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Strouse v. Shartle

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 19, 2017

James Brandon Strouse, Petitioner,
v.
J.T. Shartle, Respondent.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ERIC J. MARKOVICH JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Doc. 34) filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 by James Brandon Strouse (“Petitioner”), who is confined in the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona (“USP-Tucson”).

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that the proper respondent in an action for habeas corpus is the Petitioner's custodian. See 28 U.S.C. § 2242; Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 435-36 (2004). When Petitioner filed his first petition under § 2241, he named “Joe Santana, DSCC” and “John Doe, Acting Director of Bureau of Prisons” as the respondents. (Doc. 3). When Petitioner filed his amended petition (Doc. 34), he properly named the Warden of USP-Tucson, J. T. Shartle, as the respondent. Accordingly, the Court takes judicial notice that the case caption in this matter should be amended to terminate “Joe Santana” and “John Doe” as respondents.

         Pursuant to Rules 72.1 and 72.2 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure, this matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Markovich for a Report and Recommendation. For the reasons discussed below, it is recommended that the District Court dismiss the petition.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 9, 2009, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas sentenced Petitioner to a 120-month sentence for Possession of Sexually Explicit Visual Depictions of Minors in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). (Doc. 42 Ex. A at ¶ 3). On April 26, 2011, Petitioner was sentenced to a 46-month consecutive sentence for Retaliatory Threats Against a Government Official, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115, and Mailing Threatening Communications, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876. Id. Petitioner's aggregate 166-month sentence will expire on July 25, 2021 (assuming he receives good time credits). Id. at ¶¶ 3-4.

         Petitioner arrived at USP-Tucson on April 25, 2014. Id. at ¶ 5. Petitioner asserts that he was under a 2-year management variable from April 1, 2014 to April 1, 2016. (Doc. 34 at 2). Petitioner had a custody classification review on April 1, 2016. (Doc. 42 at 6; Ex. A ¶ 16). Petitioner's custody classification score was calculated at 12 points, which would place him at a low-security institution. Id. BOP staff prepared a transfer request to determine whether it was appropriate to transfer Petitioner to a lower security institution. Id. This request was approved by the Complex Warden and sent to the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (“DSCC”) for review. Id. The DSCC Administrator denied the transfer and determined that a transfer was not warranted due to Petitioner's Public Safety Factors of Sex Offender and Threats to Government Officials. Id.

         Petitioner filed the instant § 2241 petition on July 25, 2016 raising three grounds for relief. (Doc. 34). In Ground One, Petitioner alleges that the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) violated his due process rights under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) by placing a second Management Variable on him “without reason, ” which affects his custody classification. In Ground Two, Petitioner claims that the BOP violated his due process rights by sanctioning him for possession of Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) materials, and alleges that this sanctioning affects his transfer to a lower custody prison. Petitioner further states that his due process rights were violated because he already resolved Incident Report (“IR”) No. 2843344 in court. (This IR charged Petitioner with violating Code 305, Possession of Anything Not Authorized (Doc. 42 Ex. A ¶ 21)). Finally, in Ground Three, Petitioner claims that the BOP unconstitutionally violated his due process rights under the First Amendment when they intercepted an email from his father with Senator John McCain's address, denying him access to public officials and the courts. Petitioner further states that BOP staff denied him access to pens and legal magazines, and that as a result, his appeal was dismissed by the Fourth Circuit for failure to prosecute. In each ground for relief, Petitioner also alleges that BOP staff are impeding his access to the courts by refusing to process his administrative remedies.

         On August 23, 2016, the District Court ordered Respondent to answer Grounds One and Two of the Petition “because, arguably, Petitioner could be challenging the execution of his sentence.” (Doc. 33 at 3). The District Court noted that “[i]n Ground Three, Petitioner does not challenge the legality of his sentence or confinement . . . or seek speedier release from custody.” Id. at 4. The District Court concluded that Petitioner's claims regarding interception of email and access to legal materials are properly brought in a Bivens civil rights complaint and not a § 2241 petition. Id.

         As discussed below, the undersigned concludes that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Petitioner's remaining claims made in his § 2241 petition.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “Federal courts are always ‘under an independent obligation to examine their own jurisdiction, ' . . . and a federal court may not entertain an action over which it has no jurisdiction.” Hernandez v. Campbell, 204 F.3d 861, 865 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990), holding modified by City of Littleton, Colo. v. Z.J. Gifts D-4, L.L.C., 541 U.S. 774 (2004)). “Generally, motions to contest the legality of a sentence must be filed under § 2255 in the sentencing court, while petitions that challenge the manner, location, or conditions of a sentence's execution must be brought pursuant to § 2241 in the custodial court.” Id. at 864. Therefore, a proper characterization of the petition is necessary to a determination of jurisdiction. Id.

         The Ninth Circuit has made clear that jurisdiction over a petition filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 exists in a federal prison setting in three circumstances: (1) when a prisoner “claims that he has been denied good time credits without due process”; (2) when a prisoner claims “that he has been subjected to greater restrictions of his liberty, such as disciplinary segregation, without due process”; and (3) when a prisoner “seeks expungement of a disciplinary finding from his record if expungement is likely to accelerate the prisoner's eligibility for parole.” Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.3d 1267, 1269 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled on other grounds by Nettles v. Grounds, 830 F.3d 922 (9th Cir. 2016). Thus, a prisoner may only utilize a § 2241 petition when he is challenging the fact or duration of his custody with the traditional remedy being immediate or sooner release from custody. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973).

         Here, Petitioner has not raised claims challenging the fact or duration of his confinement. Accordingly, the Petition ...


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