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Henderson v. Carlson

filed: February 27, 1987.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton, D.C. Civil No. 85-1609.

Author: Hunter

Before: GIBBONS, Chief Judge, WEIS, and HUNTER, Circuit Judges


HUNTER, Circuit Judge :

1. This is an appeal from a decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granting habeas corpus relief to Archie L. Henderson, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In reaching its decision the district court held that 1) the fifth and fourteenth amendments require different standards of judicial review of inmate disciplinary proceedings, and that 2) a prison disciplinary committee may not consider any evidence derived from a confidential information unless the accused prisoner is apprised of the specific facts from which the committee determines that the informant is reliable. For reasons discussed below, we will reverse the order of the district court.


2. In April 1985, Henderson, who was then an inmate at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, received a written notice from prison officials advising that he had been charged with a violation of prison rules, planning or attempting to introduce drugs into prison facilities. On Mary 3, 1985, a three member institution disciplinary committee ("IDC") conducted a hearing on the charges. At the hearing evidence was presented indicating that three confidential informants had identified Henderson as a participant in a plan to introduce drugs into the prison through the visiting room. The precise details of the informants' statements were not revealed at the hearing; however, the members of the IDC received an investigative report containing the names of the informants and a detailed summary of their statements. The IDC did not disclose to Henderson the bulk of the investigative report for fear that full disclosure would jeopardize the safety of the informants. However, the undisclosed portions of the report led the IDC to conclude that the informants were reliable. Prison authorities also presented at the hearing evidence gathered through surveillance of Henderson's social visits, telephone calls and letters. This evidence showed that Henderson, a woman named "Dot," and various other people were engaged in a clandestine scheme involving packages from Miami and Missouri, but there was no concrete mention of drugs in any of the surveillance evidence. Based on the informants' statements and the surveillance evidence, the IDC found Henderson guilty of the charged offenses and imposed a penalty of forfeiture of 60 days of Statutory Good Time Credits and prohibited social visits for a period of one year.

3. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Warden pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.19 (1986), Henderson filed an application for writ of habeas corpus in the United States district Court for the district of Columbia. Henderson was then transferred from the Leavenworth penitentiary to the Lewisburg penitentiary, and the District of Columbia Court, therefore, ordered that the petition be transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

4. The district court referred the petition to a magistrate. The magistrate first noted that under Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 86 L. Ed. 2d 356, 105 S. Ct. 2768 (1985), the decision of a state prison disciplinary committee will withstand a fourteenth amendment due process challenge so long as the decision is supported by "some evidence." Id. at 457. The magistrate went on to hold, however, that challenges under the fifth amendment to federal prison disciplinary action should be reviewed under the higher "rational basis" standard. The magistrate reasoned that, "the considerations of federalism which warrant restraint on the part of federal courts concerning state governmental affairs are absent in the case of a federal prison disciplinary adjudication." Accordingly, he reviewed the IDC decision under the rational basis standard, which is applicable on review of decisions of the United States parole Commission. See Zannino v. Arnold, 531 F.2d 687 (3d Cir. 1976).

5. The magistrate then held that under our decision in Helms v. Hewitt, 655 F.2d 487 (3d Cir. 1981), rev'd on other grounds, 459 U.S. 460, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675, 103 S. Ct. 864 (1983), he was constrained from reviewing in camera the undisclosed portions of the investigative report, which the IDC used in determining that he confidential informants were reliable. As a result, the magistrate determined that there was insufficient evidence of record from which one could assess the reliability of each informant. Accordingly, he discounted the informants statements and concluded that the remaining evidence did not provide a rational basis for finding that Henderson committed the violations with which he was charged. The magistrate, therefore, recommended that the writ of habeas corps be granted and that the Good Time Credit be reinstated.*fn1 The parties made no objections to the magistrate's report and the district court adopted it without comment.

6. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253 (1982).


7. Before reaching the merits of this case, we first must determine whether appellants, officials of the United States Bureau of Prisons, waived their right to appeal by failing to make timely objections to the magistrate's report. The Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636 provides in pertinent part:

(C) The magistrate shall file his proposed findings and recommendations under subparagraph (B) with the court and a copy shall ...

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