Taboada v. Warden
OPINION AND ORDER: The court DENIES the 2 habeas corpus petition, DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case and DENIES William Taboada leave to appeal in forma pauperis. Signed by Magistrate Judge Michael G Gotsch, Sr on 9/15/22. (Copy mailed to pro se party). (nal)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
CAUSE NO. 3:22-CV-370-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
William Taboada, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition
challenging the disciplinary decision (MCF-21-11-656) at the Miami Correctional Facility
in which a disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) found him guilty of possessing controlled
substances in violation of Indiana Department of Correction Offense 202. Following a
hearing, he was sanctioned with a loss of ninety days earned credit time and a
demotion in credit class.
Taboada argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the administrative
record lacks sufficient evidence to find that he committed the offense of possessing
[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.
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Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).
Departmental policy defines possession as:
On one’s person, in one’s quarters, in one’s locker or under one’s physical
control. For the purposes of these procedures, offenders are presumed to
be responsible for any property, prohibited property or contraband that is
located on their person, within their cell or within areas of their housing,
work, educational or vocational assignment that are under their control.
ECF 9-15 at 6.
The administrative record includes a conduct report in which a sergeant
represented that he noticed a loose plate on the wall above a shared shelf in Taboada’s
two-person cell. ECF 9-1. According to the conduct report, the sergeant removed the
plate with a screwdriver and found several orange strips of suboxone. The
administrative record includes photographs of the controlled substances. ECF 9-4.
The conduct report and the photographs constitute some evidence that Taboada
possessed controlled substances as defined by departmental policy.
Taboada maintains that he should not have been found guilty because his
cellmate admitted to possession of the same controlled substances, pled guilty, and
received disciplinary sanctions. However, upon reviewing the departmental definitions
of possession and Offense 202, it is unclear why two inmates, and particularly
cellmates, could not be found to have shared possession over controlled substances.
Further, though Taboada relies on Gee v. Brown, 2017 WL 3980573 (S.D. Ind. 2017), Gee is
materially distinguishable in two respects. First, the contraband in Gee was found in a
locked property box in which only the cellmate had access, where, here, Taboada and
his cellmate had equal access to the suboxone stored in the wall of the cell. Additionally,
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in Gee, the petitioner explained to the hearing officer that the contraband belonged to
his cellmate and that he did not know about it, but, at Taboada’s hearing, he merely
said, “No comments.” ECF 9-7. Therefore, the claim that the hearing officer did not have
sufficient evidence is not a basis for habeas relief.
Taboada argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the hearing officer was
not an impartial decisionmaker. He maintains that the hearing officer was instructed to
find him guilty as evidenced by the fact that the hearing officer found him guilty
despite his cellmate’s admission. 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. There is no
indication that the hearing officer was involved in the underlying incident. Moreover,
though the hearing officer ultimately found Taboada guilty, adverse rulings alone are
insufficient to demonstrate improper bias. Thomas v. Reese, 787 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir.
2015). Taboada alleges no other facts to suggest improper bias. As a result, the claim of
improper bias is not a basis for habeas relief.
Taboada argues that he is entitled to habeas relief because the hearing officer did
not provide him with a copy of the disciplinary decision. Procedural due process
requires a “written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and reasons
for the disciplinary action.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564. (1974). “A prison
disciplinary committee is required to give a brief statement of the evidentiary basis for
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its decision to administer discipline, so that a reviewing court, parole authorities, etc.
can determine whether the evidence before the committee was adequate to support its
findings concerning the nature and gravity of the prisoner’s misconduct.” Saenz v.
Young, 811 F.2d 1172, 1174 (7th Cir. 1987). In other words, due process requires hearing
officers to prepare written explanations of their decisions to allow subsequent reviewers
the opportunity to conduct a meaningful analysis, but Taboada cites no authority
suggesting that the failure to provide a copy to the inmate for purposes of
administrative appeal rises to the level of a constitutional violation. Even if he had,
Taboada does not identify any arguments that he was unable to raise on administrative
appeal due to not having a copy of the disciplinary report, nor does he explain how the
lack of a disciplinary report otherwise affected the outcome of his appeal. Moreover,
Taboada’s signature on the report indicates that he had at least some opportunity to
review it. ECF 9-7. Therefore, this claim is not a basis for habeas relief.
If Taboada 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 2);
(2) DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment and close this case; and
(3) DENIES William Taboada leave to appeal in forma pauperis.
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SO ORDERED on September 15, 2022
s/ Michael G. Gotsch, Sr.
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr.
United States Magistrate Judge
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