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Merritt v. Superintendent

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

August 7, 2017

OMAR MERRITT, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         Omar Merritt, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging the prison disciplinary hearing where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer found him guilty of creating counterfeit documents in violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy. ECF 1 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time and was demoted from Credit Class 1 to Credit Class 2. Id.

         Merritt argues that the hearing officer did not have sufficient evidence to find him guilty. In the 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, 455-56 (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 ellipsis omitted).

         It's a violation for an inmate to engage in “[c]ounterfeiting, forging, or unauthorized reproduction or possession of any document, article, identification, money, passes, security or official paper.” Adult Disciplinary Process, Appendix I: Offenses. http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The Conduct Report charged Merritt as follows:

On 09/01/2016, I, Casework Manager K. Miller was given back three request slips in the RHU mailbox in the mailroom. The remittance slips were sent through night mail and had my signature on the remittance slips. This offender did not hand these remittance slips directly to me, which would not allow the remittance slips to get signed by me. After comparing another remittance slip that has been signed by me, it was noted that Offender Merritt- 194553- R506 signed my signature in blue ink. The blue ink from the pen was found under Offender Merritt's Bunk in RHU 506. Both the ink and the blue pen were confiscated, along with the remittance slips that were pre-signed.

ECF 9-1 at 1.

         The officer who searched Merritt's cell, Officer Isaac, also submitted a statement:

On September 1st 2016 at approximately 0935 I, C/O J. Isaac, was working in RHU. While escorting offenders to outside recreation I removed offender Merritt, Omar DOC 194553 from cell R-505, to the outside rec cage. I then began to conduct routine cell searches. Upon entering offender Merritts cell I noticed that there was a blue pen body on the table. I then located the blue ink cartridge taped to the underside of his bunk.

ECF 9-1 at 3. The hearing officer was also provided with copies of the forged and authentic remittance slips for comparison. ECF 9-1 at 4.

         The hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find Merritt guilty of creating a counterfeit. He was provided with evidence by the employee whose signature was forged that the signature did not belong to her, and that Merritt had never provided her with the remittance slips for her signature. A comparison between the two signatures supports a finding that one of the signatures was forged. See ECF 9-1 at 4. The forged signature was signed in blue ink. A blue ink pen cartridge was discovered concealed in Merritt's cell. Moreover, Merritt does not contest that he wrote and signed the remittance slips. Thus, there is “some evidence” to support the finding of guilt.

         Merritt also challenges the credibility of the evidence. Merritt claims that Officer Isaac could not have found the pen under his bed because his bed is “just one big block of stone” and nothing can be placed under the bed. ECF 1 at 4. He also challenges the fact that Officer Isaac's witness statement claimed that he discovered the blue ink pen in cell 505, and claims that he was held in cell 506. ECF 1 at 3. It was the responsibility of the hearing officer to weigh the evidence and, in light of the evidence against Merritt, it was not unreasonable or arbitrary for the hearing officer to resolve discrepancies in favor of Officer Isaac. Moreover, Officer Isaac's misidentification of the cell number appears to be nothing more than a scrivener's error. While Officer Isaac may have misidentified the cell number, he did explicitly ...


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