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Prude v. Meli

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 4, 2019

TERRANCE PRUDE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY MELI, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHEN L. CROCKER MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff Terrance Prude filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights by confiscating his funds, issuing him a conduct report for receiving such funds, and intercepting his mail. (Dkt. 1.) On November 19, 2018, I granted Prude leave to proceed against defendants Anthony Meli and Gary Boughton on a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim related to Meli's alleged withholding of exculpatory evidence at Prude's conduct report hearing, as well as against Meli on a First Amendment claim related to Meli's alleged interference with Prude's mail.

         I did not grant Prude leave to proceed against Meli on the theory that Meli was an “unbiased decision-maker, ” since Meli did not preside over the conduct report hearing, did not find him guilty, and did not impose a punishment. (11/19/18 Order (dkt. 41) at 9.) Similarly, I denied Prude leave to proceed on his due process claim on the theory that he was not able to review the testimony of two of his witnesses, Nistler and Jones. I also denied Prude leave to proceed on an access to courts claim since he did not plead facts suggesting that defendants' confiscation of his funds actually interfered with his ability to seek post-conviction relief. Finally, I denied Prude's request for a preliminary injunction.

         Before the court are two motions by pro se plaintiff Terrance Prude: His motion for reconsideration of the screening order on several grounds (dkt. 42), which I am granting in part; and his motion to compel defendants to provide him with writing material (dkt. 48), which I am denying.

         OPINION

         I. Motion for reconsideration (dkt. 42)

         Prude seeks reconsideration of (A) the theories upon which he may proceed with his due process claim against Meli, (B) my denial of his access to courts claim, and (C) my denial of his request for a preliminary injunction.

         A. Due Process Claim against Meli

         Prude asks the court to reconsider its decision denying him leave to proceed against Meli on theories that he was a biased decision-maker and because he withheld Nistler's and Jones' letters from Westra, the conduct report hearing officer. In support of his biased decision-maker theory, Prude cites to Whitford v. Boglino, 63 F.3d 527, 534 (7th Cir. 1995), in which the court held that if an “officer is substantially involved in the investigation of the charges against [the] inmate, due process forbids that officer from serving on the adjustment committee.” Id.

         Prude asserts that this language suggests that Meli, the investigating officer and conduct report writer who authorized the charges and seized Prude's funds, was substantially involved. However, the fact remains that Meli did not decide the outcome of the conduct report, nor did he mete out the punishment. Accordingly, I am declining to broaden Prude's due process claim against Meli to include a biased decision-maker theory.

         Prude also argues that I erred in denying him leave to proceed against Meli on Prude's allegation that Meli withheld the letters that Nistler and Jones submitted on his behalf. In denying Prude leave to proceed on a due process claim related to those letters, I began with the principle from Westefer v. Neal, 682 F.3d 679 (7th Cir. 2012), that in the context of his conduct report, Prude had no “constitutional right to call witnesses or to require prison officials to interview witnesses.” Id. at 685. Then I concluded that because Westra's decision listed their letters in the Record of Witness Testimony (see dkt. 1-1 at 9), Prude's claim had no traction because Westra had received those letters, and Prude had no right to interview the letter writers or to review the letters.

         Prude opposes this conclusion on two bases, and I'm persuaded by the second. First, he asserts that pursuant to Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566 (1974), his due process rights included the right to call witnesses and know the evidence before him. He argues that Westefer does not apply to his circumstances because his conduct report proceeding was formal, which is different from the informal administrative segregation hearing addressed in that case. Prude does not cite any authority in support; that's not surprising because it is well-settled that Westefer stands for the broader principle that prisoners facing a change in placement (typically from general population to segregation), regardless of whether the change is pursuant to administrative or disciplinary proceedings, requires less formal procedures. Westefer, 682 F.3d at 685 n.2 (noting that more formal procedures may be required in the context of a loss of good-time credit because that process affects the length of incarceration, not the nature of incarceration); see James v. Pfister, 708 Fed.Appx. 876, 879 (7th Cir. 2017) (acknowledging that a transfer to disciplinary segregation affords inmates the informal process described in Westefer). Accordingly, I remain convinced that Westefer governs the type of process he was due.

         Prude's second argument is more persuasive. Prude now clarifies that he is not only complaining that he personally didn't have access to the letters, but also that Westra, the hearing officer, did not actually review the letters. Prude claims that his allegations and attachments to his complaint do not conclusively establish that Westra considered Nistler and Jones' letters in resolving the conduct report. Prude further points out that he had alleged that Westra stated, during the hearing, that he had not received those letters (Compl (dkt. 1) ¶ 68), and that the conduct report form did not include an “x” in the box Westra should have marked if he had considered their testimony (dkt. 1-1 at 7).

         While I remain convinced that Prude had no right to review the letters himself, I am persuaded that Prude's allegations create a factual dispute about whether Westra actually received the letters. Indeed, while it may be logical to infer that Westra received the letters after the conduct report hearing, the fact remains that Prude alleges that Westra did not actually review them, and it is possible that Westra's decision contained errors or misstatements about the evidence he actually considered. Accordingly, I will grant Prude's request and allow him to proceed on his due process claim against Meli ...


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