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Anwar Morales v. Frank Strada

December 6, 2012


Chief Judge Kane


Anwar Morales is a federal inmate who filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 while confined at the Low Security Correctional Institution at Allenwood ("LSCI-Allenwood"), Pennsylvania.*fn1 In the petition, he contends that his constitutional rights were violated in the context of a disciplinary proceeding. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Factual Background

At all times relevant to this petition, Morales was confined at LSCI-Allenwood. He was convicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio for conspiracy to distribute drugs and firearms related charges. His projected release date is February 19, 2018, via good conduct time release. On September 17, 2010, Morales was issued an incident report (# 2067634) for refusing to provide a urine sample or to take part in other drug abuse testing. He received a copy of the incident report on the same day. A Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") hearing was held on September 21, 2010, at which it was determined that the matter should be referred to the Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO"). A DHO hearing was held on October 14, 2010, and Morales was found to have committed the prohibited conduct. His sanctions included 30 days disciplinary segregation and the loss of 40 days good conduct time.

Morales files the instant petition challenging the DHO proceedings claiming that he was unable to provide the urine sample for "medical reasons," and that the staff at LSCI-Allenwood did not attempt to ascertain whether he actually did have a medical condition. He claims that he did file an appeal of the DHO decision, but that the Regional Director denied his request.

Service of the petition was directed, and a response thereto filed on July 24, 2012. (Doc. No. 8.) Respondent maintains that the petition is subject to dismissal of the basis of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. It is further argued that even if Morales had exhausted, the petition must be denied because the DHO hearing did not violate Due Process.

On July 30, 2012, Morales filed a motion for stay of the proceedings due to his upcoming transfer to a different facility. (Doc. No. 9.) The motion was construed as a request for an enlargement of time within which to submit a traverse, and was granted. Morales was afforded thirty (30) days to file a traverse. (Doc. No. 10.) No traverse has ever been submitted.

II. Discussion

The BOP disciplinary process is fully set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28, Sections 541.10 through 541.23. These regulations dictate the manner in which disciplinary action may be taken should a prisoner violate institutional rules. The first step requires filing an incident report and conducting an investigation pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.14. Staff is required to conduct the investigation promptly absent intervening circumstances beyond the control of the investigator. Following the investigation, the matter is then referred to the UDC for a hearing pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. If the UDC finds that a prisoner has committed a prohibited act, it may impose minor sanctions. If the alleged violation is serious and warrants consideration for more than minor sanctions, or involves a prohibited act listed in the greatest or high category offenses, the UDC refers the matter to a DHO for a hearing. 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. Based upon the seriousness of the charges against Morales and the requirement of sanctions greater than could be afforded by the UDC, the instant matter was referred for a disciplinary hearing.

Greatest category offenses carry a possible sanction of loss of good conduct time credits.

28 C.F.R. § 541.13. When a prison disciplinary hearing may result in the loss of good conduct time credits, due process requires that the prisoner receive (1) written notice of the claimed violation at least twenty-four (24) hours in advance of the hearing, (2) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his or her defense when doing so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals, and (3) a written statement by the factfinder as to evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564-66 (1974). The DHO's decision is required to be supported by some evidence in the record. See Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); see also Young v. Kann, 926 F.2d 1396, 1402-03 (3d Cir. 1991)(applying Hill standard to federal prisoner due process challenges to prison disciplinary proceedings). The determination of whether the standard is satisfied "does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence. Instead, the 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. Under Hill, judicial review of a prison disciplinary decision is limited to ensuring that the prisoner was afforded certain procedures, the action against him was not arbitrary, and that the ultimate decision has some evidentiary support. Id. at 457; see also 28 C.F.R. § 541.8(f)(requiring that the DHO's decision be "based upon at least some facts and, if there is conflicting evidence, on the greater weight of the evidence."). Moreover, "[t]he sufficiency standard is met where a DHO supports a finding of culpability solely by reference to an incident report compiled by a corrections officer." Moles v. Holt, 221

F. App'x 92, 94 (3d Cir. 2007)(citations omitted).

A. Exhaustion

Respondent first argues that the petition should be dismissed on the basis of the failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Although 28 U.S.C. § 2241 does not contain a statutory exhaustion requirement, courts in the Third Circuit consistently have required a petitioner to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Moscato v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 98 F.3d 757, 760 (3d Cir. 1996)(citing Bradshaw v. Carlson, 682 F.2d 1050, 1052 (3d Cir. 1981)(per curiam)); e.g. Callwood v. Enos, 230 F.3d 627, 632 (3d Cir. 2000). The Third Circuit requires administrative exhaustion for habeas claims raised under § 2241 because "(1) allowing the appropriate agency to develop a factual record and apply its expertise facilitates judicial review; (2) permitting agencies to grant the relief requested conserves judicial resources; and (3) providing agencies the opportunity to correct their own errors fosters administrative autonomy." Moscato, 98 F.3d at 761-62 (citations omitted). Courts, however, have excused exhaustion when it would not promote these goals. See, e.g., ...

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