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Mendez v. Bell

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 23, 2018

ARIEL MENDEZ, Petitioner,
v.
TIFFANY BELL, Respondent.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Petitioner Ariel Mendez, a former federal inmate, has filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 alleging a due process violation arising from a prison disciplinary finding. Because I conclude that the disciplinary procedures were constitutionally adequate, I will deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

         Background

         Petitioner is a former federal inmate who was sentenced to a 45-month term of imprisonment on January 8, 2013. On June 2, 2014, petitioner was permitted to transfer from prison to the Watkinson House Residential Re-Entry Center (“RRC”) in Hartford, Connecticut.

         On March 1, 2015, petitioner was subjected to a random breathalyzer test. The test yielded a result of a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of .034. Doc. #40-2 at 17. After a fifteen minute wait, a second test yielded a .036 BAC result. Ibid. On March 2, staff at Watkinson House issued an incident report, which was subsequently amended to correct a discrepancy. Id. at 1-2 (¶ 5).

         On March 6, the Center Discipline Committee (“CDC”) conducted a hearing at which petitioner conceded the positive breathalyzer results but blamed the calibration of the breathalyzer device. Id. at 11. The CDC concluded that petitioner had violated the alcohol policy. The CDC relied on, among other evidence, the incident reports documenting the positive alcohol test results, petitioner's acknowledgement of program policies, log entries for petitioner's positive test results, the breathalyzer calibration log, and the petitioner's own admission as to the positive test results. Doc. #40-2 at 12.

         On April 3, 2015, a Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) reviewed the CDC's findings and concluded that the CDC hearing was in substantial compliance with the due process protections set forth in the BOP guidance governing the inmate discipline program. Id. at 2 (¶ 6). The DHO certified the CDC hearing and sanctioned petitioner with a loss of 41 days of good-time credit and a 1-month social pass restriction. Ibid.

         Petitioner made a first level appeal on April 7, 2015, arguing that there had been an error in the initial incident report and that the corrected incident report was issued more than 24 hours after the alleged misconduct. Doc. #45-1 at 1. The Regional Director denied this appeal in a response dated May 8, 2015. Id. at 2.[1] In his second level appeal dated May 20, 2015, petitioner reasserted the same claims, but also made additional claims relating to the reliability of the breathalyzer. He claimed that Area Director Marty Meehan told petitioner 10 weeks after the disciplinary proceedings that the breathalyzer was not working properly and was replaced and that “those machine[s] do[] not last 2 month[s].” Doc. 45-2 at 2. Petitioner also argued that the Watkinson House staff member who administered the breathalyzer test and wrote up the incident report was only a “rookie” with three months experience and who no longer worked at Watkinson House. Ibid. After being remanded to secure custody, petitioner filed an additional appeal making the same allegations. Doc. #45-3. Petitioner never received a written response to these appeals.

         On September 24, 2015, while detained at a detention facility in Rhode Island, petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in the District of Rhode Island raising the same claims as he would later raise in the instant case. Petitioner was then designated to a BOP facility in Pennsylvania. As a result, petitioner's habeas petition was dismissed without prejudice. See generally Mendez v. Martin, 2016 WL 2849598, at *1 (D.R.I.), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 WL 2732182 (D.R.I. 2016). Petitioner was released from BOP custody on May 19, 2016. Doc. #40-2 at 2 (¶ 7).

         Petitioner filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus on December 29, 2016. Doc. #1. After an initial round of briefing and argument on the petition, the Court appointed counsel for the petitioner. Respondent has now moved to dismiss the petition. Doc. #40.

         Discussion

         A prisoner may challenge the execution of his prison sentence by means of a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Carmona v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 243 F.3d 629, 632 (2d Cir. 2001). Petitioner claims that the disciplinary proceeding that resulted in his removal from Watkinson House and his loss of good-time credit violated his due process rights. The standard analysis for a claim of a violation of procedural due process “proceeds in two steps: We first ask whether there exists a liberty or property interest of which a person has been deprived, and if so we ask whether the procedures followed . . . were constitutionally sufficient.” Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (per curiam).

         Liberty Interest and Mootness

         Respondent argues that the petition should be dismissed because petitioner has failed to allege a cognizable liberty interest. Respondent first argues that petitioner does not have any liberty interest in his placement in a residential re-entry program or any sentence reduction that would have resulted from completing the program. Petitioner does not dispute this point, but argues that he has a cognizable liberty interest in the 41 days of good-time credit that he ...


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