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Rowann v. District of Erie

March 22, 2010

GEORGE M. ROWANN, PETITIONER,
v.
DISTRICT OF ERIE, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLaughlin United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This action was commenced on March 2, 2009 when Petitioner George M. Rowann, a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed a document styled "Petition for a Writ of Mandamus (In Association with a Writ of Habeas Corpus)"

[1] in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In this action, Rowann is challenging his convictions in the Court of Common Pleas for Erie County on multiple charges of burglary and related offenses. He is also challenging the legality of his resulting state sentence. Finally, he is challenging the dismissal of a prior civil rights lawsuit which he filed in this Court in 2007 relative to his county convictions and sentence. Given the nature of Rowann's claims, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania interpreted the instant action as a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and transferred venue to this Court [6] [7].

The petition was received by the Clerk of Court for this judicial district on April 9, 2009 and was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter for report and recommendation in accordance with the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rules 72.1.3 and 72.1.4 of the Local Rules for Magistrates. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, filed on February 24, 2010 [36], recommends that: (i) the Respondents' motion to dismiss the petition [28] be denied, (ii) the case be dismissed as untimely, and (iii) a certificate of appealability be denied.

The parties were allowed ten (10) days from the date of service in which to file objections. Service was made on Rowann by certified mail at SCI-Smithfield, where he is incarcerated, and on the Respondents. Objections were filed by Rowann on August 15, 2010 [37]. For the reasons state below, this Court finds Rowann's objections to be without merit.

A.

Rowann's action is partly styled as a petition for writ of mandamus. The named Respondent is the "District of Erie," although the docket sheet reflects that the Erie County District Attorney's Office has made an appearance to defend the case.

In his petition for mandamus/ habeas action, Rowann requests, among other things a "Declaratory judgment [sic], that the respondents and their agents have violated petitioner's constitutional rights, by a [sic] illegal sentence that was meted-out inconsistent with state and federal sentencing codes, contrary to the fundamental norms underlying the sentencing process; therefore, placing petitioner in a separate class with no adequate explanation to arbitration." (Pet. for Mandamus [1] at p. 2.) He also requests a "preventive injunction" that the Respondent "cease and restrain their discriminatory practices against petitioner." (Id. at p. 7.)

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1361, "[t]he district courts ... have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff." 28 U.S.C. § 1361. Authority to issue a writ of mandamus is bestowed by the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a). See Mitchell v. United States, 419 F. Supp. 2d 709, 712 (W.D. Pa. 2005).

Mandamus is a "drastic remedy that 'is seldom issued and [ ] is discouraged.'" In re Patenaude, 210 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2000). The Supreme Court has said that "[t]he extraordinary remedy of mandamus ... will issue only to compel the performance of a 'clear non-discretionary duty.'" Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben, 488 U.S. 105, 121 (1988) (citation omitted). To obtain such relief, "[t]he Petitioner must show that he has no other adequate means to attain the relief he desires and that he has a clear and indisputable right to the writ." Mitchell v. United States, 419 F. Supp. 2d at 712 (citing Glenmede Trust Co. v. Thompson, 56 F.3d 476, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). See also Mallard v. United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 309 (1989) (Petitioners seeking a writ of mandamus "carry the burden of showing that their right to issuance of the writ is 'clear and indisputable.'") (citation omitted). Furthermore, even if such a showing is made, it is still within the district court's discretion to determine whether to issue the writ. See Mitchell, supra at 712 (citing Glenmede, 56 F.3d at 482). Finally, federal courts have no authority to issue a writ of mandamus to state officers or private citizens. See, e.g., In re Razzoli, No. 05-3797, 161 Fed. Appx. 203 (3d Cir. Jan. 3, 2006) (holding that inmate's request for court order directing his release from prison was not available via a writ of mandamus and that such relief as available by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus); U.S. ex rel. Chapman v. Supreme Court of Pa., 151 F. Supp. 681, 682 (W.D. Pa.1957) (federal court is without authority to issue writ of mandamus against state officers in exercise of their discretionary duties).

Rowann's prayer for a writ of mandamus in this case is misplaced on all fronts. First, he has failed to carry his burden of demonstrating that his right to the writ is "clear and indisputable." Mallard, supra, 490 U.S. at 309. Nor is Plaintiff seeking to compel the performance of a "clear, non-discretionary duty." Pittston Coal Group, 488 U.S. at 121. On the contrary, Petitioner's entitlement to relief here on the merits of his claims is dubious at best. Moreover, Petitioner has other adequate means besides mandamus to address the alleged illegality of his underlying convictions and sentences -- namely potential habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Finally, this Court has no authority to issue writs of mandamus against county or state officers. Thus, because Petitioner has failed to make the requisite showing to entitlement to mandamus relief, his petition will be denied.

B.

Both the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and Magistrate Judge Baxter correctly construed Rowann's claims as seeking habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (See Report and Recommendation dated 3/10/09 [6] at pp. 1-3; Order of 4/7/09 [7]; Report and Recommendation dated 2/24/10 [36].) Although Rowann insists that he is pursuing habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, this theory is untenable.

Section 2254 confers jurisdiction on a federal court to entertain writs of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court." 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A state prisoner who is challenging the validity or execution of his state court sentence must proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 rather than § 2241. See Washington v. Sobina, 509 F.3d 613, 618 n.5 (3d Cir 2007); Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 484-85 (3d Cir.2001). Thus, to the extent Petitioner is attempting to prosecute his claims under ยง 2241, he is not entitled to do so. See Frankenberry v. Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, PA, No. 09-4417, 2010 WL 528422 at *3 (3d Cir. Feb. 16, 2010) (Slip Copy) ...


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