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Burnside v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 14, 2014

CURTIS BURNSIDE, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

RUDY LOZANO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a habeas petition challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding, filed by Curtis Burnside, pro se, on July 1, 2013 (DE #1). For the reasons set forth below, the petition (DE #1) is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

In WCC # XX-XX-XXXX, Burnside was found guilty of assaulting a staff member. (DE #5-3.) The charge was initiated on September 9, 2012, when Corrections Officer S. Waterman wrote a conduct report stating as follows:

On today's date 9-9-12 at approx 1130 AM, I Officer Waterman was allowing another offender to exit the holding cell to use the bathroom. At that time Offender Burnside Curtis 881663 yell[ed] fuck this shit and tryed [sic] to exit the holding cell. I Ofc Waterman told Burnside no you not [sic]. He then lunched [sic] the gate of [the] holding cell w[h]ich struck me [in the] back. Then this offender came at me putting both his hand[s] on my upper chest and threw me Ofc. Waterman into the wall.

(DE #13-1.)

On March 6, 2013, Burnside was notified of the charge.[1] (DE #13-2.) He pled not guilty, declined the assistance of a lay advocate, did not request any physical evidence, and requested a witness statement from Dr. B. Eichman, the prison psychiatrist, regarding his "mental capacity" at the time of the incident. ( Id. ) Prior to the hearing, a statement was obtained from Dr. Eichman, who stated as follows: "Since I was not present at the time of this incident there is no way I can attest to this offender's mental status at that time." (DE #13-3.)

On March 11, 2013, a hearing was held on the charge. (DE #13-4.) In his defense, Burnside made the following statement: "I just ran out of the cage-she got in my way [a]nd in the process was knocked to the ground. I went back in the cage once I realized what had happened. I had no control over what happened." ( Id. ) Based on the evidence, the hearing officer found him guilty. ( Id. ) Among other sanctions, Burnside lost earned time credits and received a credit-class demotion. ( Id. ) His administrative appeals were denied. (DE #13-5 to #13-7.)

DISCUSSION

When prisoners lose earned time credits in a disciplinary proceeding, the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause guarantees them certain procedural protections: (1) advance written notice of the charge; (2) an opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision-maker; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence when consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by the fact-finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be "some evidence" in the record to support the guilty finding. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).

Burnside raises a number of claims in his petition regarding the failure of prison staff to follow Indiana Department of Correction ("IDOC") policies regarding time deadlines, the sanctions imposed, and the processing of his appeal. (DE #1 at 5-7.) However, even if he is correct, a violation of IDOC rules would not entitle him to federal habeas relief. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (habeas relief is only available for a violation of federal law); Hester v. McBride, 966 F.Supp. 765, 775 (N.D. Ind. 1997) (violation of IDOC policy in disciplinary proceeding could not support grant of habeas relief, since federal habeas court "does not sit to correct any errors of state law"). Accordingly, these claims are denied.

Burnside next challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. (DE #1 at 6.) In reviewing a disciplinary determination for sufficiency of the evidence, "courts are not required to conduct an examination of the entire record, independently assess witness credibility, or weigh the evidence, but only determine whether the prison disciplinary board's decision to revoke good time credits has some factual basis." McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999). "[T]he relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board." Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56 (emphasis added). The court will overturn a guilty finding only if "no reasonable adjudicator could have found [the prisoner] guilty of the offense on the basis of the evidence presented." Henderson v. United States Parole Comm'n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1077 (7th Cir. 1994). Additionally, circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to establish guilt. See Hamilton v. O'Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 345 (7th Cir. 1992).

Upon review, there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the guilty finding in this case. Officer Waterman reported that Burnside was in a holding cell, [2] and when she was letting another inmate out to use the restroom, Burnside yelled "fuck this shit" and tried to push past her. She told him he could not leave, at which point he pushed the gate into her back, and then shoved her in the chest into a wall. This is sufficient evidence to establish that he was guilty of assault. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 457 (evidence is sufficient as long as "the record is not so devoid of evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board were without support or otherwise arbitrary."); see also Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 981 (7th Cir. 2002) (witness statements constituted some evidence); McPherson, 188 F.3d at 786 (conduct report alone provided some evidence to support disciplinary determination).

In the face of this evidence, Burnside does not offer an outright denial, but argues instead that he had no control over what he was doing because he suffers from bi-polar disorder, which makes him moody and "overly aggressive." (DE #1 at 5.) He asserts that he was feeling stressed that day due to the death of his father approximately six months earlier. (DE #14-1 at 7.) He appears to argue that ...


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