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Blackmon v. Warden FCI Fort Dix

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 22, 2019

DANNY L. BLACKMON, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN FCI FORT DIX, [1]Respondent.

          Danny L. Blackmon, Petitioner pro se Craig Carpenito, United States Attorney John Andrew Ruymann, AUSA Office of the United States Attorney

          Christina Saetta Clark, Esq. Attorney Advisor, Federal Bureau of Prisons Of Counsel Attorneys for Respondent Warden FCI Fort Dix

          OPINION

          Jerome B. Simandle, U.S. District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Danny L. Blackmon, a federal prisoner confined at FCI Fort Dix, New Jersey, has filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Docket Entry 3]. Petitioner asserts that the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) improperly reduced the amount of good conduct time (“GCT”) he was earning after he voluntarily withdrew from the GED program at Fort Dix. He asks the Court to reinstate the lost time and order the BOP to allow him to withdraw from the program without further penalty.

         The principal issues to be decided are (1) whether the BOP reasonably interpreted and applied its policies when it reduced Petitioner's GCT earning capacity from 54 days to 42 days per year after he withdrew from the GED program; and (2) whether Petitioner's due process rights were violated. The Court finds that the BOP was reasonable in its interpretation and application of its policies and that Petitioner's due process rights were not violated. Therefore, the Court will deny the petition for the reasons expressed below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On December 14, 2004, Petitioner was sentenced to a 365-month term of imprisonment in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. United States v. Blackmon, No. 03-cr-00077 (E.D. N.C. Dec. 14, 2004). The BOP has calculated his current projected release date as August 14, 2030 based on his GCT. [Declaration of Tara Moran “Moran Dec.” Exhibit 1, Docket Entry 8-1 at 6].

         Petitioner began taking GED classes in April 2005 shortly after entering the BOP system. [Docket Entry 1 ¶ 5]. On March 29, 2015, Petitioner requested permission to leave the GED program. [Docket Entry 1-1 at 10]. As of that date, he had accumulated 2130 hours of class time. [Id.; see also Docket Entry 1 ¶ 5]. Petitioner's case manager, Ms. Dykes, counseled him that his GCT could be affected if he withdrew from the program. [Docket Entry 1-1 at 10]. Petitioner signed a form indicating he had been advised of that fact and understood. [Id.]. Petitioner was placed in GED UNSAT status as of April 15, 2015. [Moran Dec. Exhibit 5, Docket Entry 8-1 at 21]. He began to accrue a reduced amount of 42 days of GCT per year in July 2015, down from the 54 days per year he had been earning while enrolled in the program. [Docket Entry 8 at 11].[2]

         After filing an unsuccessful informal grievance, Petitioner filed an administrative remedy with the Fort Dix warden on July 18, 2015 objecting to the reduction in the amount of his annual earned GCT. He argued that the relevant BOP Program Statement, Program Statement 5350.28, permitted inmates to voluntarily withdraw from the GED program without penalty after completing 240 hours towards the degree. [Moran Dec. Exhibit 2, Docket Entry 8-1 at 12-13]. The warden denied the request on July 31, 2015 on the basis that “[a]ttaining 240 hours or more in the program means that you cannot receive an incident report (disciplinary sanction) for failing to attend class; however, in order to receive 54 days of GCT a year, you must still be making satisfactory progress towards your GED.” [Id. at 14]. Petitioner appealed the warden's decision to the BOP Northeast Region. [Moran Dec. Exhibit 3, Docket Entry 8-1 at 16]. The Regional Director denied the appeal on September 11, 2015. [Id. at 17]. Petitioner appealed to the BOP's Central Office on November 23, 2015. [Moran Dec. Exhibit 4, Docket Entry 8-1 at 19]. The Central Office did not respond by January 22, 2016. [Moran Dec. ¶ 5]. Respondent concedes Petitioner has exhausted his administrative remedies. [Docket Entry 8 at 5].

         Petitioner subsequently filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in this Court. [Docket Entry 1]. The Court originally administratively terminated the petition as Petitioner did not submit the petition on the required form or submit the filing fee or an application to proceed in forma pauperis. [Docket Entry 2]. Petitioner submitted an amended petition and in forma pauperis application. [Docket Entry 3]. The Court reopened the case, granted the in forma pauperis application, and ordered Respondent to answer the petition. [Docket Entry 4]. Respondent filed an answer, [Docket Entry 8], and Petitioner filed a traverse, [Docket Entry 9]. The matter is ripe for disposition without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Petitioner brings this petition as a pro se litigant. The Court has an obligation to liberally construe pro se pleadings and to hold them to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Higgs v. Attorney Gen. of the U.S., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011), as amended (Sept. 19, 2011) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998); Lewis v. Attorney Gen., 878 F.2d 714, 721-22 (3d Cir. 1989); United States v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 912 (1970).

         Section 2241 “confers habeas jurisdiction to hear the petition of a federal prisoner who is challenging not the validity but the execution of his sentence.” Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485 (3d Cir. 2001). Petitioner's claims that the BOP unreasonably interpreted and applied its policies and that it violated his due process rights when it reduced his GCT award are appropriately before the Court under ยง 2241 as a finding in ...


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