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Higgason v. Warden

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

December 18, 2018

JAMES H. HIGGASON, JR., Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         James H. Higgason, Jr., a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (MCF 16-12-374) where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of threatening prison staff in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy B-213 on December 28, 2016. ECF 5 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 30 days earned credit time and a one-step demotion in credit class. Id. The Warden has filed the administrative record. Higgason has not filed a traverse and has asked the court to issue its ruling without a traverse. ECF 15. Thus, the case is now 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, Higgason argues there are four grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         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.” 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 omitted).

         Here, Higgason was found guilty of threatening prison staff in violation of IDOC policy B-213. IDOC offense B-213 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/02-04-101APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The Conduct Report charged Higgason as follows:

On 12/15/16 at approximately 2:35 pm I, Officer F. Schaeffner, was working at the feeding window of Chow [H]all 3. Offender Higgason, James 856635 approached and placed his ID in the diet window and stood to the side. I recalled I had just received another clothing request from him, and informed him I had received it and would be getting him clothing as soon as I could. He replied, “When the f*** is that going to be? Why don't you do your f****** job and give me my clothes.” I then told him I was very far behind and to be patient. He stated, “F*** you, you f****** b****. Just do your job and leave me alone.” I told him that I was being polite and he needed to do the same. He then stated “Why don't I just kick you in the n***?”
At this point I ordered him to cuff up for threatening staff. The offender refused to comply and stated “And what if I don't?” Officer B. Myers approached and began to speak with him. He attempted to talk the offender into complying. After a moment offender Higgason stated “I'll spit in your face, ” to Ofc. Myers.

ECF 13-1 at 1.

         Officer B. Myers provided the following statement of the incident:

On 12/15/16 at approximately 1424 I, Officer B. Myers was escorting PHU into Chow Hall 3. Once Offender Higgason, James DOC#856635 reached the diet window, he began a conversation about his clothing order with Officer Schaeffner. Officer Schaeffner explained to Offender Higgason that he was behind around 480 offender clothing orders due to not having any clothing to pass out. Offender Higgason became aggressive due to the answer he received. Offender Higgason told Officer Schaeffner he was going to kick him in the n*** if he did not get his clothes. At this point in time I came up front the rear of the chow line to assist Officer Schaeffner. Officer Schaeffner told Offender Higgason to turn around to cuff up, Offender Higgason refused. I began talking to Offender Higgason trying to get him to cuff up. However, Offender Higgason was still refusing. Offender Higgason stated he was going to spit in my face and beat my a**. Offender Higgason stated by doing so he would get an outside case and 5 years added to his sentence. I told Offender Higgason to turn around and cuff up. Once Offender Higgason turned around, I grabbed his arm to cuff him up. Offender Higgason pulled away and threw his elbows back at ...

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