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RANDOLPH v. M. SIMMONS

November 29, 2010

RANDOLPH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
M. SIMMONS, INSTITUTIONAL STEWARD, DONALD SELSKY, DIRECTOR SPECIAL HOUSING INMATE DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Jordan Randolph, appearing pro se, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleges that his constitutional rights have been violated in a number of respects in connection with a disciplinary hearing that was held in January 2007, while plaintiff was confined at Gowanda Correctional Facility. Plaintiff has sued Mark Simmons, who presided over the hearing, and Donald Selsky, the Director of Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program. Defendants have moved for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was charged by Correction Officer ("C.O.") S. Bauer with a violation of DOCS Rule 116.10 ("An inmate shall not lose, destroy, steal, misuse, damage or waste any type of state property"), based on Bauer's alleged discovery of more than one state-issued razor blade in plaintiff's cell. The hearing on that charge began on January 22, 2007.

Plaintiff acknowledged that inmates were to have no more than one razor blade at a time, and that the proper procedure for obtaining a new blade was to turn in the old one to a C.O., to exchange for a replacement. He contended, however, that Bauer had planted a second blade in his cell.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Simmons found plaintiff guilty, and sentenced him to three months in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), along with the loss of privileges and good time. On plaintiff's administrative appeal, the Disciplinary Review Committee modified plaintiff's date of release from SHU, and defendant Selsky subsequently affirmed Simmons's decision. Plaintiff commenced this action on June 6, 2008. Plaintiff alleges that defendants have violated his right to due process and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, in a number of ways, as set forth below.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the written charge against him was defective because it did not describe the alleged violation in sufficient detail. Plaintiff contends that this hampered his ability to prepare and present a defense to the charge.

A prison inmate who is charged with a violation is entitled, as a matter of due process, to be provided with enough factual detail to allow him to understand the nature of, and basis for the charge, so that he can mount a defense. See Sirav.Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 73-74 (2d Cir. 2004); United States v. Abuhamra, 389 F.3d 309, 326 (2d Cir. 2004). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has described these requirements as "minimal." Richardson v. Selsky, 5 F.3d 616, 621 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)).

Contrary to plaintiff's assertions, Bauer's misbehavior report did set forth the factual basis for the charge. See Dkt. #25-7 Ex. A. Plaintiff's contention that the charge was so vague that he was unable to present a defense is also belied by the hearing transcript, at which plaintiff disclaimed possession of the razor blade, and claimed that it had been planted in his cell by Bauer. See Dkt. #25-7 Ex. D. In addition, although plaintiff complained that the misbehavior report failed to state how plaintiff was alleged to have obtained the razor blade, that was not necessary to support the charge against plaintiff. This claim, then, is simply meritless.

Plaintiff also contends, in sum and substance, that the evidence presented at the hearing was insufficient to support Simmons's finding of guilt. This claim likewise fails.

To withstand constitutional scrutiny, "prison discipline decisions ... must be 'supported by some evidence in the record.'" Sira, 380 F.3d at 76 (citing Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985)). The relevant question in reviewing such decisions is "whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached" by the hearing officer. Id. (citing Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56). Having reviewed the transcript and record of plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, I conclude that the evidence before Simmons easily met that standard.

Plaintiff further asserts that the hearing was untimely. While I do not believe that it was, see Disciplinary Hearing Extension Request (Dkt. #25-7 Ex. E), "[f]ederal constitutional standards rather than state law define the requirements of procedural due process." Shell v. Brzezniak, 365 F.Supp.2d 362, 376 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff has not shown that the very modest delay here in any way infringed upon his constitutional rights.

Next, plaintiff complains that he was denied a certain witness, C.O. Clark. Apparently plaintiff wanted to elicit testimony from Clark that no other inmates in the area were missing a razor blade, to support his defense that the blade in question had been planted in his cell by Bauer. Simmons denied plaintiff's request to call Clark, on the ground that any testimony she might give would have been irrelevant, since Clark had no ...


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