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Thibodeau v. Watts

January 11, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caldwell


I. Introduction

On December 5, 2005, pro se plaintiff, Galen Darrell Thibodeau, Jr., filed the above-captioned Bivens*fn1 action against Harrell Watts, Administrator of the Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") National Inmate Appeals; D. Scott Dodrill, Northeast Regional Director; and Troy Williamson, Warden of the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution for their respective roles in denying Plaintiff's Administrative Remedy. Thibodeau alleges he was placed into the segregation unit after he received an untimely Unit Discipline Committee ("UDC") hearing, and an administrative-review process that was also procedurally defective. As relief he seeks reinstatement of the 27 days good-conduct time he lost as a sanction for fighting, expungement of the incident report, and a transfer to a facility closer to his home.

Along with his complaint, Thibodeau filed two applications to proceed in forma pauperis. (Docs. 6 and 8). Since Thibodeau is proceeding pro se, we will liberally construe his pleading as a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); see also Tucker v. Carlson, 925 F.2d 330 (9th Cir. 1991)(to the extent federal prisoner challenged fact or duration of his confinement, pro se complaint should be construed as a petition for writ of habeas corpus).

This matter is before the Court for screening. 28 U.S.C. § 2243. The petition has been given preliminary consideration pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254 (1977) (applicable to § 2241 petitions under Rule 1(b)). See Patton v. Fenton, 491 F. Supp. 156, 158-59 (M.D. Pa. 1979). Rule 4 may be applied at the discretion of the district court as it is the duty of the court to screen out frivolous applications and eliminate the burden that would be placed on the respondent by ordering an unnecessary answer. Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970). For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

II. Background*fn2

On June 8, 2005, Thibodeau was placed in FCIAllenwood's segregation unit after he received an incident report for fighting with another inmate. He contends that BOP regulations require that he be given an initial hearing before the Unit Discipline Committee ("UDC") within 3 days after staff learn of his involvement in the incident. In his case, the UDC sought an extension of time from the Warden to hold Thibodeau's hearing at a later date due to an institutionwide lockdown. The Warden granted the UDC's request. Petitioner's initial hearing before the UDC was held on June 17, 2005. Petitioner questions the necessity of the delay in his initial hearing as he witnessed various UDC members made "rounds" in the segregation unit during the period of the lockdown. Plaintiff did not raise any procedural issues at the time of his UDC or DHO hearings. Nor did he articulate to the DHO how the delay of the UDC hearing hindered his defense or prejudiced him in any manner.

Eventually, Thibodeau was found guilty of fighting by a Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") and sanctioned, inter alia, to 30 days disciplinary status and the loss of 27 days good-conduct time credit.

Plaintiff appealed the untimely UDC hearing via the BOP's Administrative Remedy Process. He does not contest the DHO finding him guilty as he admits to being involved in a fight with another inmate. The sole basis of his appeal was that his initial hearing before the UDC was held outside of the three-day period. D. Scott Dodrill, the Northeast Regional Director, denied Petitioner's appeal after finding that "the reason for the delay sufficient and expungement of the incident report not warranted." (Doc. 1, Attachment). Dodrill, however, incorrectly recited the sanctions imposed by the DHO (15 days disciplinary segregation and loss of only 7 days good conduct time) in his response. (Id.)

In Thibodeau's appeal of Dodrill's denial of his administrative-remedy appeal, he again did not argue that he was improperly found guilty of fighting, but rather, took issue with the procedural delay of his UDC hearing. He also pointed out Dodrill's misstatement of his sanction as another procedural glitch in his administrative-remedy process. Again, he does not specify how either of these procedural deficiencies impacted his defense, or the imposition or service of his loss of good-time credit. However, he does raise (for the first time), that the DHO took 27 days good-time conduct from him because he believed Thibodeau to be a "VCCLEA Violent"*fn3 offender, a classification which Plaintiff disputes. This issue was not raised in his appeal to Regional Director Dodrill.

As permitted by the Administrative Remedy Program, the Central Office Administrative Remedy Coordinator sought additional time to review and respond to Thibodeau's appeal. The Central Office response to Petitioner's appeal was due on or before October 29, 2005. Without explanation, Harrell Watts, Administrator of the National Inmate Appeals, did not respond to the appeal until November 4, 2005, six days past the enlarged due date. In Watts' response he noted that the loss of 27 days good-conduct time was within the range of permitted sanctions for his high category misconduct of fighting irrespective of an inmate's VCCLEA classification. Watts denied Plaintiff's appeal noting that "the disciplinary procedures were substantially followed, the greater weight of the evidence supported the DHO's decision, and the sanctions imposed were commensurate to the severity level of the offense and in compliance with the policy." (Doc. 1, Attachment).

III. Discussion

The proper mechanism for Thibodeau to challenge his disciplinary proceedings that resulted in the loss of good-time credits is a habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See United States v. Eakman, 378 F.3d 294, 297 (3d Cir.2004); Moscato v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 98 F.3d 757, 758-59 (3d Cir. 1996). We hold that Thibodeau's claims of procedural delays in his disciplinary process and administrative remedy process are cognizable in a habeas petition; however, they are without merit. Given Petitioner's admission that he was involved in a fight, albeit he claims he was the victim in the incident, there is more than "some evidence" in the DHO's report to find the ...

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