Williams v. Superintendent
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 13 MOTION to Dismiss filed by Superintendent; ORDERING respondent to address the merits of the petition on or by 9/6/2013, and to submit the full and complete administrative record along with the return. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 7/15/2013. (lyb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
Case No. 3:12-CV-089 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Roosevelt Williams, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a prison
disciplinary proceeding. [ECF No. 1.] On July 12, 2011, a hearing officer at Indiana State Prison
(“ISP”) found Williams guilty of possession of a controlled substance. [ECF No. 14-1 at 1.] Among
other sanctions, he lost 30 days of earned time credits. [Id.] He filed an administrative appeal, but
it was determined to be untimely because it was not submitted within 15 days of the hearing as
required by the Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) Adult Disciplinary Procedures
(“ADP”). [ECF No. 14-3 at 1.]
Based on the above, the respondent moves to dismiss, arguing that the petition is barred by
procedural default. [ECF No. 13.] As the respondent points out, principles of exhaustion that apply
to federal review of criminal convictions also apply to review of prison disciplinary proceedings.
See Eads v. Hanks, 280 F.3d 728, 729 (7th Cir. 2002); Markam v. Clark, 978 F.2d 993, 994-95 (7th
Cir. 1992). Before seeking federal habeas relief, a prisoner must take all available administrative
appeals, and must raise in those appeals any issue on which he seeks federal review. Eads, 280 F.3d
at 729. An inmate’s failure to properly exhaust his claims in the state administrative process means
the claims are procedurally defaulted. Id.; see also Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 982 (7th Cir.
2002) (Indiana prisoner must raise his claim at all levels of administrative review, including with
the final reviewing authority). Nevertheless, the procedural default doctrine does not impose a
jurisdictional bar to federal habeas relief. Eichwedel v. Chandler, 696 F.3d 660, 669 (7th Cir. 2012).
Rather, it is an affirmative defense that must be established by the state. Id. Furthermore, a habeas
petitioner can overcome a procedural default by establishing cause and prejudice for the default.
Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 90 (1977). Cause sufficient to excuse a procedural default is
defined as “some objective factor external to the defense” which prevented the petitioner from
pursuing his claim. Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986); see also Harris v. McAdory, 334
F.3d 665, 669 (7th Cir. 2003) (defining cause as some “external impediment”).
Here, Williams has submitted evidence showing that on July 17, 2011, ISP went on an
extended lock-down due to a murder that occurred. [ECF No. 1-2 at 2.] He argues that he was unable
to submit a timely appeal for this reason. [ECF No. 15.] The respondent does not dispute that the
lock-down occurred, but argues that this does not present a valid excuse because the administrative
appeals process and other prison services were not formally suspended during this period. [See ECF
No. 14 at 2; ECF No. 14-4 at 1.] However, Williams has submitted evidence showing that as a
practical matter he had no access to his file containing the disciplinary hearing records or the
necessary documents to complete an appeal, despite his attempts to obtain them from the law library.
[ECF No. 1-2 at 2; ECF No. 1-3 at 4-6; ECF No. 4 at ¶ 9.] In the related civil rights context, a
prisoner cannot be faulted for failing to exhaust when the “process that exists on paper becomes
unavailable in reality.” Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006). The Court finds that same
reasoning persuasive here. The evidence also shows that once the lock-down ended Williams acted
promptly, submitting his appeal within four days after he regained access to his file. [See ECF No.
14-2 at 1-2.] The Court concludes that Williams has presented sufficient cause to excuse his failure
to file an appeal within 15 days of the hearing.
The respondent also argues that even if Williams can show cause for failing to file a timely
first-level appeal, his claims are procedurally defaulted in any event because he did not file a
second-level appeal to the final reviewing authority. [ECF No. 14 at 2.] However, there is no
indication from the record that Williams had any right to appeal to the final reviewing authority
under the ADP, since his first-level appeal was not denied, and instead was returned to him without
consideration. [See ECF No. 14-3 at 2.] Nor was Williams notified he had any further appeal rights,
since the facility head did not complete the appeal form (which does indicate a right to appeal
further), and instead simply sent him a letter telling him that his appeal had been rejected. [ECF No.
14-2 at 1; ECF No. 14-3 at 1.] Nothing in that letter instructs him that he had any right to appeal the
rejection of the grievance. [See ECF No. 14-3 at 1.] Under these circumstances, the respondent has
failed to establish that the petition is barred by procedural default. Accordingly, the motion to
dismiss will be denied, and the respondent will be ordered to brief the merits of the petition.
For these reasons, the motion to dismiss [ECF No. 13] is DENIED. The respondent is
ORDERED to address the merits of the petition on or September 6, 2013, and to submit the full and
complete administrative record along with the return.
ENTERED: July 15, 2013
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
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