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Croteau v. Joyner

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

August 28, 2018

HECTOR JOYNER, Warden of FCI Estill, Respondent.



         Petitioner Ronald Francis Croteau (“Petitioner” or “Croteau”) filed this habeas action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on or about March 21, 2018, while incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, South Carolina. (Dkt. No. 1.) Petitioner challenges the delay of his entry into a “Half Way House” and the failure to place him in the Federal Location Monitoring (“FLM”) Program Home Confinement Supervision (“Home Confinement”). (See Dkt. No. 1 at 2.) Based on Petitioner's submissions, it appears that his Residential Reentry Center (“RCC”) date of April 12, 2018, was changed to October 9, 2018, and he was not given the opportunity to be placed in Home Confinement on his eligible date of July 26, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2; Dkt. No. 1-1 at 6-9.) The petition requests that the Court order the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to immediately release him to RRC placement, or, in the alternative, to Home Confinement.[1] On August 28, 2018, Petitioner notified the Clerk of Court via telephone that his address has changed to Dismas Charities in Orlando, Florida. Additionally, information on the Federal Bureau of Prison's website establishes that Petitioner has been transferred to an RRC facility in Orlando, Florida, with a release date of January 11, 2019.

         On May 29, 2018, Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss, (Dkt. No. 17), to which Petitioner responded on or about June 15, 2018 (Dkt. No. 23). Petitioner has also filed several motions: (1) Motion to Amend the Petition on May 29, 2018 (Dkt. No. 16); (2) Motion to Supplement the Record on May 30, 2018 (Dkt. No. 20); (3) Motion to Appoint Standby Counsel on June 15, 2018 (Dkt. No. 22); (4) Motion to Vacate Void Judgment on July 11, 2018 (Dkt. No. 26); (5) Motion for Hearing on July 18, 2018 (Dkt. No. 27); (6) Motion for Default Judgment on August 1, 2018 (Dkt. No. 29); (7) Motion to Stay pending address change on August 9, 2018 (Dkt. No. 30); and (8) Motion to Stay on August 10, 2018 (Dkt. No. 31).

         Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review the instant petition for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned recommends dismissing the § 2241 petition based on Petitioner's transfer to a RCC facility, thereby rendering the petition moot. In the alternative, the undersigned recommends granting Respondent's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 17.) The undersigned further recommends denying Petitioner's motions as moot. (Dkt. Nos. 16; 20; 22; 26; 27; 29; 30; 31.)


         A. Pro Se Habeas Review

         Pro se pleadings are given liberal construction and are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). However, “[t]he ‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view . . . pro se filings does not transform the court into an advocate. Only those questions which are squarely presented to a court may properly be addressed.” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., City of Baltimore, 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). Giving “liberal construction” does not mean that the Court can ignore a prisoner's clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. “Principles requiring generous construction of pro se complaints . . . [do] not require . . . courts to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         Respondent seeks dismissal under Rule 21(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. No. 17 at 1.) Under Rule 12(b)(1), the petitioner bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction is appropriate when challenged by respondents. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). When the Rule 12(b)(1) motion attacks the complaint as failing to state facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction may be based, the facts in the complaint are assumed to be true and the petitioner is afforded the same protections he or she would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219. The Rule 12(b)(1) motion may attack alternatively the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, apart from the complaint. Id. This type of attack is used when a court's limited jurisdiction precludes hearing the case brought. Materson v. Stokes, 166 F.R.D. 368, 371 (E.D. Va. 1996) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. And Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3rd Cir. 1977)); Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219. Because the court's power to hear the case is at issue in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court is free to weigh the evidence to determine the existence of jurisdiction. Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219.


         A. Mootness

         Petitioner does not challenge the validity of his conviction. He challenges only the delay of his entry into a “Half Way House” and the failure to place him in Home Confinement. (See Dkt. Nos. 1 at 2, 6; 1-1 at 6-9.) As relief, Petitioner requests that the Court order the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to immediately release him to RRC placement, or, in the alternative, to Home Confinement. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) But the Federal Bureau of Prison's website establishes that during the pendency of this action, Petitioner was placed in a RCC and will be released on January 11, 2019.[2] Petitioner's placement in a RCC has been further confirmed by Petitioner's notification of his change in address to Dismas Charities, an organization that operates state and federal residential re-entry centers.[3] Thus, the Court can no longer provide Petitioner the relief he seeks. Williams, 716 F.3d at 809.

         Under Article III of the Constitution, a federal court may adjudicate “only actual, ongoing cases or controversies.” Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477, 110 S.Ct. 1249, 108 L.Ed.2d 400 (1990). The case or controversy requirement continues through all stages of federal judicial proceedings, and requires that parties have a personal stake in the outcome. Lewis, 494 U.S. at 477-478, 110 S.Ct. 1249, 108 L.Ed.2d 400. “This means that, throughout the litigation, the plaintiff ‘must have suffered, or be threatened with, an actual injury traceable to the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.'” Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 7, 118 S.Ct. 978, 140 L.Ed.2d 43 (1998) (quoting Lewis, 494 U.S. at 477, 110 S.Ct. 1249, 108 L.Ed.2d 400). A federal court lacks the power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants before it. Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969) (“[A] claim is moot when the issues presented are no longer ‘live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.”). “A change in factual circumstances can moot a case on appeal, such as when the plaintiff receives the relief sought in his or her claim, [] or when an event occurs that makes it impossible for the court to grant any effectual relief to the plaintiff.” Williams v. Ozmint, 716 F.3d 801, 809 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 763 (4th Cir. 2011); Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12, 113 S.Ct. 447, 121 L.Ed.2d 313 (1992)).

         In Leonard v. Hammond, the Fourth Circuit noted that there are two exceptions to the mootness doctrine: (1) the “collateral consequences” exception; and (2) the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception. 804 F.2d 838, 842 (4th Cir. 1986). Under the collateral consequences exception, a habeas claim is not moot where a conviction results in collateral consequences that survive the sentence. Id. “Where the criminal conviction, for example, results in the continued denial of important civil rights, such as the right-to-vote or the right to be considered for jury duty, the claim for habeas relief will remain a live controversy even after the prisoner has been released from custody. Similarly, where the criminal conviction may result in an enhanced sentence should the petitioner later be convicted of another crime, h[is] stake in habeas relief permits the court to exercise its judicial function long after [ ]he has been freed.” Broughton v. State of N.C., 717 F.2d 147, 148-149 (4th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). Under the capable of repetition, yet evading review exception, a conviction is not moot where two elements are met: “(1) the challenged action [is] in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there [is] a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again.” Leonard, 804 F.2d at 842 (quoting Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149, 96 S.Ct. 347, 46 L.Ed.2d 350 (1975)) (alterations in original).

         Because the Court can no longer provide Petitioner the relief he seeks, Williams, 716 F.3d at 809, and there is no basis to find that either exception to the mootness doctrine applies, Leonard, 804 F.2d at 842, the undersigned recommends that Petitioner's habeas claims be dismissed as moot.[4] See, e.g., McKinney-Bey v. Hawk-Sawyer, No. 03-6455, 69 Fed.Appx. 113 (4th Cir. May 29, 2003) (unpublished per curiam decision) (affirming dismissal of § 2241 petition as moot, where petitioner sought immediate transfer from prison to half-way house, and petitioner received transfer prior to consideration by Court of Appeals); see also Walker v. Sanders, No. 09-56380, 2010 WL 2640358 (9th Cir. July 1, 2010) (affirming district court's dismissal of § 2241 petition as moot, where petition challenged BOP's determination concerning RRC placement and sought immediate transfer to an RRC, and petitioner was placed at an RRC during pendency of the proceeding); Laor v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 340 Fed.Appx. 771 (3rd Cir. Aug. 19, 2009) (holding that federal prisoner's release to RRC rendered moot § 2241 petition challenging BOP's pre-release custody policies and seeking placement in pre-release custody; prisoner demonstrated no concrete and continuing injury or collateral consequence that remained after placement in an RRC); Miller v. Whitehead, 527 F.3d 752, 756 (8th Cir. 2008) (dismissing § 2241 appeal as moot because inmates had received the requested relief of placement in an RRC); Hildreth, 2011 WL 5117423, at *5 (finding federal prisoner's placement at a RRC rendered moot § 2241 petition, where petition challenged BOP's determination concerning RRC placement).

         In the event the District Court prefers not to adopt a recommendation based on sua sponte review, the undersigned proceeds to address Respondent's Motion to Dismiss.

         B. Exhaustion

         In his Motion to Dismiss, Respondent first asserts the petition should be dismissed “because Petitioner has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.” (Dkt. No. 17 at 12.) Petitioner, however, asserts that he exhausted his administrative remedies. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2-4, Dkt. No. 23 at 2.)

         Generally speaking, before a petitioner files a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petitioner must exhaust his or her administrative remedies prior to filing such petition. See McClung v. Shearin, 90 Fed.Appx. 444, 445 (4th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (unpublished) (“Federal prisoners must exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing § 2241 petitions.”) (citing Carmona v. United States Bureau of Prisons, 243 F.3d 629, 634 (2d Cir. 2001); Little v. Hopkins, 638 F.2d 953, 953-54 (6th Cir. 1981); see also Henderson v. Warden, Edgefield Satellite Prison Camp, No. C/A No. 209-cv-01599-RBH, 2009 WL 3317149, at *2 (D.S.C. Oct. 14, 2009) (“It is well settled that a federal prisoner is required to exhaust his administrative remedies within the BOP before filing an action pursuant to § 2241.”) (citing Pelissero v. Thompson, 170 F.3d 442, 445 (4th Cir. 1999); United States v. Strickland, No. 7:98-cr-82-5- F(1), 2004 WL 3414644, at *1 (E.D. N.C. Aug. 9, 2004), aff'd, 126 Fed.Appx. 116 (4th Cir. 2005)).

         The exhaustion of administrative remedies procedure required of a § 2241 petitioner is a wholly judicially created requirement. See Strickland, 2004 WL 3414644, at *1. Specifically, the three-tiered formal administrative grievance process, in addition to an informal resolution process, is set out at 28 C.F.R. §§ 542 et seq. An inmate may complain about any aspect of his confinement by first seeking to informally resolve the complaint at the institution level. 28 C.F.R. § 542.13. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, the inmate may file a formal written complaint to the warden within 20 calendar days after the date upon which the basis for the request occurred. 28 C.F.R. § 542.14. The matter will be investigated, and a written response provided to the inmate. Id. If dissatisfied with the response, the inmate may appeal to the Regional Director within 20 days of the date of the Warden's response. 28 C.F.R. § 542.15(a). If dissatisfied with the regional response, the inmate may appeal to the General Counsel within 30 days of the Regional Director's response. Id. Appeal to the General Counsel is the final level of agency review. Id.

         Exhaustion of administrative remedies may be excused when a petitioner establishes that exhaustion would be futile. Strickland, 2004 WL 3414644, at *1. Petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating futility. See Fuller v. Rich, 11 F.3d 61, 62 (5th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). Exhaustion is futile if there has been “a prior indication from the agency that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter or it has evidenced a strong position on the issue together with an unwillingness to reconsider.” ...

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