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Washington v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

November 20, 2018

Burl Washington, Plaintiff,
Federal Bureau of Prisons; Hugh J. Hurwitz; J. A. Keller; Bonita S. Mosley; Nanette Barnes; Hector Joyner; Maureen Cruz; B. J. Meeks; Rex Blocker; Donardo Fonte; Tammara Bryan; Richard Lepiane; David Garcia; Eve Ulmer; Estate of Victor Loranth; David Massa, and Anthony Harvey, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Burl Washington (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se at the time, brought this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983. (ECF. No. 1.) By way of Court Order, Plaintiff was appointed counsel on April 11, 2017, and he has received legal representation since that time. (See ECF No. 43.) In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina, this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West for pretrial handling. The matter is now before this Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) issued by the Magistrate Judge on August 6, 2018. (ECF No. 148.) In her Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court grant Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 126), and direct the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to retain Plaintiff at his current location, FCI-Butner, until the conclusion of this case. (See ECF No. 148 at 19.) The Magistrate Judge further recommends that the Court leave it to BOP's medical judgment as to how to manage Plaintiff's medical care in general, but direct BOP to follow the directions of Plaintiff's outside physicians as to medication administration and timing, and as to follow-up care as closely as reasonably feasible. (Id.) The Report sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law, and the Court incorporates them here, summarizing below only in relevant part.[1]


         Plaintiff is a legally blind federal inmate, previously housed at FCI-Williamsburg, FCI-Estill, and FCI-Edgefield, all within the geographical coverage of this Court. Plaintiff suffers from primary open-angle glaucoma (“POAG”) and related intraocular pressure (“IOP”). He is currently housed at FCI-Butner, in Butner, North Carolina. From December 2016 through May 2018, Plaintiff was transferred to various Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) facilities nine times. Plaintiff asserts that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment due to BOP's “inconsistent medical care” and failure to provide him with the medical and personal assistance that he needs because of his blindness. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the frequent transfers to which he has been subjected deprive him of the ability to establish a therapeutic relationship with an ophthalmologist and other needed specialists, and subject him to irreparable harm.

         In her Report, dated August 6, 2018, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court grant Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (See ECF No. 148.) Defendants filed objections to the Report on August 20, 2018. (ECF No. 155.) Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on the same day. (ECF No. 156.) On September 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed a reply in opposition to Defendants' objections. (ECF No. 164.) This matter is ripe for adjudication and the Court now issues the following ruling.


         Standard of Review

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of any portion of the Report of the Magistrate Judge to which a specific objection is made. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation made by the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). In the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must “only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Preliminary Injunction

         “[P]reliminary injunctions are extraordinary remedies involving the exercise of very far-reaching power to be granted only sparingly and in limited circumstances.” MicroStrategy Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 245 F.3d 335, 339 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation and quotation marks omitted). “A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008) (citation omitted). The primary purpose of injunctive relief is to preserve the status quo pending a resolution on the merits. Injunctive relief which changes the status quo pending trial is limited to cases where “the exigencies of the situation demand such relief.” Wetzel v. Edwards, 635 F.2d 283, 286 (4th Cir. 1980). “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.” Winter, 555 U.S. at 24 (citing Munaf v. Geren, 553 U.S. 674, 689-90 (2008)). “In each case, ‘courts must balance the competing claims of injury and consider the effect on each party of granting or withholding the requested relief.'” Id. (quoting Amoco Prod. Co. v. Vill. of Gambell, AK, 480 U.S. 531, 542 (1987)). The court must pay particular regard for the public consequences of employing the extraordinary remedy of injunction. Id.; see also The Real Truth About Obama, Inc. v. F.E.C., 607 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2010) (reinstating court's previous discussion of Winter's preliminary injunction standards following remand from the United States Supreme Court).


         The Magistrate Judge first concluded that the Court has jurisdiction over BOP for injunctive relief, finding overbroad Defendants' assertion that BOP's discretion concerning where Plaintiff will be housed precludes jurisdiction in this Court. (ECF No. 148 at 5-7.) Magistrate Judge West stated, “This court has jurisdiction to consider whether the exercise of such discretion comports with constitutional standards.” (Id. at 6.)

         Defendants object to this conclusion, arguing that BOP's discretion to designate a federal prisoner's place of imprisonment is exempt from challenge under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 702. (See ECF No. 155 at 2-4.) Specifically, Defendants argue that waiver of sovereign immunity under section 702 of the APA does not apply where “agency action is committed to agency discretion, ” see 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(2), and the designation of a federal prisoner's place of imprisonment is committed to the discretion of BOP pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b). (ECF No. 155 at 3.) Defendants further assert that the Court lacks authority to review BOP's discretionary decisions in providing medical care and implementing the recommendations of Plaintiff's outside specialist physicians in a correctional setting. (Id. at 4.)

         The Court disagrees and finds that Magistrate Judge West was correct to conclude that the Court has jurisdiction over BOP to issue injunctive relief under the circumstances of this case. While it is true that BOP maintains discretion in deciding where to house federal inmates and what medical care they should receive (a point which Plaintiff freely concedes (see ECF No. 164 at 3)), that discretion is not unbridled, in the sense that specific exercise of that discretion is still subject to review for compliance with federal law, here, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In other words, even within categories of decision-making normally committed to agency discretion, there is a line where the scope of discretion stops and violations of constitutional rights begin. Accordingly, the Court joins other courts in concluding that it has the authority to remedy unconstitutional conduct, even when that authority infringes upon BOP's general discretion over inmate housing and medical treatment. See, e.g., Royer v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 933 F.Supp.2d 170, 180-82 (D.D.C. 2013) (holding that “Congress has not explicitly precluded review of constitutional claims” arising from BOP's housing determinations, and stating that review of such claims does not entail “reviewing the merits of BOP's decision as to where [the inmate] is housed, but [rather] the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement it places on him regardless of where he is housed” (emphasis in original)); see also Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592, 601 (1988) (holding that § 102(c) of the National Security Act precluded judicial review of the CIA Director's employment termination decisions, but did not preclude review of constitutional challenges based on those same termination decisions).

         Second, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff's claims are not moot because, “while it appears that Plaintiff is no longer being subjected to the same conditions of confinement that he was experiencing when he filed the Complaint, it also appears that the negative aspects of his medical condition are on-going.” (ECF No. 148 at 7.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge West found that the unique circumstances presented by Plaintiff's ocular condition, in combination with BOP's repetitive relocation of Plaintiff after short periods of time at numerous confinement facilities, constitute an exceptional situation where the actions challenged in Plaintiff's injunctive relief claim are too short in duration to be fully litigated prior to cessation, and invoke a reasonable expectation that Plaintiff will be subject to the same actions again. (Id. at 7-9.) See Incumaa v. Ozmint, 507 F.3d 281, 289 (4th Cir. 2007) (holding that an injunctive-relief claim is not moot if the plaintiff can show “(1) the challenged action is in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to cessation or expiration, and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again” (citation and quotation marks ommitted)). In other words, the constitutional violations of which Plaintiff complains are “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” See id.

         Defendants object to this conclusion, arguing that several of the Magistrate Judge's statements are too speculative, namely: “Plaintiff's evidence shows that such an ‘exceptional situation' is present because there is a ‘reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again.'” (ECF No. 148 at 8 (quoting Incumaa, 507 F.3d at 289)); “Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that continuing transfers from prison to prison could prevent him from obtaining review of the conditions of which he complains.” (ECF No. 148 at 9). Defendants assert that several of the locations among Plaintiff's various transfers prior to this arrival at FCI-Butner were simply temporary holdover facilities “where inmates are housed while in transit to their permanent housing locations.” (ECF No. 155 at 5.) Defendants argue that these holdover facilities should not be considered “transfer locations” because Plaintiff was never assigned to these institutions permanently. (Id.) Defendants go on to explain various aspects of the facilities at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina (“FCC Butner”), and indicate that Defendants entered a “Medical Hold-Do Not Transfer” order on Plaintiff's inmate profile in order to allow Plaintiff to receive the regular chronic care necessary to address his ocular conditions. (Id. at 5-6.)

         The Court overrules Defendants' objections in this regard, and finds that the Magistrate Judge was correct to conclude that the conditions of which Plaintiff complains are capable of repetition and are of a nature as to evade review if repeated. Notably, Defendants placed the “Medical Hold-Do Not Transfer” order on Plaintiff's inmate profile after Magistrate Judge West issued her Report, but before they filed their objections. (See ECF No. 155-1 (showing medical hold applied to Plaintiff's profile as of August 14, 2018); ECF No. 155 (reflecting a filing date of August 20, 2018).) There is no basis to conclude that this “medical hold” status will remain for any specific period of time, and no evidence to show that Defendants could not simply reclassify Plaintiff's care level and transfer him away from BOP's medical complex on a whim.[2] Moreover, it is immaterial that the numerous institutions where Plaintiff was housed prior to FCI-Butner were “temporary holdover facilities, ” to which Plaintiff was never assigned permanently. The inescapable fact is that Plaintiff was transferred over and over again, during a sustained period of time in which he was ...

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