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Ivan v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

July 18, 2016

LEON IVAN, Petitioner,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, [1]Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Ivan Leon, [2] an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Lee County, Virginia (USP Lee), filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2241 motion, challenging a disciplinary decision in which a Discipline Hearing Officer (DHO) required Leon to forfeit 360 days of non-vested good-conduct time and pay a monetary fine. As part of his petition, Leon argues that the “aggressive” sanctions were imposed as a result of discriminatory practices based on his religion and in violation of his right to equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. Because the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has since modified the sanction to exclude the forfeiture of non-vested good-conduct time, the court finds that Leon’s action under § 2241 is now moot and, therefore, will grant respondent’s motion to dismiss. In addition, the court denies relief for any standalone equal-protection violation or challenge to any monetary fine imposed by the BOP, as § 2241 does not permit a remedy for either.

         I.

         On February 10, 2014, while at the Federal Correctional Institution in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, Leon was charged with fighting a fellow inmate and possessing a weapon. (Pet. 2, Dkt. No. 1.) After a disciplinary hearing, the DHO sanctioned Leon with a total of 60 days of segregation, disallowance of 68 days of good-conduct time, loss of phone and visitation privileges for 8 months, forfeiture of 360 days of non-vested good-conduct time, and a $100 fine. (Id.) Leon alleges that he timely filed appeals to the Administrative Remedy Coordinator and the Central Office of Administrative Remedy, both of which were denied. (Id. at 3.) He further contends that he has waited six months for a response to his latest appeal, but believes the agency will not change its position.[3] (Id. at 3-4.) In his petition, Leon challenges the forfeiture of the 360 days of non-vested good-conduct time as excessive and discriminatory, and asks the court to waive the $100 fine.[4]

         In response to Leon’s petition, respondent notes that the “sanction of 360 days loss of forfeited non-vested good conduct time . . . has been removed.” (Resp. 2, Dkt. No. 6.) To support this assertion, respondent provides a report from the prison’s SENTRY system, which contains information about inmates’ statuses, administrative remedies, and disciplinary actions. (Ex. 1, Dkt. No. 6-1 at 1.) While the fine and other punishments remain on the report, the non- vested good-conduct time does not appear on the list of current sanctions. (Id. at 6.) Accordingly, respondent asks the court to dismiss Leon’s petition as moot.[5]

         Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to actual cases and controversies. “[A] federal court has no authority ‘to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.’” Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) (quoting Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, 653 (1895)). “Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969). “[O]ne such circumstance mooting a claim arises when the claimant receives the relief he or she sought to obtain through the claim.” Friedman’s, Inc. v. Dunlap, 290 F.3d 191, 197 (4th Cir. 2002).

         Given that Leon has received the relief he seeks with respect to his loss of non-vested good-conduct time, the court must dismiss his claim seeking that relief as moot.

         II.

         Leon further argues that the BOP violated his constitutional right to equal protection. Unlike an action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), which allows federal inmates to bring suit against federal officers for constitutional violations, a habeas corpus proceeding under § 2241 challenges only the “fact or duration” of the prisoner’s confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973), overruled on other grounds by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 482 (1994). Typically, “equal protection claims are not cognizable in habeas proceedings, ” Owens v. Ziegler, No. 5:11-cv-0864, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124204, at *4 n.3 (S.D. W.Va. Aug. 9, 2012); however, “[c]hallenging the execution of [a] sentence based on a perceived constitutional violation does not remove [the] claim from § 2241.” United States v. Little, 392 F.3d 671, 679 (4th Cir. 2004). Thus, a court may consider an equal-protection violation during a habeas proceeding, but only as it relates to the fact or duration of confinement.

         The court interprets Leon’s equal-protection argument as evidence in support of his challenge to the duration of his confinement, rather than as a standalone claim.[6] But regardless of the reason why the prison initially sanctioned him with the forfeiture of the 360 days of non-vested good-conduct time, it is undisputed that the BOP has already reinstated that time. Thus, because he has already received the remedy he seeks, the court will dismiss this claim as moot.

         III.

         Lastly, Leon also challenges the fine imposed by the prison as part of his sanction. In so doing, he does not challenge the fact or duration of his confinement under § 2241. As a result, this claim is not properly brought as part of Leon’s § 2241 petition. Preiser, 411 U.S. at 500.

         IV.

         For the reasons stated above, the court will grant respondent’s motion and dismiss Leon’s petition. As noted in footnote 4, though, Leon may file an amended petition if he also sought to challenge in his petition the sanction ...


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