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Mendez v. Martin

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

April 19, 2016

ARIEL MENDEZ, Petitioner,
DANIEL MARTIN, Warden, Respondent.


          PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, Magistrate Judge.

         While he was incarcerated, apparently for just a few months, at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, pro se petitioner Ariel Mendez named the Wyatt's warden, Daniel Martin, as the respondent to a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 that he filed in the District of Rhode Island on September 28, 2015. The petition challenges the duration of his confinement due to the loss of forty-one days of good-time credits based on the results of a breathalyzer test administered at a residential re-entry work release facility in Hartford, Connecticut. ECF No. 1. He is now incarcerated at the Federal Corrections Institution, Schuylkill ("FCI Schuylkill") in Minersville, Pennsylvania, which is within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. ECF No. 9. According to the Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator, his "release date" is listed as May 19, 2016. See Federal Bureau of Prisons, Find an inmate, (last visited on Apr. 18, 2016).[1]

         Respondent answered the petition with a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 10), which was referred to me for preliminary review, findings and recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Petitioner's opposition was due on December 24, 2015; when none was filed, I issued an order to show cause why the Court should not proceed to rule on the motion in the absence of Petitioner's opposition. Petitioner responded with a motion to extend time, which was granted, making his opposition due on March 21, 2016; it was finally received on March 28, 2016. ECF No. 13. An extension also delayed Defendant's reply, which was filed on April 14, 2016. ECF No. 15. Mindful that any further delay may moot Petitioner's claim, [2] I have expedited consideration of the motion. In reliance on the First Circuit's holding in Vasquez v. Reno, 233 F.3d 688 (1st Cir. 2000), guided by the District of Massachusetts's thoughtful analysis in Gonzalez v. Grondolsky, Civil Action No. 14-13279-MGM, 2016 WL 270381 (D. Mass. Jan. 21, 2016), and consistent with this Court's decision in Rumierz v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, No. C.A. 00-359 ML, 2000 WL 1920003, at *3 (D.R.I. Dec. 27, 2000), I recommend that Respondent's motion to dismiss be granted without prejudice to the refiling of this petition in the Middle District of Pennsylvania against an appropriate respondent.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Based on his guilty plea in the District of Connecticut to conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, in 2013, Petitioner was sentenced to a forty-five month term of incarceration in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). ECF No. 10-3 at 2-3. In 2015, BOP placed Petitioner at Watkinson House, a residential re-entry work release facility located in Hartford, Connecticut. On March 1, 2015, Petitioner was required to undergo a random breathalyzer test upon his entry into the facility, which produced positive readings, spaced fifteen minutes apart, of 0.034 and 0.036. ECF Nos. 1 at 2, 1-1 at 1-2. Based on these results, Petitioner was issued an initial incident report on March 2, 2015, charging him with a violation of Code 112 of the BOP Inmate Discipline Program, which prohibits the use of alcohol not prescribed by medical staff. ECF No. 1-1 at 1. Because the incident report incorrectly stated the time both of Petitioner's return to the facility and the times at which the breathalyzer tests had been administered, a corrected incident report was issued on March 4, 2015. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. The only difference between the first and the second reports was the change in the entry time from 5:10 a.m. to 4:40 a.m. and the change in the test administration times from 5:40 a.m./5:55 a.m. to 4:40 a.m./4:55 a.m.

         Two days later, a hearing was held on the violation presided over by a hearing officer. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. There is some confusion in the record about the hearing. The hearing officer signed a "Memo to File, " ECF No. 1-1 at 4, which stated that she was unable to complete the hearing as scheduled at 9:30 a.m. on March 6, 2016, because of scheduling conflicts, yet several hours later at 3:26 p.m. on March 6, 2016, she signed the "CDC Action, " which memorializes the finding that Petitioner committed the violation.[3] ECF No. 1-1 at 5. Based on this finding, the Discipline Hearing Officer ("DHO") imposed sanctions on Petitioner for the violation, which included the loss of forty-one days of good conduct time. ECF No. 1-1 at 8; see 28 C.F.R. § 541.8. On April 7, 2015, Petitioner appealed the CDC finding to the BOP Regional Director based on the time discrepancies between the first and second versions of the incident reports and because the second incident report was given to Petitioner outside of the twenty-four hour time limit for issuance of such reports.[4] ECF No. 1-1 at 7. In addition to the stated grounds, Petitioner's "reason for appeal" states, "the mistakes made by Staff, led me to believe that other mistakes were made also." Id . The appeal was denied on May 8, 2015. ECF No. 1-1 at 8.

         On May 20, 2015, Petitioner appealed the decision of the Regional Director to the General Counsel. ECF No. 1-1 at 9. In addition to the grounds stated in the first-level appeal, Petitioner also relied on the new argument that the breathalyzer device used to administer the test had not been working properly; his appeal explained that this argument was based on newly discovered information that he learned from a Watkinson House staffer, who told him the device had not been working properly and had had to be replaced. ECF No. 1-1 at 9-10. According to Petitioner's second-level appeal, the staffer disclosed this information (and told Petitioner that he would report it to BOP) on May 15, 2015, well after both the March hearing and the April first-level appeal. ECF No. 1-1 at 10. In an apparent amendment to the second-level appeal, which was signed on June 23, 2015, Petitioner added further contentions, namely that the staff member who administered the breathalyzer test was inexperienced and "not officially certified, " as well as that there was no "chain of command" related to the procedure for performing breathalyzer tests. ECF No. 1-1 at 11-12. Petitioner did not receive a response from the General Counsel to either his May second-level appeal or his June amendment, effectively amounting to a denial of both. 28 C.F.R. § 542.18; Smith v. Oliver, 615 F.Appx. 905, 907 (10th Cir. 2015).

         At approximately the same time as the June 2015 amended appeal, Petitioner was transferred[5] from Watkinson House in Connecticut to the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.[6] Petitioner filed this habeas action on September 28, 2015, while incarcerated there. As required for a petition brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, the petition named as Respondent the warden of the Wyatt Detention Facility, who was his "immediate custodian" as of that time. Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 447 (2004); United States v. Badillo, No. CRIM. 10-10341-NMG, 2013 WL 6835210, at *2 n.1 (D. Mass. Dec. 18, 2013) (citing cases). However, a few weeks later, Petitioner was transferred again, first to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, ECF No. 6, and then to FCI Schuylkill in Minersville, Pennsylvania. ECF No. 9. He remains there, with a published "release date" of May 19, 2016. See n.1, supra .

         II. ANALYSIS

         Respondent's motion to dismiss challenges the petition on the following grounds: 1) Respondent is no longer Petitioner's immediate custodian; 2) the District of Rhode Island is an improper venue; 3) the District of Rhode Island lacks personal jurisdiction over the proper respondent, Petitioner's current immediate custodian; 4) Petitioner has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and 5) Petitioner fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. I begin with Respondent's jurisdictional and venue arguments, which are grounded in the immediate-custodian principle and the related concept of territorial jurisdiction. These foundation principles are focused on the jurisdictional problem posed by the reality that, while Petitioner properly named his immediate custodian when he filed this petition, his transfer to FCI Schuylkill means that he is no longer in the custody of Warden Martin at the Wyatt Detention Facility and now is in the custody of Warden Perdue in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. See ECF No. 13 at 2.

         A. Immediate-Custodian and Territorial-Jurisdiction Rules

         The writ of habeas corpus is "a procedural device to subject restraints of liberty to judicial scrutiny." Santiago-Melendez v. Puerto Rico, 405 F.Supp.2d 196, 198 (D.P.R. 2005) (citing Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 58 (1968)). The provision on which Petitioner relies, 28 U.S.C. § 2241, "may be used to attack the manner in which a sentence is executed, as opposed to the sentence itself, " Gonzalez-Fuentes v. Molina, 607 F.3d 864, 875 n.9 (1st Cir. 2010), and has long been interpreted to extend to allegations of denial of a prisoner's good-time credits without due process of law. See Francis v. Maloney, 798 F.3d 33, 36-37 (1st Cir. 2015) (describing § 2241 as "traditionally... available to inmates challenging the revocation of good-time credits"); Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.2d 1267, 1269 (9th Cir. 1989) (§ 2241 available to challenge reduction of good-time credits after federal prison disciplinary proceeding).

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a), "[w]rits of habeas corpus may be granted by... the district courts... within their respective jurisdictions." 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2242, the appropriate respondent to the § 2241 habeas petition is "the person who has custody over" the petitioner. This proposition is echoed in 28 U.S.C. § 2243, which mandates that "[t]he writ, or order to show cause shall be directed to the person having custody of the person detained." These bedrock principles are confirmed by the controlling case law in this Circuit - the writ must be directed to the person who has "day-to-day control over the petitioner and is able to produce the latter before the habeas court." Vasquez, 233 F.3d at 691. The statutory language, as well as the jurisprudence governing federal habeas petitions, is foundational to two distinct, but often overlapping, principles addressed by the Supreme Court in its seminal habeas decision, Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004): the immediate-custodian rule and the territorial-jurisdiction rule. Grondolsky, 2016 WL 270381, at *2.

         The immediate-custodian rule sets as the default "that the proper respondent is the warden of the facility where the prisoner is being held." Padilla, 542 U.S. at 435. As a procedural matter, identifying the proper respondent is critical because "[t]he writ of habeas corpus does not act upon the prisoner who seeks relief, but upon the person who holds him in what is alleged to be unlawful custody." Braden v. 30th ...

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