High Security Prisoners Class Action Against Prison Officials

In Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 125 S. Ct. 2384, 162 L. Ed. 2d 174 (2005), a group of former and current inmates housed at Ohio's highest security "Supermax" (OSP) facility brought a class action against prison officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that the state's policy governing placement in the facility violated the Fourteenth Amendment by not affording procedural due process. Applying its earlier decision in Sandin, the Court determined that the inmates first had to demonstrate that assignment to the supermax facility imposed atypical and significant hardship on them in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 223 (citing Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484). The Court noted that in the wake of Sandin the Courts of Appeal had not reached consistent conclusions for "identifying the baseline from which to measure what is atypical and significant in any particular prison system." Id. Rather than establishing such a baseline, the Court concluded, based upon the specific conditions at Ohio's supermax facility, that the inmates in Wilkinson had satisfied their burden of demonstrating a "liberty interest in avoiding assignment to OSP." Id. at 224. The Court then addressed the central question, which was "what process is due an inmate whom Ohio seeks to place in OSP." Id. On that point, the Supreme Court held that Ohio's procedures were adequate to "safeguard an inmate's liberty interest in not being assigned to OSP." Id. at 228.