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Wallace v. Brown

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

October 17, 2019

RICHARD BROWN, Respondent.



         Indiana prison inmate Michael Wallace petitions for a writ of habeas corpus challenging a prison disciplinary sanction imposed in case number WVE 18-09-0037.[1] For the reasons explained in this Order, Mr. Wallace's habeas petition must be denied.

         A. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits or of credit-earning class without due process. Ellison v. Zatecky, 820 F.3d 271, 274 (7th Cir. 2016); Scruggs v. Jordan, 485 F.3d 934, 939 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Rhoiney v. Neal, 723 Fed.Appx. 347, 348 (7th Cir. 2018). The due process requirement is satisfied with: 1) the issuance of at least 24 hours advance written notice of the charge; 2) a limited opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence to an impartial decision-maker; 3) a written statement articulating the reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it; and 4) “some evidence in the record” to support the finding of guilt. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); see also Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-67 (1974).

         B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On September 7, 2018, Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Analyst S. Zimmerman was monitoring outgoing mail at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. He read a letter sent by Mr. Wallace and prepared a Report of Conduct charging Mr. Wallace with conspiracy/attempting to traffic, a violation of the IDOC's Adult Disciplinary Code offenses A-111 & A-113. The Report of Conduct states:

On 9/7/2018 while monitoring outgoing mail I, Analyst S. Zimmerman did read a letter being mailed by Offender Michael Wallace #956850 with instructions “to order some spray from China and put it on Charles and Obam car.” With 27 years of professional experience and training with the Department of Correction I am aware that the “spray” referred to in the letter is synthetic marijuana, and the term “car” is a slang word for paper. The contents of the letter clearly indicate that Offender Wallace is conspiring/attempting to traffick synthetic marijuana into the facility.

Dkt. 11-1.

         Mr. Wallace was notified of the charge on September 13, 2018, when he received the Screening Report. Dkt. 11-4. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. Id. Mr. Wallace asked that Analyst Zimmerman be called as a witness and “prove [that] she knows “car” means paper.” Id. As evidence, Mr. Wallace asked for other conduct reports where Analyst Zimmerman “wrote up [other] offenders for using the slang word car.” Id.

         Analyst Zimmerman was notified of Mr. Wallace's witness and evidence demands. Dkt. 11-5. She responded that she has “27 years of professional experience and training in the DOC. That is sufficient.” Id. She did not provide any other answer to Mr. Wallace's testimonial demand other than to write “That is sufficient.” Id. Analyst Zimmerman also declined to provide Mr. Wallace with conduct reports of other offenders, stating that to do so would be contrary to policy. Id.

         The disciplinary hearing was held on September 25, 2018. Dkt. 2-1 at 9; dkt. 11-6. Mr. Wallace gave a statement that Analyst Zimmerman mixed up his words and added that his family and friend paint cars and houses. Id. The hearing officer considered 26 pages of “evidence” that Mr. Wallace brought to the hearing. See dkt. 11-7 (Offender's Hearing Evidence). The evidence was a lengthy written statement from Mr. Wallace explaining what business his family is in and asserting, therefore, that the letter at issue in the disciplinary hearing, dkt. 11-3, was misinterpreted. Mr. Wallace's evidence also included several photographs of vehicles and buildings that he or his family had worked on, and invoices from companies his family dealt with. Dkt. 11-7.

         In addition to Mr. Wallace's evidence, the hearing officer also considered the staff reports and the letter at issue. Dkt. 2-1 at 9; dkt. 11-6. The hearing officer found Mr. Wallace guilty of the charge, noting that he found the staff statement (report) and the letter to be “true and accurate.” Id. Because of the seriousness of the offense and for the likelihood of sanctions having a corrective effect on Mr. Wallace's future behavior, the sanctions imposed were 90 days in restrictive housing, the loss of 90 earned credit days, loss of telephone use for 30 days, and a suspended reduction in credit earning class. Id.

         Mr. Wallace appealed to the Facility Head and the IDOC Final Reviewing Authority, but neither appeal was successful. Dkt. 2-1 at 1-8; dkts. 11-8 & 11-9. He then brought this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting five grounds for relief. Dkt. 2.

         C. ...

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