IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
February 21, 2012
WAYNE COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones
Magistrate Judge Carlson
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
In this pro se petition, the petitioner, a state inmate housed in the Wayne County Correctional Facility, invites this Court to use the writ of habeas corpus for an end far removed from its intended purpose. Specifically, the petitioner urges the Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus which would regulate the conditions of his current confinement-- and direct the respondents to transfer him to a prison which, inter alia, has better vending machines in the prison visitation room--rather than address the fact, duration and lawfulness of the petitioner's confinement. Because the petitioner is not entitled to use the writ of habeas corpus to secure the relief he seeks, which relates solely to the conditions of his confinement, it is recommended that this petition should be dismissed, without prejudice to the petitioner bringing a separate civil action challenging the conditions of his confinement.
II. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND OF THE CASE
This habeas corpus petition recites that the petitioner is a state prisoner housed in the Wayne County Correctional Facility. The petitioner plainly does not like this facility, complaining that it is far less commodious than state prison. The balance of the petition is then largely devoted to a comparison of amenities at these county and state institutions. Many of the matters complained of in the petition border on the frivolous. For example, the petitioner complains about the vending machines at the county jail, protests restrictions on tobacco products, describes "inconveniences" with free mail services, unfavorably compares weight lifting equipment at the various institutions, seeks greater contact visitation privileges than those currently afforded to the petitioner and his guests, and laments the prices and selection of goods available for sale in the commissary. (Id.) As relief, the petitioner requests that this Court issue a writ of habeas corpus directing that he be transferred to a facility which offers better services and amenities. (Id.)
For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that this petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied without prejudice to the filing of a civil action challenging the conditions of the petitioner's confinement.
This Court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of pro se habeas corpus petitions, pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 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.
Here, summary dismissal of this petition is appropriate because the petition constitutes an inappropriate use of the writ of habeas corpus. 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 , supra, the United States Court of Appeals discussed whether a habeas corpus petition was the appropriate tool for an inmate to use when challenging a prison 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).
These settled legal tenets control here and are fatal to this particular habeas petition. Since it is well established that the types of complaints made by the petitioner simply do not sound in habeas, this petition must be dismissed. The petitioner's recourse, if any, would be through a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 challenging this prison placement decision. However, because the filing requirements for habeas and §1983 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 §1983 action. Instead, it is recommended that this petition be dismissed without prejudice to the petitioner later filing a separate action under §1983 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 challenging SMU placement without prejudice to separate Bivens civil action).
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 challenging this prison placement decision, 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.
Martin C. Carlson
Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge
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