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Timothy J. Mitts v. Donna Zickefoose

December 5, 2011


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


This matter comes before the Court upon Petitioner's original application seeking various remedies, see Docket Entry No. 1, and his later-submitted application seeking "stay" of "sentence," see Docket Entry No. 2, and it appearing that:

1. Petitioner's original application, executed on a Section 2241 habeas form, asserted that, on September 9, 2009, Petitioner, while standing on line to the food-service hall, had a verbal exchange with another inmate, who got on the line in front of Petitioner and accompanied his actions by racial slur. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 9. According to the original application, Petitioner was assaulted by that other inmate shortly thereafter, during the meal. See id. Petitioner maintains that he did not respond to the assault by any physical act; he also asserts that he and his attacker were transferred to another facility a few days later, and -- during an administrative investigation -- the two gave their statements, in which his attacker confirmed that Petitioner did not engage in any physical actions. See id. Petitioner also asserts that, notwithstanding his alleged lack of physical actions against his attacker, he was sanctioned to loss of 27 days of good-conduct-time ("GCT") credits. See id. at 9-10. Petitioner maintains that he requested help of a prison representative so the representative would assist him during the administrative hearing underlying his sanctions but that request was denied; he also alleges that he requested a list of inmates present during the meal at issue in order to call them as witnesses, but had his request to that effect analogously denied, and the joint effect of these two denials prevented him from calling any witnesses in support of his position that he did not engage in any physical actions against his attacker. See id. On the basis of the foregoing, Petitioner seeks expungement of his prison record and restoration of his lost 27 days of GCT credits. See id.; see also, generally, Docket Entry No. 1. Finally, turning to the issue of administrative exhaustion, Petitioner assets that he exhausted his administrative remedies, and a brief delay in his submission of administrative appeal was a result of a delay in prison operations associated with Christmas holidays of 2010 over which Petitioner had no control. See id.

2. In addition to these issues, Petitioner's original application contains statements expressing his beliefs that:

(a) Petitioner's transfer from the facility where the incident took place to another facility violated his rights;

(b) Petitioner's rights were also violated because the prison officials were aware of the violent propensities of Petitioner's attacker but allowed that attacker to remain within the general prison population; and (c) Petitioner is entitled to damages on the basis of his allegedly improper sanctions, transfer and being a victim of the attack. See id.

3. Petitioner's later-received submission indicates Petitioner's concern that, due to his loss of 27 days of GCT credits, his consideration for placement to a community correctional center ("CCC") under the Second Chance Act might be delayed. See Docket Entry No. 2. Correspondingly, qualifying the imposition of the sanction as "sentence," Petitioner seeks this Court's order directing "stay" of this "sentence," seemingly in order to ensure his consideration for CCC placement on the-sooner-the-better basis. See id.

4. Since Petitioner's original and later-received submissions indicate his substantial confusion as to the scope of habeas review and remedy, the Court finds it warranted to address the panoply of claims raised by Petitioner's two applications seriatim.

5. Federal law provides two avenues of relief to prisoners: a petition for habeas corpus and a civil rights complaint. See Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004). "Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus . . . [while] requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement [fall within the realm of] a § 1983 action."*fn1 Id. As § 1983 action applies only to state actions, it is not available to federal prisoners; the federal counterpart is an action under Bivens alleging deprivation of a constitutional right. See Brown v. Philip Morris, Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 801 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A Bivens action . . . is the federal equivalent of the § 1983 causeof action against state actors, [it] will lie where the defendant has violated the plaintiff's rights under color of federal law"). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained the distinction between the availability of civil rights relief and the availability of habeas relief as follows:

[W]henever the challenge ultimately attacks the "core of habeas" - the validity of the continued conviction or the fact or length of the sentence -a challenge, however denominated and regardless of the relief sought, must be brought by way of a habeas corpus petition. Conversely, when the challenge is to a condition of confinement such that a finding in plaintiff's favor would not alter his sentence or undo his conviction, an action under § 1983 is appropriate.

Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 542 (3d Cir. 2002). Therefore, a prisoner is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus only to the degree he "seek[s] to invalidate the duration of [his] confinement - either directly through an injunction compelling speedier release or indirectly through a judicial determination that necessarily implies the unlawfulness of the [government's] custody." See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81 (2005). In contrast, if a judgment in the prisoner's favor would not affect the fact or duration of the prisoner's incarceration, habeas relief is unavailable and a civil complaint is the appropriate form of remedy.*fn2

See, e.g., Ganim v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 235 Fed. App'x 882 (3rd Cir. 2007) (holding that district court lacks jurisdiction under § 2241 to entertain prisoner's challenge to his transfer between federal prisons); Bronson v. Demming, 56 Fed. App'x 551, 553-54 (3rd Cir. 2002) (habeas relief was unavailable to inmate seeking release from disciplinary segregation to general population, and district court properly dismissed habeas petition without prejudice to any right to assert claims in properly filed civil rights complaint). For instance, the Court of Appeals emphasized that, where an inmate files an application alleging that [the Parole Board officials] violated his due process rights . . . at his parole eligibility hearings by relying on the fabricated evidence in denying his parole, [the application does not present a "core" habeas challenge because] the Parole Review Board still could have denied him parole at his review hearing [relying on non-falsified evidence, since] the Parole Review Board bases its decision to grant or deny parole on numerous factors . . . .

Fain v. Morgan, 255 Fed. App'x 644 (3d Cir. 2007). Accordingly, the Fain court concluded that the inmate's application should be a civil rights complaint rather than a petition stating a habeas challenge.*fn3 See id.

6. Therefore, to the degree Petitioner wishes to challenge such matters as his alleged transfer from one federal facility to another or the alleged failure of the prison officials to protect Petitioner from being assaulted by his attacker, who was -- allegedly -- a known violent inmate, such challenges cannot be entertained in the instant habeas action, since any resolution of these claims would have no impact on Petitioner's term of confinement. Analogously, Petitioner's claims for damages cannot be raised in a habeas action, since the nature of habeas relief is necessarily injunctive. Consequently, the Court will dismiss these lines of Petitioner's claims for lack of habeas jurisdiction; such dismissal will be without prejudice to Petitioner's raising these challenges by means of a civil complaint. The Court, however, stresses that no statement made in this Memorandum Opinion & Order shall be construed as expressing this Court's opinion as to procedural or substantive validity or invalidity of such claims in the event these claims are raised by means of a civil complaint.

7. In conjunction with the foregoing, the Court finds it warranted to take notice of two aspects of Petitioner's habeas challenges, namely, his request for an order directing Respondent to restore the 27 days of lost GCT credits to Petitioner, and his concern that his evaluation for transfer to a CCC (and, correspondingly, his actual transfer to a CCC) might be delayed in the event Petitioner is evaluated while having the sanctions underlying the current action on his prison record.

8. However, and contrary to what appears to be Petitioner's perception, even if a federal court determines that an inmate's due process rights were violated during an administrative hearing, the federal court does not conduct its own "trial" superceding a defective administrative proceeding: in such case, the proper remedy is a curative administrative hearing conducted in accordance with due process requirements (only if the administrative body expressly fails to comply with a judicial order directing new and procedurally correct hearing, such failure gives basis to the court's further intervention, e.g., by means of holding an in-court hearing or directing the administrative body to correct the prison term of the affected inmate). See, e.g., Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn, 355 F.3d 294 (3d Cir. 2004); Toolasprashad v. Grondolsky, 570 F. Supp. 2d 610, 631 (D.N.J. 2008) ("The only remedy the court can give is to order the [administrative body] to correct the abuses or wrongful conduct within a fixed period of time") (quoting Billiterri v. United States Board of Parole, 541 F.2d 938, 943-44 (2d Cir. 1976), and citing Furnari v. United States Parole Comm'n, 531 F.3d 241 (3d Cir. 2008)); cf. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005) (pointing out that a procedurally proper curative ...

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