Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Disciplinary Hearing Must Rely on Preponderance of Evidence

George Goff is an Iowa prisoner who was infracted for verbally abusing a guard. He was found guilty at a disciplinary hearing and filed suit under § 1983 claiming violation of his rights to free speech and due process.

The district court held that prisoners do not have a First Amendment right to verbally abuse guards. (In this case Goff commented to another prisoner that a guard "must not have gotten any pussy" before coming to work after the guard refused to allow the prisoners to watch TV).

The court did find that Goff's right to due process had been violated because the disciplinary committee employed the "some evidence" test as a standard of proof in finding Goff guilty of the charge. The court held that determinations of fact made by initial hearing bodies should be made utilizing a preponderance of evidence standard.

At pages 982-986 the court gives a detailed explanation of the difference between the standard of proof, to be used at the initial hearing by prison officials, and the standard of review, which is used by the courts in ruling on prisoners challenges to disciplinary hearings.

The court notes that the risk of an erroneous deprivation of a prisoners liberty interest in his good time credits or in remaining out of disciplinary segregation is high if the "some evidence" standard is used in hearings. The interest of both the prisoner and the government are served if a preponderance of evidence standard is used at the hearing. The Court awarded Goff $1 in nominal damages.

This case is an important development in the case law concerning prison disciplinary hearings because few courts have specified the standards of proof to be used at the hearing. Most of the rulings concern the standard to be applied by the courts in reviewing challenges to the results of the hearings, which is the "some evidence" standard set out by the US Supreme Court in Superintendent v. Hill . It will be interesting to see if this ruling is upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeals. See: Goff v. Dailey , 789 F. Supp. 978 (SD IA 1992).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Goff v. Dailey

GEORGE GOFF, Plaintiff, v. STEVE DAILEY, Deputy Superintendent, and RICHARD HUCKINS, Correctional Officer, Defendants.



789 F. Supp. 978; 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12000

January 23, 1992, Decided

January 23, 1992, Filed



OPINION: [*979]


Plaintiff instituted the present lawsuit alleging violations of his constitutional rights on October 27, 1987. The parties consented to proceed before a U.S. Magistrate on June 19, 1991. By the time for trial the undersigned had been appointed a U.S. District Court judge. Trial in this matter was held on November 13, 1991.


1. Plaintiff George Goff was an inmate at the Clarinda Correctional Facility in Clarinda, Iowa.

2. Defendant Richard Huckins was a staff member who filed a disciplinary report against Goff.

3. Correctional Supervisor Victor Capps was a member of the disciplinary committee that found Goff guilty of disciplinary violations.

4. Defendant Steve Dailey was the Deputy Superintendent of the Clarinda Facility who affirmed the committee's decision on appeal.

5. On August 3, 1987, George Goff and other inmates were watching television in the recreational room at the Clarinda Facility. Another inmate asked Correctional Officer Huckins if the inmates would be allowed to watch television longer than normal that evening. Officer Huckins told them they would not be able to have that extension [**2] of time.

6. At that point, Goff, seated at a table, said to another inmate that Officer Huckins "must not have gotten any pussy before work."

7. Officer Huckins heard the comment and asked Goff to repeat it, which Goff did. Officer Huckins then told Goff that he was on report for that statement.

8. Goff then told Officer Huckins that he (Goff) could say anything he wanted to another inmate, as long as it was not directed at the officer.

9. After asking if the officer still intended to write the report, Goff indicated that he would take the officer to court.

10. A short time later, Goff returned and told Huckins that he was the wrong person to be "fucking with." Goff reiterated his statement: "You don't think I'm the wrong person to be fucking with, I'll go back to Fort Madison right now."

11. Goff was charged by Huckins and found guilty by the disciplinary committee of violating three different rules: # 14 (Threats/Intimidation); # 26 (Verbal Abuse); and # 27 (Obstructive/Disruptive Conduct).

12. On appeal, Deputy superintendent Dailey affirmed the disciplinary committee's findings and found that Goff's reference to going back to Fort Madison supported a Rule 14 violation. [**3] Dailey interpreted that statement to mean that Goff might involve himself in dangerous conduct without regard to the likelihood of being transferred to Fort Madison as a result.

13. As a result of being found guilty of the rule violations, Goff received 3 days of disciplinary detention and 16 days loss of [*980] good time. However, the disposition was suspended and never imposed.

14. After this disciplinary report, Goff's security classification score was increased by two points. This score is one factor used in determining an inmate's eligibility for the "outs" program at Clarinda.


The plaintiff offers three arguments in support of his complaint against defendants. First, plaintiff asserts that his right of access to the court has been denied because he was punished for telling a correctional officer that he would take the officer to court if he received a disciplinary report. Secondly, plaintiff argues that his first amendment rights were violated when he was disciplined for making comments to other inmates. Finally, plaintiff claims his due process rights were violated because the disciplinary committee which found him guilty employed the "some [**4] evidence" test as a standard of proof in making their factual determinations.

A. Right of Access to the Court

With regard to plaintiffs' right of access to the court, the defendants do not dispute that an inmate cannot be punished for filing legal actions. Defendants concede that under certain circumstances, disciplining an inmate for threatening legal action may impermissibly burden an inmate's right of access to the courts. However, the facts in this case show plaintiff was placed on report for verbal abuse because he stated that Officer Huckins "must not have gotten any pussy before work." Goff then threatened Huckins twice. Goff initially tried to intimidate Huckins by threatening him with court action. Goff's second threat came later when he told Huckins that he was the wrong person to be fucking with and indicated he was ready to return to Fort Madison. A decision to place him on report had been made prior to Goff's threat of court action. Goff's subsequent comments provided the basis for additional charges.

Superintendent Dailey was troubled by Goff's comment that he was unconcerned about a potential transfer to Fort Madison, a far more restrictive institution than [**5] Clarinda. The court agrees that this could be construed as a threat and violation of Rule 14 in that it evidences a lack of concern for the consequences of actions that may be taken.

After reviewing the record, including Officer Huckins' report, the disciplinary committee's decision and Superintendent Dailey's decision, the court finds that there was ample evidence to support a charge of threats/intimidation, verbal abuse and disruptive conduct. The charges against Goff were not filed to punish him for threatening legal claims.

B. First Amendment Claim

Plaintiff's second claim is that his first amendment rights were violated when he was punished for saying to another inmate that a correctional officer "did not get any pussy before work." Goff was charged with violating a correctional institution rule for making this statement. Rule 26 specifically states:

Verbal Abuse: An inmate commits verbal abuse when the inmate subjects another person to abusive or defamatory language, remarks, or gestures, in writing or orally, and includes insolence or disrespect to another person.

It is not disputed that Goff made the remark, though he denies making it to Officer Huckins. However, [**6] Officer Huckins heard the remark when Goff first made it in the recreational room.

In a prison setting, "an inmate's constitutional freedoms are inhibited to the extent that the exercise of such freedoms is inconsistent with necessities of implementing penal objectives in enforcing prison security." Guy v. State, 396 N.W.2d 197, 203 (Iowa App. 1986). The Supreme Court has held that a "lesser standard of scrutiny is appropriate in determining the constitutionality of the prison rules." Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 81, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64, 107 S. Ct. 2254 (1987). Additionally, "when an applicant asserts a deprivation of a constitutional freedom, he has the burden of proof to show such a constitutional violation by a [*981] preponderance of the evidence." Williams v. State, 378 N.W.2d 894, 896 (Iowa 1985).

The prison disciplinary committee decided that Goff's comment violated Rule 26. The inmate's right to free speech in the prison context with its emphasis on discipline and control is curtailed, and disrespectful comments which contribute to lack of discipline are not permitted. Turner 482 U.S. at 89 ("when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' [**7] constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."). Balancing the respective interests presented, the court concludes that Goff's first amendment rights were not abridged when he was charged with and found to have violated this rule.

C. Due Process Claim

Plaintiff's third and final allegation is that his due process rights were violated because the disciplinary committee which found him guilty employed the "some evidence" test as a standard of proof in making its factual determinations. Plaintiff is correct to note the distinction between a standard of review, used by a reviewing court to determine the sufficiency of the evidence, and a standard of proof, which establishes the quantum of evidence a hearing officer or initial hearing body must rely on to find guilt. Determinations of fact made by initial hearing bodies are usually made utilizing a preponderance of the evidence standard. See e.g., Charlton v. F.T.C., 177 U.S. App. D.C. 418, 543 F.2d 903, 907-08 (D.C. Cir. 1976). The standard of review used by courts to evaluate prison disciplinary committee findings is the "some evidence" n1 test.

n1 "The established rule [is] that due process is violated unless prison disciplinary committee members possess 'some evidence' before finding an inmate guilty of breaking institution rules . . ." Engel v. Wendl, 921 F.2d 148, 150 (8th Cir. 1991); see Wilson v. Farrier, 372 N.W.2d 499, 502 (Iowa 1985); Hair v. State, 401 N.W.2d 198, 200 (Iowa App. 1986).

Defendants in their post-trial brief cite Engel v. Wendl for the proposition that "the 'some evidence' standard is the proper standard to be applied by the hearing officer." Defendant's reliance on Engel for this point unduly expands the holding. The Engel court simply held that it was a violation of due process to determine an inmate in violation of a rule without any evidence. The case does not authorize hearing officers or disciplinary committees to utilize a "some evidence" standard when making factual determinations.


The defendants admit in their answer to plaintiff's amended complaint that, "The disciplinary committee which found Mr. Goff guilty of violating the rules employed the 'some evidence' test as a standard of proof in making their factual determinations." The disciplinary committee's use of the "some evidence" rather than the "preponderance of evidence" standard of proof violated Goff's due process rights.

The court finds, however, that Goff experienced no harm or actual damages as a result of this violation and is not entitled to compensatory damages. n2 See Graham v. Baughman, 772 F.2d 441, 446 (8th Cir. 1985) ("In order for a plaintiff in a § 1983 action to be entitled to compensatory damages for a violation of procedural due process, he must prove that the violation actually was the cause of his injury or deprivation."). An award of nominal damages of $ 1.00 is appropriate compensation. Graham 772 F.2d at 447 (citing Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 260, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978)) ("the denial of procedural due process should be actionable for nominal damages without proof of actual injury[]").

n2 Although it is important for a prison disciplinary committee to apply the proper standard when determining facts, the court notes that the facts in this case were not in dispute. The issue presented was whether inmate Goff's conduct, which was not contested, violated institutional rules.



Based on the foregoing,

1. IT IS ORDERED that judgment be entered in favor of the plaintiff for nominal damages of $ 1.00 on his due process claim.

2. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that judgment be entered for defendants on all remaining claims.

Dated this 23rd day of January, 1992.