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Mora-Meraz v. Thomas

April 14, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon Ancer L. Haggerty, Senior District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:08-cv-00709-HA.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tallman, Circuit Judge


Argued and Submitted March 3, 2010-Portland, Oregon.

Before: Richard A. Paez, Richard C. Tallman, and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges.


Antonio Mora-Meraz ("Mora-Meraz"), a federal prisoner in the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons (the "Bureau"), appeals the denial of his § 2241 petition for habeas corpus relief. He was convicted of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, and was sentenced to 120 months of incarceration. In the district court, he challenged the Bureau's decision to deny him eligibility for admission to the Residential Drug Abuse Program (the "RDAP") at the Federal Correctional Institution at Sheridan, Oregon.

The RDAP is an intensive drug abuse program requiring a minimum of 500 hours of treatment apart from the general prison population. Program Statement 5330.10, Chapter 5.1.*fn1

The program utilizes both individual and group therapy sessions and lasts for six to twelve months. Id. Additionally, individuals enrolled in the RDAP are required to complete transitional courses in a community-based program once placed in a halfway house or on supervised release. Id. The RDAP is attractive to prisoners because, as an incentive to participate in substance abuse rehabilitation, it grants up to one year sentence credit to those who successfully complete it.

Before the district court, Mora-Meraz claimed that the Bureau's unwritten requirement that he present documented proof of substance use within twelve months of imprisonment was invalid because it was not subject to notice and comment as required by the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), and because the Bureau failed to articulate a rational explanation for the requirement. We hold that the Bureau did not run afoul of the APA's procedural requirements and affirm the district court's denial of Mora-Meraz's petition for habeas corpus.*fn2



Congress has outlined the terms of federal imprisonment in 18 U.S.C. § 3621. In 1990, the statute was amended to direct the Bureau to "make available appropriate substance abuse treatment for each prisoner the Bureau determines has a treatable condition of substance addiction or abuse." Pub. L. 101-647, § 2903, 104 Stat. 4789, 4913 (1990) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b)).

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 also partially amended 18 U.S.C. § 3621. Under this revision, eligible prisoners are able to participate in substance abuse programming and treatment available while incarcerated in federal institutions. Pub. L. No. 103-322, § 32001, 108 Stat. 1796, 1896-97 (1994) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b)(5), (e)). An inmate may be "eligible" for a program such as the RDAP if he is (1) "determined by the Bureau of Prisons to have a substance abuse problem," and (2) "willing to participate in a residential substance abuse treatment program." 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(5)(B). As "an incentive . . . to draw into treatment many inmates who may otherwise not be willing to undergo a difficult and painful treatment program," Congress allowed for a potential one-year sentence reduction upon successful completion of the RDAP. H.R. Rep. No. 103-320, at 5 (1993); 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(A), (B).*fn3

The Bureau promulgated a regulation further defining eligibility for the RDAP.*fn4 This regulation read, in relevant part:

(a) Eligibility. An inmate must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for the residential drug abuse treatment program.

(1) The inmate must have a verifiable documented drug abuse problem.

28 C.F.R. § 550.56(a) (2008). Neither the statute nor the regulation defines "verifiable documented drug abuse problem."

The Bureau has issued a program statement explaining how it determines whether an inmate has a "verifiable documented drug abuse problem." Under Program Statement 5330.10, Chapter 5.4.1(a)(1), eligibility is based on multiple components. "[D]rug abuse program staff shall . . . conduct[ ] the Residential Drug Abuse Program Eligibility Interview followed by a review of all pertinent documents in the inmate's central file to corroborate self-reported information." Program Statement 5330.10, Chapter 5.4.1(a)(1). "The inmate must meet the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse or dependence indicated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM - IV)." Id. Furthermore, there must be verification in the Presentence Investigation . . . report or other similar documents in the central file which supports the diagnosis. Any written ...

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