Wall v. Warden
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING 7 MOTION for Leave to File of Manual Filing of Ex Parte Exhibit F filed by Warden; DIRECTING the clerk to maintain this exhibits under seal and to refrain from disclosing it to the public or to the petitioner; DE NYING 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, filed by Michael D Wall; DIRECTING the Clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and DENYING Michael D. Wall leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Signed by Magistrate Judge Michael G Gotsch, Sr on 7/15/2021. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(mrm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
MICHAEL D. WALL,
CAUSE NO. 3:20-CV-466-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael D. Wall, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition
challenging the disciplinary decision (MCF-19-11-1010) at the Miami Correctional
Facility in which a disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) found him guilty of trafficking in
violation of Indiana Department of Correction Offense 113. Following a hearing, he was
sanctioned with a loss of one hundred days earned credit time and a demotion in credit
Wall argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the administrative record
lacks sufficient evidence for a finding of guilt due to deficient chain-of-custody
[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).
The administrative record includes a conduct report in which a correctional
officer represents that he saw Wall receive a package from another inmate that
contained twelve strips of suboxone and a label indicating a price of five hundred fifty
dollars. ECF 6-1. It also includes photographs of the strips and the label as well as
correspondence indicating trafficking activity. Id. The conduct report, the photographs,
and the correspondence constitute some evidence that Wall committed the offense of
trafficking. Moreover, while correctional staff may not have complied with
departmental policy in documenting the chain of custody, the failure to follow
departmental policy alone does not 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 F. App’x 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”). Therefore, the claim that the hearing officer did not have sufficient
evidence is not a basis for habeas relief.
Wall argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because correctional staff did not
allow him to present a surveillance video recording as exculpatory evidence. “[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). The administrative
record contains a video recording summary indicating that a correctional officer
reviewed the recording but could not identify individual inmates due to the position of
the camera. ECF 6-6. Wall may not have received this summary with the amount of
notice required by departmental policy, but this procedural defect does not rise to the
level of a constitutional violation that would entitle him to habeas relief. Moreover, the
court has reviewed the recording, and consistent with the summary, it does not show
any identifiable inmates engaged in the activities described in the conduct report.1 ECF
9. As a result, it is unclear how the recording constitutes exculpatory evidence or how
the inability to present the recording could have amounted to more than harmless error.
Therefore, the argument that Wall was not allowed to present evidence is not a basis for
Wall argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the hearing officer was not
an impartial decisionmaker because she did not fully transcribe his verbal statements at
the hearing. In the context of prison disciplinary proceedings, hearing officers 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). A
correctional officer who was personally and substantially involved in the underlying
incident may not act as a decisionmaker in the case. Id.
The hearing officer described Wall’s conduct at the hearing as follows:
N/G plea entered for [Wall]. [Wall] was more concerned with talking
about his [cellmate’s] conduct instead of his own. He was advised that
[the hearing officer] was present for his hearing. He still did not want to
talk about his hearing.
The Warden, by counsel, filed a motion to file this recording ex parte and under seal. ECF 7. The
court agrees that this recording contains sensitive information and that disclosure could be harmful to
other individuals or compromise the security of the facility. See Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 679 (7th Cir.
2003); Henderson v. United States Parole Comm’n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1994); Wells v. Israel, 854 F.2d
995, 999-1000 (7th Cir. 1988). Therefore, this motion is granted.
Hearing was ended due to non-participation from [Wall]. [Wall] became
hostile[,] kicking the door and yelling.
ECF 6-5. The record contains no indication that the hearing officers had any personal
involvement in the underlying charge. Further, Wall does not dispute the accuracy of
the hearing officer’s description of his conduct, and it is unclear how declining to record
statements that bore no relation to either the conduct report or the hearing suggests
improper bias. As a result, the claim of improper bias is not a basis for habeas relief.
Because Wall has not asserted a valid claim for habeas relief, the habeas petition
is denied. If Wall 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) GRANTS the motion to file evidence ex parte and under seal (ECF 7);
(2) DIRECTS the clerk to maintain this exhibits under seal and to refrain from
disclosing it to the public or to the petitioner;
(3) DENIES the habeas corpus petition (ECF 1);
(4) DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and
(5) DENIES Michael D. Wall leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.
SO ORDERED this July 15, 2021.
s/Michael G. Gotsch, Sr.
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr.
United States Magistrate Judge
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