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Ybarra v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 17, 2015

Robert Ybarra, Plaintiff,
Federal Bureau of Prisons, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Ybarra brought this civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706 (Doc. 62). He sues six Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials: (1) Cherry Phillips, Unit Manager at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI)-Phoenix; (2) Yolanda Fortune, Counselor at FCI-Phoenix; (3) K. Mathesson, Case Manager at FCI-Phoenix; (4) T. Simmons, Counselor at FCI-Phoenix; (5) Robert E. McFadden, BOP Western Regional Director; and (6) Harrell Watts, BOP Administrator ( id. ). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Fifth Amendment due-process rights when they unlawfully seized funds from his inmate account ( id. at 5). Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 66).[1]

The Court will grant the motion, dismiss Plaintiff's APA and Bivens claims, and terminate the action.

I. Background

A. Applicable BOP Policy and Federal Statute

Plaintiff's claim concerns the seizure of funds pursuant to the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) (Doc. 62). In 1987, the BOP implemented the IFRP, a "voluntary" program whereby inmates' in-prison income is applied to their financial obligations, including fines, court costs, and restitution. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 545.10-545.11. Although the program is voluntary, failure to participate results in numerous deleterious effects, e.g., loss of furlough, eligibility for job assignments, performance pay, housing priority, access to community-based programs, etc. See 28 C.F.R. § 545.11(d).

The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA) requires that the district court, in an order of restitution, award each victim the full amount of their loss, regardless of the defendant's economic circumstances. 18 U.S.C. § 3664(f)(1)(A). Under the Act, once the amount of restitution owed to each victim is determined, "the court shall, pursuant to section 3572, specify in the restitution order the manner in which, and the schedule according to which, the restitution is to be paid...." 18 U.S.C. § 3664(f)(2). The MVRA charges the district court with setting the terms of the restitution payments and that duty cannot be delegated. United States v. Gunning, 401 F.3d 1145, 1149-50 (9th Cir. 2005) (" Gunning II ") (citing United States v. Gunning, 339 F.3d 948, 949 (9th Cir. 2003) (" Gunning I ")). Although the MVRA prohibits courts from delegating the responsibility to set restitution payment schedules, nothing in the statute or case law limits the operation of an independent program like the IFRP, which helps inmates develop financial plans and encourages them to voluntarily make restitution payments above what is mandated in their sentencing orders. United States v. Lemoine, 546 F.3d 1042, 1048-49 (9th Cir. 2008).

B. Plaintiff's Participation in the IFRP

In November 2007, Plaintiff was transferred to FCI-Phoenix (Doc. 62 at 5). In May 2008, he was hired by the Federal Prison Industries, referred to as UNICOR ( id. ). Around that time, Plaintiff was told that he must agree to participate in the IFRP or suffer consequences, which included losing his UNICOR job ( id. ). He therefore signed an IFRP contract, which required 50% of his wages to be paid towards restitution through the IFRP ( id. ).

Plaintiff filed an administrative remedy challenging the IFRP withdrawals on the ground that his sentencing order did not set the amount and schedule for restitution payments ( id. at 5-6). His administrative remedy was denied at every level, and Watts denied his final Central Office appeal on July 15, 2009 ( id. at 6).

C. Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

On July 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, arguing that the BOP wrongfully collected restitution payments from him under the IFRP without a lawful sentencing order as required by the MVRA. CV 09-1447-PHX-DGC (JRI), Doc. 1. On December 21, 2010, the Court granted the Petition, finding that the restitution order issued by the sentencing court was an invalid delegation to the BOP and ordered the BOP to stop collecting restitution payments from Plaintiff. Id., Doc. 15 at 3-4. In its Order, the Court denied Plaintiff's request that the BOP return the amounts already collected from him because he failed to present any argument or legal authority to support his request. Id. at 4. According to Defendants, the amounts collected from Plaintiff between May 2008 and December 2010 totaled $3, 178.75 (Doc. 65, Defs.' Statement of Facts (DSOF) ¶¶ 10, 12).

Plaintiff then filed a motion for an order to show cause why the respondent should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the December 21, 2010 Order. CV 09-1447-PHX-DGC (JRI), Doc. 17. Plaintiff stated that after the Court granted his Petition, the BOP placed him on IFRP refusal status and sanctioned him by removing him from his UNICOR job. Id. Plaintiff was told that if he wanted to be removed from IFRP refusal status, he had to enter another contract to agree to pay restitution under the IFRP. Id. He therefore signed a new contract in January 2011 and returned to his UNICOR job.[2] Id.

The Court denied Plaintiff's motion for an order to show cause, finding that nothing in its December 21, 2010 Order precluded BOP from placing Plaintiff on refusal status and that federal statutes permitted the BOP to implement a financial plan and impose penalties ...

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