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Vega v. Morgan

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 14, 2018

ALFREDO VEGA, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiff Alfredo Vega, a prisoner currently incarcerated at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, alleges that defendants Donald Morgan and Gwen Schultz violated his rights to due process when they found him guilty of violations of prison regulations following an incident in which he was attacked by another inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution. After considering the parties' submissions, I conclude that Vega fails to provide any evidence suggesting that defendants violated his due process rights, so I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, deny Vega's, and dismiss the case.

         A. Summary judgment

          1. Undisputed facts

          The facts are largely adopted from defendants' proposed findings of fact. Vega's summary judgment response is also styled as his own motion for summary judgment; defendants ask me to disregard the filing because it does not comply with this court's procedures for briefing summary judgment. In particular, he does not explicitly cite to evidence supporting his proposed findings of fact. Vega's submission is brief, straightforward, and I can understand what evidence supports his proposed findings, so I will not disregard the filing. But because Vega fails to respond to defendants' proposed findings, I will consider those findings undisputed unless they conflict with Vega's.

         Plaintiff Alfredo Vega is currently incarcerated at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. This case involves events that occurred while he was incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution.

         On September 17, 2015, Captain Miller wrote Vega Conduct Report No. 2646574 for fighting with another inmate. Vega was charged with assault, disobeying orders, and violating the regulation prohibiting “group resistance and petitions.” Miller's conduct report stated that Vega and his assailant were both members of the Latin Kings gang, and that their fight followed their disagreement over whether to retaliate for a previous assault at the prison, and over the assailant tattooing his cellmate with the emblem of another gang. Vega denies being in the gang. Unit Manager Lindsey Walker offered Vega an “uncontested disposition” of 180 days of disciplinary separation, which Vega turned down to proceed with a contested hearing.

         Defendants Captain Donald Morgan and Captain Gwen Shultz served as the committee for Vega's September 28, 2015 disciplinary hearing. Vega appeared at the hearing, along with his staff representative. Vega stated that he was attacked by another inmate and that he fought back in self-defense.[2] He said that this altercation happened after his unsuccessful attempt at mediating a dispute between different “security threat groups”-gangs-at CCI. Vega called Captain Keller as a witness. Keller had interviewed Vega as part of the investigation. Keller stated that Vega never told him that Vega participated in gang activities, and that Vega never said that both he and the assailant were “shot callers” for the Latin Kings. Keller said he never received information indicating that Vega was a shot caller. But Keller also testified that the dispute between Vega and his assailant was “about what was going on with the Latin Kings.” Dkt. 46-2. Vega initially requested Miller to testify at the hearing, but he ultimately declined to have Miller testify. Morgan and Shultz also reviewed video footage of at least part of the incident. Following the hearing, Morgan and Schultz found Vega guilty of the assault and “group resistance and petitions” charge. They ordered that Vega be placed in disciplinary separation for 180 days.

         Morgan and Schultz did not discuss the conduct report or the uncontested disposition offer with Captain Miller, Security Director Weber, or Unit Manager Walker prior to the hearing and were not involved with the earlier offer of the uncontested disposition. Morgan and Schultz say they decided to sentence Vega to 180 days of disciplinary separation for several reasons, including that he had previous dispositions of similar offenses, the severity of the alleged violations, and the evidence presented at the hearing, including video of the fight. They say that the length of the uncontested-disposition offer was not a factor in their sentence.

         Vega appealed Morgan and Schultz's decision to the warden, arguing that evidence was not presented at the hearing to support the conduct report. The warden ordered the case returned to Morgan and Schultz “to correct the record, ” stating, “Reason for decision to be corrected to address if report writer was present evidence available at hearing.” Dkt. 45-1, at 11. The warden did not specifically order a new hearing. Morgan and Schultz did not think a new hearing was needed to address the warden's concerns. On December 11, 2015, Morgan and Schultz completed an amended decision form, including a new statement: “Committee is adding that although the report writer was not physically present for the altercation, he conducted multiple interviews of both inmates involved and other inmate witnesses. Committee also considered video evidence to determine guilt [on both convictions].” Id. at 18. Following this correction, the warden's office affirmed Morgan and Schultz's decision. Vega served 180 days in disciplinary separation.

         2. Analysis

         Summary judgment is appropriate if a moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When, as here, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the court “look[s] to the burden of proof that each party would bear on an issue of trial; [and] then require[s] that party to go beyond the pleadings and affirmatively to establish a genuine issue of material fact.” Santaella v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997). If either party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment against that party is appropriate. Mid Am. Title Co. v. Kirk, 59 F.3d 719, 721 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Tatalovich v. City of Superior, 904 F.2d 1135, 1139 (7th Cir. 1990)). “As with any summary judgment motion, this [c]ourt reviews these cross-motions ‘construing all facts, and drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts, in favor of . . . the non-moving party.'” Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Auto. Mechs. Local 701 Welfare & Pension Funds v. Vanguard Car Rental USA, Inc., 502 F.3d 740, 748 (7th Cir. 2007)).

         A prisoner challenging the process afforded in a prison disciplinary proceeding must show that: (1) he has a liberty or property interest with which the state interfered; and (2) the procedures he was afforded upon that interference were constitutionally deficient. Ky. Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989); Marion v. Columbia Corr. Inst., 559 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2009). In my November 22, 2016 order screening Vega's complaint, I allowed Vega to proceed with due process claims against defendants Morgan and Schultz, although I noted that in the context of cases in which a prisoner receives segregation as a penalty for alleged misconduct (as opposed to the loss of good-time credits), the scope of a prisoner's due process rights has not been well developed. See Dkt. 12, at 5. Prisoners facing segregation need receive only “informal, nonadversarial” proceedings, meaning notice of the reasons for the charges, time to prepare, and an “opportunity to present his views” before a “neutral reviewer.” Westefer v. Neal, 682 F.3d 679, 685 (7th Cir. 2012). I denied Vega leave to proceed on most of his claims and stated the following about the claims that I concluded could proceed:

It seems doubtful that defendants Morgan and Schultz violated Vega's rights by reconsidering their original decision without him present, but he also alleges that they predetermined the outcome of the hearing, which suggests that they were biased against him. The parties are free to argue about the precise scope of this claim going forward, but for now I will allow Vega to proceed on a due process claim against Morgan and Schultz. At summary judgment or trial, Vega will need to provide evidence showing ...

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