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Caudle v. Stewart

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 16, 2018

BRANDON LEE CAUDLE, #20711-058 Petitioner,
v.
TIMOTHY S. STEWART, WARDEN Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         While confined at the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") in Cumberland, Maryland, Brandon Lee Caudle, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") inmate, filed a self-represented 28 U.S.C. § 2241 Petition challenging his April 2014 disciplinary report, which was issued while he was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio.[1] In the April 2014 report, he was charged with a Code violation for "Use of the Telephone for Abuses Other Than Criminal Activity" and, after his Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") hearing, he was found guilty and sanctioned to 360 days disciplinary segregation, with 300 days suspended, 180 days loss of commissary, 180 days impounding personal property, and the loss of 40 days of good conduct time ("GCT"). ECF No. 1.

         Caudle contends that his due process rights were violated when (1) DHO Montgomery failed to notify Caudle that he was increasing the severity of the incident report from a Code 297 to a Code 197; (2) Staff Representative D. Smith failed to object to: (a) the increase of the severity of the incident report, (b) DHO Montgomery's failure to consider evidence presented, and DHO Montgomery's failure to allow Caudle to present testimony from his father as a witness; and (3) DHO Bittenbender: (a) failed to conduct a full rehearing on the incident report, (b) did not allow Caudle to have a staff representative, (c) failed to allow Caudle to present evidence in his defense; (d) failed to permit Caudle to call his father as a witness, and (d) amended the DHO report on January 7, 2015, without giving him a copy. ECF No. 1.

         Presently pending before the Court is Respondent's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment filed by Respondent on June 1, 2017. ECF No. 4. The Motion has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition; a hearing is unnecessary. See Local Rule. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For reasons set forth below, Respondent's Motion, construed as a Motion for Summary Judgment, is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Caudle is currently serving an 89-month sentence following his December 2013 convictions for mail fraud and aggravated identity theft in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. ECF No. 4-2 at 3; see also United States v. Caudle, Criminal No. HEH-13-0154 (E.D. Va.). On March 31, 2014, FCI Elkton mailroom staff received a package addressed to Caudle which appeared suspicious because the postal tag did not match the return address. Id. The return address was "Parker Publications" in New York, New York, and had an incomplete zip code of "1001." The postal tag showed that the package was shipped from zip code 28027 in North Carolina. Inside the package was a hardcover book entitled "The Jersey Sting." Id.

         Additional investigation by FCI Elkton staff revealed that Caudle's father lives in North Carolina. Id. Respondent maintains that telephone calls between Caudle and his father were monitored and on March 25, 2014, approximately six days before the package arrived, Caudle was overheard asking his father to send him a copy of "The Jersey Sting." Id. His father complained about the cost of sending books and Caudle instructed his father to send the book by "media mail" because it was cheaper, but to make sure it was from a publisher. Id. at 3-4, 14.

         On April 10, 2014, Caudle received an incident report charging him with violating Disciplinary Code 297. "Use of the Telephone for Abuses Other Than Criminal Activity." Id. at 4, 14. On April 17, 2014, a Unit Discipline Committee ("UDC") reviewed the incident report and due to the severity of the incident, referred the incident report to the DHO. Id. Caudle received a copy of his rights and requested Counselor D. Smith as a staff representative, but declined to request any witnesses. Id. at 4, 18-20.

         On April 21, 2014, Caudle was informed that DHO Timothy Montgomery, the DHO at FCI Elkton, was considering a higher offense of a Code 197 violation, "Use of a Telephone to further Criminal Activity (Attempted), " instead of a Code 297 violation, and that Caudle would have at least 24 hours before the hearing to prepare his case. Id. at 4, 14-16.

         The hearing before DHO Montgomery occurred on April 23, 2014. Id. at 4. Caudle appeared with a staff representative. Montgomery found that Caudle had committed the prohibited act of a Code 197 violation and sanctioned him to the loss of 40 days good conduct time ("GCT"), 360 days of disciplinary segregation (300 days suspended pending 180 days of clear conduct), 180 days loss of commissary privileges, and the impounding of personal property for 180 days. Id. at 4, 22-25.

         Caudle appealed the decision to the BOP Regional Office, which, on November 7, 2014, remanded the case for further review of the level of severity of the offense and for rehearing. Id. at 5; see also ECF No. 1-5. Caudle transferred from FCI Elkton to FCI Allenwood on November 10, 2014. Bittenbender. the DHO at Allenwood, conducted the rehearing on December 4, 2014. Id. Caudle was verbally advised of his rights, including his right to a staff representative and witnesses, but did not request either. Id. Bittenbender denies telling Caudle that no rehearing was necessary or that neither a staff representative nor witnesses were necessary. Id. Caudle was given and took advantage of the opportunity to present evidence at the DHO rehearing that he believed was exculpatory. Id. at 35.

         DHO Bittenbender took information from Caudle's original hearing and "imported it into a new form, noting his amendments in bold type." Id. at 5. Bittenbender reviewed all the evidence anew, including photographs showing that a package containing the book "The Jersey Sting" was sent to Caudle from North Carolina but bearing a false New York return address. Id. at 6. Bittenbender examined the description of tie telephone call between Caudle and his father, who resides in North Carolina where the package originated, asking him to send "The Jersey Sting" by media mail. He additionally considered that prison staff had conducted an internet search for the name of the publisher with the return address on the package, but no such publisher existed. Id. Bittenbender considered Caudle's exculpatory documentation, specifically a Wells Fargo Account Activity Log listing an Amazon purchase of $27.69, but which contained no descriptive information of the item purchased. The DHO found that based upon the greater weight of evidence, Caudle committed a lower level offense of a Code 331 violation, the "Attempted Introduction of Non-Hazardous Contraband, " for having a hard back book delivered into the institution through his father when hardback books are only allowed into the institution directly from publishers. Id. In light of the reduced offense, Bittenbender disallowed 13 days of GCT and credited Caudle back the 27 days that had been disallowed by the original DHO. All other sanctions (disciplinary segregation time, loss of commissary time, and the impounding of property) remained tine same. Id. at 6, 22-25.

         On January 7, 2015, Bittenbender amendec the DHO report to clarify the sanctions section to note that Caudle had already served 60 cays of his disciplinary segregation sentence. Id. at 7, 39-41. None of the DHO findings and sanctions entered in the previous December 4, 2014 decision were changed. Bittenbender affirms that to the best of his recollection, Caudle was provided a copy of the amended report. Id. at 7.

         Caudle appealed his December 4, 2014 DHO rehearing decision to the Regional and Central Office levels of the BOP. Both appeals were denied. Id:, see also ECF No. 1-9. Caudle subsequently filed this action. On June 2, 20" 7, Respondent filed the now-pending ...


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