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Bowens v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 18, 2013

MICHAEL BOWENS, Petitioner,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

P. KEVIN CASTEL, District Judge.

Petitioner Michael Bowens, who is pro se, is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York ("FCI Otisville"). He brings this writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, asserting that he was wrongly disciplined based on an innocent misunderstanding of facility rules, which, he contends, is the byproduct of his third-grade level literacy. Petitioner seeks money damages and equitable relief.

For the reasons explained, the petition is denied.[1]

BACKGROUND.

Petitioner is serving a 121-month sentence for money laundering and for participating in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of marijuana, after he entered a plea of guilty in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. United States v. Bowens, 08 Cr. 171 (S.D. Ind.) (WTL) (KPF). His projected release date is January 19, 2019. (DeSanto Dec. ¶ 3.) Because petitioner is currently housed in FCI Otisville, located in Orange County, New York, his petition is properly filed in this District. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(a); Rumsfeld v. Padilla , 542 U.S. 426, 442 (2004).

The petition arises out of four disciplinary sanctions that were administered for his conduct at Low Security Correctional Institution Allenwood ("LSCI Allenwood") in White Deer, Pennsylvania. (Pet. ¶ 12.) He was assigned to LSCI Allenwood from March 29, 2010 to May 26, 2011. (DeSanto Dec. ¶ 4.) Petitioner asserts that he was unable to understand the written policies of LSCI Allenwood because he functions at only a third-grade reading level. (Pet. 13.)

The petitioner does not dispute that he engaged in the underlying conduct for which he was sanctioned. While at LSCI Allenwood, petitioner received four incident reports for violating facility rules. (Pet. ¶ 15.) Petitioner asserts that the offenses included "allowing another inmate to use his email in an attempt to assist him as he watched" and "utilizing a third party call to contact a family associate named Daenicesha Heckard (Nis. Heckard'), in order to secure payment for who had been helping with his disability." (Pet. ¶ 15.) The government's submissions describe the four incidents reports and disciplinary hearings in greater detail.

An incident report stated that the petitioner had engaged in an impermissible three-way call on November 14, 2010. (DeSanto Dec. Ex. A at I.) A subsequent hearing was conducted to determine whether petitioner violated facility rules. At the hearing of December 16, 2010, petitioner confirmed that he understood his rights. (Id. at 3-5.) He called as a witness a facility staff member who testified that petitioner "read on about a third-grade level." (Id. at 5-6.) Petitioner stated during the hearing that he was unaware of any rule prohibiting a three-way telephone call. (Id. at 5.) The hearing officer rejected petitioner's contention that he was ignorant of facility rules and concluded that the petitioner had engaged in the impermissible call. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner was sanctioned with disallowance of 27 days of good-time credit and a six-month loss of social telephone privileges. (Id. at 7.)

A second incident report issued at or about the same time asserted that petitioner violated facility rules by speaking in coded language during a November 6, 2010 telephone call. (Desanto Dec. Ex. B at 1.) According to the incident report, petitioner directed money transfers to various inmates while speaking in code. (Id.) The hearing officer described the conversations as "incredibly cryptic and coded in nature." (Id. at 7.) At a December 16, 2010 hearing, petitioner stated that he had a third-grade reading level, and was unaware that his conduct was against facility rules. (Id. at 5.) The hearing officer concluded that petitioner was provided with facility rules and regulations and was responsible for knowing them. (Id. at 7.) He sanctioned petitioner with disallowance of 27 days of good-time credit, a six-month loss of social telephone privileges and a three-month loss of commissary and social visiting privileges. (Id..)

On February 1, 2011, petitioner was issued a third incident report, after a LSCI Allenwood staff member observed petitioner sitting beside another inmate at an e-mail station. (DeSanto Dec. Ex. C at 1.) Petitioner told the staff member that the second inmate was typing his e-mails because he was not proficient at spelling. (Id.) At a February 7, 2011 hearing, petitioner asserted that his counselor had granted permission to get such assistance from other inmates. (Id. at 2.) At the hearing, both petitioner's counselor and a correctional officer testified that while they participated in discussions about petitioner "getting help" for using a computer, neither said that another inmate could type for petitioner. (Id. at 5.) The hearing officer concluded that the petitioner had violated facility rules, and that petitioner and the inmate who assisted him were each corresponding with a third party using separate pseudonyms. (Id. at 2.) The hearing officer sanctioned petitioner with disallowance of 27 days of good-time credit and a four-month loss of e-mail privileges. (Id. at 6.)

On February 8, 2011, petitioner was issued a fourth incident report, after staff learned that on January 30 he initiated a phone call using another inmate's pin number. (Desanto Dec. Ex. D at 1.) Petitioner asserted that because he is illiterate, he was unable to understand the rules prohibiting such conduct. (Id. at 2.) At a March 3, 2011 hearing, the hearing officer concluded that petitioner had committed the prohibited act. (Id. at 8.) He was sanctioned to 30 days of disciplinary segregation, disallowance of 27 days of good-time credit, six months' loss of social telephone privileges and a disciplinary transfer. (Id.)

Petitioner states that, in total, his punishments included 18 months of lost phone privileges, a 3-month loss of visiting privileges, a 3-month loss of commissary privileges, a 4-month loss of computer use and a 5-month loss of good-time credit. (Pet. ¶ 16.) He states that he also was assigned to seven months of confinement in a Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), where he was isolated from the rest of the prison population and allowed limited access to recreation and showers. (Pet. ¶ 17.) Petitioner asserts that these punishments caused "tremendous" psychological damage and restricted his ability to administratively challenge his disciplinary process. (Pet. ¶ 18.) He contends that he should be permitted to proceed with this petition even though he has not administratively exhausted his claims. (Pet. ¶¶ 1, 21.)

Generously read and construing the petition in the light most favorable to the pro se petitioner, he asserts that he was denied due process, that his equal protection rights were violated, that he was denied the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), and that he suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Pet. ¶ II.)

In addition to the petition, the government's memorandum in opposition and the petitioner's reply, the government has filed a sur-reply brief to address certain factual assertions raised in petitioner's reply memo, and the petitioner has filed a sur-sur reply.

DISCUSSION

I. Petitioner May Obtain Relief Under Section 2241 Only Insofar as He Challenges the Denial of Good Time Credits.

The petition seeks the restoration of good-time credits, expungement of negative incident reports, reassignment to a low-security facility, immediate reinstatement of "Ms. Heckard" to petitioner's visitors' list, ...


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