RICH v. BROWN
Entry Denying Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Directing Entry of Final Judgment - There was no arbitrary action in any aspect of the charge, disciplinary proceedings, or sanctions involved in the events identified in this action, and there was no constitutional infirmity in the proceeding which entitles Mr. Rich to the relief he seeks. Accordingly, Mr. Rich's petition for a writ of habeas corpus must be denied and the action dismissed. Judgment consistent with this Entry shall now issue. SEE ORDER. Signed by Judge Larry J. McKinney on 8/8/2017.(JRB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TERRE HAUTE DIVISION
SEAN P. RICH,
DICK BROWN Superintendent,
Entry Denying Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Directing Entry of Final Judgment
The petition of Sean Rich for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary
proceeding identified as No. WVE 17-01-0016. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Mr. Rich’s
habeas petition must be denied.
Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits, see Cochran v.
Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004) (per curiam), or of credit-earning class, see Montgomery
v. Anderson, 262 F.3d 641, 644-45 (7th Cir. 2001), without due process. The due process
requirement is satisfied with the issuance of advance written notice of the charges, a limited
opportunity to present evidence to an impartial decision-maker, a written statement articulating the
reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it, and “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, 570-71 (1974); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677
(7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).
The Disciplinary Proceeding
On January 5, 2017, Officer Huston wrote a Conduct Report charging Mr. Rich with
unauthorized possession of property in violation of Code B-215. The Conduct Report states:
On 1-5-17 at approximately 7 a.m. I, c/o J. Huston observed offender Sean Rich
DOC #995701 who works in North Industry Print Shop enter the North Industry
Wire Shop with an unopened package of (100) 4x4 cotton pads taken from the Print
Shop and made the attempt to pass to another offender which I intercepted.
Dkt. 12-1 at 1.
Mr. Rich was notified of the charge on January 9, 2017, when he received the Screening
Report. He plead not guilty to the charge and did not request any physical evidence. He requested
a lay advocate and Mr. Wehmeyer, his job supervisor, as a witness. Mr. Wehmeyer provided
witness statements via two e-mails. In the first he stated, “Yes one of [Mr. Rich’s] jobs is a backup
supply clerk for the Print Shop[,] [n]ot the wire shop[.] [H]is mistake was taking them to the wire
shop without a Forman permission. Wire shop foreman did not ask for them.” Dkt. 12-5 at 1.
And in the second he stated, “We don’t use cotton pads in the Wire Shop.” Dkt. 12-6 at 1.
A hearing was held on January 12, 2017. Mr. Rich stated at the hearing, “It was a mistake
– I didn’t hear clearly.” Dkt. 12-8 at 1. Based on the Conduct Report, Mr. Rich’s statement, the
witness statements, a photo of the cotton pads, and the confiscation form regarding the cotton pads,
the hearing officer found Mr. Rich guilty of unauthorized possession of property. The sanctions
imposed included a thirty-day earned-credit-time deprivation.
Mr. Rich appealed to Facility Head and the IDOC Final Reviewing Authority, but both of
his appeals were denied. He then brought this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254.
The petitioner raises nine grounds for relief in his habeas petition. The respondent contends
that several of the petitioner’s claims are unexhausted and thus procedurally defaulted, and that
the remaining claims lack merits. The Court will begin with the issue of exhaustion before turning
to the merits of the claims that were properly exhausted.
To succeed on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a petitioner must first “exhaust the
remedies available in the courts of the State.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). “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.” Moffat v. Broyles,
288 F.3d 978, 981 (7th Cir. 2002). To meet this requirement, a petitioner “must raise the issue at
each and every level in the state court system[.]” Lewis v. Sternes, 390 F.3d 1019, 1025-26 (7th
Cir. 2004). “[W]hen the habeas petitioner has failed to fairly present . . . the claim on which he
seeks relief in federal court and the opportunity to raise that claim in state court has passed, the
petitioner has procedurally defaulted that claim.” Perruquet v. Briley, 390 F.3d 505, 514 (7th Cir.
2004). Fair presentment requires a petitioner to “put forward [the] operative facts and controlling
legal principles.” Simpson v. Battaglia, 458 F.3d 585, 593 (7th Cir. 2006) (citation and quotation
The only claims that Mr. Rich raised in both of his administrative appeals that he also raised
in his habeas petition are those regarding (1) the sufficiency of the evidence, (2) whether his
sanctions were excessive, and (3) whether his mental health was appropriately considered by the
hearing officer. See dkt. 12-11 at 1-7; dkt. 12-13 at 1-5. Because his administrative appeals
process is complete and Mr. Rich only exhausted these claims, all of his other claims are
procedurally defaulted. See Perruquet, 390 F.3d at 514.
Mr. Rich acknowledges that he did not raise all of his claims during his administrative
appeals. But he appears to argue that he should be excused for failing to raise his additional claims
because the administrative appeals officers will not consider procedural errors that do not
implicative due process rights and that he was generally “unable to keep up” with the prison
policies due to his work schedule. Dkt. 1 at 7.
“A federal court may excuse a procedural default if the habeas petitioner establishes that .
. . there was good cause for the default and consequent prejudice.” Johnson v. Foster, 786 F.3d
501, 505 (7th Cir. 2015). “Cause is defined as an objective factor, external to the defense, that
impeded the defendant’s efforts to raise the claim in an earlier proceeding. Prejudice means an
error which so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due process.”
Weddington v. Zatecky, 721 F.3d 456, 465 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
As an initial matter, even assuming that administrative appeals officers will not consider
claims other than due process claims, this does not prevent inmates such as Mr. Rich from raising
them. But more importantly, if prison policy only allows inmates to raise issues that implicate due
process concerns, these are the only claims that can be raised in federal habeas proceedings
anyway. Thus, to the extent that he did not raise certain claims in his administrative appeals
because they were not due process claims, as discussed further below, these claims—based on
IDOC policy or state law—could not entitle Mr. Rich to habeas relief and thus he was not
prejudiced by this purported policy.
Mr. Rich’s other reason for not raising all of his claim in his administrative appeals—that
he was “unable to keep up” with the prison policies due to his work schedule—does not establish
cause to overcome his procedural default. First, Mr. Rich filed lengthy administrative appeals
discussing numerous aspects of his disciplinary conviction, which belies any contention that he
lacked time to submit adequate administrative appeals. Second, to the extent he contends that he
lacked time to learn the relevant prison policies, the Seventh Circuit has made clear that a personal
lack of knowledge or ability does not establish cause. See Promotor v. Pollard, 628 F.3d 878, 887
(7th Cir. 2010); Henderson v. Cohn, 919 F.2d 1270, 1272 (7th Cir. 1990). This makes sense, given
that “[c]ause is defined as an objective factor, external to the defense, that impeded the defendant’s
efforts to raise the claim in an earlier proceeding.” Johnson, 786 F.3d at 505. Moreover, even if
his asserted lack of adequate knowledge regarding the disciplinary process could establish good
cause, Mr. Rich has failed to explain with any specificity what knowledge of prison policy he
lacked at the time he filed his administrative appeals, but later gained, such that he was able to
raise his claims in this habeas proceeding but not during the administrative appeals.
For these reasons, other than the three issues noted above, Mr. Rich has procedurally
defaulted his remaining claims and has failed to show the necessary cause and prejudice to excuse
his procedural default.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence are governed by the “some evidence”
standard. “[A] hearing officer’s decision need only rest on ‘some evidence’ logically supporting
it and demonstrating that the result is not arbitrary.” Ellison v. Zatecky, 820 F.3d 271, 274 (7th
Cir. 2016). See also Eichwedel v. Chandler, 696 F.3d 660, 675 (7th Cir. 2012) (“The some
evidence standard . . . is satisfied if there is any evidence in the record that could support the
conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.”) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The “some
evidence” standard is much more lenient than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. See
Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 981 (7th Cir. 2002). “[T]he relevant question is whether there is
any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.”
Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56.
The prison disciplinary code states that an inmate violates Code B-215 if they engage in
the “unauthorized possession of property,” which is defined as “unauthorized possession . . . of
State property or property belonging to another.” See Indiana Department of Correction Adult
Disciplinary Process, at http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101_APPENDIX_I-OFFENSES_6-12015(1).pdf. Mr. Rich presents several arguments as to why there is insufficient evidence that he
violated this provision. For example: (1) he is allowed to be in possession of cotton pads due to
his work; (2) he did not attempt to leave his assigned work area, as he was merely at the door of
the Wire Shop asking a question; and (3) he lacked the requisite intent to commit the offense.
The problem with Mr. Rich’s arguments is that, in a federal habeas proceeding such as this,
the Court can only assess “whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the
conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56 (emphasis added). And
there certainly is some evidence that Mr. Rich’s possession of the cotton pads (which he does not
dispute he possessed) was unauthorized. First, the Conduct Report states that Mr. Rich “made [an]
attempt to pass [the cotton pads] to another offender which [the correctional officer] intercepted.”
Dkt. 12-1 at 1. Mr. Rich’s response is that he was authorized to do so or, alternatively, that he was
not aware this violated any rules.
However, his own witness—his job supervisor, Mr.
Wehmeyer—contradicts this. Mr. Wehmeyer testified by written statement that Mr. Rich’s
“mistake was taking [the cotton pads] to the wire shop without a Forman permission,” since the
“[w]ire shop foreman did not ask for them.” Dkt. 12-5 at 1 (emphasis added). Further, he testified
that “[w]e don’t use cotton pads in the Wire Shop.” Dkt. 12-6 at 1. 1 Based on this testimony, the
hearing officer had sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Rich’s possession of the cotton pads
was unauthorized, and he is not entitled to relief on this claim.
Appropriateness of Sanctions
Mr. Rich’s next claim challenges the appropriateness of his sanctions, contending that they
are excessive for several reasons. For example, Mr. Rich argues that given his conduct and his
history of having few disciplinary incidents during his lengthy period of incarceration, he should
not have been subject to such harsh penalties.
Mr. Rich’s credit-time sanction was thirty days, which is well below the ninety-day
maximum sanction for a Class B offense. See IDOC Policy and Administrative Procedure,
2015.pdf. “[A] federal court will not normally review a state sentencing determination which, as
here, falls within the statutory limit,” unless the sentence violates the Eighth Amendment by being
an “extreme” punishment that is “grossly disproportionate” to the crime. Koo v. McBride, 124
F.3d 869, 875 (7th Cir. 1997). Sanctions significantly lower than the maximum certainly do not
meet this high standard. Mr. Rich is thus not entitled to relief on this basis.
Failure to Consult with Mental Health Professionals During the
Mr. Rich’s final claim that was properly exhausted is that the hearing officer failed to
consult a mental health professional regarding Mr. Rich’s mental health status in violation of IDOC
policy and a settlement agreement in a civil action from this Court. Specifically, IDOC policy
Mr. Rich challenges the appropriateness of having Mr. Wehmeyer testify by written statement
and argues that he was unable to ask Mr. Wehmeyer the questions he wanted. See dkt. 1 at 4. But
as discussed above, Mr. Rich did not exhaust this claim in his administrative appeals, and thus it
is procedurally defaulted.
requires that if an offender has a mental illness, the hearing officer “shall contact the Mental Health
Professional of the facility” to determine with them whether “the incident was a result of the
offender’s mental illness.” IDOC Policy and Administrative Procedure, http://www.in.gov/idoc/
Relief pursuant to § 2254 is available only on the ground that a prisoner “is being held in
violation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution.” Caffey v. Butler, 802 F.3d 884, 894 (7th Cir.
2015). Prison policies, regulations, or guidelines do not constitute federal law; instead, they are
“primarily designed to guide correctional officials in the administration of a prison . . . not . . . to
confer rights on inmates.” Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 481-82 (1995). Therefore, claims
based on prison policy or a settlement agreement, such as the one at issue here, are not cognizable
and do not form a basis for habeas relief. See Keller v. Donahue, 271 Fed. Appx. 531, 532 (7th
Cir. 2008) (rejecting challenges to a prison disciplinary proceeding because, “[i]nstead of
addressing any potential constitutional defect, all of [the petitioner’s] arguments relate to alleged
departures from procedures outlined in the prison handbook that have no bearing on his right to
due process”); Rivera v. Davis, 50 Fed. Appx. 779, 780 (7th Cir. 2002) (“A prison’s
noncompliance with its internal regulations has no constitutional import—and nothing less
warrants habeas corpus review.”); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 at n.2 (1991)
(“[S]tate-law violations provide no basis for federal habeas review.”). Accordingly, Mr. Rich is
not entitled to relief on this basis.
“The touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of
the government.” Wolff, 418 U.S. at 558. There was no arbitrary action in any aspect of the charge,
disciplinary proceedings, or sanctions involved in the events identified in this action, and there
was no constitutional infirmity in the proceeding which entitles Mr. Rich to the relief he seeks.
Accordingly, Mr. Rich’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus must be denied and the action
Judgment consistent with this Entry shall now issue.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
LARRY J. McKINNEY, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
Abigail T. Rom
OFFICE OF THE INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL
SEAN P. RICH
WABASH VALLEY - CF
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