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Stewart v. Tristan

United States District Court, N.D. California
Mar 4, 2002
No. C 02-623 TEH (pr) (N.D. Cal. Mar. 4, 2002)


No. C 02-623 TEH (pr)

March 4, 2002



Petitioner, Michael Stewart, a prisoner incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison, filed this action pro se, seeking a federal writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Stewart claimed in his petition that his due process rights were violated when he was placed in administrative segregation in the security housing unit ("SHU") for an indefinite term based on inadequate evidence. His petition is now before the court for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2243 and Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. His in forma pauperis application also is before the court for consideration.


A federal court is a court of limited jurisdiction and may only adjudicate those cases which the Constitution and Congress authorize it to adjudicate. The Constitution provides that federal judicial power extends to "all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority." U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2. Congress has explicitly provided that the "district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. If there is not a proper basis for federal court jurisdiction, the action must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

This court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

The central purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to provide a remedy to prisoners challenging the fact or duration of their physical confinement and seeking immediate release or an earlier release. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973) (restoration of time credits must be sought by habeas petition, not § 1983 civil rights action). The Supreme Court has not, however, ruled out the possibility that habeas may be used to challenge living conditions. In Preiser, the Court noted that earlier cases determined that an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was a proper remedy for a state prisoner making a constitutional challenge to his conditions of confinement rather than to the fact or length of his custody. The court continued: "This is not to say that habeas corpus may not also be available to challenge such prison conditions. . . . When a prisoner is put under additional and unconstitutional restraints during his lawful custody, it is arguable that habeas corpus will lie to remove the restraints making the custody illegal . . . ." Preiser, 411 U.S. at 499-500. The propriety of a habeas challenge to a condition of confinement was side-stepped again in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 526 n. 6 (1979).

Likewise, the Ninth Circuit has not yet ruled out the possibility that habeas may be used to challenge living convictions. In Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.2d 1267, 1269 (9th Cir. 1989), the court assumed that "[h]abeas corpus jurisdiction is . . . available for a prisoner's claims that he has been subjected to greater restrictions of his liberty, such as disciplinary segregation, without due process of law." The more recent case of Fierro v. Gomez, 77 F.3d 301, 304 n. 2 (9th Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 519 U.S. 918 (1996), indicated that the issue remains unresolved in the Ninth Circuit as the court declined to address whether habeas could be used to challenge a condition of confinement.

The few cases located from other jurisdictions that have decided the issue have decided that a prison administrator's decision may not be challenged in a habeas action unless a favorable result will necessarily result in an accelerated release from prison. See Boyce v. Ashcroft, 251 F.3d 911, 914 ("Prisoners who raise constitutional challenges to other prison decisions — including transfers to administrative segregation, exclusion from prison programs, or suspension of privileges, e.g., conditions of confinement, must proceed under Section 1983 or Bivens" and not under habeas statute), judgment vacated as moot, 268 F.3d 953 (10th Cir. 2001); Carson v. Johnson, 112 F.3d 818, 820-21 (5th Cir. 1997) (adopting bright-line rule for resolving whether action must be habeas or civil rights: if a favorable determination would not automatically entitle the prisoner to accelerated release, the proper vehicle is a Section 1983 action); Frazier v. Hesson, 40 F. Supp.2d 957, 962 (W.D. Tenn. 1999) (prisoner should not be able to use habeas "to attack his confinement to segregation or assignment to a maximum security classification prison because neither condition constitutes `custody' within the meaning required by the Constitution for a federal court to exercise habeas jurisdiction"); cf. Sylvester v. Hanks, 140 F.3d 713, 714 (7th Cir. 1998) (confessing doubt as to whether challenge to disciplinary segregation should proceed under Section 2254). This court finds the reasoning of Boyce and Carson persuasive: a challenge to the conditions of confinement — including a challenge to a decision that resulted in a more restrictive housing location such as administrative segregation — is not within the traditional function of the writ of habeas corpus. The writ of habeas corpus is not the proper vehicle to test the administrative segregation decision; a civil rights complaint is. This decision comports with the preferred practice in the Ninth Circuit, which is that challenges to conditions of confinement should be brought in a civil rights complaint. See Badea v. Cox, 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir. 1991) (civil rights action is proper method of challenging conditions of confinement); Crawford v. Bell, 599 F.2d 890, 891-92 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1979) (affirming dismissal of habeas petition on basis that challenges to terms and conditions of confinement must be brought in civil rights complaint). Stewart's habeas petition will be dismissed.


This action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This dismissal is without prejudice to petitioner filing a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which he challenges the decisions to place and retain him in administrative segregation. Petitioner's in forma pauperis application is GRANTED. The clerk shall close the file.

Summaries of

Stewart v. Tristan

United States District Court, N.D. California
Mar 4, 2002
No. C 02-623 TEH (pr) (N.D. Cal. Mar. 4, 2002)
Case details for

Stewart v. Tristan

Case Details

Full title:MICHAEL STEWART, Petitioner, v. DAVID TRISTAN, Respondent

Court:United States District Court, N.D. California

Date published: Mar 4, 2002


No. C 02-623 TEH (pr) (N.D. Cal. Mar. 4, 2002)

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