United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY DISMISSING ACTION AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL
William T. Lawrence, Judge
Eli Villegas is a federal prisoner who seeks habeas corpus
relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). Villegas is
entitled to habeas corpus relief if he shows that his custody
from the challenged disciplinary proceeding violates the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.
Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975).
considered the pleadings, the expanded record, and the
parties' arguments, and being duly advised, the Court
finds that the disciplinary proceeding Villegas challenges is
not tainted by constitutional error and that his petition for
writ of habeas corpus must therefore be denied. This
disposition is compelled by the following facts and
“Federal inmates must be afforded due process before
any of their good time credits-in which they have a liberty
interest-can be revoked.” Jones v. Cross, 637
F.3d 841, 845 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Brooks-Bey v.
Smith, 819 F.2d 178, 180 (7th Cir. 1987). Due process in
this context requires that the prisoner receive advance
written notice of the charges, an opportunity to present
evidence to an impartial decisionmaker, and a written
explanation for the discipline that is supported by
“some evidence.” Superintendent, Mass. Corr.
Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985);
Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564 (1974).
November 24, 2015, an Incident Report was issued charging
Villegas with violating prison rules at the USP Yazoo by
Assaulting Any Person. He was ultimately found guilty of the
related misconduct of Interfering with any Security Device.
Villegas was notified of the charge and a hearing was
conducted. He was found guilty and sanctioned. That
disposition was reversed in Villegas' administrative
appeal and a new hearing was conducted on January 5, 2016.
Villegas was present at the hearing and made a statement
concerning the charge. The hearing officer considered that
statement, together with the other evidence, and found
Villegas guilty of the related misconduct of Interfering with
any Security Device. This action was filed after his
administrative appeal was concluded.
Construing the evidence in the manner most favorable to the
finding of the hearing officer, see Henderson v. United
States Parole Comm'n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1077 (7th Cir.
1993) (a federal habeas court Awill overturn the . . .
[conduct board's] decision only if no reasonable
adjudicator could have found . . . [the petitioner] guilty of
the offense on the basis of the evidence presented”),
cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 314 (1994), during the
evening of November 24, 2015, while a staff member was
conducting clothing exchange in the Special Housing Unit,
Villegas attempted to assault him after the officer refused
to give Villegas an item during clothing exchange. The staff
member informed Villegas that since the clothing item was
altered and damaged, staff would be conducting a cell search
to remove any contraband. Villegas became angry and when the
officer attempted to secure the food slot, Villegas
forcefully reached out through the slot towards the
officer's body and institution keys. The officer gave
Villegas orders to stop his behavior. However, Villegas
continued to force his hand through the slot opening.
Villegas' hand was briefly pinned between the slot
opening and the locking mechanism until Villegas withdrew his
hand and the officer was able to secure the cell door's
food slot. The Incident Report was then issued as has been
described and the disciplinary proceedings ensued.
Applying the requirements of Wolff and Hill
as an analytical template, Villegas received all the process
to which he was entitled. That is, the charge was clear,
adequate notice was given, and the evidence was sufficient.
In addition, (1) Villegas was given the opportunity to appear
before the hearing officer and make a statement concerning
the charge, (2) the hearing officer issued a sufficient
statement of his findings, and (3) the hearing officer issued
a written reason for the decision and for the sanctions
imposed. Villegas' claims that he was denied the
protections afforded by Wolff and Hill are
a. Villegas argues that there was no evidence supporting the
hearing officer's determination. This is not true. As
summarized above, the Incident Report and other evidence
support a rational adjudicator's finding that on the
evening of November 24, 2015, Villegas thrust his hands
through the foot slot of his cell and thereby obstructed the
efforts of the reporting officer to secure Villegas in his
cell. Villegas also challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence. The hearing officer was entitled to find the
reporting officer's clear and first-hand account
credible, Russell v. Sandahl, 989 F.2d 502 (7th Cir.
1993), and “[i]n reviewing a decision for ‘some
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)(internal quotation omitted). In this
setting, evidence is constitutionally sufficient if it
“point[s] to the accused's guilt." Lenea
v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1989). As just
explained above, the evidence certainly pointed to
Villegas' guilt. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 457
("The Federal Constitution does not require evidence
that logically precludes any conclusion but the one reached
by the disciplinary board."). Although Villegas denies
that he misbehaved, the hearing officer was entitled to
conclude otherwise. The evidence in the challenged proceeding
was constitutionally sufficient.
b. Villegas notes that he was ultimately found guilty of a
rule violation other than the one with which he had initially
been charged with violating. However, revising an offense in
this manner does not violate due process so long as the
revised finding is based on the same evidence as already
considered and the inmate had notice of that evidence.
See Northern v. Hanks, 326 F.3d 909, 911 (7th Cir.
2003) (explaining that inmate was not denied due process by
substitution of different charge during administrative appeal
because investigative report given to inmate before
disciplinary hearing placed him on notice that he could be
subject to additional charge); Holt v. Caspari, 961
F.2d 1370, 1373 (8th Cir. 1992) (concluding that prison
disciplinary committee did not deny inmate due process by
elevating charge from possession of “contraband”
to “dangerous contraband” since both charges
shared same factual basis). That was certainly the case as to
the events narrated in the incident report and their relation
to the ultimate finding of the hearing officer.
c. Villegas places strong emphasis on the refusal at the
first hearing to call a witness (a staff member) he had
requested. This was found to have been a mistake and was the
reason for the relief granted in the form of a rehearing. At
the rehearing, moreover, Villegas did not renew his request
for that same witness. Indeed, he did request two witnesses
and those individuals (both inmates) gave statements in the
matter. The error in the first hearing was remedied. It did
not recur at the rehearing. This proceeding is not a
challenge to the first hearing because that hearing was
d. Villegas also argues that the hearing officer was not
impartial. However, “an adjudicator is entitled to a
presumption of ‘honesty and integrity' absent clear
evidence to the contrary, see Withrow v. Larkin, 421
U.S. 35, 47, 95 S.Ct. 1456, 43 L.Ed.2d 712 (1975).”
Perotti v. Marberry, 355 Fed.Appx. 39, 43 (7th Cir.
2009), and a hearing officer who follows established
procedures, whose discretion is circumscribed by regulations,
and which adheres to Wolff's procedural
requirements, does not pose a hazard of arbitrariness
violative of due process. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 562 and
571. This claim is meritless.
"The touchstone of due process is protection of the
individual against arbitrary action of the government."
Wolff, 418 U.S. at 558. There was no arbitrary
action in any aspect of the charge, disciplinary proceedings,
or sanctions involved in the events identified in this
action, and there was no constitutional infirmity in the
proceeding which entitles Villegas to the relief he ...