Pierce v. Warden
OPINION AND ORDER the Court DENIES the habeas corpus petition (ECF 5). DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and DENIES Ronald J. Pierce leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Signed by Chief Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 2/17/21. (mlc)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
RONALD J. PIERCE,
CAUSE NO. 3:18-CV-857-JD-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
Ronald J. Pierce, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition
challenging the disciplinary decision (ISP 16-8-19) at the Indiana State Prison in which a
disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) found him guilty of aggravated battery in violation
of Indiana Department of Correction Offense 102 and Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1.5. Following
a disciplinary hearing, he was sanctioned with a loss of one hundred twenty days
earned credit time, a demotion in credit class, and restitution in the amount of $2,814.60.
Pierce argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the hearing officer lacked
sufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt. He maintains that the evidence
demonstrated that he was forced to engage in self-defense and that correctional officers
failed to protect him from the attack of another inmate.
[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
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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).
Indiana statute defines the criminal offense of aggravated battery as the knowing
or intentional infliction of injury on a person that causes “serious permanent
disfigurement” or “protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or
organ.” Ind. Code. § 35-42-2-1.5. The administrative record includes a conduct report in
which a correctional officer represents that, during an interview regarding the assault of
another inmate, Pierce told him that he had punched that inmate three times. The
correctional officer further represented that that inmate had been blinded as a result.
This conduct report constitutes some evidence that Pierce committed aggravated
battery. Though Pierce maintains that correctional staff’s failure to protect him forced
him to act in self-defense, he has no constitutional right “to raise self-defense as a
complete defense in prison disciplinary proceedings.” Scruggs v. Jordan, 485 F.3d 934,
938–39 (7th Cir. 2007); Rowe v. DeBruyn, 17 F.3d 1047, 1054 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, the
claim that the hearing officer lacked sufficient evidence for a finding of guilt is not a
basis for habeas relief.
Pierce argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the hearing officer was
not an impartial decisionmaker. He represents that the hearing officer demonstrated
bias by finding him guilty, by refusing to disclose confidential statements, and by
denying him a continuance. In the prison disciplinary context, adjudicators are “entitled
to a presumption of honesty and integrity,” and “the constitutional standard for
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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. The record contains
no indication that the hearing officer had any personal involvement in the underlying
charge. Further, though the hearing officer found Pierce guilty and denied many of his
requests, adverse rulings alone are insufficient to demonstrate improper bias. Thomas v.
Reese, 787 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 2015). As a result, the claim of improper bias is not a
basis for habeas relief.
Pierce argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because correctional staff did not
allow him to review the confidential witness statements from the investigative file.
“[T]he inmate facing disciplinary proceedings should be allowed to call witnesses and
present documentary evidence.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566 (1974). However,
a hearing officer may consider confidential information without allowing an inmate to
personally review them, particularly if it would present a risk to safety or security. See
White v. Indiana Parole Bd., 266 F.3d 759, 767 (7th Cir. 2001) (“prison disciplinary boards
are entitled to receive, and act on, information that is withheld from the prisoner and
the public.”); Outlaw v. Anderson, 29 F. App’x 372, 374 (7th Cir. 2002). Here, the Warden
expresses his concerns that disclosure of the investigative file would reveal witness
identities, facility procedures, and contact information for correctional staff, and, after
reviewing the file, these concerns are well-taken. Further, the investigative file contains
no evidence to suggest that Pierce did not batter the victim. Therefore, the argument
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that Pierce was not allowed to review the confidential witness statements is not a basis
for habeas relief.
Pierce argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the conduct report did
not include the correct date. He maintains that the incorrect date caused the hearing
officer to review the wrong video surveillance recording. Pierce did not raise this claim
on administrative appeal, so this claim is procedurally defaulted. See Moffat v. Broyles,
288 F.3d 978, 981-82 (7th Cir. 2002) (“Indiana does not provide judicial review of
decisions by prison administrative bodies, so the exhaustion requirement in 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b) is satisfied by pursuing all administrative remedies.”). Further, even if the
conduct report included the wrong date, it would have been harmless error. See Jones v.
Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 846 (7th Cir. 2011) (applying harmless error analysis to a prison
disciplinary proceeding); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003) (same). This is
because he maintains that the video recording was necessary to show that he acted in
self-defense, but self-defense is not a valid defense in this context. The same reasoning
also applies to the claim that the hearing officer improperly refused to continue the
hearing to allow him more time to gather witness statements in support his claim of
self-defense. Therefore, these claims are not a basis for habeas relief.
Pierce argues that that he is entitled to habeas relief because the appeal process
did not adequately address the alleged procedural defects that occurred during his
hearing. He also argues that correctional staff did not adequately investigate the
conduct report. While the right to procedural due process affords Pierce certain
procedural rights for disciplinary proceedings, the right to administrative appeal and
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the right to a thorough investigation are not included among them. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at
563-66; White v. Ind. Parole Bd., 266 F.3d 759, 768 (7th Cir. 2001) (warning against adding
additional due process protections beyond those provided by Wolff). Therefore, these
claims are not a basis for habeas relief.
Finally, Pierce argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because funds were taken
from his prison account as restitution for the victim’s medical bills. “[A] habeas corpus
petition must attack the fact or duration of one’s sentence; if it does not, it does not state
a proper basis for relief under § 2254.” Washington v. Smith, 564 F.3d 1350, 1351 (7th Cir.
2009). “[R]estitution does not impact the fact or duration of [an inmate’s] confinement.”
Smith v. Neal, 660 F. App’x 473, 475 (7th Cir. 2016). Therefore, this claim is not a basis for
Because Pierce has not asserted a valid claim for habeas relief, the habeas petition
is denied. If Pierce wants to appeal this decision, he does not 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.
For these reasons, the court:
(1) DENIES the habeas corpus petition (ECF 5);
(2) DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and
(3) DENIES Ronald J. Pierce leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
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SO ORDERED on 2/17/21
/s/JON E. DEGUILIO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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