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Santiago-Lugo v. Warden

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 30, 2015

ISRAEL SANTIAGO-LUGO, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent-Appellee

Page 468

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. D.C. Docket No. 1:12-cv-04065-WMA-HGD.

For Israel Santiago-Lugo, Petitioner - Appellant: Chase T. Espy, Balch & Bingham, LLP, Birmingham, AL.

Israel Santiago-Lugo, Petitioner - Appellant, Pro se, Talladega, AL.

For Warden, Respondent - Appellee: Jenny Lynn Smith, U.S. Attorney's Office, Birmingham, AL; Luther J. Strange III, Alabama Attorney General's Office, Montgomery, AL.

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, JILL PRYOR and HIGGINBOTHAM,[*] Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 469

ED CARNES, Chief Judge:

For obvious reasons, prisons typically prohibit inmates from possessing cell phones. An orphan cell phone was found during a random search in the Federal Correctional Complex at Coleman Medium Prison in Florida. An examination of the phone's call history showed that the son of inmate Israel Santiago-Lugo had called that phone the day before it was found. Santiago-Lugo was charged in a prison incident report with having violated the rule against possession of a cell phone. After a hearing he was instead found to have violated the rule against conduct that disrupts or interferes with the orderly running of the institution. As a result, he lost good time credits and suffered other sanctions.

Santiago-Lugo filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition claiming that his procedural due process rights had been violated in the disciplinary proceeding. The district court ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The court alternatively ruled that his due process claim failed on the merits. He challenges the jurisdictional ruling and then the merits ruling. His first challenge succeeds, his second one does not. We affirm.

I.

Santiago-Lugo was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Complex at Coleman Medium. On February 10, 2012, corrections officers at Coleman found a cell phone during a random prison search.

Page 470

The phone showed that Santiago-Lugo's son had called it the day before. At the conclusion of the investigation, Santiago-Lugo received an incident report from the investigating officer charging him with violating Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Code 108, " Possession of a Cellular Phone." The charge was referred to a Unit Disciplinary Committee which, after more investigation, referred it on to a discipline hearing officer.

The discipline hearing officer held a hearing on March 14, 2012. Santiago-Lugo appeared with his staff representative and testified along with another inmate. Santiago-Lugo testified that he had never possessed the cell phone or talked on it. He said that another inmate owned the phone and had used it to talk to Santiago-Lugo's son. That other inmate then testified that he and Santiago-Lugo's son were friends and that they had talked on the phone. The BOP offered into evidence a " kite," which is prison-speak for an illicit letter smuggled past prison officials. The kite, which was found in Santiago-Lugo's cell, was written by the inmate who testified for him, and it assured him that the inmate would accept responsibility for the cell phone.

The discipline hearing officer considered Santiago-Lugo's denial, but citing the " weight of [the] evidence," including the kite written to Santiago-Lugo, he concluded that Santiago-Lugo had violated BOP Code 199, " Conduct Which Disrupts or Interferes with the Security or Orderly Running of the Institution (Most like Possession of a Hazardous Tool; Cell Phone, Code 108)." The sanctions imposed on Santiago-Lugo included the loss of 40 days of good-conduct time, disciplinary segregation for 60 days, and the loss of certain privileges for six months. He was advised of his right to appeal, and on April 25, 2012, he received a copy of the discipline hearing officer's report.

On May 3, 2012, Santiago-Lugo timely filed a Regional Administrative Remedy Appeal, which the regional director denied on May 24. From that date, Santiago-Lugo had 30 days to file a Central Office Administrative Remedy Appeal with the BOP's Office of General Counsel. See 28 C.F.R. ยง 542.15(a). He asserts that he did file an appeal within that time frame, and in support of that assertion he points to a certified mail receipt indicating that the Office of General Counsel received a letter from him ...


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