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Richard E. Warren, et al v. Warden Donna Zickefoose

September 13, 2011

RICHARD E. WARREN, ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
WARDEN DONNA ZICKEFOOSE, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, District Judge

OPINION

Petitioners Richard E. Warren, Sean W. Lee, and Perry F. Motolo, are federal prisoners who were confined at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey, at the time they filed this action. Petitioners assert that the Respondents have violated their constitutional rights by reading their legal mail, denying them access to the courts, threatening to transfer them, interfering with their religious observances by confiscating their Bibles, and (with respect to Petitioner Warren, only) denying his serious medical needs with respect to his need for dentures.

I. ANALYSIS

A. Jurisdiction

Petitioners have submitted this action as a Petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. However, this Court lacks jurisdiction in habeas to hear Petitioners' challenges to their conditions of confinement.

A habeas corpus petition is the proper mechanism for a prisoner to challenge the "fact or duration" of his confinement, Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99 (1973), including challenges to prison disciplinary proceedings that affect the length of confinement, such as deprivation of good time credits, Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749 (2004) and Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997). See also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005). In addition, where a prisoner seeks a "quantum change" in the level of custody, for example, where a prisoner claims to be entitled to probation or bond or parole, habeas is the appropriate form of action. See, e.g., Graham v. Broglin, 922 F.2d 379 (7th Cir. 1991) and cases cited therein. See also Woodall v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 432 F.3d 235, 237 (3d Cir. 2005) (challenge to regulations limiting pre-release transfer to community corrections centers properly brought in habeas); Macia v. Williamson, 2007 WL 748663 (3d Cir. 2007) (finding habeas jurisdiction in challenge to disciplinary hearing that resulting in sanctions including loss of good-time credits, disciplinary segregation, and disciplinary transfer).

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that habeas corpus is an appropriate mechanism, also, for a federal prisoner to challenge the execution of his sentence. See Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485-86 (3d Cir. 2001) (noting that federal prisoners may challenge the denial of parole under § 2241); Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 478-79 (3d Cir. 1990) (challenge to BOP refusal to consider prisoner's request that state prison be designated place for service of federal sentence).

The Court of Appeals has noted, however, that "the precise meaning of 'execution of the sentence' is hazy." Woodall, 432 F.3d at 237. To the extent a prisoner challenges his conditions of confinement, such claims must be raised by way of a civil rights action. See Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532 (3d Cir. 2002). See also Ganim v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 235 Fed.Appx. 882, 2007 WL 1539942 (3d Cir. 2007) (challenge to garden-variety transfer not cognizable in habeas); Castillo v. FBOP FCI Fort Dix, 221 Fed.Appx. 172, 2007 WL 1031279 (3d Cir. 2007) (habeas is proper vehicle to challenge disciplinary proceeding resulting in loss of good-time credits, but claims regarding sanctioned loss of phone and visitation privileges not cognizable in habeas).

Here, Petitioners' challenges are not to the length of their confinement or the execution of their sentences; instead, they are garden-variety challenges to conditions of confinement. Because this Court lacks jurisdiction in habeas to hear Petitioners' claims, and because Petitioners have neither prepaid the filing fee for a civil rights action nor submitted their individual applications for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, this Court will dismiss the Petition without prejudice to Petitioners filing a new and separate civil rights action, individually or jointly, to raise their conditions-of-confinement claims.*fn1

This Court cautions Petitioners, however, that any joint civil rights complaint must meet the filing fee requirements and the legal requirements for claims by multiple plaintiffs against multiple defendants, as discussed more fully, below.

B. The Filing Fee

If Petitioners do not fully prepay the $350 filing fee for a civil action, they must meet the requirements for proceeding in forma pauperis. Civil actions brought in forma pauperis are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-135, 110 Stat. 1321 (April 26, 1996) (the "PLRA"), which amends 28 U.S.C. § 1915, establishes certain financial requirements for prisoners who are attempting to bring a civil action or file an appeal in forma pauperis.

Under the PLRA, a prisoner seeking to bring a civil action in forma pauperis must submit an affidavit, including a statement of all assets, which states that the prisoner is unable to pay the fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). The prisoner also must submit a certified copy of his inmate trust fund account statement(s) for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). The prisoner must obtain this certified statement from the appropriate official of each prison at which he was or is confined. Id.

Even if the prisoner is granted in forma pauperis status, the prisoner must pay the full amount of the $350 filing fee in installments. 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(b)(1). In each month that the amount in the prisoner's account exceeds $10.00, until the $350.00 filing fee is paid, the agency having custody of the prisoner shall assess, deduct from the prisoner's account, and forward to the Clerk of the Court an installment payment ...


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