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Jackson v. Napoli

April 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. Senior United States District Judge


Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a 2002 prison disciplinary determination, which found Petitioner guilty of possessing contraband, and resulted in a loss of good-time credits. He seeks relief on the ground that he was denied procedural due process in connection with his disciplinary hearing because he was denied: (I) adequate pre-hearing assistance; (II) an opportunity to present certain documents and witnesses; (III) an impartial hearing officer; and (IV) a temporary adjournment for medical reasons. See Docket Nos. 1 (Pet.); 8 (Resp.); 7 (Mem.); 10 (Traverse).


On February 7, 2002, while incarcerated in the Auburn Correctional Facility, Petitioner was frisked by Correction Officer ("CO") DiLallo in the presence of Sergeant Kudla and CO Weed.

Docket No. 6, Attachs. 4 at 3; 2 at 7-8. During the search, CO DiLallo found a 9" sharpened metal rod in Petitioner's pocket. Docket No. 6, Attach 4 at 3. Petitioner was given a misbehavior report for violating a prison rule prohibiting inmates from possessing contraband that may be classified as a weapon. Id.

Correctional Officer Lupo was assigned to assist Petitioner to prepare for a disciplinary hearing regarding the allegations in the misbehavior report. Lupo met with Petitioner, and pursuant to Petitioner's request, interviewed many of the inmates housed near Petitioner's cell on the first level of D Block. Petitioner was provided with a list of the inmates interviewed, along with a note about whether they would be willing to testify. Lupo also provided Petitioner with copies of log book records and other documents, which related to D Block on the date of the search. See Docket No. 6, Attach. 3 at 26-27.

A Tier III Disciplinary Hearing was commenced by Hearing Officer Wolczyk on February 11, 2002. Docket No. 6, Attach. 5 at 3. Petitioner's theory was that CO DiLallo planted the contraband on Petitioner as part of a larger conspiracy by correctional staff against African American inmates. Petitioner requested documents and witnesses, which he essentially alleged would show that many other African American inmates had been found with contraband on February 7, 2002. Officer Wolczyk denied Petitioner's requests for documents and witnesses that were not directly related to the first level of D Block where Petitioner was found with the contraband. Wolczyk explained repeatedly that witnesses and documents that could not shed light on what happened in Petitioner's cell on February 7, 2002, were irrelevant. Officer Wolczyk continually gave Petitioner additional opportunities to present relevant documents or witnesses, and gave Petitioner wide latitude to explain how his requests might be relevant to the proceedings.

Five witnesses ultimately testified during the course of the hearing. The first witness, an inmate from cell D-1-19, testified that he had no information about the contraband or the incident. The next witness was Sergeant Kudla, who testified that he received a note from an inmate on D Block that Petitioner had a weapon. Correctional Officer DiLallo testified that he frisked Petitioner under instructions from Sergeant Kudla and found a 9" metal shank in Petitioner's pocket. Docket No. 6, Attach. 4 at 28. DiLallo further testified that he did not plant evidence on Petitioner, and that he had never had any problems with Petitioner prior to this incident. Id. at 29-30. Officer Wolczyk, outside the presence of Petitioner, also took confidential testimony from the prison psychiatrist on Petitioner's mental state and from Sergeant Kudla on the veracity of the confidential informant who tipped Sergeant Kudla to Petitioner's possession of a weapon. Id. at 50-51. On February 22, 2002, Officer Wolczyk concluded the hearing and found Petitioner guilty of possessing contraband as charged. Id. at 56-57.

On April 22, 2002, Officer Wolczyk's finding of guilt was upheld on administrative appeal, but Petitioner's sentence was reduced to eighteen months loss of good-time credit. Id. at 124. Petitioner next filed a challenge to the decision in the Supreme Court, Albany County, under C.P.L.R. Article 78. Docket No. 6, Attach. 1. The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion on November 22, 2002. Docket No. 6, Attach. 4. The Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed the Supreme Court's decision on May 12, 2005. Docket No. 6, Attach. 10. Leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals was denied October 25, 2005. Docket No. 5, Attach. 14. Petitioner's current application for a writ of habeas corpus was received February 8, 2007. Docket No. 1.


"Because an action for restoration of good-time credits in effect demands immediate release or a shorter period of detention, it attacks the very duration of . . . physical confinement, and thus lies at the core of habeas corpus." Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 79 (2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, Petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus seeking restoration of good-time credits is proper.

Where the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, has rejected on the merits a petitioner's claims regarding a prison disciplinary hearing, this Court applies the deferential standard under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also, LeBron v. Artus, 2008 WL 111194 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (AEDPA deference applies to Appellate Division affirmation of disciplinary hearing findings); Russell v. Ricks, 2006 WL 1555468 (N.D.N.Y. 2006) (same); Encarnacion v. McGinnis, 2005 WL 3018728 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (same). A decision is adjudicated "on the merits" when it finally resolves the claim, with res judicata effect, based on substantive rather than procedural grounds. Sellan v. Kuhlman, 261 F.3d 303, 311-12 (2d Cir. 2001). This is so, "even if the state court does not explicitly refer to either the federal claim or to relevant federal case law." Id. at 312.

Where a federal claim was adjudicated on the merits, AEDPA mandates that a writ of habeas corpus shall not be granted unless the state adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the ...

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