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Stefanski v. Joyner

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

October 22, 2018

Kenneth Edward Stefanski, #42057-039, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Joyner, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Kenneth Edward Stefanski (“Petitioner”), proceeding pro se, brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. [Doc. 1.] Petitioner, an inmate in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and presently incarcerated at FCI Estill, in Estill, South Carolina, seeks injunctive relief, challenging certain conditions of his confinement. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C., the undersigned is authorized to review such petitions for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district judge. For the reasons below, the Petition is subject to summary dismissal.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner filed this writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, seeking injunctive relief to allow Petitioner to purchase certain items to be used in his cell for religious purposes. [Doc. 1 at 8.] Petitioner contends he is being denied basic religious necessities for his religious practices, including a medallion, meditation rugs, and LED candles. [Id. at 2.] Petitioner further contends that the head chaplain, Mustapha Kulungu, has denied Petitioner's request to practice his own religion (the “Three Folds of Linear Dimensions”) because it is not a bona fide religion. [Id. at 3.] According to Petitioner, Chaplain Kulungu stated Petitioner could not practice his beliefs as an individual practitioner and must instead pick a recognized religion that is not a “personal concoction.” [Id.] Thus, Petitioner contends, the BOP is violating Petitioner's right to freedom of religion. [Id. at 4.] Petitioner asserts that as a result of the BOP's violation of his religious freedom, his sentence is being carried out unlawfully. [Id. at 6-7.] According to Petitioner, his religious practices do not pose any threat to prison security, and he should thus be allowed to purchase the same religious materials as other inmates practicing other religions. [Id. at 7.] Based on all these allegations, Petitioner claims he is entitled to injunctive relief requiring the BOP to allow Petitioner to purchase or be given religious materials to include meditation rugs, a medallion, and 3 LED candles to use in his cell. [Id. at 8.]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c) DSC, the undersigned is authorized to review such petitions for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the district court. This Court is charged with screening Petitioner's lawsuit to determine if “it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the U.S. District Courts (2012); see also Rule 1(b) Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the U.S. District Courts (2012) (a district court may apply these rules to a habeas corpus petition not filed pursuant to § 2254). As a pro se litigant, Petitioner's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the Petition in this case is subject to summary dismissal. The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         DISCUSSION

         Petitioner seeks injunctive relief related to the exercise of his religion, and he requests a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. However, despite asserting his claims pursuant to § 2241 and claiming the constitutional violations make the execution of his sentence unlawful, Petitioner's allegations all relate to the conditions of his confinement, which are not cognizable in a habeas petition.

         District courts are authorized to grant writs of habeas corpus “within their respective jurisdictions.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a). A § 2241 habeas action generally challenges the execution or implementation of a federal prisoner's sentence, such as the BOP's administration of the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program, computation of sentence, prison disciplinary actions, and prison transfers. See Fontanez v. O'Brien, 807 F.3d 84, 87 (4th Cir. 2015); Lagos-M v. Warden of FCI Williamsburg, No. 0:08-cv-2913-HMH-PJG, 2009 WL 1749772, at *2 (D.S.C. June 22, 2009). Further, “it is well established that defendants convicted in federal court are obliged to seek habeas relief from their convictions and sentences through § 2255.” Rice v. Rivera, 617 F.3d 802, 807 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing In re Vial, 115 F.3d 1192, 1194 (4th Cir. 1997) (en banc)).

         In this case, Petitioner is not challenging the legality or duration of his custody. Further, he is not entitled to any relief under § 2241 “because he is not challenging the execution of his sentence, such as the administration of parole, sentence computation by prison officials, or prison disciplinary actions.” Lagos-M, 2009 WL 1749772, at *2 (citing Manigault v. Lamanna, No. 8:06-cv-047-JFA-BHH, 2006 WL 1328780, at *1 (D.S.C. May 11, 2006). Instead, Petitioner seeks to challenge the conditions of his confinement, which he must do in an action filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).[*] See, e.g., Hawkins v. Perdue, No. 1:13-cv-214, 2014 WL 1962216, at *2 (N.D. W.Va. May 15, 2014) (explaining that challenges to the conditions of confinement are not cognizable under § 2241, but instead must be pursued through a Bivens action or a claim under the APA). “A § 2241 petition is appropriate whenever an inmate challenges the fact or length of his confinement, or an administrative order regarding his good-behavior credits. It is well-established, however, that it may not be used to challenge the inmate's conditions of confinement.” Warman v. Philips, No. 1:08-cv-217, 2009 WL 2705833, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. Aug. 25, 2009), aff'd, 353 Fed.Appx. 859 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499-500 (1973); Moran v. Soudalle, 218 F.3d 647, 649-52 (7th Cir. 2000)). Importantly, the Fourth Circuit has explained,

Section 2241 habeas petitions are appropriate when an inmate seeks to challenge “the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment.” See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). This Court has not directly addressed whether a § 2241 petition may also be used to challenge conditions of confinement or whether such challenges must be brought as civil rights actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or Bivens. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (providing civil remedy for deprivation of rights under color of law); Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971) (establishing the validity of actions for damages when a federal officer acting under the color of federal authority violates plaintiff's constitutional rights). Nonetheless, courts 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. See Braddy v. Wilson, 580 Fed.Appx. 172, 173 (4th Cir. 2014) (deciding that when petitioner alleged constitutional violations “regarding only the conditions of his confinement” not the fact or duration of his sentence, his claims were properly brought under Bivens); Glaus v. Anderson, 408 F.3d 382, 388 (7th Cir. 2005) (holding that filing a § 2241 challenge to a condition of confinement was improper). But see Aamer v. Obama, 742 F.3d 1023, 1032 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (“[O]ne in custody may challenge the conditions of his confinement in a [§ 2241] petition . . . .”).

Rodriguez v. Ratledge, 715 Fed.Appx. 261, 265-66 (4th Cir. 2017) (noting that transfer from one prison to another is not a cognizable § 2241 claim because such a claim challenges the conditions of an inmate's confinement, not its fact or duration).

         The instant action is properly characterized as a civil suit for an injunction against federal officials for a constitutional violation and fails to allege a valid factual basis for a § 2241 petition because Petitioner complains about prison conditions. Pinson, 553 Fed.Appx. at 854 (affirming district court order dismissing a § 2241 petition, noting the case was a challenge to prison conditions, and not a challenge to the execution of his sentence). Thus, Petitioner's claims concerning conditions at FCI Estill related to his religious practices are subject to dismissal for failure to state a cognizable claim and without prejudice to Petitioner's right to file a Bivens action relating to his claims. Meeks v. Mitchell, No. 6:10-cv-1346-RMG-KFM, 2010 WL 4340442, at *3 (D.S.C. Aug. 30, 2010), Report and Recommendation adopted by 2010 WL 4320505 (D.S.C. Oct. 26, 2010), aff'd, 430 Fed.Appx. 219 (4th Cir. 2011) (dismissing habeas petition without prejude, finding the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under § 2241 to consider petitioner's prison-condition claims). Simply put, Petitioner has failed to state a cognizable habeas claim pursuant to § 2241, and the Petition is therefore subject to summary dismissal.

         RECO ...


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