitek, 437 F. Supp. 569, 574 (Neb. 1977) (three-judge court).

MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, dissenting.

It seems clear to me that this case is now moot. Accordingly, I would vacate the judgment and remand the case to [445 U.S. 480, 501]   the District Court with directions to dismiss the complaint. United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 .

As the Court points out, this is not a class action, and the appellee is now incarcerated in the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex with an anticipated release date in March 1982. See ante, at 485-487, and n. 3. In that status, the appellee is simply one of thousands of Nebraska prisoners, with no more standing than any other to attack the constitutionality of Neb. Rev. Stat. 83-180 (1) (1976) on the sole basis of the mere possibility that someday that statute might be invoked to transfer him to another institution.

Although the appellee was once transferred in accord with 83-180 (1), there is no demonstrated probability that that will ever happen again. Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147 . And this case is not one that by its nature falls within the ambit of the "capable of repetition, yet evading review" exception to established principles of mootness. See Southern Pacific Terminal Co. v. ICC, 219 U.S. 498 ; Super Tire Engineering Co. v. McCorkle, 416 U.S. 115 . If the appellee should again be threatened with transfer under the allegedly infirm statute, there will be ample time to reach the merits of his claim.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, dissenting.

I agree with MR. JUSTICE STEWART that this case is not properly before us. I write separately to express my own reasons for reaching that conclusion.

The claimed harm that gave birth to this lawsuit was the alleged deprivation of liberty attending appellee's transfer to the Lincoln Regional Center. It is clear to me that that asserted injury disappeared, at the latest, when appellee was [445 U.S. 480, 502]   granted parole. 1 Cf. Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395 (1975). So did any immediate threat that that injury would be suffered again. Appellee has been returned to custody, however, and the [445 U.S. 480, 503]   parties agree that his reincarceration, coupled with his history of mental problems, has brought the controversy back to life.

Given these facts, the issue is not so much one of mootness as one of ripeness. At most, although I think otherwise, it is a case presenting a "mixed question" of ripeness and mootness, hinging on the possibility that the challenged procedures will be applied again to appellee. This Court has confronted mixed questions of this kind in cases presenting issues "capable of repetition, yet evading review," see, e. g., Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), and Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975), and in cases concerning the cessation of challenged conduct during the pendency of litigation, see, e. g., Walling v. Helmerich & Payne, Inc., 323 U.S. 37, 43 (1944). In those contexts, the Court has lowered the ripeness threshold so as to preclude manipulation by the parties or the mere passage of time from frustrating judicial review. MR. JUSTICE STEWART correctly observes, and the Court apparently concedes, however, that the "capable of repetition" doctrine does not apply here. Neither does the liberal rule applied in "voluntary cessation" cases, since the current state of affairs is in no way the product of the appellants' voluntary discontinuation of their challenged conduct. 2 Certainly it is not the result of any effort on the part of the appellants to avoid review by this Court. Thus, since these mixed mootness/ripeness rules are inapplicable, this case presents for me nothing more than a plain, old-fashioned question of ripeness. 3   [445 U.S. 480, 504]  

The Court's cases lay down no mechanistic test for determining whether a dispute is ripe for adjudication. But past formulations are uniformly more rigorous than the one the Court now applies. The Court has observed that "[p]ast exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or controversy," O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495 (1974), and that "general assertions or inferences" that illegal conduct will recur do not render a case ripe. Id., at 497. "A hypothetical threat is not enough." Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 90 (1947). There must be "actual present or immediately threatened injury resulting from unlawful governmental action." Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 15 (1972). See Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617 (1973) (requiring "some threatened or actual injury"); Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 488 (1923) (requiring that the litigant "has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury"). A "substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality" is required. Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 108 (1969), quoting Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273 (1941). [445 U.S. 480, 505]  

Applying these principles, I have difficulty in perceiving an existing "case or controversy" here. Since our remand, the state officials have indicated nothing more than that they have a general right to apply their statute, and to apply it to appellee if necessary. 4 They have not expressed a present intent or desire to transfer appellee to a mental facility pursuant to the challenged provisions. Nor have they suggested that they may transfer appellee to the Lincoln Regional Center now on the basis of the diagnosis made five years ago. And they have not suggested that they would subject appellee immediately to a "fresh" psychiatric evaluation if the District Court's injunction were lifted. The appellee has represented that he "does not reside in the psychiatric unit of the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, nor is he receiving or accepting psychiatric treatment." Brief for Appellee 11-12. The brief containing that statement was filed some six months ago and some nine months after the revocation of appellee's parole.

In sum, for all that appears, appellee has been assimilated once again into the general prison population, and appellants, at least at this time, are content to leave him where he is. 5 Given these facts, determining whether prison officials within two years again will seek to send appellee to a mental institution [445 U.S. 480, 506]   "takes us into the area of speculation and conjecture." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S., at 497 . Cf. Longshoremen v. Boyd, 347 U.S. 222 (1954).

It is for these reasons that I would vacate the judgment of the District Court and remand the case to that court with directions to dismiss the complaint.

[ Footnote 1 ] The Court does not appear to share this view. It states that, even while at the Veterans' Administration Hospital, appellee Jones "insisted that he was receiving treatment for mental illness against his will." Ante, at 486. It adds that appellee was "paroled, but only on condition that he accept psychiatric treatment." Ibid. The Court does not identify the precise import of these facts, but a fair inference is that they are meant to suggest that this case - even during the time of appellee's parole - might properly have been pursued on the theory that the appellee was continuing to feel the effects of the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights in receiving in-patient care at the Veterans' Administration Hospital.

I cannot accept this suggestion. First, its premise appears to be faulty. The District Court did not find, and it does not appear clearly in the record, that the parole board's offer or appellee's acceptance of parole was in any way related to his prior transfer to the Lincoln Regional Center. Appellee chose to accept conditional parole. Moreover, at the time appellee elected to go on parole, he was being housed at the penal complex, not at the Lincoln Regional Center. Thus, it is not surprising that the District Court based its finding of nonmootness solely on its conclusion that appellee - notwithstanding his conditioned release - was "under threat of being transferred to the state mental hospital under 83-180." App. to Juris. Statement 24. Second, the "continuing injury" theory seems to me to be incorrect as a matter of law. Appellee did not seek or evince any interest in seeking release from the Veterans' Administration Hospital, and a declaration that his initial transfer had been illegal would have neither justified nor predictably led to appellee's removal from that facility. In other words, after accepting the conditional grant of parole, appellee could no longer show, as required by the case-or-controversy requirement, "that he personally would benefit in a tangible way from the court's intervention." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 508 (1975).

The Court also finds some support for its holding in the fact that vacating the District Court's order would remove the declaration that the challenged procedures "afforded an inadequate basis for declaring Jones to be mentally ill." Ante, at 487. If the Court, by this statement, means to imply that appellee's suit is somehow mootness-proof due to the continuing stigma resulting from the transfer to the mental hospital, I cannot accept that sweeping proposition. The Court has never suggested that the "collateral consequences" doctrine of Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40 (1968), which saves an action challenging the validity of a [445 U.S. 480, 503]   conviction after a prisoner has served his sentence, also saves a challenge to a commitment by a patient who has been released from a mental hospital. Nor does the logic of Sibron - focusing on tangible and remediable collateral consequences, such as use of a prior conviction to enhance a sentence for a later crime, or to impeach credibility if one appears as a witness - comfortably extend to the claim of a former mental patient. See id., at 55 (referring to "adverse collateral legal consequences").

[ Footnote 2 ] The decisions to award and revoke parole were made by the Nebraska Parole Board, not by appellants.

[ Footnote 3 ] It is not clear whether the Court views this as a "voluntary cessation" case. It nowhere expressly relies on the doctrine and does not [445 U.S. 480, 504]   explain what factors might justify characterizing appellee's present situation as the result of voluntary cessation of illegal conduct by appellants. On the other hand, each of the three decisions cited by the Court to support its application of a "creampuff" ripeness standard, County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979); United States v. Phosphate Export Assn., 393 U.S. 199, 203 (1968); United States v. W. T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 633 (1953), pivoted on the presence of "voluntary cessation." It is therefore unclear whether the Court deems this a "voluntary cessation" case (without explaining why) or deems the "no reasonable expectation of recurrence" standard - to date a litmus carefully confined by a policy-tailored and principled "voluntary cessation" rule - applicable to an amorphous cluster of facts having nothing to do with parties' artful dodging of well-founded litigation. In either event, the Court's analysis invites the criticism, increasingly voiced, that this Court's decisions on threshold issues "are concealed decisions on the merits of the underlying constitutional claim." Tushnet, The New Law of Standing: A Plea for Abandonment, 62 Cornell L. Rev. 663 (1977).

[ Footnote 4 ] Appellants, to be sure, have announced their intention to continue to use the challenged procedures. That fact, however, is of small, if any, significance, for it is hardly surprising to hear state officials say that they plan to abide by the State's own laws. See Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 91 (1947) ("the existence of the law and the regulations" does not alone render a suit ripe). Cf. Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497 (1961) (desuetude statute).

[ Footnote 5 ] I do not go so far as MR. JUSTICE STEWART does when he says that appellee is "simply one of thousands of Nebraska prisoners." Ante, at 501. For purposes of the "case or controversy" requirement, appellee differs from his fellow inmates in two relevant respects: he has a recent history of perceived psychiatric problems, and in fact he was previously transferred pursuant to the challenged statutes. Cf. O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S., at 496 ("Of course, past wrongs are evidence bearing on whether there is a real and immediate threat of repeated injury"). [445 U.S. 480, 507]  

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