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Byrd v. Scism


November 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)

(Judge Jones)


I. Introduction

This case, which comes before the Court on an initial screening review, involves habeas corpus and health care, and asks the question whether the great writ is the proper prescription for the medical complaints of the Petitioner, a federal prisoner. Because we believe that Byrd cannot obtain the relief he seeks through a petition for writ of habeas corpus, it is recommended that the petition be denied, without prejudice to Byrd filing a separate civil lawsuit.

II. Statement of Facts and Case

The pertinent facts set forth in the petition can be simply stated: Val Byrd is a federal prisoner who is currently incarcerated at the Allenwood Low Security Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania (LSCI Allenwood). (Doc. 1.) Byrd also recites that he suffers from a spinal condition, and states that he has been complaining about the nature and quality of the care he has received for that condition for much of the past three years while in prison. (Id.)

In addition, according to Byrd, he suffers from another unusual medical complaint. Specifically, Byrd alleges that: "my penis and prostrate [sic] feel as if they are the size of a basketball and watermelon". (Id. at p.2) While Byrd attaches documents to his petition which plainly state that an October, 2010, outside medical consultation revealed no medical concerns which required immediate treatment, he nonetheless insists that he needs immediate medical treatment. (Id.) On the basis of these assertions, Byrd then invokes the Court's power to issue a writ of habeas corpus, and specifically requests that we use this great writ to order either his release, or to prescribe specific prison transfers and medical treatment for him. (Id.)

For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that this petition be denied.

III. Discussion

It is well established that habeas corpus petitions brought under § 2241 are subject to summary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (1977) (Rule 4 applies to § 2241 petitions under Rule 1(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts). See, e.g., Patton v. Fenton, 491 F. Supp. 156, 158-59 (M.D. Pa. 1979) (explaining that Rule 4 is "applicable to Section 2241 petitions through Rule 1(b)"). Rule 4 provides in pertinent part: "If it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts.

In this case, Byrd's petition is subject to dismissal because it misconstrues, in a fundamental way, the scope and reach of the writ of habeas corpus. In this pro se petition, Byrd, a federal inmate, invites this Court to use the writ of habeas corpus for an end far removed from its intended purpose. Specifically, Byrd urges the Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus which would regulate the conditions of his current confinement, and specifically would require the Bureau of Prisons to schedule some specific form of transfer and treatment for this inmate, who allegedly suffers from back problems and an enlarged penis and prostate. Because inmates are not entitled to use the writ of habeas corpus to secure this type of relief relating to the conditions of their confinement, this petition should be dismissed, without prejudice to Byrd bringing a separate civil action challenging the conditions of his confinement.

The writ of habeas corpus, one of the protections of individual liberties enshrined in our Constitution, serves a specific, and well-defined purpose. The writ of habeas corpus exists to allow those in the custody of the state to challenge in court the fact, duration and lawfulness of that custody. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted: "The underlying purpose of proceedings under the 'Great Writ' of habeas corpus has traditionally been to 'inquire into the legality of the detention, and the only judicial relief authorized was the discharge of the prisoner or his admission to bail, and that only if his detention were found to be unlawful.' " Powers of Congress and the Court Regarding the Availability and Scope of Review, 114 Harv. L.Rev. 1551, 1553 (2001)."Leamer v. Fauver,288 F.3d 532, 540 (3d Cir. 2002). However, there is a necessary corollary to this principle, one which has long been recognized by the courts; namely, "[i]f a . . . prisoner is seeking [other relief], he is attacking something other than the fact or length of his confinement, and he is seeking something other than immediate or more speedy release-the traditional purpose of habeas corpus. In [such cases], habeas corpus is not an appropriate or available federal remedy." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 494 (1973).

Thus, where a prisoner wishes to constitutionally challenge some aspect of the conditions of his confinement unrelated to the fact or duration of his detention, courts have repeatedly held that the writ of habeas corpus is not the proper vehicle for bringing this legal challenge. For example, in Leamer v. Fauver , suprathe United States Court of Appeals discussed whether a habeas corpus petition was the appropriate tool for an inmate to use when challenging a prison disciplinary placement decision, like the decision at issue in this case. In terms that are equally applicable here the Court of Appeals held that these type of claims are not cognizable under habeas, stating:

When read together, there is a logical and coherent progression of Supreme Court jurisprudence clarifying when [habeas and other civil rights relief] is unavailable: whenever the challenge ultimately attacks the "core of habeas" -the validity of the continued conviction or the fact or length of the sentence-a challenge, however denominated and regardless of the relief sought, must be brought by way of a habeas corpus petition. Conversely, when the challenge is to a condition of confinement such that a finding in plaintiff's favor would not alter his sentence or undo his conviction, an action under [other civil rights statutes] is appropriate.

Leamer, 288 F.3d at 542 .

Following Leamer, courts have often considered invitations by inmates to use the writ of habeas corpus to examine prison placement decisions. Without exception, these invitations have been declined by the courts as a legal exercise which fall beyond the scope of habeas corpus jurisdiction. See e.g., Dickerson v. Diguglielmo, 306 F. App'x. 707 (3d Cir. 2009); Jupiter v. Warden, U.S.P. Lewisburg, 237 F. App'x. 726 (3d Cir. 2007); Levi v. Holt, 193 F. App'x. 172 (3d Cir. 2006); Beckley v. Miner, 125 F. App'x. 385 (3d. Cir 2005);Woodruff v. Williamson, No. 06-2310, 2009 WL 703200 (M.D. Pa. March 12, 2009)(SMU placement); McKettrick v. Williamson, No. 06-543, 2006 WL 1307929 (M.D. Pa. March 22, 2006)(SMU placement). See generally, Torres v. Fauver, 292 F.3d 141 (3d. Cir. 2002).

This rule also specifically applies to inmate demands for placement in various medical treatment programs. Such requests typically cannot be brought by habeas corpus petitions. Lee v. Williamson, 297 F.App'x 147 (3d Cir. 2008); Beckley v. Miner, 125 F. App'x 385 (3d. Cir. 2005). Indeed, courts have also frequently considered petitions, like the petition filed by Byrd, which seek to use the writ of habeas corpus to prescribe a specific course of medical treatment for an inmate. While inmates often invoke habeas corpus relief as a remedy for prison medical disputes, it is generally agreed that such claims are not cognizable in habeas corpus. See e.g., Lee v. Williamson, 297 F.Appx. 147 (3d Cir. 2008); Ayala-Mendez v. Ebbert, No. 09-2561, 2010 WL 411745 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 25, 2010); Jackson v. Grondolsky, No. 09-853, 2009 WL 691222 (D.N.J. March 10, 20009); Loffa v. Grondolsky, No. 08-5369, 2009 WL 387749 (D.N.J. Feb. 10, 2009);Uhl v. Contri, No. 08-1294, 2008 WL 3992281 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 27, 2008).

Rather, the legal prescription for these medical complaints lies elsewhere. Since it is well established that the types of complaints made by Byrd simply do not sound in habeas, this petition should be dismissed. Byrd's recourse, if any, would be through a Bivens civil rights action challenging his medical care.*fn1 However, because, at bottom, the filing requirements for habeas and Bivens actions differ, and the two types of actions raise different issues in terms of procedural requirements and substantive standards, it would not be appropriate to simply construe this pleading, which was clearly designated as a habeas petition, as a Bivens action. Instead, it is recommended that this petition be dismissed without prejudice to Byrd later filing a separate action under Bivens, if he chooses to do so. Woodruff v. Williamson, No. 06-2310, 2009 WL 703200, at 6 (M.D. Pa. March 12, 2009)(dismissing habeas petition without prejudice to separate Bivens civil action).

IV. Recommendation

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, upon consideration of this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Petition be DENIED without prejudice to the filing of a separate civil action, if the Petitioner chooses to do so, and that a certificate of appealability should not issue. The Petitioner is further placed on notice that pursuant to Local Rule 72.3:

Any party may object to a magistrate judge's proposed findings, recommendations or report addressing a motion or matter described in 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) or making a recommendation for the disposition of a prisoner case or a habeas corpus petition within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Such party shall file with the clerk of court, and serve on the magistrate judge and all parties, written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. The briefing requirements set forth in Local Rule 72.2 shall apply. A judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge, however, need conduct a new hearing only in his or her discretion or where required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his or her own determination on the basis of that record. The judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.

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