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Evidentiary Hearing Required to Determine Compliance with Wolff

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held a prisoner was entitled to an
evidentiary hearing where a disciplinary board failed to furnish a written
statement of reasons for its decision. The North Dakota State Penitentiary
prisoner was charged by prison officials with destroying, altering or
damaging state property for an unauthorized painting of a bookshelf in his
cell. As a penalty for the infraction, the disciplinary board revoked one
month of earned good time. The prisoner exhausted all of his
administrative remedies, sought habeas corpus relief in state court, and
after those remedies were denied filed a habeas corpus in federal court,
which was denied without hearing or requiring a response from the state.
The appellate court held that an evidentiary hearing must be granted in a
§ 2254 action if: (1) the merits of the factual dispute are not resolved
in a state hearing; (2) the state factual determination is not supported
by the record; (3) the state fact finding procedure failed to provide a
full and fair hearing; (4) there is no substantial allegation of newly
discovered evidence; (5) material facts were not developed at the state
court hearing; or (6) it appears the state fact trier did not afford the
petitioner a fair and full hearing. The court held it requires a
hearing "if relevant facts are in dispute and a fair evidentiary hearing
was not granted in state court."

The appeals court found there was a dispute as to whether a member of the
disciplinary board was one of the prison officials who submitted the
prisoner's incident report. The court further found the disciplinary board
apparently failed to render a written statement of the evidence relied
upon and the reasons for the action taken. The court remanded for an
evidentiary hearing to determine if the requirements of Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974) were met.
See: Jensen v. Satran, 651 F.2d 605 (8th Cir.1981).

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Related legal case

Jensen v. Satran

Jensen v. Satran, 651 F.2d 605 (8th Cir. 06/23/1981)


[2] No. 81-1223

[3] 651 F.2d 605

[4] Decided: June 23, 1981.


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota.


[8] Herbert O. Jensen, pro se.

[9] Edwin F. Zuern, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Bismarck, N. D., for appellees.

[10] Before Heaney, Ross and Arnold, Circuit Judges.

[11] Author: Per Curiam

[12] Herbert O. Jensen appeals the district court's*fn1 January 14, 1981, dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition. Jensen, an inmate at the North Dakota State Penitentiary, alleged in his section 2254 petition that: (1) he was disciplined by prison authorities specifically, the prison's disciplinary board in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause and in violation of the penitentiary's own rules and regulations; (2) he unsuccessfully appealed the disciplinary board's decision to Warden Winston Satran and to the North Dakota Director of Institutions; and (3) he thereafter unsuccessfully sought habeas corpus relief in a North Dakota district court and in the North Dakota Supreme Court.

[13] The facts of the underlying prison disciplinary action involved in this appeal are not fully developed in the record. It is clear, however, that Jensen was charged with "destroying, altering, or damaging North Dakota State property * * *." Inmate Handbook, North Dakota State Penitentiary and State Farm 21 (Prohibited Act No. 152) (Dec. 1978). Specifically, he was charged with an unauthorized painting of a bookshelf in his cell. The bookshelf's condition was discovered when Jensen was transferred to another cell. The state's brief indicates that only the inside and backside portions of the bookshelf were painted.

[14] The prison's disciplinary board found that Jensen painted the bookshelf and therefore violated Prohibited Act No. 152. As penalty for this infraction, the board revoked one month of Jensen's earned good time credit (ten days) and assessed costs against Jensen to recondition the bookshelf.*fn2 No written decision of the prison's disciplinary board appears in the record.

[15] Jensen sought review of this disciplinary action first from Warden Satran and then from the North Dakota Director of Institutions; both upheld the prison disciplinary board's action. Unfortunately, the record does not disclose how the Warden or the Director of Institutions handled Jensen's appeal. There is a brief, but sketchy, description of these administrative appeals in the state's brief.

[16] Jensen next sought habeas corpus relief in the Burleigh County, North Dakota, District Court; his application for relief was summarily denied without an evidentiary hearing on December 1, 1980. Thereafter, the North Dakota Supreme Court denied habeas corpus relief in a one-page order signed by its Clerk of Court. After summarizing the prison disciplinary board's action, the North Dakota Supreme Court's order stated, "It appears from the documents filed with the Petition in this Court, Petitioner (Jensen) has been afforded the due process to which he is entitled."

[17] Similarly, the federal district court summarily dismissed Jensen's section 2254 petition without a hearing and before ordering the state defendants to file answers. In dismissing Jensen's petition, the district court relied upon Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in United States District Courts.*fn3

[18] Both Jensen and the state agree that the sole issue for determination is whether the district court erred in dismissing Jensen's section 2254 petition after reviewing only the petition and attached documents without requesting a response or answer and without holding an evidentiary hearing. For the reasons discussed below, we hold that the district court erred in dismissing Jensen's petition.

[19] When an inmate's constitutionally protected interests are at stake, the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause requires the state prison's disciplinary proceedings to afford an inmate the following protections: (1) at least twenty-four hours advance written notice of the claimed violation; (2) a written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action taken; and (3) the right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when to do so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals. Wolff v. McDonnell,418 U.S. 539, 558-572, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 2975-2982, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935 (1974). See also Cummings v. Dunn, 630 F.2d 649, 650 n.4 (8th Cir. 1980) (per curiam).

[20] We reject the state's contention that Jensen's claims do not involve the deprivation of substantial rights protected by the section 2254 habeas corpus mechanism. See Preiser v. Rodriguez,411 U.S. 475, 487-489, 93 S. Ct. 1827, 1835-1836, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1973) (state prisoners' allegations that corrections officials acted unconstitutionally in depriving them of good time credits deemed "just as close to the core of habeas corpus as an attack on the prisoner's conviction"). See also Wolff v. McDonnell, supra,418 U.S. at 555-558, 94 S. Ct. at 2974-2975 (when a state created a statutory right to good time credit, prisoner's interest is embraced within Fourteenth Amendment "liberty" to entitle him to those minimum procedures appropriate under the circumstances and required by the Due Process Clause).