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Donelson v. Harrington

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

October 16, 2014



JOE BILLY McDADE, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Charles Donelson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). Respondent filed an Answer to the Petition (Doc. 19), to which Petitioner filed a Reply (Doc. 23). In his Petition, Donelson challenges the determination by an Adjustment Committee at Pontiac Correctional Center to revoke one year of good conduct credit on the basis of two incidents that occurred while he was incarcerated at Western Illinois Correctional Center. He alleges that the decision violated his due process rights as articulated in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974) because he did not have the opportunity to call witnesses and because the revocation was not based on "some evidence." As explained below, the Petition is denied. Petitioner procedurally defaulted his first claim by failing to comply with established procedures for calling witnesses, and the Illinois state court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in concluding that the revocation of time credit was based on some evidence.


Petitioner is serving a fifty-year sentence for first degree murder, home invasion, and aggravated sexual assault. He is currently incarcerated at the Pontiac Correctional Center, where he is in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. (Doc. 19 at 1). He filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on October 21, 2013. (Doc. 1).

This Petition emerges from two disciplinary incidents that occurred while Petitioner was incarcerated at the Western Illinois Correctional Center. The incidents are described in two disciplinary reports, the first of which was filed on July 12, 2011 (Doc. 119-1 at 2), and the second of which was filed on July 14, 2011 ( Id. at 3).

According to the incident report and disciplinary report filed after the first incident, Petitioner attempted to leave the "R1 B-wing" at approximately 8:20 a.m. without being properly dressed. ( Id. at 1). When Officer Jimmie Watson ordered Petitioner to show his identification and to move away from the wing's doorway, Petitioner initially refused to comply. ( Id. at 2). When he did comply, Petitioner told Officer Watson, "I'll fix you... I'll have your job, bitch." ( Id. at 1). This incident was documented by an incident report dated July 11, 2011. ( Id. ). Petitioner received a disciplinary report on July 12, 2011. ( Id. at 2).

According to the disciplinary report filed after the second incident, Petitioner's second disciplinary incident occurred approximately one hour later. ( Id. at 3). The report states that Petitioner sidestepped Officers Roberts and Pool as the R1-B wing door was closing and ran towards Officer Watson. He "drew back his right arm with a closed fist and swung his right arm around striking Watson in the left facial area." ( Id. ). Petitioner continued to strike Watson until he was restrained by two responding officers. ( Id. at 4). This assault disrupted "normal operating procedures of the facility" and the wing "was... placed on a Level 1 Lockdown." ( Id. ). The incident was documented in a disciplinary report, which Petitioner received on July 14, 2011. ( Id. ). There is no incident report for this incident on the record.

Both disciplinary reports that Petitioner received included a detachable bottom section in which Petitioner could identify witnesses that he wished the disciplinary review board, known as the Adjustment Committee, to consider calling. ( See id. at 2-4). The report instructs the recipient to "Detach and Return [it] to the Adjustment Committee or Program Unit Prior to the Hearing" and includes spaces for inmates to print names of witnesses and describe the facts to which the witness can testify. ( Id. ).

Petitioner completed those sections on each form, but did not detach them or return them. ( See id. ). On the first, he requested the "R1-B wing camera" as a witness, and noted it would show that "he was on the wing, control officer open door." He also listed "Leamon/Cox" as witnesses, and indicated that they could testify that he "did not hold the door, " that he "was talking to C/O Roberts, " and that he "gave C/O my ID." He indicated they would also testify that Petitioner "did not say a word to Watson" and testify that "Watson has been harassing" Petitioner for two-months. ( Id. at 2). On the second, he listed the "R1 B-wing camera" and "Phone recordings" as witnesses. ( Id. at 3). He indicated that the R1 B-wing camera" would show that Roberts and Pool were "blocking the door, " and that "Watson was threatening to assault me all hours." ( Id. ). The phone recordings would show that he "ran for the door for a Lieutenant since C/O Roberts would not call one. I was assaulted." ( Id. ).

Shortly after the incident, Petitioner was transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center, where his Adjustment Committee hearing took place on July 20, 2011. ( Id. at 5). Petitioner pleaded not guilty, and the Adjustment Committee found him guilty of "assaulting any person, insolence, unauthorized movement, and disobeying a direct order." ( Id. ). He was disciplined with a one-year demotion to C-grade status, one-year segregation, revocation of a one-year good-conduct credit, one-year audio/visual restriction, and six months of contact visit restriction. ( Id. at 6). The Adjustment Committee's report states that Petitioner did not request any witnesses. ( Id. ). The Committee repeated the accounts set forth in both disciplinary reports as the basis for its decision. ( Compare id. at 5 with id. at 2-4). However, it only referenced attached "DC 434 incident reports" as part of the basis, but did not reference the disciplinary reports. ( Id. at 5).

Petitioner filed an Offender's Grievance on August 15, 2011. In it, he argued that the Adjustment Committee did not comply with procedural due process safeguards because the witnesses he requested on the disciplinary reports were not brought before the Adjustment Committee and its decision was not supported by "some evidence." ( Id. at 7-8). In response to Petitioner's grievance, a Grievance Officer recommended that the grievance be denied because "no witnesses were requested" and the findings were supported by the facts presented. ( Id. at 9). The Chief Administrative Officer, Randy Pfister, Warden of the Pontiac Correctional Center, approved the recommendation. ( Id. ). Petitioner then appealed to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, S.A. Godinez, on September 20, 2011, who denied Petitioner's appeal. ( Id. at 11).

Following this denial, Petitioner filed a pro se complaint for mandamus relief, a writ of certiorari, and a declaratory judgment against Pfister and Godinez on February 9, 2012. The complaint alleged that that the Adjustment Committee violated his due process rights by failing to allow his timely witness requests or provide a reason for their exclusion and for failing to base its decision on "some evidence." ( Id. at 12-15, 21-24).

The trial court dismissed the complaint on August 14, 2012, ( Id. at 38), and Petitioner appealed. The Illinois appellate court affirmed the trial court, concluding that petitioner's due process rights were not violated. ( Id. at 80, 86-87). The appellate court concluded that Petitioner's witness claim was foreclosed because he did not comply with the procedure for requesting witnesses when he failed to return the witness request slips. ( Id. at 86). It also concluded that the July 12 and July 14 disciplinary reports, on their own, provided "some evidence" upon which the Committee based its decision. ( Id. at 87). The Illinois Supreme Court denied Petitioner's leave to appeal the appellate court's decision on September 25, 2013. ( Id. at 103). Petitioner then filed the present Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.


A federal district court may hear a petition for writ of habeas corpus relief by a person in state custody only on the grounds that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A petitioner must "fairly present" each claim by including both the controlling operative facts and legal principles at each level of the state court system. Richardson v. Lemke, 745 F.3d 258, 268 (7th Cir. 2014); Woods v. Schwartz, 589 F.3d 368, 373 (7th Cir. 2009).

"When a state court resolves a federal claim by relying on a state law ground that is both independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment, federal habeas review of the claim is foreclosed." Richardson, 745 F.3d at 268 (quoting Kaczmarek v. Rednour, 627 F.3d 586, 591 (7th Cir. 2010)); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991). A state law ground is independent when the state court "actually relied on the procedural bar as an independent basis for its disposition of the case" and is adequate "when it is a firmly established and regularly followed state practice." Smith v. Mckee, 598 F.3d 374, 384 (7th Cir. 2010). A petitioner's claim is "procedurally defaulted" if the state court relies on procedural state law to dismiss the claim. Kaczmarek, 627 F.3d at 591. A procedurally defaulted constitutional claim will not be considered by a federal court unless the petitioner "can establish cause and prejudice for the default or that the failure to consider the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Id. A "cause" is "an objective factor, external to the defense, that impeded the defendant's efforts to raise the claim in an earlier proceeding." Smith v. Mckee, 598 F.3d 374, 382 (7th Cir. 2010)(internal quotation omitted). "Prejudice" is "an error which ...

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