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Carter v. Grondolsky

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 30, 2014



RYA W. ZOBEL, District Judge.

John Carter ("Carter"), a federal prisoner in custody at FMC Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, has filed a self-prepared petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Carter seeks restoration of 27 days of good-conduct time that prison officials revoked as a disciplinary sanction. He also seeks removal of the underlying disciplinary report from his record. Respondent Jeffrey Grondolsky, in his capacity as warden of FMC Devens (the "Warden"), moves to dismiss Carter's petition (Docket # 15), and Carter moves for summary judgment (Docket #20). For the reasons articulated below, respondent's motion is allowed; petitioner's is denied.

I. Background

Petitioner is serving a 180-month sentence at FMC Devens for two counts of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion.[1] See Habeas Pet., Docket #3 ("Pet."), at 3. He brought a habeas petition challenging his sentence several years ago. Id. at 2-3. His current habeas petition does not challenge the validity of his confinement, but rather the sanctions he received after an alleged violation of prison rules. Id. at 1.

Carter alleges that on September 10, 2011, a corrections officer uncovered five onions, a tomato, and a 1.5-inch staple remover during a search of his prison cell.[2] Pet. Ex. C. at 4;[3] Mem. in Support of Pet., Docket #1 ("Habeas Mem."), at 1. Carter has never disputed that the items were in his possession, nor has he disputed that the items were not his.[4] Id .; Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, Docket #18 ("Opp. to MTD"), at 5. The corrections officer filed an incident report (the "Incident Report"), citing Carter for stealing (Offense Code 219). Pet. Ex. C, at 4. Carter was then moved to the prison's Special Holding Unit pending an investigation and hearing. Habeas Mem. at 1-2.

On September 11, 2011, a corrections officer delivered a copy of the Incident Report to Carter. Pet. Ex. C at 4; Habeas Mem. at 2. The Warden contends that the officer read the Incident Report to Carter at this time and has submitted documentation to this effect. Declaration of Anthony Amico ("Amico Decl."), Docket #17, ¶ 6; Amico Decl. Ex. B. at 10. On September 13, 2011, an offense code for possession of stolen property (Code 226) was added to the Incident Report. Pet. Ex. C at 4. The Incident Report, on its face, indicates that an officer gave Carter a copy of the amended version that same day. Id . It is unclear whether the officer read the charges aloud to Carter.

On September 15, 2011, a Unit Discipline Committee ("UDC") reviewed the Incident Report and took Carter's statement. Pet. Ex. C at 4. The UDC then referred the matter for a disciplinary hearing. Id . The next day, Carter appeared for the hearing before Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") Anthony Amico. Pet. Ex. D at 5. The DHO read Carter his due process rights, which Carter said he understood. Id. at 6. The DHO then read the Incident Report aloud to Carter. Id . Carter waived his right to be represented by a staff member at the hearing, did not present any evidence in his defense, and did not raise any procedural issues at the hearing. Id. at 5-6.

The DHO concluded that Carter committed the possession of stolen property offense (Code 226) based on the Incident Report, photographs of the contraband items, and an adverse inference drawn from Carter's failure to testify or present evidence on his behalf. Id. at 6-7. The DHO expunged the theft offense (Code 219) and imposed a penalty of 7 days disciplinary segregation time, loss of commissary privileges for 90 days, and loss of 27 days of good-conduct time. Id . The DHO's stated rationale for this penalty was:

The action/behavior on the part of any inmate to possess stolen items from an area of the institution creates the potential for conflict between individuals, and interferes with the effective operation of the institution when government property is stolen. Possessing stolen items cannot and will not be tolerated in this environment as it creates more cost for the operation of the institution. The sanctions imposed by the DHO were taken to let the inmate know that he, and he alone, will be held responsible for his actions/behaviors at all times.

Id. at 7. The DHO then advised Carter of his appeal rights. Id.

Petitioner filed a timely appeal with the Administrative Remedy Coordinator, Northeast Regional Office, alleging that (1) he "was unable to read the two separate incident reports given him in the SHU because he was denied access to his [eyeglasses], " which "constitute[d] a due process violation"; (2) that the "sanctions [were] excessive for 5 onions, a tomato and a 1.5" staple remover" because "[a] decided disparity exist[ed] between Carter's sanctions and those of [an] inmate... who was found to have two large plastic (33 gal.) trashbags of food service items in his locker" and received a "choice of [disciplinary segregation] time or loss of good time"; and (3) several procedural "anomalies" were in the incident and hearing reports. Pet. Ex. E at 8-9. On November 3, 2011, the Regional Director denied Carter's appeal. First, the Regional Director rejected Carter's claim that he was not provided his eyeglasses as unsupported by evidence and inconsistent with the record. Id. at 11 ("The record reveals the charges were read to you on three separate occasions and you provided statements in defense of the charges. There is no support for your contention that you were not able to properly prepare because of an alleged lack of access to your eyeglasses."). Second, the Regional Director concluded that "[t]he sanctions imposed... were not disproportionate to [Carter's] misconduct, " and that loss of good conduct time "would prompt [Carter] to modify [his] behavior and deter others from committing similar acts in the future." Id . Finally, in response to Carter's allegations of "anomalies" in the record, the Regional Director concluded that the "record in this case reflects substantial compliance with Program Statement 5270.09 Inmate Discipline." Id.

On November 15, 2011, Carter timely appealed the Regional Director's decision to the Central Office Administrative Remedy Coordinator. He again pressed his due process claims that he was denied his eyeglasses before the disciplinary hearing and that his sanctions were disproportionately harsher than a similarly situated inmate's, but he did not raise his litany of procedural anomalies. Pet. Ex. F at 12-13. On July 27, 2012, the Central Office denied the appeal on similar grounds to the Regional Director.[5] Amico Decl. Ex. D at 19.

Carter filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 with this court on or around August 27, 2012.[6] He asks "that his good-time credits be restored and that the Incident Report be expunged from his record." Pet. at 6. He raises three grounds in support of this relief: (1) a "Due Process violation" because he was "[d]enied eyeglasses when served with Incident report [and] therefore could not read same"; (2) that he "was punished more severely than similarly situated inmate found guilty of same infraction"; and (3) that he "has a liberty interest [in] good-time under Fourteenth Amendment [and] loss of good-time equates to prolonged incarceration." Id. at 4. Interspersed with these grounds, Carter also alleges a "wrongful charge of stealing." Id.

The Warden moved to dismiss the petition on November 2, 2012, contending that all due process requirements were satisfied in this case. Docket #15. With his motion, the Warden also submitted a sworn declaration and supporting exhibits from the DHO, Mr. Amico. Docket #17. Carter filed his opposition on November 26, 2012, presenting both legal argument and reviving many of the arguments about procedural anomalies that he raised in his first administrative appeal. Docket #18. He then filed a motion for summary judgment on March 13, 2014. Docket #20. That motion, which was not accompanied by a ...

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