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Dalton v. Superintendent

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

November 17, 2014

PHILIP C. DALTON, Petitioner,


JON E. DeGUILIO, District Judge.

Philip C. Dalton, a pro se prisoner, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding. (DE 1.) In WCC-13-06-0571, a hearing officer at Westville Correctional Facility ("Westville"), found Dalton guilty of a Class A102 offense, assault/battery upon another person with a weapon or inflicting serious bodily harm. (DE 8-2.) The charge was initiated on June 22, 2013, when Correctional Officer J. Carper prepared a conduct report stating as follows:

On [June 22, 2013 at approximately 12:45 a.m.] Offender Dalton, Phillip DOC# 189873 admitted to me Officer Carper that he beat up Offender Ray, Jackson #133750.

(DE 8-1.)

On June 28, 2013, Officer Kearby attempted to notify Dalton that he was charged with assault/battery, but Dalton refused to be screened. (DE 8-2.) Consequently, the screening report was left incomplete and Dalton did not plead to the offense, did not request a lay advocate, or request any evidence. (DE 8-2.)

When a hearing officer first attempted to conduct the disciplinary hearing, Dalton requested a continuance to call Harrison Shepherd, Ray Jackson and Officer A. Medina as witnesses. (DE 8-3.) The continuance was granted, and the hearing was postponed while waiting on statements from these witnesses. (DE 8-2.) A hearing officer conducted the disciplinary hearing on July 23, 2013. (DE 8-3.) During the hearing, Dalton pled not guilty and provided the following statement:

I never done it. I never beat up a retarded person in my life. I got jumped out on the rec yard because I have a rebel cause patch & almost got stabbed. I think Jackson got beat up because they thought it was me.

(DE 8-3.) A witness statement was obtained from Offender Harrison Shepherd who stated, "If you review the camera 9:00 to 9:30 me and Dalton were in the day room sitting right beside each other watching t.v. He was nowhere around Jackson." (DE 8-3.) Officer A. Medina also provided a written witness statement stating, "Ofc. Carper told me that the above named offender Dalton, Phillip #189873 admitted to beating up another offender." (DE 8-3.)

The hearing officer, relying on staff reports, Dalton's statement, evidence from the witnesses, and the confidential internal affairs file, found Dalton guilty of the charge of a Class A102 assault and battery. (DE 8-3.) The hearing officer imposed disciplinary segregation for 365 days, a 365-day deprivation of earned time credit, and a demotion to credit class. Dalton's appeals were denied and this petition followed. On July 9, 2014, after this petition was filed, the DOC determined that Dalton was guilty of a lesser assault/battery offense, Class B212.[1] The sanctions were reduced to 90-day disciplinary segregation, 90-day loss of earned time credit, and a demotion from credit class 1 to class 2. (DE 8-1.)

When prisoners lose earned time credits in a prison disciplinary hearing, they are entitled to certain protections under the Due Process Clause: (1) advance written notice of the charges; (2) an opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision maker; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by a fact finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be "some evidence" to support the hearing officer's decision. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).

Here, Dalton raises four claims in his petition: (1) he was not informed of his rights; (2) he was denied evidence; (3) the sanctions are excessive because this was his first disciplinary proceeding; and (4) since there was no evidence of the use of a weapon or resulting serious bodily injury, he should have been charged with Class B212 battery.[2]

As a preliminary matter, to the extent Dalton is arguing that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of assault/battery, this claim fails. The "some evidence" test is not a demanding one. Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985). "Ascertaining whether this standard is satisfied does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence." Id. "Instead, the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board." Id. at 455-56. A disciplinary determination will be overturned on the basis of insufficient evidence 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).

In this case, there is ample evidence in the record to support the conclusion reached by the hearing officer. The conduct report alone constitutes some evidence that Dalton assaulted Offender Jackson. McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999) (conduct report alone provided "some evidence" to support disciplinary determination). In fact, Dalton admitted beating the victim to Officer Carper. (DE 8-1.) Moreover, the statement of Officer Medina further confirmed that Dalton assaulted and battered the victim. ( See DE 8-3; DE 10.) This evidence more than satisfies the "some evidence" standard of the amended assault/battery charge.

Not only is there sufficient evidence to find Dalton guilty of the charged offense, but there has been no showing that he was deprived any due process along the way. Dalton first claims that he was not informed of his rights. Dalton complains that when Officer Kearby first approached him with the screening report, she did not come to him in-person. Instead, Officer Kearby talked to him through an intercom. Dalton states he could not understand what Officer Kearby was saying because her voice sounded muffled, so he asked her to come to his cell. She never did. Instead, she noted that ...

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