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Farrell v. Ortiz

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 16, 2018

WARDEN ORTIZ, et al., Respondents.


          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge

         James Michael Farrell (“Petitioner”), an inmate incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix, filed a combined pleading against Defendants Warden Ortiz, Lieutenant Atkinson, the United States of America, and Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) Director “LNU” for: (1) a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and (2) a civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 395 (1971). Petitioner's claims stem from his placement in the segregated housing unit and the conditions of his confinement. For the following reasons, this Court will dismiss Petitioner's pleading for failure to state a claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner claims that, at all material times hereto, he was employed in the food service warehouse at FCI Fort Dix. (See ECF No. 1 at p. 4). On November 21, 2017, Petitioner alleges that Lieutenant Atkinson and other officers conducted a search of the warehouse and discovered numerous cell phones, chargers, and tobacco products. (See Id. at pp. 6-8). After the search was completed, Petitioner and two other inmates were placed in the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”) at FCI Fort Dix without due process. (See Id. at p. 6).

         Petitioner alleges that for the first two and a half weeks in the SHU, he and the two other inmates were housed in a two-man cell that was freezing cold and covered in mold and mildew. (See Id. at p. 8). Petitioner claims that he was denied social visits, access to phones, recreation time, and access to property while in the SHU. (See Id. at p. 9). Additionally, Petitioner alleges that he was taken to the shower in handcuffs while in the SHU. (See Id. at p. 10).

         Petitioner also claims that the BOP denied his request to use the law library on November 22, 2017. (See Id. at p. 9). Additionally, Petitioner alleges that the BOP failed to send the first complaint he prepared in this matter to his wife for filing on November 24, 2017. (See id at p. 10). Petitioner further claims that he is being held in the SHU without “reasonable suspicion of involvement with any contraband or disciplinary offense.” (See id.).

         In Count One of the Petition, Petitioner asserts a violation of “the quality and condition” of his confinement under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (See Id. at p. 11). Petitioner does not allege that he lost good time conduct nor does he request earlier release from custody for relief. Instead, Petitioner seeks immediate release from the SHU. (See Id. at pp. 11-12). In Count Two, Petitioner asserts a separate civil rights claim pursuant to Bivens alleging that the Defendants' conduct violated his First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendment rights and seeking monetary damages. (See Id. at pp. 12-13). Petitioner further alleges that he did not exhaust his administrative remedies, as exhaustion would be futile. (See Id. at p. 12).


         Federal district courts have a pre-service duty under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, which is applicable to § 2241 petitions pursuant to Rule 1(b), to screen and summarily dismiss a habeas petition prior to any answer or other pleading by the state when the petition “appears legally insufficient on its face.” McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994); see also United States v. Thomas, 221 F.3d 430, 437 (3d Cir. 2000) (explaining habeas petitions may be dismissed where “none of the grounds alleged in the petition would entitle [the petitioner] to relief”).

         “Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus; requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be presented in a § 1983 [or Bivens] action.” Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004) (internal citation omitted). “[U]nless the claim would fall within the ‘core of habeas' and require sooner release if resolved in the plaintiff's favor, a prison confinement action ... is properly brought under § 1983.” Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 542 (3d Cir.2002).

         The Court finds that Petitioner's claims do not sound in habeas. A petition for writ of habeas corpus seeks to challenge the fact or length of confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 491 (1973). Petitioner, however, does not attack the duration of his incarceration nor does he seek release from prison. Rather, Petitioner challenges the alleged unconstitutional treatment of him while in confinement - that is, his placement in the SHU. Because a finding in Petitioner's favor as to his condition of confinement “would not alter his sentence or undo his conviction, ” he must proceed by way of a civil rights action. Leamer, 288 F.3d at 542; see, e.g., Zapata v. United States, 264 F. App'x. 242 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that district court lacked jurisdiction under § 2241 to entertain inmate's challenge to prison transfer); Ganim v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 232 Fed.Appx. 882, 884 (3d Cir. 2007) (inmate's claim that officials improperly denied request for transfer to another facility was not a cognizable habeas claim); Bronson v. Demming, 56 F. App'x. 551, 553-54 (3d Cir. 2002) (habeas relief 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 complaint). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Petitioner's habeas claim and construe the pleading as a civil rights complaint pursuant to Bivens.


         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) requires a court to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Specifically, the PRLA directs the court to screen the complaint for cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Whether a complaint fails to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) is governed by the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Schreane v. Seana, 506 Fed.Appx. 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)). Accordingly, a court must determine whether the complaint includes “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quotation marks omitted).

         A. ...

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