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Edward Watts v. Usa

May 31, 2011

EDWARD WATTS, PETITIONER,
v.
USA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert B. Kugler United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

IT APPEARING THAT:

1. In March 2009, Petitioner, a federal inmate, initiated § 2255 proceedings with the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York ("NDNY"), i.e., the court that rendered Petitioner's federal conviction and sentence underlying Petitioner's present incarceration served at the F.C.I. Fort Dix, New Jersey. See Docket Entry No. 7, at 1.

2. In February 2011, the NDNY issued a decision addressing Petitioner's challenges raised in his § 2255 motion. See id. at 2; see also Docket Entry No. 6 (replicating NDNY determination). In its decision, the NDNY noted that Petitioner's challenges packaged in his § 2255 motion were of three types: (a) bona fide Section 2255 claims; (b) civil rights claims challenging alleged denial of medical care; and (c) those claims, which the NDNY construed as § 2241 challenges. See Docket Entry No. 6. Specifically, with regard to the latter type, the NDNY observed as follows:

Petitioner asserts [three sub-groups of challenges, i.e., he maintains] that (1) he has not received credit for twenty-two months of state jail time he served after he received his federal sentence; (2) he has not received credit for 500 hours he spent in a drug program . . .; and (3) he has taken various vocational and rehabilitative classes while incarcerated, as well as being trusted to participate in various food service and work programs . . . . No matter how the Court construes these statements, they are clearly assertions that prison officials have improperly computed his sentence. Id. at 10.

3. Therefore, the NDNY transferred the above-noted three subgroups of Petitioner's challenged, which NDNY construed as § 2241 claims, to this District. See id. at 11-12; see also Docket Entry No. 7 (reflecting receipt of transfer order as to thee claims). The transfer order did not provide for severance of these sub-groups; rather, the entire § 2255 action was transferred to this District, including the resolved-by-NDNY-§-2255-claims, the dismissed-denial-of-medical-care claims and the claims construed as § 2241 challenges. See id. The so-transferred matter was assigned to the undersigned.

4. This Court agrees with NDNY determination that Petitioner's jail-time-credits challenges are best viewed as a § 2241 claim. Analogously, this Court agrees with NDNY determination that Petitioner's RDAP challenges are too best viewed as a § 2241 claim.

5. The Court, however, is unclear as to the basis of NDNY determination that Petitioner's challenges based on his vocational and rehabilitative classes, and his participation in various food service and work programs, provide jurisdictional basis for a § 2241 claim. The language of § 2241, as well as the common-law history of the writ of habeas corpus, define the essential purpose of the writ --to allow a person in custody to attack the legality of that custody. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973). However, a federal prisoner may challenge the execution of his sentence in a petition pursuant to § 2241. See Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir. 2001).

6. Conceivably, Petitioner's vocational and rehabilitative classes, and his participation in various food service and work programs, could be relevant to the issue of propriety of Petitioner's release to a half-way house, pursuant to the Second Chance Act, Pub. L. No. 110-199, effective April 9, 2008. However, prison officials typically begin evaluating inmates for Second Chance Act release not sooner than eighteen months prior to the date of projected expiration of the inmates' respective prison terms. See, e.g., Vargo v. Grondolsky, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87327 (D.N.J. Sept. 23, 2009). Here, Petitioner's projected release date is April 25, 2012, see http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinder Servlet?Transaction=NameSearch&needingMoreList=false &FirstName=edward&Middle=&LastName=watts&Race=U&Sex= U&Age=&x=0&y=0, which indicates that Petitioner could not have been evaluated for release under the Second Chance Act until fall 2010 the earliest. Since Petitioner's § 2255 motion was filed with the NDNY in March 2009, that is, about a year and a half prior to Petitioner's earliest date of evaluation for future release under the Second Chance Act, it appears facially impossible for Petitioner to challenge, in his § 2255 motion, any shortcomings of such -- at that point, still future -- evaluation. Therefore, the rationale of NDNY's decision that Petitioner's challenges based on his vocational and rehabilitative classes, and his participation in various food service and work programs, were § 2241 claims is not immediately obvious to this Court.

7. Moreover, the NDNY transferred to this District three subgroups of Petitioner's so-qualified § 2241 challenges as a single action. However, Habeas Rule 2(e) requires filing of a new and separate petition with regard to each separate determination being challenged. It is self-evident that, in the event Petitioner challenged denial of jail-time credits and denial of RDAP credits, the BOP had to reach two distinct and separate determinations with regard to each of these two challenges. Therefore, Petitioner's § 2241 challenges to these two different denials, that is, if such denial actually took place, should not be bundled up; rather, they should be brought by means of two distinct and separate § 2241 actions.

8. In light of the foregoing, this Court will direct the Clerk to administratively terminate the instant matter without affecting the merits of Petitioner's claims. In order to preserve Petitioner's opportunity to challenge BOP's denial of jail-time credits and/or denial of RDAP credits, this Court will direct the Clerk to initiate two new and separate § 2241 actions, Watts v. BOP (addressing Petitioner's challenges as to BOP's denial of jail-time credits, if such denial was rendered), and Watts v. Zickefoose (addressing Petitioner's challenges as to BOP's denial of RDAP-based credits, if such denial was rendered). Since the Court is unclear as to the basis for Petitioner's § 2241 challenges referring to his vocational and rehabilitative classes, and to his participation in various food service and work programs, the Court will not direct the Clerk to initiate one more, i.e., third § 2241 matter for Petitioner. However, the Court's decision not to direct the Clerk to initiate such third § 2241 action for Petitioner does not bar Petitioner from initiating such action on Petitioner's own. That being said, no statement made in this Memorandum

Opinion and Order shall be construed as expressing the Court's position that Petitioner's § 2241 challenges based on his vocational and rehabilitative classes, and his participation in various food service and work programs, are jurisdictionally proper (or improper) and/or that such challenges are procedurally proper (or improper), and/or that such challenges are substantively meritorious (or lack merits).

9. Accordingly, the Court will allow Petitioner an opportunity to submit amended § 2241 petitions in the newly opened matters Watts v. BOP and Watts v. Zickefoose, detailing Petitioner's challenges, if any, based on denial of jail-time credits or based on denial of RDAP credits. Petitioner will be directed to submit his filing fee of $5.00 (or his in forma pauperis application) in each action where he elects to submit an amended petition.

10. In addition, since Petitioner is being allowed to submit amended petitions in Watts v. BOP and Watts v. Zickefoose, the Court finds it warranted to explain to Petitioner the concept of administrative exhaustion in order to ensure against the scenario where Petitioner submits a ยง 2241 ...


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