United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Flagg, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISP 17-03-353)
where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty
of assault on staff in violation of Indiana Department of
Correction (IDOC) Policy A-117 on March 28, 2017. ECF 2 at 1,
9-3 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 50
days earned credit time and received a one-step demotion in
credit class. Id.
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).
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.” Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. “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
was found guilty of violating IDOC offense A-117, which
prohibits inmates from”[c]ommitting battery/assault
upon any staff person, including contractors and volunteers,
which results in bodily injury or serious bodily injury
(including the throwing of body fluids or waste on a staff
person).” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult
Disciplinary Process: Appendix I.
Conduct Report charged Flagg as follows:
On 03/26/2017 at approximately 3:52pm I sgt T. Redden was
escorting offender Flagg Doc#121969 to MSU [Medical Services
Unit]. As we w[ere] going on the elevator Offender Flagg
slipped his cuff and started swinging. As the offender was
fighting [I] secured the offender on the ground as Officer A.
Blair call[ed] a signal 7. The offender attempted to fight
still and banged my [h]and against the wall. The first
Responders then arrived.
ECF 9-1 at 1.
petition, Flagg argues there are two grounds which entitle
him to habeas corpus relief. In his first ground, Flagg
argues his due process rights were violated because he was
denied a fair hearing before an impartial decision-maker. ECF
2 at 2. As an initial matter, however, Flagg has not met the
exhaustion requirement contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b).
To have exhausted his administrative remedies, Flagg must
have properly presented the issue at each administrative
level. Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 981-82 (7th
Cir. 2002). But he did not reference the DHO or their lack of
impartiality when he filed his administrative appeal. ECF
9-4. However, notwithstanding Flagg's failure to exhaust,
the court may deny the claim 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”).
to the merits of his first ground, in the prison disciplinary
context, adjudicators are “entitled to a presumption of
honesty and integrity, ” and “the constitutional
standard for improper bias is high.” Piggie v.
Cotton, 342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003). Due process
prohibits a prison official who was personally and
substantially involved in the underlying incident from acting
as a decision-maker in the case. Id. However, due
process is not violated simply because the hearing officer
knew the inmate, presided over a prior disciplinary case, or
had some limited involvement in the events underlying the
court's review of the record indicates there is no
evidence to support Flagg's contention that the DHO was
biased against him or that he did not receive an impartial
hearing. In his petition, Flagg claims the DHO was unfair and
partial toward him because, after discussing the assault with
prison officials, he was told he would not be able to contact
his family members by mail or phone and would be confined to
a strip cell until his case was resolved. ECF 2 at 2. He
further complains prison officials told him it would take
weeks for a DHO to resolve his case unless he pled guilty to
the offense. Id. But here Flagg has failed to
establish or show that the DHO, who presided over his case,
was directly or otherwise substantially involved in the
factual events underlying the disciplinary charges, or the
investigation of the incident. Piggie, 342 F.3d at
666. Therefore, Flagg's first ground does not identify a
basis for habeas corpus relief.
second ground, Flagg argues his due process rights were
violated because his right to call witnesses was improperly
denied. ECF 2 at 2. Here, he states that “[a]s a result
of . . . being ‘forced' to plea[d] guilty to alert
[his] family of what happened [he] was denied the right to
call . . . multiple witnesses whom would testify on [his]
behalf.“ Id. A prisoner has a right to call
witnesses and present documentary evidence in a prison
disciplinary proceeding. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566.
Flagg's right to present evidence was satisfied. During
his screening, he had the right to request witnesses and
evidence in his defense. However, as indicated on his
screening report, Flagg did not request any witnesses or
physical evidence for his disciplinary hearing. ECF ...