United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DISMISS PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AS MOOT
JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner is a federal prisoner proceeding in propria persona with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241.
The instant petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed on August 29, 2011. (Doc. 1). Petitioner, presently in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") and serving a 1107-month sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Atwater, California, for his 1999 conviction in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for four counts of armed bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and (d), and four counts of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violation in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). (Doc. 13, Ex. 1). The petition challenges the BOP's policy of regularly withdrawing funds from Petitioner's prison account to satisfy the sentencing court's restitution order pursuant to the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program ("IFRP"). Petitioner alleges that the BOP's collection of restitution under the IFRP is illegal where the sentencing court failed to either set forth a specific schedule of payment or set forth a specific amount of restitution in its judgment. (Doc. 1, p. 3). Petitioner also contends that the IFRP violates the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act ("MVRA") by infringing upon the sentencing court's exclusive authority to schedule restitution repayments. (Id., p. 9).
On September 8, 2011, the Court ordered Respondent to file a response to the petition. (Doc. 11). On November 7, 2011, Respondent filed the instant motion to dismiss, contending that the petition should be dismissed because the claims are unexhausted and because, under Ninth Circuit precedent, the IFRP has been found to be a lawful procedure for satisfying a sentencing court's restitution order. (Doc. 13). On December 9, 2011, Petitioner filed his opposition to the motion to dismiss, contending that the issue is not whether the IFRP constitutes and unlawful delegation of authority to the BOP but whether any program of repayment can be lawful where the sentencing court fails to specify a repayment schedule or even a specific amount of restitution. (Doc. 14, p. 11).
On January 12, 2012, the Magistrate Judge assigned to the case issued Findings and Recommendations to grant the motion to dismiss. (Doc. 15). On February 23, 2012, the District Judge adopted those Findings and Recommendations, entered judgment, and closed the case. (Docs. 17 & 18). Petitioner subsequently appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which, on February 21, 2014, reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further consideration of Petitioner's restitution order based upon the Ninth Circuit's intervening decision in Ward v. Chavez , 678 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2012). (Docs. 32 & 33). Following remand, this Court ordered the parties to file briefs addressing two questions: (1) the applicability to and effect of Ward v. Chavez on this case, and (2) whether the petition should be dismissed for Petitioner's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. (Doc. 36). Both parties filed briefs as requested by the Court. (Docs. 40 & 41). In his brief, Respondent argues that the petition should not be dismissed as unexhausted but should be dismissed as moot because, pursuant to Ward, Petitioner was exempted from the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program ("IFRP") and no further amounts have been collected from him based on the trial court's restitution order. Petitioner contends that exhaustion would be futile and that the original restitution order is unlawful.
A. Preliminary Considerations: Exhaustion.
In its original order, this Court concluded that it had habeas jurisdiction to consider Petitioner's claim and that, although potentially unexhausted, requiring exhaustion would have been futile. (Doc. 15). The Ninth Circuit, in its order reversing the district court's judgment, also found jurisdiction and concluded that exhaustion should be excused. The Court is not aware of any circumstances that have occurred since the Court last exercised jurisdiction over this case that would alter the Court's prior analysis regarding exhaustion. Accordingly, the Court will proceed to the merits of Petitioner's claim.
B. Validity of Petitioner's Restitution Order.
Petitioner contends that the IFRP violates the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act ("MVRA") by infringing upon the sentencing court's exclusive authority to schedule restitution repayments. (Id., p. 9). Based upon the Ninth Circuit's decision in Ward, the Court agrees.
1. The IFRP
The BOP's IFRP applies to nearly all post-trial inmates in federal facilities and is meant to encourage inmates to meet their "legitimate financial obligations." See 28 C.F.R. § 545.10; United States v. Lemoine , 546 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir.2008). Under the IFRP, staff members develop a financial plan for each inmate and monitor his progress in adhering to that plan. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 545.10, 545.11; Lemoine , 546 F.3d at 1047. The IFRP is a voluntary program and inmates are free to decline to participate in the IFRP, but the failure to participate in or to comply with a financial plan created pursuant to the program, carries consequences, such as denials of or limitations on furloughs, pay, work detail, commissary spending, housing status, and placement in community-based programs. See 28 C.F.R. § 545.11(d); Lemoine , 546 F.3d at 1047. In Lemoine , 546 F.3d at 1049, the Ninth Circuit held that such consequences are reasonably related to the ...