December 17, 2014
Addones Spencer, Plaintiff - Appellant
Anthony Haynes, Disciplinary Hearing Officer, FCI - Forrest City, Defendant - Appellee
Submitted September 10, 2014
Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Helena.
For Addones Spencer, Plaintiff - Appellant: John Wesley Hall, Jr., JOHN WESLEY HALL, JR., P.C., Little Rock, AR.
Addones Spencer, Plaintiff - Appellant, Pro se, Michigan City, IN.
For Anthony Haynes, Disciplinary Hearing Officer, FCI - Forrest City, Defendant - Appellee: Jamie Goss Dempsey, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Little Rock, AR.
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, SMITH and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
SMITH, Circuit Judge.
Addones Spencer appeals the district court's order dismissing his habeas corpus petition alleging a conditions-of-confinement claim against his former custodian, Anthony Haynes, the former Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution - Forrest City. Our precedent precludes conditions-of-confinement claims using the vehicle of a habeas petition. The district court applied our precedent and dismissed Spencer's claim. However, the court dismissed the claim without prejudice. We hold that the district court should have liberally construed Spencer's pro se habeas petition and given Spencer the option to pursue the claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971). We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
While an inmate in Federal Correctional Institution - Forrest City, Spencer was assigned a cell for a medical assessment. Correctional Officer Lieutenant Mark A. Sheldon entered the cell to assist staff with checking Spencer's restraints. Spencer
backed himself into a corner, was verbally abusive, and claimed he did not need a medical assessment. Staff members told Spencer to sit down on the bunk, but Spencer was uncooperative and aggressively resisted the staff. While Spencer was forcibly being placed on the bed, he bit Sheldon's abdomen. Spencer was then placed in " four-point" restraints around 9:10 a.m. and was not removed from those restraints until 3:45 p.m. the following day according to Bureau of Prisons documents. After a hearing, the Disciplinary Hearing Officer found that Spencer assaulted Sheldon and disciplined Spencer with losses of privileges.
Spencer brought a petition for habeas corpus alleging, among other things, a Fifth Amendment due process violation for being put in four-point restraints without being afforded a hearing. The district court never reached the merits of this claim, but instead dismissed the habeas petition without prejudice because it concluded that conditions-of-confinement claims cannot be raised in the context of habeas petitions.
On appeal, we appointed counsel for Spencer and requested briefing on (i) whether this court has jurisdiction to consider habeas petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 that combine unlawful custody claims with unrelated conditions-of-confinement claims, and if not, (ii) whether the proper disposition is to dismiss the latter without prejudice, or liberally construe the pro se petition and decide the conditions-of-confinement claims under Bivens principles.
A. § 2241 Jurisdiction
" We review the district court's dismissal of a § 2241 petition de novo." Flowers v. Anderson, 661 F.3d 977, 980 (8th Cir. 2011) (emphasis in original) (citing Lopez-Lopez v. Sanders, 590 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir. 2010)). As we stated in Kruger v. Erickson, " [i]f the prisoner is not challenging the validity of his conviction or the length of his detention, such as loss of good time, then a writ of habeas corpus is not the proper remedy." 77 F.3d 1071, 1073 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973)). Spencer does not challenge his conviction, nor does he seek a remedy that would result in an earlier release from prison. Rather, Spencer argues on appeal that being put in four-point restraints for such an extended period of time violated his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
As such, Spencer's constitutional claim relates to the conditions of his confinement. See, e.g., Key v. McKinney, 176 F.3d 1083, 1085-86 (8th Cir. 1999) (finding that a prisoner's allegation of an unconstitutional use of handcuff restraints and leg shackles for 24 hours was a conditions-of-confinement claim and alleged a violation of the prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights). Consequently, a habeas petition is not the proper claim to remedy his alleged injury.
The Supreme Court's Preiser decision left open " the question of the propriety of using a writ of habeas corpus to obtain review of the conditions of confinement, as distinct from the fact or length of the confinement." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 526 n.6, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). As a result, a split has arisen amongst our sister circuits on this issue. Notwithstanding, we are bound by our post- Preiser precedent. See Mader v. United States, 654 F.3d 794, 800 (8th Cir. 2011). We, therefore, apply our precedent in Kruger, which is consistent with the holdings of the Fifth Circuit, the Seventh Circuit, the Ninth Circuit, and the Tenth
Circuit, with the Eleventh Circuit contributing to this view in an unpublished decision. See, e.g., Cook v. Hanberry, 592 F.2d 248, 248 (5th Cir. 1979) (per curiam) (finding that a prisoner's request for transfer back to a West Coast facility where he was previously incarcerated could not be brought under a habeas petition because " [h]abeas corpus is not available to prisoners complaining only of mistreatment" and " [t]he relief from [the petitioner's injury], [i]f proved, is in the form of equitably-imposed restraint, not freedom from otherwise lawful incarceration" ).
B. Liberal Treatment of Pro Se Habeas Petitions
We construe Spencer's pro se petition liberally. Here, an appropriate construction would be to recharacterize Spencer's claim into the correct procedural vehicle for the claim asserted. In Papantony v. Hedrick, 215 F.3d 863 (8th Cir. 2000) (per curiam), we upheld a district court's dismissal of a habeas petition challenging forced medication; nevertheless, because " [w]e . . . recognize[d] [the petitioner] [was] a pro se petitioner and, as such, should not unreasonably be subjected to stringent procedural niceties," we construed the action as a Bivens claim. Id. at 865. Our decision in Young v. Armontrout, 795 F.2d 55 (8th Cir. 1986), is also informative. There, we remanded a habeas petition back to the district court to be considered as a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because after " reading Young's petition liberally, as is required in this case, it is apparent that Young has also raised a potentially viable [E]ighth [A]mendment claim." Id. at 56. Spencer's habeas petition similarly raised potential Eighth Amendment violations. As in Young, the district court should have treated this case as a Bivens action as opposed to dismissing the petition without prejudice.
Finally, we approve the Seventh Circuit's wisdom outlined in Robinson v. Sherrod, 631 F.3d 839 (7th Cir. 2011). Thus, we think it appropriate to consider the potential detriment to habeas petitioners if district courts, sua sponte, transformed their habeas petitions into Bivens or § 1983 claims, and vice versa. See id. at 841. As a result, we think the better practice will be for district courts to first obtain the consent of the pro se individual before converting their claims from a habeas proceeding to a Bivens action.
We reverse the district court's dismissal of Spencer's habeas petition because it seeks relief only for a conditions-of-confinement claim and we remand the case to the district court to reopen the matter and give Spencer an opportunity to pursue his claim as a Bivens suit if he so chooses.