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Spencer v. Rios

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 23, 2019

Derrick Jerome Spencer, Petitioner,
v.
M. Rios, Warden, Respondent.

          Derrick Jerome Spencer, (pro se Petitioner)

          Ana Voss, Ann M. Bildtsen, and Erin M. Secord, (for Respondent).

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          TONY N. LEUNG UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung, on a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, (ECF No. 1), Petitioner's Motion for Entry of Default Judgment (ECF No. 7), Petitioner's Motion to Reconsider Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 11), and Respondent's Response to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, Amendment to Petition, and Motion to Reconsider Motion for Default Judgment (ECF No. 17). This action has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for report and recommendation to the Honorable Michael J. Davis, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota, under 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.2(b). Based on all the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court recommends that the petition and related motions be denied.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Petitioner Derrick Jerome Spencer is incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnesota. Pet., at 1 (ECF No. 1). Spencer is serving a 262-month term of imprisonment for multiple drug-related offenses. Deloia Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. B. (ECF Nos. 18 & 18-2). He has a projected release date of November 8, 2026. Id.

         Prison officials charged Spencer with two violations of prison rules and regulations on October 27, 2017. They first charged Spencer with possessing a hazardous tool. They alleged that on the afternoon of October 27, Officer J. Ostrander entered a bathroom to conduct a search of Spencer and several other inmates. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2). When Officer Ostrander patted down Spencer, he noticed a hard object near the inside of his right ankle. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2). The officer directed Spencer to lift up the leg of his sweatpants. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2). Spencer did, and the officer noticed a cell phone tucked in Spencer's sock. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2). When the officer attempted to remove the phone, Spencer jumped away from him and refused to comply with the officer's commands to pull his sock down and remove the phone. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2). This incident was documented in report number 3049678. In response, Spencer stated that Officer Ostrander falsified the incident report. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 2).

         Second, prison authorities charged Spencer with disposing of an item during a search. They alleged that when Spencer jumped away from Officer Ostrander, the officer radioed for assistance to Officer Rajala who was outside the bathroom. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 1). When Officer Rajala entered the bathroom, Spencer removed the phone from his sock and threw it in the garbage can, in view of both officers. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 1). Officer Ostrander recovered the phone from the trash can. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 1). Officer Ostrander documented this incident in report number 3049682. In response to this report, Spencer denied possessing a cell phone or throwing it the garbage can. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 1).

         Both incident reports were referred to Discipline Hearing Officer (“DHO”) Mark Deloia for a hearing on November 21, 2017. For both incidents, Spencer indicated that he wished to call Officer Rajala to testify and that he wished to have a staff member represent him at his hearing. (ECF Nos. 18-6, 18-12). Before the hearing, however, staff informed Spencer that his representative would not be present at the prison camp that day. Deloia Decl. ¶¶ 13, 24. The DHO indicates that Spencer chose to waive his right to representation and proceed with the hearing. Id. Spencer contends prison officials pressured him into waiving his right to a staff representative, telling him his representative would not be available for at least two months and that he would be kept in solitary confinement during this time.

         Officer Rajala also did not testify at the hearing. (ECF No. 18-9, p. 1, 18-15, p. 1). Instead, he provided a written statement indicating that as he entered the bathroom, he observed Spencer throw a cell phone in the garbage. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 9). The DHO determined that in light of this memorandum, Officer Rajala's testimony would be redundant and there was no need for him to appear. (ECF No. 18-9, p. 1, 18-15, p. 1).

         The DHO determined, based on “the greater weight of the evidence, ” that Spencer committed the prohibited acts of possession of a hazardous tool and disposing of an item during a search. (ECF Nos. 18-9, p. 3, 18-15, p. 3). In reaching this conclusion, the DHO placed great weight on the fact that two officers observed the cell phone and that those staff members had “nothing to gain from fabrication of the charge.” (ECF Nos. 18-9, p. 3, 18-15, p. 3). The DHO decided that Spencer would lose 41 days of good conduct time for each violation. (ECF Nos. 18-9, p. 3, 18-15, p. 3).

         Spencer appealed both decisions to the North Central Regional Office. (ECF No. 3-1, pp. 10, 16). Both appeals were denied. (ECF No. 3-1, pp. 12, 18). Spencer then submitted the appeals to the Central Administrative Office. (ECF No. 3-1, pp. 13, 19). Again, both appeals were denied. (ECF No. 3-1, p. 15, 21).

         Spencer then filed this habeas corpus petition, seeking relief on four grounds. First, he argued that the DHO's findings regarding both incidents are inconsistent with the evidence presented in the DHO report. Second, he claimed that the incident reports were insufficient to support the DHO's findings. Third, he argued that he was forced to waive his right to a staff representative. Finally, he claimed that the DHO violated his due process rights by preventing him from calling witnesses. Spencer asks that the incident reports be expunged and that the Court order his good time credit be restored.

         On October 1, 2018, the Court ordered Respondent to file an answer to the petition within 30 days. (ECF No. 5). Sometime thereafter, the Court learned that, due to an inadvertent clerical error, Respondent did not receive a copy of the petition or the October 1, 2018 order. (ECF No. 6). As a result, the Court struck the previous deadlines from its October 1, 2018 order and ordered Respondents to answer the petition on or before December 15, 2019. (ECF No. 6). On November 16, 2018, Spencer filed a motion for default judgment. (ECF No. 7).[1] Approximately one month later, he filed both a motion to reconsider his motion for default judgment and an amendment to his petition, alleging that amended DHO reports that he received were invalid because they were signed by a different BOP employee. (ECF Nos. 10 and 11). In response, Respondent asked that his deadline to answer the petition be extended to December 19, 2018, so that he could address Spencer's amendment. (ECF No. 14). The Court granted that request and Respondent subsequently answered the petition.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Spencer has filed both a motion for default judgment and a motion to reconsider his motion for default judgment. Because either motion could be dispositive to the issues raised in the Petition, the Court will consider those motions first.

         Default judgment may be entered when “a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Though the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may be applied in habeas proceedings when they would not be inconsistent with any statutory provisions or the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, [2] default judgments are strongly disfavored in such proceedings. Hale v. Lockhart, 903 F.2d 545, 547 (8th Cir. 1990). This is particularly true when the petitioner seeks default judgment only because the opposing party is untimely in responding. “[N]o court has ordered a habeas writ to issue solely because of delay.” Hale v. Lockhart,903 F.2d 545, 547 (8th Cir. 1990); see also Ward v. Terrell, No. 08-cv-837, 2008 WL 5273720 *7 n. 4 (D. Minn. Dec. 17, 2008) (collecting cases that hold failure to file timely ...


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