United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
JEFFREY M. STOOPS, Petitioner,
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR., United States District Court Judge
Stoops, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging the prison disciplinary hearing (MCF
16-01-09) where he was found guilty of use and/or possession
of a cellular telephone or other wireless or cellular
communications device in violation of Indiana Department of
Correction policy A-121. The conduct report states:
[o]n 01-04-2016 at approximately 11:50 pm I, Officer J. Le
Grand, approached E239/240 to deliver a roll of toilet paper.
When I looked into the cell, I saw Offender Stoops, Jeffrey
#957156 quickly shove a cell phone into the waist band of his
pants. When I entered the cell, offender Stoops immediately
took the cell phone from his waist band and threw it into the
toilet and flushed the toilet. At that time, I ordered
offender Stoops to turn around and cuff up. Offender Stoops
complied. I called yard staff to assist and began to escort
the offender out of the cell. Both offender Stoops and I saw
that the phone had not gone down the toilet when it was
flushed. Offender Stoops kicked the flush valve of the toilet
and was successful in flushing the cell phone. I escorted
offender Stoops out of his cell and placed him on the wall. I
started back to the cell to check if the phone was still in
the toilet. At that time, offender Stoops ran into me in an
attempt to force his way back into the cell to see if the
phone had flushed.
ECF 1-1 at 2.
disciplinary hearing officer at the Miami Correctional
Facility heard the matter in January 2016. Mr. Stoops was
sanctioned with the loss of 120 days earned credit time and
was demoted from Credit Class 1 to Credit Class 2.
Stoops identifies two grounds in his petition. The respondent
filed a Response to Order to Show Cause. The court has waited
five months for Mr. Stoops to file a traverse, but he
hasn't done so. The court considers this matter fully
Ground One, Mr. Stoops argues that the conduct report and
screening report identify the wrong date. The conduct report
says the incident occurred on January 3, 2015. The body of
the conduct report notes that the date of the incident was
January 4, 2016. The screening report says it happened on
January 14, 2015. The respondent didn't address the
merits of this claim. Rather, the respondent argues that Mr.
Stoops didn't raise the issue of the incorrect date
during his administrative appeals, and so has waived the
Indiana does not provide judicial review of decisions by
prison administrative bodies, so the exhaustion requirement
in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) is satisfied by pursuing all
administrative remedies. These are, we held in Markham v.
Clark, 978 F.2d 993 (7th Cir. 1992), the sort of
“available State corrective process” (§
2254(b)(1)(B)(I)) that a prisoner must use. Indiana offers
two levels of administrative review: a prisoner aggrieved by
the decision of a disciplinary panel may appeal first to the
warden and then to a statewide body called the Final
Reviewing Authority … [T]o exhaust a claim, and thus
preserve it for collateral review under § 2254, a
prisoner must present that legal theory to the state's
supreme court. The Final Reviewing Authority is the
administrative equivalent to the state's highest court
Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 981-982 (7th Cir.
2002). The respondent is correct that Mr. Stoops failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to Ground
One. Mr. Stoops never raised the issue of the inaccuracy to
the Final Reviewing Authority. Mr. Stoops is procedurally
defaulted with respect to this claim. Nevertheless, the court
will consider Ground One on the merits. See 28
U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2)(“[a]n application for a writ
of habeas corpus may be denied on the merits, notwithstanding
the failure of the applicant to exhaust the remedies
available in the courts of the State”).
One doesn't warrant habeas corpus relief. The errors on
the Conduct Report and Screening Report would implicate Mr.
Stoops's due process rights only if the errors deprived
him notice of the charges against him. See generally
Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). The body of the
Conduct Report gave Mr. Stoops notice that the incident
occurred on January 4, 2016 at 11:50 pm. He was served with
notice of the charges shortly after the incident, on January
11, 2016. The conduct report, though imperfect, was
sufficient to put Stoops on notice of the incident at issue.
That Mr. Stoops didn't choose to raise this issue in the
screening report, at his hearing, or on appeal, is further
evidence that Mr. Stoops had sufficient notice, despite the
technical error. Mr. Stoops isn't entitled to relief on
Ground Two, Mr. Stoops argues that the hearing officer had
insufficient evidence on which to find him guilty. Mr. Stoops
contends that he never possessed a cell phone and that there
was no physical evidence to support the finding of guilt. The
respondent claims that the evidence was sufficient, and that
Ground Two amounts to a request for this court re-weigh the
evidence the hearing officer considered.
disciplinary context, “the relevant question is whether
there is any evidence in the record that could support the
conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.”
Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-456
(1985). “In 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) (quotation marks omitted).
[T]he findings of a prison disciplinary board [need only]
have the support of some evidence in the record. This is a
lenient standard, requiring no more than a modicum of
evidence. Even meager proof will suffice, so long as the
record is not so devoid of evidence that the findings of the
disciplinary board were without support or otherwise
arbitrary. Although some evidence is not much, it still must
point to the accused's guilt. It is not our province to
assess the comparative weight of the evidence underlying the
disciplinary board's decision.
Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000)
(quotation marks, citations, parenthesis, and ...