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Rice v. Matevousian

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 14, 2017

DONALD TERRELL RICE, Petitioner,
v.
ANDRE MATEVOUSIAN, Respondent.

          ORDER DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A COGNIZABLE CLAIM, (ECF NOS. 1, 8, 10) THIRTY (30) DAY OBJECTION DEADLINE

          MICHAEL J. SENG, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Petitioner is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Respondent Andre Matevousian, warden of U.S. Penitentiary -- Atwater, is represented by Karen Escobar of the Office of the United States Attorney. Both parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (ECF Nos. 4, 6.)

         I. Procedural History

         On January 24, 2017, Petitioner filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Pet., ECF No. 1.) Therein, he alleged that he underwent a disciplinary hearing for possession of a dangerous weapon and was found guilty. He was disallowed forty one day of good conduct time and assessed a 15-day segregated housing term, loss of commissary and phone privileges, and a monetary fine. At the time he filed his petition, he had finished his term in disciplinary segregation. However, his institutional trust account was frozen and he was unable to purchase hygiene items or pens. He alleged that this freeze was imposed in retaliation and prevented him from accessing the courts.

         On February 28, 2017, Petitioner filed a first amended petition, which appeared intended to supplement, rather than replace his original petition. (ECF No. 8.) He stated that he continued to suffer restrictions on his trust account, was unable to purchase stamps and pens, and was subjected to a campaign of harassment and retaliation.

         On March 23, 2017, the Court screened the petitions and determined that Petitioner's claims were not cognizable grounds for habeas corpus relief. (ECF No. 9.) Petitioner was granted leave to amend and was ordered to show cause why the petition should not be dismissed. (Id.) Petitioner filed his response to the order to show cause on April 6, 2017, which he also describes as his amended petition. (ECF No. 10.) In the response, Petitioner alleges that he is housed in a step-down unit where various privileges are suspended. He cannot purchase stamps or pens. This has led to a violation of his Fifth and First Amendment rights. He states that the effect of these restrictions is equivalent to what he would have experienced in disciplinary segregation.

         II. Discussion

         A. Procedural Grounds for Summary Dismissal

         Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases provides in pertinent part:

If it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner.

         The Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 8 indicate that the court may dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus, either on its own motion under Rule 4, pursuant to the respondent's motion to dismiss, or after an answer to the petition has been filed. A petition for habeas corpus should not be dismissed without leave to amend unless it appears that no tenable claim for relief can be pleaded were such leave granted. Jarvis v. Nelson, 440 F.2d 13, 14 (9th Cir. 1971).

         B. Failure to State Cognizable Claim

         A federal court may only grant a petition for writ of habeas corpus if the federal petitioner can demonstrate that he "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a), (c)(3). A habeas corpus petition is the correct method for a prisoner to challenge “the very fact or duration of his confinement, ” and where “the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment.” Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973). In contrast, a civil rights action is the proper method for a prisoner to challenge the conditions of that confinement. See McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136, 141-42 (1991); Preiser, 411 U.S. at 499. In other words, if a successful conditions of confinement challenge would not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence, then a civil rights action is the appropriate vehicle. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005).

         Petitioner's claims do not implicate the fact or duration of his confinement. Petitioner does not challenge his underlying conviction by way of his original or amended petitions. Instead, Petitioner challenges the conditions of his confinement. Specifically, he challenges the denial of access to his trust account and commissary items, and what he describes as harassment and retaliation. ...


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