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Tyler v. Hooks

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

December 17, 2019

CASEY RAFAEL TYLER, Petitioner - Appellant,
ERIK A. HOOKS, Respondent - Appellee.

          Argued: October 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, at Greensboro. William L. Osteen, Jr., District Judge. (1:17-cv-00833-WO-JLW)


          Damon Clarke Andrews, KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Clarence Joe DelForge, III, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert L. Littlehale, Victor Van Dyke, KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER and AGEE, Circuit Judges, and Thomas S. KLEEH, United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.


         Casey Tyler, a North Carolina state prisoner, appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment denying his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for habeas corpus. The petition alleged several due process violations stemming from a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the revocation of twenty days of Tyler's "good-time" credits.[1]

         In the district court, Tyler argued he was entitled to habeas relief because: (1) the prison disciplinary hearing officer (the "DHO") did not consider video evidence of the underlying events during the proceeding; and (2) there was insufficient evidence to convict him of the alleged disciplinary offense. The magistrate judge disagreed and entered a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") that the district court grant the State's motion for summary judgment and deny Tyler's petition. The district court adopted the R&R in full, granted the State's motion, and denied Tyler's petition. He appealed and this Court granted a limited Certificate of Appealability ("COA").

         For the reasons stated below, we affirm the denial of Tyler's claim as it pertains to the DHO's failure to view the video evidence but vacate the district court's determination that there was sufficient evidence to support the disciplinary conviction. We remand to the district court with instructions to grant habeas relief as to the good-time credits.


         Tyler is an inmate at Scotland Correctional Institution ("Scotland") in North Carolina where he is serving a 347-month sentence for various offenses, including second-degree murder. His § 2254 petition challenged a May 2017 prison disciplinary conviction for a North Carolina Class A disciplinary offense (A-18 of the North Carolina Inmate Disciplinary Procedures). The A-18 provision prohibits inmates from "[k]nowingly mak[ing] to any person a false oral or written allegation about a staff member that, if true, could expose the staff member to criminal liability[.]" State of N.C. Dep't of Pub. Safety, Prisons Policy and Procedure, Inmate Disciplinary Procedures, ch. B, § .0202(a)(A18) (2016) (hereinafter "Disciplinary Procedures").

         Tyler's disciplinary conviction stems from a written prison administrative complaint he filed in March 2017. According to his § 2254 petition, that complaint alleged he was sexually assaulted by prison guard Cameron Gaddy. Tyler claimed he was groped during a pat-down after leaving the prison chapel. Scotland officials investigated the allegations and determined them to be "unfounded." J.A. 4. Following that determination, Officer Queen Gerald opened a separate investigation to assess whether Tyler's complaint constituted a disciplinary offense.

         As part of this investigation, Officers Gaddy and Gerald, as well as Tyler, submitted written statements to Kim Smith, the Investigating Officer assigned to the disciplinary proceeding. Officer Gaddy's statement provided only that he "ha[d] no knowledge" of Tyler's "displainary [sic] issue." J.A. 3. Officer Gerald's statement consisted of the following: "On 3/24/17 at approximately 1418 hours, an allegation was made against staff by inmate Casey Tyler # 1124017. A [sic] investigation was conducted and the allegation was unfounded." J.A. 4. Meanwhile, Tyler's statement amounted to a general denial of the A-18 offense allegation and a "demand to be tried in [a] Real court if anyone really believes I would-or did-go out of my way to falsely report on any staff person." J.A. 2.

         After reviewing the statements and video footage from the day of the alleged assault, Officer Smith issued her Investigating Officer's Report, which noted that the video "neither took away nor added to the reporting partys [sic] statement." J.A. 5. Officer Smith concluded: "Based on the information reported it is recommended that inmate Tyler be charged with a [sic] A-18 offense." J.A. 5.

         The following week, DHO Pamela Locklear conducted a disciplinary hearing on the A-18 charge. Tyler pleaded "not guilty," J.A. 6, and requested that the video from the day of the alleged assault be made part of the record. Although she noted that the Investigating Officer "reviewed the video and stated that it did not add to nor take away from the reporting party's statement," J.A. 6, the record does not reflect that DHO Locklear reviewed the video herself. In summarizing the evidence presented at the hearing and finding Tyler "guilty" of the A-18 offense, DHO Locklear concluded: "After reviewing this package [including the above-described statements and Investigating Officer's Report], no evidence can be found to support the inmate[']s allegations. Based on the reporting party's statement and the investigating officer's report, inmate is found guilty of the A-18 offense." J.A. 6. Tyler's punishment included the loss of twenty days of good-time credit earned toward his 347-month sentence. The conviction was upheld on administrative appeal.[2]

         Tyler filed a habeas corpus petition in the Superior Court of Scotland County, North Carolina, which was summarily denied. The North Carolina Court of Appeals denied Tyler's petition for a writ of certiorari without comment. And the North Carolina Supreme Court also denied Tyler's motion for discretionary review without comment. None of these decisions contained an explanation for the denial.

         Tyler then sought federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, where he presented two claims. First, Tyler argued that his due process rights were violated because DHO Locklear "claimed [the] investigating officer reviewed video [and] judged its contents. [The] DHO based verdict on investigator's [and] 'reporting party's' statements only, but did not 'detail' evidence relied on for verdict." J.A. 53. He elaborated that "[s]omeone other than the judge at the hearing was allowed to judge the value of 'my' requested evidence, even the video 'of' the cause of action here, [and] the DHO deferred to this, my adversary's judgment." J.A. 44. For his second claim, Tyler argued that Officer Gaddy "neither admitted to nor denied my . . . allegation: he feigned ignorance to my 'disciplinary issue,' according to [the] DHO. His failure to accuse me of falsely accusing him should be construed as evidence in my favor-even if only as a lack of evidence against me." J.A. 44. And with respect to the mens rea necessary for an A-18 offense, Tyler asserted that "even though [the assault allegation] was deemed unfounded-sufficing without more to convict me of knowingly lying on [Officer] Gaddy-nothing was presented suggesting I had the requisite criminal intent for the infraction." J.A. 44. The State answered Tyler's petition and moved for summary judgment, which Tyler opposed.

         The magistrate judge entered an R&R that the district court grant the State's motion and deny Tyler's petition. With respect to Tyler's claim that the DHO should have personally reviewed video footage from the day of the alleged assault, the magistrate judge determined that Tyler "fail[ed] to meaningfully explain how [the video was] necessarily material or how he was prejudiced by [its] absence." J.A. 95. Further, the magistrate judge found that Tyler's "speculation that the DHO would have reached a different conclusion after ...

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