ORDER DIRECTING CLERK'S OFFICE TO ASSIGN A DISTRICT JUDGE TO THIS MATTER
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DENY PETITIONER'S REQUEST FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AND TO GRANT RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NOS. 8, 9)
MICHAEL J. SENG, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner is a former federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Respondent Craig Apker is represented by Roger Yang of the United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California.
Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus on March 3, 2016. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) He contends that private contractors employed at Taft Correctional Institution — rather than Bureau of Prisons employees — conducted his prison disciplinary proceedings, in violation of 28 C.F.R. §§ 500.1(b) and 541.10. Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of this defect, he was assessed a loss of good time credits in violation of his due process rights.
On May 2, 2016, Petitioner filed an "opposition" to the results of a later disciplinary hearing and sought to enjoin the results of that hearing. (ECF No. 8.)
On May 3, 2016, Respondent filed a motion to dismiss the petition on mootness grounds. (Motion, ECF No. 9.) On May 23, 2016, Petitioner filed a response. (ECF No. 10.) Respondent filed no reply and the time for doing so has passed. The matter stands ready for adjudication.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Petitioner was sentenced on March 7, 2007 to a determinate 135-month term of imprisonment for the offense of conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. (Motion, Exh. 1, Attachment 1; ECF No. 9-1 at 7.) At the time he filed his petition, Petitioner was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Taft, California. (ECF No. 1.)
On June 16, 2012, Petitioner was accused of engaging in a sexual act. (Motion, Exh. 1, Attachment 2; ECF No. 9-1 at 10.) A hearing on the disciplinary charge was conducted on July 19, 2012. (
Subsequently, in 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided
Petitioner underwent a new disciplinary hearing on April 19, 2016 with DHO Richard Deveraux, an employee of the Bureau of Prisons. (Motion, Exh. 1, Attachment 2; ECF No. 9-1 at 2, 14-16.) The new disciplinary hearing was conducted "based upon pending litigation filed by [Petitioner] with the courts," presumably a reference to the instant petition. (
At the time Respondent filed his motion to dismiss, Petitioner's projected release date was June 21, 2016. (
The petition seeks the reinstatement of good time credits based on defects in Petitioner's initial, July 19, 2012, disciplinary hearing. (ECF No. 1.) Respondent contends that the petition is moot because the defects in the initial disciplinary hearing were remedied when the matter was reheard by DHO Devereaux, a BOP employee.
A. Legal Standard
A case becomes moot when it no longer satisfies the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution.
B. Challenge to July 19, 2012 Hearing
The claims asserted in the petition are no longer in controversy. In the present case, it appears that the only relief Petitioner sought in his petition was invalidation of the findings and sanctions resulting from his July 19, 2012 disciplinary hearing on the ground that the hearing officer was unqualified under the applicable regulations. However, the charges were reheard by an officer who had the very qualifications that Petitioner alleged were required. DHO Devereaux reheard the charge, considered statements by Petitioner and witnesses, weighed the evidence, rendered independent findings and, based thereon, imposed sanctions on Petitioner. Thus, the original findings and sanctions that constituted the basis for Petitioner's challenges in the petition have now been superseded by the findings and sanctions of a BOP DHO.
The procedural error in the July 19, 2012 hearing was remedied. The rehearing of the disciplinary charge by a qualified DHO has effectuated the relief sought by Petitioner. Therefore, it is no longer possible for this Court to issue a decision redressing the injury that he alleges he suffered as a result of the July 19, 2012 disciplinary hearing.
Furthermore, to the extent Petitioner seeks to challenge the results of the April 19, 2016 hearing on due process grounds, he must first exhaust his available administrative remedies and then file a new habeas petition.
C. Challenges to Other Regulatory Violations
Although not alleged in the petition, Petitioner now argues that the controversy is not moot because both hearings were "infected" by the involvement of MTC employees in earlier stages of the disciplinary process, in violation of 28 C.F.R. § 541.5, which requires "staff" to witness or suspect a violation and issue an incident report, 28 C.F.R. § 541.5(a); and requires a "Bureau staff member" to investigate the incident report, 28 C.F.R. § 541.5(b). (ECF Nos. 8, 10.) Here, it appears that MTC employees issued and investigated the incident report.
Because Petitioner was accused of misconduct that could result in the loss of good time credit, he was entitled to the following minimal procedural protections in the conduct of his disciplinary proceedings: (1) the right to appear before an impartial decision-making body; (2) twenty-four hour advance written notice of the disciplinary charges; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense when it is consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; (4) assistance from an inmate representative if the charged inmate is illiterate or complex issues are involved; and (5) a written decision by the fact finder of the evidence relied upon and the rationale behind the disciplinary action.
Petitioner does not contend that any of the
The Court concludes that Petitioner was not prejudiced by any regulatory violations preceding the disciplinary hearing. The incident report written by an MTC employee apparently was the only evidence presented against Plaintiff. (ECF No. 9-1 at 15.) That report contained a statement by the reporting officer describing her observation of Plaintiff and the event at issue in the disciplinary charge. However, nothing before the Court suggests that the officer's statement would have been different had it been memorialized by a BOP employee. Notably, "Section 541.5 does not require BOP staff to witness the prohibited act."
Furthermore, documentation attached to the motion to dismiss shows that the BOP DHO considered not only the incident report and investigation, but also Petitioner's statement and the testimony of Petitioner's witness. (ECF No. 9-1 at 15-16.) The DHO made detailed findings regarding the credibility of Petitioner's account and the reasons for the DHO's conclusions. These facts undercut Petitioner's general allegation that he suffered a taint from the participation of non-BOP employees in the incident report and investigation. From these circumstances, the Court concludes that Petitioner has not suffered any prejudice from participation of non-BOP staff in the earlier stages of the disciplinary process.
In summary, the claims in the petition before the Court are no longer subject to redress by the Court. Further, the factual accuracy of the findings on rehearing are not seriously disputed, the record establishes that Petitioner received procedural due process of law, and there is no indication that Petitioner suffered any legally cognizable prejudice.
Although Petitioner now alleges that other details of the early stages of the prison's disciplinary program were not conducted consistently with applicable regulations, the foregoing analysis leads the Court to conclude that any such alleged deficiencies did not bear on the legality or duration of Petitioner's confinement. As such, they do not fall within the core of habeas corpus jurisdiction.
III. Conclusion and Recommendation
Because Respondent has not submitted a consent to or declination of Magistrate Judge jurisdiction, the Clerk of Court is HEREBY DIRECTED to assign a District Judge to this matter.
Furthermore, based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY RECOMMENDED that:
The findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within thirty (30) days after being served with the findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Any reply to the objections shall be served and filed within fourteen (14) days after service of the objections. The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may result in the waiver of rights on appeal.
IT IS SO ORDERED.