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Hernandez-Munoz v. Meeks

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

April 20, 2016

Hilario Hernandez-Munoz, Petitioner,
v.
B.J. Meeks, Warden, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Respondent's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. [Doc. 12.] At the time the Petition was filed, Petitioner was a federal prisoner, proceeding pro se, seeking relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Doc. 1.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review post-trial petitions for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         Petitioner filed this Petition for writ of habeas corpus on August 11, 2015.[1] On October 15, 2015, Respondent filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. [Doc. 12.] On October 16, 2015, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir.1975), Petitioner was advised to respond to the motion and of the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond. [Doc. 13.] Petitioner's response in opposition was filed on October 28, 2015.[2] [Doc. 19.] Petitioner has now filed a change of address [Doc. 24] to notify the Court that he is residing at a private address in Harlingen, Texas, and the Bureau of Prison's website confirms that Petitioner has been released from prison. Accordingly, the Petition must be dismissed as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner challenges his disciplinary action for the prohibited act of Use of the Mail for Illegal Purposes in violation of Code 196. [Doc. 1 at 2.] Petitioner received the disciplinary conviction while incarcerated at the McRae Correctional Facility in McRae, Georgia. Petitioner seeks an order of expungement of the incident report and the restoration of forty-one days good time credit. [ Id. at 8.] Petitioner was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution Williamsburg, in Salters, South Carolina, when he filed the instant Petition. On November 9, 2015, Petitioner was released from federal custody due to the expiration of his sentence. [Doc. 24 (notice of Petitioner's change of address to a private address); see also https://www.bop.gov (BOP Inmate Locator indicating Petitioner was released on November 9, 2015).]

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Liberal Construction of Pro Se Petition

         Petitioner brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se petition is still subject to summary dismissal. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520-21. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the petitioner could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the petitioner's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the petitioner can prove no set of facts which would support his claim and entitle him to relief. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should "accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the [petition] in a light most favorable to the [petitioner]." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court "need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts" nor "accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on only the [petition's] allegations and those documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. See Simons v. Montgomery Cty. Police Officers, 762 F.2d 30, 31 (4th Cir. 1985). If on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         DISCUSSION

         "A habeas corpus petition is moot when it no longer presents a case or controversy under Article III, § 2, of the Constitution." Aragon v. Shanks, 144 F.3d 690, 691 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 7 (1998)). A case becomes moot when the issues presented are no longer live, or when the parties lack a cognizable interest in the outcome. Nakell v. Att'y Gen. of N.C. , 15 F.3d 319, 322 (4th Cir.1994); Lane v. Williams, 455 U.S. 624, 631 (1982) (holding that habeas petitions were moot after prisoners' sentences expired and where prisoners had attacked only their sentences). Federal courts are "without power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them." Incumaa v. Ozmint, 504 F.3d 281, 286 (4th Cir. 2007) (citing DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 316 (1974) (per curiam)).

         It is well-settled that an individual must be "in custody" under the conviction or sentence under attack in order to be eligible for federal habeas corpus relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c). The "in custody" requirement must be satisfied at the time the petition is filed with the federal district court. Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490-91 (1989). It is undisputed that Petitioner was in custody when he filed this Petition. However, the issue is whether Petitioner's release moots his Petition because it no longer presents a case or controversy under Article III, § 2, of the Constitution. "This case-or-controversy requirement subsists through all stages of federal judicial proceedings, trial and appellate.... The parties must continue to have a personal stake in the outcome' of the lawsuit." Lewis v. Cont'l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477-478 (1990).

         For a habeas petition to present a live case and controversy after a petitioner has been released from custody, the petitioner must continue to suffer actual collateral consequences from his conviction or deportation. Abdala v. I.N.S., 488 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2007). In other words, "there must be some remaining collateral consequence' that may be redressed by success on the petition." Id. "The test for mootness is whether the relief sought would, if granted, make a difference to ...


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