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Smalley v. Sessions

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 16, 2018

JACK SMALLEY, Petitioner,
v.
JEFF SESSIONS, BARRY SMITH, Superintendent of SCI Houtzdale, and UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA, Respondents.

          Nora Barry Fischer, United States District Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MAUREEN P. KELLY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         It is respectfully recommended that the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (the “Petition”), ostensibly filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, be treated as a Section 2254 petition and be dismissed pre-service and that a certificate of appealability be denied.

         II. REPORT

         A. Procedural History

         Jack Smalley (“Petitioner”) is a state prisoner, who, according to the Records Department of the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale (where Petitioner is housed) is currently serving an aggregated sentence of 25 to 50 years for convictions arising out of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. ECF No. 1 at 3. Although Petitioner asserts that he is “currently being held on orders by Federal and State authorities, ” id. at 1, a search on PACER shows that Petitioner has not been criminally charged by any federal authorities and the Records Department at SCI-Houtzdale confirms that there are no federal detainers against Petitioner. It further appears that Petitioner has been continuously imprisoned by the Pennsylvania state authorities pursuant to his 25 to 50 year sentence since at least November 7, 1985, the date that the 25 to 50 year sentence was imposed. By means of the current Petition, Petitioner does not seek to challenge his convictions or any of the denials of parole by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. ECF No. 1 ¶ 7 (“Petitioner is not challenging the validity of his conviction or sentence, nor any decisions of any of Respondents' agencies.”). According to him, Petitioner is solely “challenging the execution of his sentence and conditions of confinement by Federal and State authorities, specifically the execution of sentence and conditions of confinement are in derogation of his rights under Article IV, Section 4, and the Fifth, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.” Id. ¶ 5.

         The gravamen of the Petition is that since 1994, when federal government enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which includes the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth in Sentencing (“VOITIS”) Incentive Grant Program, the execution of Petitioner's state sentence and the conditions of his state confinement have been rendered unconstitutional because the VOITIS Incentive Grant Program requires, in order to receive such federal grant monies, the state governments to make violent criminals such as Petitioner, serve 85% of their maximum sentence. Id. at 2. Petitioner contends that he is not challenging any specific decision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole denying him parole but instead argues that the “State Respondents would not have administered, enacted, and/or enforced new parole policies which make it harder for Petitioner to obtain parole.” Id. at 3.

         Petitioner's theory as to being under federal custody appears to rest on his assertion that “[b]ecause of VOITIS, the PADOC and its individual prison agencies/confinement facilities … are under the concurrent jurisdiction of Respondent Attorney General Sessions and Respondent PA DOC Secretary Wetzel[.]” id. at 3 - 4. Petitioner complains that because of the requirements of the VOITIS Grant Program, the DOC facilities are “filled beyond capacity . . . [and] [t]his has led to Petitioner being imprisoned among seriously mentally ill inmates and in an environment rampant with prisoner-on-prisoner rape. Respondents created these unconstitutional conditions of confinement through implementation and administration of VOITIS.” Id. at 4.

         By way of relief, Petitioner seeks an order directing Respondents “to produce all documents, audits, records, and/or reports detailing the amount of misappropriated federal public funds that have been granted from the Commonwealth for the DOJ's OJP since 1994, DEEM that Petitioner is being detained and/or imprisoned in violation of Article IV, Section 4, the 5th, 10th, 13th, and 14th Amendments, and ORDER Petitioner FORTHWITH RELEASED and DISCHARGED from unconstitutional execution of sentence and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.” Id. at 4 - 5.

         B. Discussion

         1. Petitioner cannot use a Section 2241 petition to challenge his sentence.

         Petitioner states that he is “currently being held on orders by Federal and State authorities.” Id. at 1. Petitioner further alleges that he has filed this Petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. However, we take judicial notice of the fact that Petitioner is currently serving a sentence of 25 to 50 years pursuant to the judgment of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Accordingly, Petitioner is a “person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (b)(1). Accordingly, because Petitioner is currently a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, he cannot show that his Petition is properly brought under Section 2241, as is his burden. See Simon v. Nalley, No. 9:02-CV-1255, 2003 WL 22240588, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2003) (it is a petitioner's burden to show that Section 2241 is jurisdictionally appropriate).

         As observed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Section 2241 confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to issue writs of habeas corpus in response to a petition from a state or federal prisoner who “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 484 (3d Cir. 2001). In contrast, Section 2254 confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to issue “writs of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court ... on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Coady, 251 F.3d at 484. The Third Circuit has determined, based on canons of statutory construction, that because Section 2254 is more specific and Section 2241 more general, a state prisoner must generally seek relief via a Section 2254 petition and not a Section 2241 petition. Id. See also Crouch v. Norris, 251 F.3d 720, 723 (8th Cir. 2001) (“Not only is § 2254 an appropriate vehicle for Crouch's ...


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