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McCullon v. Ebbert

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 22, 2015

DAVID EBBERT, et al., Respondents.


MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The petitioner in this case, Michael Tyrone McCullon, is a criminal recidivist and prolific pro se litigant who has filed multiple actions challenging his current confinement in the Special Management Unit of the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In this, his latest pro se filing, a petition for writ of habeas corpus, McCullon invites this court to use the writ of habeas corpus for an end far removed from its intended purpose. In particular, McCullon urges the court to issue a writ of habeas corpus which would regulate the conditions of his current confinement at the Special Management Unit, and prohibit double-celling at this facility, along with prescribing other conditions of his individual confinement at this prison.

Along with this petition, McCullon has filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis . (Doc. 2.) For the reasons set forth below, this motion is GRANTED, but it is recommended that McCullon's petition be denied.

II. Discussion

This court should deny McCullon's petition for writ of habeas corpus. In this case, we find that the petitioner has not made out a valid case for pursuing habeas relief relating to the conditions of his confinement. Quite the contrary, it is well-settled that habeas corpus relief is not available to address inmate concerns regarding the conditions of their confinement. Therefore, since the petitioner has not made a showing justifying habeas relief at this time, this petition is 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 (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.

Summary dismissal of this habeas petition is appropriate because McCullon's petition fails as a matter of law since his complaints about the conditions of his confinement simply do not sound in habeas. 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. 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 SMU inmates housed in the Lewisburg Penitentiary to use the writ of habeas corpus to examine prison placement and transfer decisions. These invitations have been consistently declined by the courts as a legal exercise which fall beyond the scope of habeas corpus jurisdiction. See, e.g., Cardona v. Bledsoe, 681 F.3d 533, 536 (3d Cir. 2012); McCarthy v. Warden, USP Lewisburg, 417 F.Appx. 128, 130 (3d Cir. 2011); Bedenfield v. Lewisburg, 393 F.Appx. 32, 33 (3d Cir. 2010)(challenge to placement in the SMU is analogous to the "garden variety prison transfer" that we have indicated should be challenged in a civil rights action, not via a habeas petition, citing Woodall v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 432 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir.2005)); Murray v. Bledsoe, 386 F.Appx. 139, 140 (3d Cir. 2010); Dickerson v. Diguglielmo, 306 F.Appx. 707 (3d Cir. 2009); Jupiter v. Warden, U.S.P. Lewisburg, 237 F.Appx. 726 (3d Cir. 2007); Levi v. Holt, 193 F.Appx. 172 (3d Cir. 2006); Beckley v. Miner, 125 F.Appx. 385 (3d Cir. 2005).

Moreover, McCullon cannot show an entitlement to any extraordinary relief compelling prison officials to give him favorable single cell treatment within the Lewisburg Penitentiary Special Management Unit. Such claims must meet exacting legal standards. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, which includes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain by prison officials. U.S. Const. amend. VIII; Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). The Eighth Amendment imposes certain duties on prison officials to "ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and must take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.'" Id. (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). To allege a viable Eighth Amendment claim based on the conditions of confinement, an inmate must allege (1) a deprivation that is sufficiently serious and (2) that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to the deprivation. Young v. Quinlan, 960 F.2d 351, 359-60 (3d Cir. 1992). Moreover, conditions of confinement will violate the Eighth Amendment if the deprivation is sufficiently serious, which the Supreme Court has held means that the inmate has been denied "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. In addition, for an Eighth Amendment claim to lie, prison officials must have acted with deliberate indifference to the health or safety of the inmate, meaning that the prison officials acted with recklessness. Id. at 834-35; Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 303 (1991). Thus, in order to find an Eighth Amendment violation with respect to conditions of confinement, the plaintiff ultimately must present evidence showing that the prison officials were "both aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. As Judge Rambo of this court has summarized:

The Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment demands that prison officials do not house inmates under conditions that deprive them of one or more basic human needs, such as the basic human need for reasonable safety, adequate ...

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