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Barela v. Martha Underwood, Warden

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

September 6, 2019

Juan Lorenzo Barela, Jr., #58747-051, Petitioner,
Martha Underwood, Warden, Respondent.



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Special Order 3, this action was referred to the United States magistrate judge for case management, including findings and a recommended disposition. As detailed here, Petitioner Juan Lorenzo Barela's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 should be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         By the petition sub judice, Barela challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding on due process grounds under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Doc. 3 at 2. On December 31, 2017, Bureau of Prison (BOP) staff noticed Barela had sustained injuries. Doc. 11 at 15. A SIS investigation, which concluded on January 30, 2018, found that Barela had been in a physical altercation with another inmate. Doc. 11 at 15. When interviewed, Barela admitted to fighting with the inmate. Doc. 11 at 15. On that same day, BOP staff wrote an incident report, charging Barela with violating BOP Code section 201, “Fighting with Another Person.” Doc. 11 at 15. Barela received a copy of the Incident Report on January 31, 2018. Doc. 11 at 16, ¶ 24.

         On February 5, 2018, a Unit Disciplinary Committee (UDC) found the report valid and referred the charge to the DHO for further hearing. Doc. 11 at 15-16. Barela received notice of the DHO hearing and his hearing rights and requested M. Martinez as his staff representative. Doc. 11 at 18; Doc. 11 at 20; Doc. 11 at 22-23. At the March 3, 2018 hearing, Barela presented no witnesses, stated that he understood his rights, and received a copy of the incident report. Doc. 11 at 22-23. Relying on the incident report and Barela's own initial admission of guilt, the DHO found that he committed the prohibited act. Doc. 11 at 23.

         Although the DHO's report stated that Barela “wanted to waive [his] right to staff representative (M. Martinez), ” Doc. 11 at 23, Barela contended that he did not waive this right, but that Martinez failed to show up to the hearing. Doc. 14 at 4. On these grounds, Barela pursued an administrative remedy appeal, and the regional director ordered a rehearing on June 6, 2018, based on Barela's lack of representation. Doc. 11 at 26-27. Following a rehearing on June 28, 2018, the DHO again found that Barela had engaged in the prohibited conduct of Fighting with Another Person. Doc. 11 at 31 (original DHO rehearing report); Doc. 11 at 36 (amended DHO rehearing report). The DHO re-imposed sanctions of 30 days of disciplinary segregation, disallowance of 27 days of good time credit, 30 days loss of commissary privileges, and 90 days loss of visiting and phone privileges. Doc. 11 at 31; Doc. 11 at 36.

         In this pro se habeas action, Barela asserts that he was not afforded due process of law during the disciplinary proceedings because: (1) the allegations against him were not supported by substantial evidence; (2) he was not given staff representation; and (3) he lacked notice and adequate time to prepare for the rehearing.[1] Doc. 3 at 6-7; Doc. 14 at 5. Barela requests the return of disallowed good time credits and expunction of the incident report and disciplinary record. Doc. 3 at 9. Respondent argues the petition lacks merit. Doc. 10. Barela has filed a reply. Doc. 14. Upon review, the Court concludes that Barela received adequate due process during the disciplinary proceeding; thus, his petition has no merit.

         II. ANALYSIS

         “When a prisoner has a liberty interest in good time credit, revocation of such credit must comply with minimal procedural requirements.” Henson v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 213 F.3d 897, 898 (5th Cir. 2000)). Specifically, an inmate charged with a disciplinary violation must be given (1) advanced written notice of the charges, (2) “a brief period of time after the notice, no less than 24 hours, ” to prepare for disciplinary hearing, (3) the opportunity to appear and call witnesses, (4) the opportunity, in certain situations, to receive the assistance of a fellow inmate or staff, and (5) a written statement by the fact finder as to the evidence relied on for the decision. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 562-566 (1974).

         A. Rehearing Decision was Supported by Sufficient Evidence

         Barela claims that the DHO's rehearing findings were not supported by the “some evidence” standard set forth in Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454-56 (1985); Doc. 3 at 8. Doc. 14 at 11-12. The record does not bear that out, however.

         In reviewing an institution's disciplinary actions, the Court need only consider if the decision was supported by “some basis in fact” or “a modicum of evidence.” Hill, 472 U.S. 454-456. Court intervention is necessary only when the DHO's action is “arbitrary or capricious.” Reeves v. Pettox, 19 F.3d 1060, 1062 (5th Cir. 1994); Hudson v. Johnson, 242 F.3d 534, 536 (5th Cir. 2001) (“The goal . . . is to balance the need to prevent arbitrary deprivation of protected liberty interests with the need to acknowledge institutional interests and avoid administrative burdens.” (citations omitted)). Moreover, the evidence need not eliminate all other conclusions, nor does the “some evidence” standard require a weighing of the evidence or an independent assessment of witness credibility. Hill, 472 U.S. at 454-56. An incident report alone can constitute some evidence. See Hudson, 242 F.3d at 536-37.

         Contrary to Barela's assertions, there was clearly “some evidence” to support the DHO's finding in the present case. In finding Barela guilty, the DHO relied on the incident report, Barela's own admission of guilt when he was initially questioned, and the fact that he had injuries consistent with an altercation. Doc. 11 at 36 (amended DHO report on rehearing); see alsoDoc. 11 at 23 (original DHO report). Furthermore, multiple witnesses gave statements claiming to have seen Barela fighting with the other inmate. Doc. 11 at 36; Doc. 11 at 23. Clearly there is more than “a modicum of evidence” to support the DHO's findings. See Hill, 472 U.S. 454-56.

         Barela complains about discrepancies between the original and amended rehearing reports-specifically that the corrections were not only of typographical errors, the report was amended only after the Court ordered Respondent to answer, and the alterations “dramatically changed the factual substance of the third and fifth paragraphs in Sec. V” of the DHO rehearing report. Doc. 14 at 13-14. However, the amended rehearing report accurately reflected the evidence, and Barela's assertions do not and cannot show otherwise. Moreover, in this case, there is no basis to conclude that the DHO's rehearing decision was arbitrary or capricious ...

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