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James v. Zanon

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 21, 2017

TARAN JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES ZANON, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID E. JONES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Taran James, a Wisconsin state prisoner who is representing himself, filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution. On August 9, 2016, the Court screened the complaint and allowed Mr. James to proceed with two procedural due process claims: (1) Defendants James Zannon, Stan Doman, and Kathy Sabel denied Mr. James's request to see full statements from four confidential informants, and (2) Defendant Mark Weisgerber denied Mr. James's request for three additional inmate witnesses for his disciplinary hearing. (ECF No. 34 at 9 and 11).

         This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 42 and 58). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and will dismiss the case.

         FACTS[1]

         At the time relevant to this matter, Mr. James was an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional Institution ("Oshkosh"). (ECF No. 77, ¶ 1.) Defendants were employees at Oshkosh: James Zanon was Captain in the Segregation Unit (id., ¶ 2); Stan Doman was Lieutenant in the Segregation Unit (id., ¶ 3); Kathy Sabel was Unit Supervisor (id., ¶ 4); and Mark Weisberger was Security Director (id., ¶ 5).

         On July 22, 2013, Mr. James received Conduct Report #2347074 for "inciting a riot." (Id., ¶¶ 6-7; see also ECF No. 55-1). According to the conduct report, Mr. James allegedly participated in an anonymous letter to the Warden, which stated that "actions will be taken by all inmates in the 'very near' future which will cause for the lock down of this institution." (ECF No. 77, ¶7; see also ECF No. 56-2 at 1). The letter notified the Warden that correctional staff often failed to follow "DAI policy" on disciplinary matters and failure to remedy the problem "will receive an aggressive response." (ECF No. 56-2 at 1). The letter also stated that inmates "will not comply with any work, schooling, or programing" until there was a solution. (Id. at 3)

         Along with the conduct report, Mr. James received a document entitled "Notice of Major Disciplinary Hearing Rights." (ECF No. 77, ¶ 8). The document explained that Mr. James could request two eye-witnesses and a staff member witness at his disciplinary hearing. (Id.) It also explained that Mr. James would need "good cause" to call more than two eye-witnesses. (Id.)

         Mr. James timely requested inmates Milton Brown and David Gatlin as eyewitnesses and Unit Manager Chris Kuchinski as character witness. (Id., ¶ 9; see also ECF No. 55-1 at 7). Mr. Doman approved the inmate witnesses but denied the request for Unit Manager Kuchinski, concluding that his testimony would be irrelevant to the issue in the conduct report. (Id., ¶ 12; see also ECF No. 55-1 at 7).

         According to Mr. James, he then sent a letter to his staff advocate, Neyhard, and to Mr. Weisgerber requesting three more inmate witnesses for his disciplinary hearing: Michael Shelton, Cortez Kennedy, and Darwin McKnight. (ECF No. 81, ¶¶ 1-2). Inmate Shelton "would have admitted sending the letter to the Warden;" inmate Kennedy "would have admitted to previously being found guilty of the same letter being sent to the Warden;" and inmate McKnight "would have corroborated the fact that Mr. James had no part or motive to be involved." (See ECF No. 74 at 11).

         According to Mr. Weisgerber, he never received any letters requesting additional witnesses, and even if he had, he would have directed the requests to the segregation supervisor who was responsible for reviewing witness requests. (ECF No. 77, ¶¶ 10-11, 15, 18-19). To the best of Mr. Weisgerber's knowledge, no circumstances existed that would have warranted adding witnesses beyond the allotted two. (Id., ¶ 20).

         On August 6, 2013, Mr. Zanon, Ms. Sabel, and Mr. Doman ("the Committee") held the disciplinary hearing for Conduct Report #2347074.[2] (Id., ¶25). The Committee reviewed the following evidence: (a) the conduct report (see ECF No. 55- 1 at 1-3), (b) the anonymous letter sent to the Warden (see ECF No. 56-2), (c) four confidential informant statements (see ECF No. 28; see also ECF No. 55-1 at 8), (d) a written statement by Mr. James (see ECF No. 55-1 at 15-17), and (e) testimony from inmate Gatlin and inmate Brown denying Mr. James's involvement in the incident (id. at 5). (Id., ¶ 28).

         With regard to the four confidential informant statements, Mr. Zanon believed that the physical safety of the informants would be jeopardized if their identities were released. (Id., ¶ 38). According to Mr. James's complaint, the "Gangster Disciples" may have been involved in the non-work sit down. (ECF No. 35 at 17, ¶ 13). Mr. Weisgerber explained that there was no way to redact the confidential informant statements in a way to ensure that Mr. James would not be able to identify those individuals. (ECF No. 27, ¶ 4). Thus, Mr. James received a copy of DOC-78A "Summary of Confidential Informant Statements, " a document used to summarize information from a confidential informant without revealing the informant's identity. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 39).

         The summary of the confidential informant statements indicated that informants #1 and #3 implicated Mr. James and inmate Brown in the letter to the Warden. (ECF No. 55-1 at 8; see also ECF No. 28). Informants #2 and #4 implicated Mr. James, inmate Brown, and inmate Gatlinin the letter to the warden. (Id.) Earlier in the litigation, the Court conducted an in camera review of the confidential informant statements and agreed that defendants' need to maintain prison security was greater than Mr. James's need to possess the statements. (ECF No. 34 at 2-3). It also noted that the summaries were an accurate reflection of what the confidential informants had stated. (Id.)

         With regard to Mr. James's written statement, he argued that the institution could not "prove guilt by a preponderance of the evidence." (ECF No. 55-1 at 15-17). He explained that inmates Shelton, McKnight, and Kennedy were all accused of the same crime, yet the confidential informant statements did not mention any of their names. (Id. at 16). Mr. James also explained that there was no handwriting sample or DNA to prove his participation in the letter. (Id. at 17.)

         Mr. James then made an oral statement at the disciplinary hearing denying his involvement in the letter and reiterating the arguments from his written statement. (ECF No. 77, ¶¶ 27-29). According to Mr. James, he asked to call inmates Shelton, McKnight, and Kennedy as witnesses but the committee denied the request. (Id., ¶ 30). According to defendants, Mr. James never made an oral request for additional witnesses, and if he had, there would have been a notation on the record showing that they denied the request. (Id., ¶ 33).

         The Committee found Mr. James guilty of inciting a riot. (Id., ¶ 41). It noted that Mr. James argued technicalities about the evidence, i.e., that there was no DNA evidence or handwriting samples to prove his involvement, rather than generally denying guilt or providing alternative facts. (ECF No. 55-1 at 4). Further, the allegations in the confidential informant statements were "quite specific" as to the inmate involved and the steps that inmate took to organize the work stoppage. (Id. at 4-5). Mr. Zanon stated that the statements were taken "independently of one another" and "corroborated each other." (ECF No. 77, ¶ 40). The Committee noted that Mr. James's two witnesses (inmate Brown and inmate Gatlin) were identified as co-conspirators, and thus their testimonies at the disciplinary hearing were less credible. (ECF No. 55-1 at 4). The warning letter to the Warden also threatened an "aggressive response, immediately." (Id.) Therefore, the Committee found Mr. James guilty of inciting a riot. (Id.)

         Mr. James received 360 days in disciplinary separation. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 42). He timely appealed the decision, and the Warden affirmed the finding of guilt. (Id., ¶¶ 44-46). The Department of Corrections ("DOC") then reviewed his file for possible transfer to the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility ("WSPF"). (Id., ΒΆ 47). Mr. James satisfied ...


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