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Sandlain v. Rickard

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia

September 25, 2019




         By Standing Order, this action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn for submission of findings and recommendation regarding disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn submitted to the court his Proposed Findings and Recommendation (“PF&R”) on February 21, 2019, in which he recommended that the court dismiss petitioner’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, deny petitioner’s application to proceed without prepayment of fees, deny petitioner’s motion for preliminary injunction/temporary restraining order, and remove this case from the court’s active docket.

         In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), petitioner was allotted fourteen days and three mailing days in which to file any objections to Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn’s Findings and Recommendation. The failure of any party to file such objections within the time allowed constitutes a waiver of such party’s right to a de novo review by this court. Snyder v. Ridenour, 889 F.2d 1363 (4th Cir. 1989). On March 4, 2019, petitioner, acting pro se, timely submitted objections to the PF&R. See ECF No. 8.

         Petitioner objects to two specific findings made by Magistrate Judge Aboulhosn. First, he objects to the PF&R’s finding that challenges to prison conditions of confinement are not cognizable as Section 2241 habeas claims, and should instead be filed as a Bivens or Section 1983 action. Second, petitioner objects to the PF&R’s finding that administrative remedies must be exhausted before filing a Section 2241 habeas petition. The court addresses each objection, with de novo review, in turn.

         I. Analysis

         A. Objection 1 – Conditions of Confinement Claims in Habeas Proceedings

         The issue of whether a prisoner may challenge the conditions of confinement in a habeas proceeding has not been definitively resolved by the Supreme Court. Compare Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499 (1973) (recognizing that habeas corpus might possibly be available to challenge prison conditions), and Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 249–51 (1971) (recognizing challenges to prison “living conditions and disciplinary measures” are “cognizable in federal habeas corpus”), with Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004) (explaining that “[c]hallenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus . . . [while] requests for relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be presented in a § 1983 action.”), and Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 527 n.6 (1979) (“[W]e leave to another day the question of the propriety of using a writ of habeas corpus to obtain review of the conditions of confinement, as distinct from the fact or length of the confinement itself.”). In answering this open question, the Fourth Circuit has consistently, albeit never directly, concluded that most conditions of confinement claims are not cognizable in habeas proceedings.[1] See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Ratledge, 715 F. App’x 261, 265–66 (4th Cir. 2017) (“[C]ourts have generally held that a § 1983 suit or a Bivens action is the appropriate means of challenging conditions of confinement, whereas § 2241 petitions are not.”); Braddy v. Wilson, 580 Fed. App’x 172 (4th Cir. 2014) (dismissing a habeas petition alleging a condition of confinement claim as improperly brought under Section 2241); Todd v. Baskerville, 712 F.2d 70, 73 (4th Cir. 1983) (“The principle to be deduced from Preiser . . . appears to be that when the claim relat[es] to [conditions of confinement] . . . the suit [must be] a § 1983 action.”).

         Moreover, courts within this district have consistently held that challenges to conditions of confinement are not cognizable in habeas proceedings. See Hargrove v. Masters, 2017 WL 712758, at *2 (S.D.W.Va. Feb. 23, 2017) (“challenges to the conditions of [] confinement are not cognizable under § 2241, but instead must be pursued through a Bivens action”); see also Brown v. Zeigler, 2013 WL 4500473, at *6–7 (S.D.W.Va. Aug. 20, 2013); Daniel v. Craig, 2008 WL 644883, at *2 (S.D.W.Va. Mar. 7, 2008); Berry v. McBride, 2006 WL 2861077, at *1 (S.D.W.Va. Oct. 5, 2006).

         This court concludes that challenges to conditions of confinement are not cognizable in habeas proceedings under Section 2241. Petitioner’s challenges to his conditions of confinement are that respondent is “subjecting the whole population to a deprivation of nutritious meals, proper ventilation for warmth, and endangering inmate life for going on twenty-eight days.” See ECF No. 2, at 6. These claims do not contain the kind of quantum changes in confinement without due process or just cause that are the only kind of challenges to conditions of confinement cognizable in habeas proceedings. See supra, at n.1. Therefore, petitioner’s Objection 1 is OVERRULED.

         B. Objection 2 – Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies in Section 2241 Proceedings

         Petitioner objects that Section 2241, unlike the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), does not explicitly require administrative remedies to be exhausted before a prisoner may bring a Section 2241 claim. Compare 28 U.S.C. § 2241, with 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. While it is true that Section 2241 does not contain a statutory mandate that administrative remedies be exhausted, courts may judicially impose such a requirement. See Jaworski v. Gutierrez, 509 F.Supp.2d 573, 577 (N.D.W.Va. 2007) (“[T]he exhaustion requirement in habeas corpus actions arising under § 2241 . . . has no statutory mandate, but rather is judicially imposed.”). The Fourth Circuit has consistently done so, and requires litigants to exhaust their alternative remedies before bringing Section 2241 claims. See Timms v. Johns, 627 F.3d 525, 530–31 (4th Cir. 2010) (explaining that exhaustion is required before a habeas action may be brought). This is because requiring exhaustion promotes the “‘important considerations of federal court efficiency and administration.’” Id. (quoting Moore v. United States, 875 F.Supp. 620, 624 (D. Neb. 1994)). Only in “‘exceptional circumstances’” should exhaustion be waived, id. (quoting Bowen v. Johnson, 306 U.S. 19, 27 (1939)), such as when the administrative remedy process would be futile. See Jaworski, 509 F.Supp.2d at 577.

         Here, petitioner has made it clear that he has not exhausted his administrative remedies. Nor has he put forth any evidence suggesting why doing so would be futile. Therefore, this court finds no exceptional circumstances exist here to excuse petitioner’s failure to exhaust, and thus he is required to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing a Section 2241 petition. Petitioner’s Objection 2 is OVERRULED.

         II. ...

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