Burns v. Pa. Dept. of Corr., No. 09-2872 (3d Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
An officer issued a misconduct report against the plaintiff (an inmate) following an attack on another inmate. Although the officer had stated that the incident was recorded, a hearing officer accepted a statement that it was not recorded and accepted the victim's refusal to testify, found the plaintiff guilty, and imposed sanctions. Sanctions included loss of a prison job, disciplinary confinement, and assessment of the plaintiff's prison account; the Third Circuit later determined the plaintiff had a protected property interest in the account. The district court entered summary judgment, rejecting claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, but on remand found a due process violation in the hearing officer's failure to independently evaluate the credibility of a confidential informant. The Third Circuit affirmed that due process was not violated by the decision to allow the victim not to testify, but reversed in part, holding that due process was violated by the hearing officer not seeking to view documentary evidence (the recording) requested by the inmate, absent legitimate institutional concerns. The court affirmed that damages are precluded by qualified immunity and ordered the misconduct expunged, but denied other relief. A reasonable official in the position of the hearing officer would not have known that her actions violated clearly established constitutional rights.