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Caver v. Finley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 4, 2019

CALVIN CAVER, Petitioner,
v.
SCOTT FINLEY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On October 9, 2019, pro se Petitioner Calvin Caver (“Caver”), who is currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution Schuylkill in Minersville, Pennsylvania (“FCI Schuylkill”), initiated the above-captioned action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Doc. No. 1.) Caver challenges the decision of a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) who found him guilty of a violation of Code 113, possession of any narcotics not prescribed for the individual by medical staff. (Id.) After Caver paid the requisite filing fee, the Court directed Respondent to show cause why Caver should not receive the relief he seeks. (Doc. No. 4.) Respondent filed a response on November 18, 2019. (Doc. No. 6.) Caver filed his traverse on December 2, 2019. (Doc. No. 7.) Accordingly, his § 2241 petition is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, Caver's § 2241 petition will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 27, 2019, at approximately 7:15 p.m., Officer Mazur conducted a random search of cell 217, Caver's cell, in Unit 2A. (Doc. No. 6-2 at 7-8, 7, 15, 27.) Officer Mazur located two (2) square pieces of paper, measuring two (2) inches by two (2) inches, suspected to have been sprayed, hidden in the cap of a commissary medication bottle in Caver's secured locker. (Id. at 7-8, 11, 19-22, 23.) In his memorandum, Officer Mazur noted that the paper was white. (Id. at 19.)

         On March 28, 2019, after testing results indicated that the paper had tested positive for amphetamines, SIS Technician R. Price completed Incident Report 3239022, charging Caver with a violation of Code 113, possession of any narcotics not prescribed to the individual by medical staff. (Id. at 11.) In the Incident Report, Officer Price described the paper as “light blue card stock” with “grid lines along the edges of the squares drawn with a blue pen.” (Id.) A copy of the Incident Report was delivered to Caver that same day. (Id.) Caver was advised of his rights, including his right to remain silent. (Id. at 12.) Caver indicated that he understood his rights and stated: “My celli had nothing to do with that. It was found in my locker. It is my responsibility.” (Id.)

         On April 3, 2019, Caver appeared before the Unit Discipline Committee (“UDC”). (Id. at 11.) The UDC referred the Incident Report to the DHO for further proceedings based on the seriousness of the offense. (Id.) Caver signed an acknowledgment of his receipt of the Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing form and Notice of Discipline Hearing Before the DHO and indicated that he did not want a staff representative and that he had no witnesses he wished to call on his behalf. (Id. at 13-14.) Caver advised, however, that he would be submitting a written statement. (Id. at 11.) In this statement, Caver took issue with Officer Price issuing the Incident Report, suggested that other inmates could be responsible because they had previously placed contraband in his cell, and requested that Officer Mazur appear as a witness. (Id. at 7, 15-31.)

         On April 9, 2019, Caver appeared before the DHO. (Id. at 5.) Caver submitted another written statement, alleging that the UDC had refused to consider whether he wished to have a staff representative or witnesses appear on his behalf. (Id. at 6-7, 17-18.) At the DHO hearing, Caver waived his right to a staff representative but requested to call Officer Mazur as a witness. (Id. at 5, 7.) The DHO denied Caver's request to cross-examine Officer Mazur but did consider Officer Mazur's memorandum. (Id. at 7.)

         The DHO found the charge of Code 113 to be supported by the greater weight of the evidence. (Id. at 7-9.) In doing so, the DHO considered the Incident Report, Officer Mazur's memorandum, photographs of the contraband found in Caver's secured locker, and the NIK test results indicating that the paper tested positive for amphetamines. (Id.) The DHO assigned greater weight to the reporting officer's written statement than to Caver's claim that he was not aware that the narcotics were in his locker. (Id. at 8.) The DHO gave “very little weight” to Caver's claim that other inmates placed the narcotics in his locker, noting that, when asked, Caver was “unwilling to inform the DHO who [he] suspected” had done so. (Id.) The DHO also rejected Caver's arguments that Officer Price should not have written the Incident Report and that due process was not satisfied because his unit team did not conduct the UDC hearing. (Id. at 8-9.)

         The DHO sanctioned Caver with disallowance of forty-one (41) days of good conduct time, thirty (30) days of disciplinary segregation, and six (6) months' loss of commissary, telephone, and visiting privileges. (Id. at 9.) The DHO issued his report on April 30, 2019, and a copy was delivered to Caver on May 1, 2019. (Id. at 10.) Caver subsequently exhausted his administrative appeals regarding this Incident Report. (Doc. No. 6 at 6 n.1.)

         Caver then filed the instant § 2241 petition. In his petition, Caver argues that his due process rights were violated because: (1) the DHO did not give “meaningful consideration” to his exculpatory position that other inmates placed the narcotics in his locker because he had previously found a USB cord and Allen tool in his cell and that these items had been placed there by other inmates; (2) the DHO suppressed favorable evidence in the form of Officer Mazur's memorandum; and (3) the DHO denied Caver's request to cross-examine Officer Mazur regarding his memorandum. (Doc. No. 1 at 5-11.) As relief, Caver requests that the Court hold a hearing and then void the DHO's decision and expunge the Incident Report. (Id. at 11.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Liberty interests protected by the Fifth Amendment may arise either from the Due Process Clause itself or from statutory law. Torres v. Fauver, 292 F.3d 141 (3d Cir. 2002). It is well settled that “prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has held that that there can be a liberty interest at stake in disciplinary proceedings in which an inmate loses good conduct time. Id. at 557. Because Caver's sanctions included the loss of good conduct time, he has identified a liberty interest.

         In Wolff, the Supreme Court set forth the following minimum procedural due process rights to be afforded to a prisoner accused of misconduct in prison which may result in the loss of good time credit: (1) the right to appear before an impartial decision-making body; (2) twenty-four hour advance written notice of the disciplinary charges; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense when it is consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; (4) assistance from an inmate representative if the charged inmate is illiterate or complex issues are involved; and (5) a written decision by the fact finder of the evidence relied upon and the rationale behind the disciplinary action. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 563-67. The Supreme Court has held that the standard of review about the sufficiency of the evidence is whether there is “any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56 (1985); see also Griffin v. Spratt, 969 F.2d 16, 19 (3d Cir.1992). If there is “some evidence” to support the decision of the hearing examiner, the court must reject any evidentiary challenges by the plaintiff. Hill, 472 U.S. at 457. The Hill standard is minimal and does not require examination of the entire record, an independent analysis of the credibility of the witnesses, or even a weighing of the evidence. See Thompson v. Owens, 899 F.2d 500, 501-502 (3d Cir. 1989).

         The BOP's inmate disciplinary procedures are codified at 28 C.F.R. § 541, et seq., and entitled Inmate Discipline and Special Housing Units. These procedures are intended to meet or exceed the due process requirements prescribed by the Supreme Court. See Von Kahl v. Brennan, 855 F.Supp. 1413, 1418 (M.D. Pa. 1994). Pursuant to these regulations, staff shall prepare an Incident Report when there is reasonable belief that a violation of BOP regulations has been committed by an inmate and the staff considers informal resolution of the incident inappropriate or unsuccessful. 28 C.F.R. § 541.5. Under the regulations, an inmate “ordinarily receives[s] the incident report within 24 hours of staff ...


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