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Michael Rinaldi v. Warden Bledsoe

April 2, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)


Presently before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, filed by Petitioner Michael Rinaldi ("Rinaldi"), an inmate confined at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USPLewisburg"). Rinaldi alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in the context of a disciplinary proceeding. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Facts

At all times relevant to this petition, Rinaldi was confined at the Federal Correctional Institution at Victorville ("FCI-Victorville") in Angeles, California. On July 2, 2011, at approximately 10:15 a.m., FCI-Victorville investigating officer Lieutenant J. Hamilton filed an incident report concluding that Rinaldi had participated in a riot between Muslim-affiliated African Americans and a group known as the "Dirty South" at the institution on May 30, 2011 at 3:21 p.m. (Doc. 5-1 at 15.) The report notes that Rinaldi was observed on videotape entering Unit C-Lower and pushing staff who were trying to hold inmates out of the unit. (Id.) When further staff responded to a call for assistance, more inmates pushed their way past staff in order to join in the disturbance. (Id.) Staff members were assaulted with chairs. (Id.) Due to the incident, FCI-Victorville was placed on lockdown until June 6, 2011. (Id.)

As a result of this incident, an investigation was conducted, concluding at 10:15 a.m. on July 2, 2011. (Id.) Rinaldi was issued an incident report charging him with Disruptive Conduct (Greatest Severity, most like Rioting) and Being in an Unauthorized Area, in violation of Sections 199 (most like 105) and 316, respectively, of the Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") disciplinary code. (Id. at 19.) As a result of multiple inmate interviews, a review of medical assessment forms, and a review of video recordings and staff memoranda, the investigating officer determined that Rinaldi was involved in the riot. (Id. at 15.) The incident report was delivered to Rinaldi on July 3, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. (Id.) Lieutenant Hamilton advised Rinaldi of his rights at that time. (Id. at 16.) The officer noted that Rinaldi had a "fair attitude." (Id.) After completing his investigation, Lieutenant Hamilton referred the incident report to the Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") for further action. (Id.) On July 5, 2011, the UDC held a hearing to review the incident report. (Id. at 19.) Rinaldi was provided with a Notice of Discipline Hearing Before the DHO and Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing Form. (Id. at 17-18.) After reviewing the matter, the UDC referred it to the Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") for further hearing. (Id. at 19.)

On July 12, 2011, the DHO held a hearing. (See id. at 19-22.) At the outset of the hearing, Rinaldi was advised of his right to appear before the DHO and indicated that he understood. (Id. at 20.) In addition, he waived his right to a staff representative and did not request witnesses on his behalf. (Id. at 19.) At the hearing, Rinaldi provided the following statement: "I was out of bounds." (Id.)

The DHO relied on the reporting officer's statement and Rinaldi's testimony to conclude that, based on the greater weight of the evidence, Rinaldi had committed the Code 199 (most like 105) and 316 violations, Disruptive Conduct (Greatest Severity, most like Rioting) and Being in an Unauthorized Area, respectively. (Id. at 20.) For the Code 199 (most like 105) violation, Rinaldi was sanctioned with disallowance of 40 days of good conduct time, 45 days of disciplinary segregation (suspended), and one year loss of visits. (Id. at 21.) For the Code 316 violation, Rinaldi was sanctioned with 15 days disciplinary segregation (suspended) and three months loss of commissary. (Id.) The decision was delivered to Rinaldi on July 21, 2011. (Id.)

At the time of the filing of Respondent's answer to the instant petition, Rinaldi had filed fifty-three (53) requests for administrative remedies since entering the BOP. (See Doc. 5-1 at 4.) Several of these requests pertain to the incident report or DHO hearing and decision at issue in this petition. (See id.)

II. Discussion

The BOP disciplinary process is fully outlined in Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28, Sections 541.10 through 541.23.*fn1 These regulations dictate the manner in which disciplinary action may be taken should a prisoner violate, or attempt to violate, institutional rules. The first step requires filing an incident report and conducting an investigation pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.14. Staff is required to conduct the investigation promptly absent intervening circumstances beyond the control of the investigator. 28 C.F.R. § 541.14(b).

Following the investigation, the matter is then referred to the UDC for a hearing pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. If the UDC finds that a prisoner has committed a prohibited act, it may impose minor sanctions. If the alleged violation is serious and warrants consideration for more than minor sanctions, or involves a prohibited act listed in the greatest or high category offenses, the UDC refers the matter to a DHO for a hearing. 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. Because Rinaldi was charged with Disruptive Conduct (Greatest Severity, most like Rioting) and Being in an Unauthorized Area, offenses in the greatest and high severity categories, the matter was referred for a disciplinary hearing.

Greatest and high category offenses carry a possible sanction of, inter alia, loss of good conduct time credits. 28 C.F.R. § 541.13. When a prison disciplinary hearing may result in the loss of good conduct time credits, due process requires that the prisoner receive (1) written notice of the claimed violation at least twenty-four (24) hours in advance of the hearing, (2) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his or her defense when doing so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals, and (3) a written statement by the factfinder as to evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564-66 (1974).

Further, despite the absence of a statutory exhaustion requirement attached to § 2241, courts have consistently required a petitioner to exhaust administrative remedies prior to bringing habeas claims under § 2241. Speight v. Minor, 245 F. App'x 213, 215 (3d Cir. 2007); Callwood v. Enos, 230 F.3d 627, 634 (3d Cir. 2000); Moscato v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 98 F.3d 757, 760 (3d Cir. 1996). Exhaustion promotes a number of goals: "(1) allowing the appropriate agency to develop a factual record and apply its expertise facilitates judicial review; (2) permitting agencies to grant the relief requested conserves judicial resources; and (3) providing agencies the opportunity to correct their own errors fosters administrative autonomy." Moscato,98 F.3d at 761-62 (citing Bradshaw v. Carlson, 682 F.2d 1050, 1052 (3d Cir. 1981)). Courts, however, have excused exhaustion when it would not promote these goals. See, e.g., Gambino v. Morris, 134 F.3d 156, 171 (3d Cir. 1998) (Roth, J., concurring) (exhaustion excused upon petitioner demonstrating futility); Lyons v. United States Marshals, 840 F.2d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 1988) (exhaustion excused when agency actions clearly and unambiguously violate statutory or constitutional rights).

In order for a federal prisoner to exhaust his administrative remedies, he must comply with the prison grievance process set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations. See 28 C.F.R. § 542.10-.23; Lindsay v. Williamson, No. 1:CV-07-0808, 2007 WL 2155544, at *2 (M.D. Pa. July 26, 2007). An inmate first must informally present his complaint to staff, and staff shall attempt to informally resolve any issue before an inmate files a request for administrative relief. 28 C.F.R. § 542.13(a). If unsuccessful at informal resolution, the inmate may raise his complaint with the warden of the institution where he is confined. Id. at § 542.14(a). If dissatisfied with the response, he may then appeal an adverse decision to the Regional Office and the Central Office of the BOP. Id. at §§ 542.15(a) and 542.18. No ...

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