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Tate v. Quintana

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

October 9, 2018

DANA TATE, Petitioner,
v.
FRANCISCO QUINTANA, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Petitioner Dana Tate is a federal inmate, currently confined at the Federal Medical Center (“FMC”)-Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky. Tate has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Record No. 1] The matter is pending for initial screening. 28 U.S.C. § 2243. Alexander v. Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 Fed.Appx. 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011).[1]

         I.

         Tate alleges that while he was previously incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI”)-Memphis he and inmate James Morris had a verbal altercation involving a chair. [Record No. 1 at p.1] Tate states that, at the end of the “shouting match, ” both inmates apologized and resumed their evening. [Id.] However, he contends that notwithstanding the apology, Morris later came to Tate's bed and threw hot chocolate on him. [Id.]

         Prison staff issued Tate a Code 201 Incident Report for Fighting With Another Person as a result of the altercation. [Record No. 1-1 at p. 1] According to the Incident Report prepared by staff member J. Phillips, the incident involving the chair escalated to a physical altercation during which Morris struck Tate and Tate threw coffee on Morris, causing burns to Morris' chest. [Id.] In retaliation, Morris later threw hot chocolate on Tate as Tate lay in his bunk. [Id.] Officers conducted upper body searches, revealing injuries to Morris' chest and injuries to Tate's chest and elbow after Tate reported the incident. [Id.] According to the report, Tate admitted to being involved in an altercation with Morris and stated that he had thrown coffee on Morris. [Id.] Morris denied the altercation and alleged that his coffee cup fell from the ice machine, but this account was contradicted by the location of the spilled coffee. [Id.] The report further states that medical assessments conducted on both Tate and Morris noted bruising and erythema across Tate's upper chest and a blister on Tate's left elbow, as well as injuries to Morris' upper neck. [Id.]

         A Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) held a hearing on the charge against Tate on January 27, 2017. [Record No. 1-1 at p. 2] During the hearing, Tate acknowledged that he and Morris had a verbal altercation over a chair but denied throwing coffee on Morris. [Id.] Tate further stated that, although Morris apologized after the verbal altercation, Morris later threw hot chocolate on Tate. [Id.] According to the DHO report, before the hearing, Tate was provided with written notice of the charge via a copy of the Incident Report prepared by Phillips and was advised of his rights before the DHO by Counselor Carter. [Id.] The report indicates that Tate waived the right to a staff representative at the hearing and did not request witnesses. [Id.]

         The DHO considered the Incident Report and investigation, as well as photos of Morris and Tate, medical assessments for Morris and Tate, and supporting memos from Officer A. Danner, Officer J. Rush, Officer J. Jones and Lieutenant J. Phillips. [Id. at p. 3-4] The DHO further considered Tate's statement that Morris threw hot chocolate on Tate, but denying that he threw coffee on Morris, as well as Morris' statement denying throwing anything on Tate, but stating that Tate threw coffee on him. [Id. at p. 4]

         The DHO concluded that it was more than reasonable that Tate and Morris were not being honest about the incident to avoid disciplinary sanctions. [Id.] The DHO further stated that he had no reason to disbelieve the findings of Lt. Phillips' investigation of the incident, which confirmed the argument that developed into a fight. [Id.] The DHO also noted that the medical assessments indicated that both Tate and Morris were exposed to hot liquids and that staff memorandum further supported the charge against Tate. [Id.] The DHO found that, based on facts related to the evidence presented and Tate's admission to the incident, Tate committed the Code 201 offense of Fighting with Another Person. [Id.] The DHO imposed various sanctions, including the loss of 27 days of good time credits as required by 28 C.F.R. § 541.4(b)(2). [Id.]

         Tate appealed the DHO's decision administratively within the Bureau of Prisons, but his efforts were unsuccessful. Tate then filed his § 2241 petition with this Court, requesting that the Court order Respondent to rescind Tate's loss of good time credit. [Record No. 1]

         II.

         The Due Process Clause requires prison officials to observe certain protections for the prisoner when a prison disciplinary board takes action that results in the loss of good time credits in which the prisoner has a vested liberty interest. The prisoner is entitled to advanced notice of the charges, an opportunity to present evidence in his or her defense, whether through live testimony or documents, and a written decision explaining the grounds used to determine guilt or innocence of the offense. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-66 (1974). Further, the board's findings used as a basis to revoke good time credits must be supported by some evidence in the record. Superintendent, Massachusetts Corr. Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985). When determining whether a decision is supported by “some evidence, ” the Court does not conduct an independent review of the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses. Instead, it asks only “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; Higgs v. Bland, 888 F.2d 443, 448-49 (6th Cir. 1989).

         Tate argues that the DHO's decision was not based on sufficient evidence. However, while framed as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, Tate's petition actually challenges the veracity of some of the evidence relied upon by the DHO in reaching his conclusions. Specifically, Tate argues that the Incident Report prepared by Lt. Phillips is “full of errors” and contains “false allegations.” [Record No. 1 at p. 2] Although Tate concedes that, pursuant to BOP Program Statement 541.5(a), an incident report may be prepared by a staff member who witnesses or reasonably believes that a prohibited act occurred, he repeatedly challenges the Incident Report based solely on the grounds that Lt. Phillips did not actually witness the incident. According to Tate, because there were no witnesses to the incident and neither he nor Morris provided a statement, the conclusions of the report are necessarily unsupported by appropriate evidence. [Id. at p. 3] Tate further denies that he admitted to being in an altercation with Morris and throwing coffee on him, as indicated in the report. [Id. at p. 4]

         However, “a district court's role in reviewing a disciplinary conviction is extremely limited.” Stell v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, No. 7:08-CV-150-KKC, 2008 WL 4758664, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 28, 2008). In ascertaining whether there is some evidence to support the decision of the DHO, the Court does not independently assess the credibility of witnesses or weigh the evidence, but only examines whether there is “some evidence” in the record to support the DHO's decision, a very lenient standard. Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. Indeed, “the Court has no authority under the guise of due process to review the resolution of factual disputes in a disciplinary decision; a district court merely ensures that the disciplinary decision is not arbitrary and does have evidentiary support.” Stell, 2008 WL 4758664 at *2.

         Here, in addition to the Incident Report prepared by Phillips, the DHO's decision was also based on a review of photos of Morris and Tate, the medical assessments for Morris and Tate, and supporting memos from Officers Danner, Rush, and Jones. [Record No. 1-1 at p. 3-4]. This evidence constitutes more than “some evidence” to support the DHO's finding that Tate was guilty of the charged offense of fighting with another person. While Tate may argue that the Incident Report prepared by Phillips and relied upon by the DHO lacked credibility, the Court is not required to independently assess credibility and/or weigh evidence. See Amerson v. Samuels, Civil ...


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