Hughes v. Rowe
449 U.S. 5 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980)

Hughes v. Rowe

No. 79-6000

Decided November 10, 1980

449 U.S. 5

Syllabus

Petitioner, a state prisoner, was placed in a segregation cell for a violation of prison regulations, was given a hearing two days later, and, after admitting the violation, was sentenced to 10 days' segregation. After exhausting administrative remedies, petitioner brought a federal court civil rights action against respondent Illinois corrections officers under 42 U.S.C. $ 1983. The complaint, which was prepared without the assistance of counsel, raised federal questions concerning, inter alia, the initial decision to place petitioner in segregation without a prior hearing. Respondents filed no affidavits denying or explaining the facts alleged by petitioner. The District Court dismissed the complaint without taking any evidence, and later ordered petitioner to pay counsel fees under 42 U.S.C. $ 1988 for services rendered by the Attorney General of Illinois in representing respondents in the action. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Although petitioner's allegations as to bias of certain of the officers conducting the disciplinary hearing after his initial segregation, procedural irregularities at the hearing, unequal treatment, and cruel and unusual punishment were properly dismissed for failure to state a claim -- even under the controlling principle that a prisoner's complaint prepared without counsel should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that he can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief -- nevertheless the complaint was adequate at least to require some response from respondents, by way of affidavit or otherwise, to petitioner's claim that his initial confinement to segregation violated due process because it occurred without a prior hearing. Segregation without a prior hearing may violate due process if the postponement of procedural protections is not justified by apprehended emergency conditions. Here, the record did not show that petitioner's immediate segregation was necessitated by emergency conditions, and an administrative regulation authorizing segregation pending investigation of disciplinary matters, where required "in the interest of institutional security and safety," did not justify dismissal of the suit in the absence of any showing that concern for institutional security and safety as the basis for petitioner's immediate segregation without a prior hearing.

Page 449 U. S. 6

2. The award of attorney's fees entered against petitioner was improper. The defendant in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may recover attorney's fees from the plaintiff only if the district court finds "that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation," cf. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC,434 U. S. 412, 434 U. S. 421. No such finding supported the fee award in this case, and the limitations apply with special force in an action, such as here, initiated by an uncounseled prisoner. Moreover, the fact that a prisoner's complaint, even when liberally construed, cannot survive a motion to dismiss does not, without more, entitle the defendant to attorney's fees.

Certiorari granted; affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

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