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Nelson v. Warden

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

November 21, 2018

ANDRE NELSON, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Andre Nelson, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (WCC 15-08-261) where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of threatening in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Policy B-213 on September 10, 2015. ECF 1 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time and demoted from Credit Class 1 to Credit Class 2. Id. The Warden has filed the administrative record and Nelson filed a traverse. Thus, this case is fully briefed.

         The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees prisoners certain procedural due process rights in prison disciplinary hearings: (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 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). In his petition, Nelson argues there are two grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         In one ground in his petition, Nelson asserts the DHO did not have sufficient evidence to find him guilty. ECF 1 at 2-3. In the context of a prison disciplinary hearing, “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).

         Here, Nelson was found guilty of violating IDOC offense B-213 which prohibits inmates from ”[c]ommunicating to another person a plan to physically harm, harass or intimidate that person or someone else.” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101 APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The Conduct Report charged Nelson as follows:

On above date and time I Officer Williams was approached by offender Nelson #934979 who told me that he was a rec worker and needed to be let out. I told offender Nelson #934979 that I was only instructed to let out one offender and it was not him. At this point offender Nelson #934979 became angry and beligerant [sic] and stated “and y[‘]all wonder why we go off, and why y[‘]all be having problems with us.” As I was making my pipe round offender Nelson #934979 was standing in the bathroom doorway. As I walked by offender Nelson #934979 stated “I don't know what her problem is but she got me messed up. She needs to get her attitude in check before something happens to her.”

ECF 8-1 at 1.

         Offenders Jason Small and Keith Smith provided statements regarding the incident. ECF 8-3 at 1, 8-4 at 1. Here, Offender Small stated:

Mr. Nelson asked the officer to call his supervisor because he was on a count letter to referee a volleyball game, but the officer would not let him leave. Mr. Nelson then asked for a white hat, but his request was refused each time. Someone else asked for a white hat and was refused also. Later when one came the Sgt apologized because when he called the rec supervisor he said he was to be released at this time. The unit ofc began cussing out the Sgt, stormed out [of] the office slamming the door. Mr. Nelson never made any threatening [sic] statements.

ECF 8-3 at 1.

         Offender Smith also ...


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