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Woeller v. Camden County Correctional Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 13, 2017

RODGER WOELLER, Petitioner,
v.
CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Respondent Camden County Correctional Facility's (“CCCF”) unopposed motion to dismiss the petition as moot. Motion, Docket Entry 22. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted and the petition is dismissed.

         1. Petitioner was confined as a pretrial detainee at CCCF beginning on November 16, 2013.[1] On April 22, 2015, he filed a motion for a prisoner release order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626(3) due to allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement at CCCF. Petition, Docket Entry 1.

         2. Petitioner alleged CCCF was overcrowded, which caused him to suffer “physical injury, increased exposure to other health concerns (scabies and lice outbreaks), increased threats of violence and emotional issues which require medication.” Id. at 1. The Court interpreted the filed petition as a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

         3. After the conclusion of briefing, the Court became aware that Petitioner had left CCCF and had been placed into the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections at South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”). January 31, 2017 Order, Docket Entry 17.

         4. The Court ordered Respondent to confirm Petitioner's whereabouts and to address whether the petition was moot in light of Petitioner's release. Id.

         5. Respondent filed a letter on February 7, 2017 indicating Petitioner had been released from CCCF on May 25, 2016. Certification of Lt. Denita Forrest ¶ 2, Docket Entry 18-1.

         6. Petitioner wrote to the Court requesting an extension “of up to a year” to respond to the Court's Order. Petitioner's Letter, Docket Entry 19. Petitioner indicated access to the SWSP law library “is once a week for less than an hour at a session.” Id. He further indicated he wanted to reserve his right to pursue further civil action “as though [sic] I am not being held at [CCCF] does not dismiss the constitutional violations and damage of distress I have received during the times of incarceration or pre-trial detainee [sic] at [CCCF].” Id.

         7. Respondent now moves to dismiss the petition as moot due to Petitioner's release from CCCF. Petitioner did not file a response to the motion.[2]

         8. The exercise of judicial power depends upon the existence of a case or controversy because Article III of the Constitution limits the judicial power of federal courts to “cases or controversies” between parties. U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2. “The ‘case or controversy requirement subsists through all stages of federal judicial proceedings, trial and appellate. . .. The parties must continue to have a personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit.'” Chestnut v. Warden Lewisburg USP, 592 F.App'x 112, 113 (3d Cir. 2015) (omission in original) (quoting Lewis v. Cont'l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477-78 (1990)).

         9. Petitioner requested the Court to order his release from CCCF on his own recognizance pending trial due to allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. However, Petitioner is no longer at CCCF. He has been convicted, sentenced, and transferred into state prison. “If developments occur during the course of adjudication that eliminate a plaintiff's personal stake in the outcome of a suit or prevent a court from being able to grant the requested relief, the case must be dismissed as moot.” Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 698- 99 (3d Cir. 1996).

         10. The Court can no longer grant the relief Petitioner requested because he has been released from CCCF.[3]

         11. Even if the petition were not rendered moot by Petitioner's release from CCCF, he would not be entitled to a prisoner release order under § 3626. Section 3626 states in relevant part: “In any civil action with respect to prison conditions, no court shall enter a prisoner release order unless a court has previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed to remedy the deprivation of the Federal right sought to be remedied through the prisoner release order.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(3)(A)(i).

         12. This Court has worked with class counsel and counsel for Camden County in the Dittimus-Bey proceedings for over a decade and through several Consent Decrees to address the conditions at CCCF. At the beginning of the litigation, cells in CCCF designed for two occupants sometimes held three or four, requiring someone to sleep on the floor. There was also insufficient ventilation, high ...


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