United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE
Vernatter, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging the disciplinary decision at the Indiana
State Prison in which a disciplinary hearing officer found
him guilty of engaging in an unauthorized financial
transaction in violation of Indiana Department of Correction
Offense B-220. Mr. Vernatter was sanctioned with the loss of
ninety days earned credit time and was demoted from Credit
Class 2 to Credit Class 3.
Vernatter argues that that he didn't send or receive any
numbers to facilitate a financial transaction and that he
didn't have control over deposits to his prison account.
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,
455-456 (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.
[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).
hearing officer found Mr. Vernatter guilty of engaging in an
unauthorized financial transaction. According to the
departmental policy for prison accounts, “[o]ffenders
found to be attempting or completing financial transactions,
including the sending of monies from one offender to another
or the sending of monies from the family/friends of one
offender to another, shall be subject to disciplinary
action.” ECF 8-1 at 4. The conduct report says Mr.
Vernatter received forty-five dollars in his prison account
from an individual who was on the approved visitor list of
another inmate. Id. at 1. The prison account summary
and the approved visitor list of the other inmate are
consistent with this report. Id. at 2-3. Because
there is evidence in the record that could support the
conclusion reached by the hearing officer, Mr.
Vernatter's claims regarding the hearing officer's
findings aren't a basis for habeas relief.
Vernatter also argues that he asked for a lay advocate but
didn't get one. For prison disciplinary hearings, inmates
are entitled to lay advocates if “an illiterate inmate
is involved” or “[if] the complexity of the
issues makes it unlikely that the inmate will be able to
collect and present evidence necessary for an adequate
comprehension of the case.” Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570, (1974); Miller v.
Duckworth, 963 F.2d 1002, 1004 (7th Cir. 1992). The
record indicates that Mr. Vernatter received a lay advocate
(ECF 8-3), but, even if he didn't, there is no indication
that he was entitled to one. In light of his filings, Mr.
Vernatter is clearly literate, and the disciplinary charge
against him wasn't particularly complex.
Vernatter also argues that Sergeant Dunn shouldn't have
served as both a screening officer and a witness at the
disciplinary hearing. 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. Due process isn't violated simply
because the hearing officer knew the inmate, presided over a
prior disciplinary case, or had some limited involvement in
the event underlying the charge. Id. Though Sergeant
Dunn played a few roles during the course of the disciplinary
proceedings, he didn't serve as the hearing officer. As a
result, Mr. Vernatter's claim of improper bias is not a
basis for habeas relief.
Mr. Vernatter argues that, according to an offender handbook,
the prison account system shouldn't have allowed him to
receive money from an individual who was not on his approved
visitor list. The offender handbook reads, “In order
for money to be submitted via JPay, friends/family must be on
your approved visitor list.” ECF 2-1 at 6. Even
assuming that Mr. Vernatter's interpretation of this
provision is correct, a failure to follow internal policies
doesn't rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991)
(“state-law violations provide no basis for federal
habeas relief”); Keller v. Donahue, 271
Fed.Appx. 531, 532 (7th Cir. 2008) (finding that inmate's
claim that prison failed to follow internal policies had
“no bearing on his right to due process”). As a
result, this argument is not a basis for habeas relief.
court denies the habeas petition because Mr. Vernatter
hasn't asserted a valid claim for habeas relief. If Mr.
Vernatter wants to appeal this decision, he doesn't need
a certificate of appealability because he is challenging a
prison disciplinary proceeding. See Evans v. Circuit
Court, 569 F.3d 665, 666 (7th Cir. 2009). However, he
may not proceed in forma pauperis on appeal because the court
finds pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that an appeal
in this case could not be taken in good faith.
these reasons, the court:
DENIES the habeas corpus petition (ECF 2);
DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and
DENIES Randy Vernatter leave to proceed in forma ...