Bills #132878 v. Berghuis
OPINION ; signed by Judge Robert Holmes Bell (Judge Robert Holmes Bell, kcb)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
FREDDIE BILLS, JR.,
Case No. 1:15-cv-899
Honorable Robert Holmes Bell
This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2241. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a
preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the
petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.”
Rule 4, RULES GOVERNING § 2254 CASES; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be
summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court
has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4
includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual
allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir.
1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must
be dismissed because it fails to raise a cognizable federal claim.
Petitioner Freddie Bills, Jr., is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) under a judgment of sentence entered in 1998. He asserts that he is not seeking
relief from that judgment. Instead, he claims that he is seeking relief from the execution of his
sentence. Specifically, he asserts that two MDOC officials, Nurse Practitioner Cory Grahn and Dr.
William Schmuggerow, are withholding medical care for his “life-threatening illnesses,” in violation
of the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth
Amendment. (Compl., docket #1, Page ID#2.)
As relief, Petitioner seeks a declaratory judgment that additional medical treatment
is necessary for his illnesses, an injunction requiring adequate medical care, and release from
Section 2241 authorizes district courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to a state or
federal prisoner who is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United
States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). Where a prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his
physical imprisonment and the relief that he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate
release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a petition for writ
of habeas corpus. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). However, habeas corpus is
not available to prisoners who are complaining only of the conditions of their confinement or
mistreatment during their legal incarceration. See Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 714 (6th Cir.
2004); Lutz v. Hemingway, 476 F. Supp. 2d 715, 718 (E.D. Mich. 2007). Complaints concerning
conditions of confinement “do not relate to the legality of the petitioner’s confinement, nor do they
relate to the legal sufficiency of the criminal court proceedings which resulted in the incarceration
of the petitioner.” Lutz, 476 F. Supp. 2d at 718 (quoting Maddux v. Rose, 483 F. Supp. 661, 672
(E.D. Tenn. 1980)). Although Petitioner asserts that he is challenging the execution of his sentence,
he does not allege any facts indicating that his sentence is not being properly executed. Instead,
Petitioner merely challenges the conditions of his confinement. Consequently, his claims must be
dismissed because they “fall outside of the cognizable core of habeas corpus relief.” Hodges v. Bell,
170 F. App’x 389, 393 (6th Cir. 2006). Claims challenging a prisoner’s conditions of confinement
are more properly brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Although pro se litigants are treated to less stringent pleading formalities, courts still
require such litigants to meet basic pleading standards. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir.
1989). “Arguably, hanging the legal hat on the correct peg is such a standard, and ‘[l]iberal
construction does not require a court to conjure allegations on a litigant's behalf.’” Martin, 391 F.3d
at 714 (quoting Erwin v. Edwards, 22 F. App’x 579, 580 (6th Cir. 2001) (dismissing a § 1983 suit
brought as a § 2254 petition)). Where, as here, claims about conditions of confinement are not
cognizable in an action under § 2241, the district court must dismiss the habeas action without
prejudice to allow the petitioner to raise his potential civil rights claims properly in a § 1983 action.
Martin, 391 F.3d at 714. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Petitioner’s claims without prejudice.
In light of the foregoing, the Court will summarily dismiss Petitioner’s application
pursuant to Rule 4 because it fails to raise a cognizable claim.
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must determine whether a certificate of
appealability should be granted. A certificate should issue if Petitioner has demonstrated a
“substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). This Court’s
dismissal of Petitioner’s action under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases is a determination
that the habeas action, on its face, lacks sufficient merit to warrant service. It would be highly
unlikely for this Court to grant a certificate, thus indicating to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that
an issue merits review, when the Court has already determined that the action is so lacking in merit
that service is not warranted. See Love v. Butler, 952 F.2d 10 (1st Cir. 1991) (it is “somewhat
anomalous” for the court to summarily dismiss under Rule 4 and grant a certificate); Hendricks v.
Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990) (requiring reversal where court summarily dismissed under
Rule 4 but granted certificate); Dory v. Comm’r of Corr. of New York, 865 F.2d 44, 46 (2d Cir. 1989)
(it was “intrinsically contradictory” to grant a certificate when habeas action does not warrant service
under Rule 4); Williams v. Kullman, 722 F.2d 1048, 1050 n.1 (2d Cir. 1983) (issuing certificate
would be inconsistent with a summary dismissal).
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has disapproved issuance of blanket denials of
a certificate of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather, the district
court must “engage in a reasoned assessment of each claim” to determine whether a certificate is
warranted. Id. at 467. Each issue must be considered under the standards set forth by the Supreme
Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467. Consequently, this
Court has examined each of Petitioner’s claims under the Slack standard. Under Slack, 529 U.S. at
484, to warrant a grant of the certificate, “[t]he petitioner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists
would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” Id. “A
petitioner satisfies this standard by demonstrating that . . . jurists could conclude the issues presented
are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327
(2003). In applying this standard, the Court may not conduct a full merits review, but must limit its
examination to a threshold inquiry into the underlying merit of Petitioner’s claims. Id.
The Court finds that reasonable jurists could not conclude that this Court’s dismissal
of Petitioner’s claims was debatable or wrong. Therefore, the Court will deny Petitioner a certificate
A Judgment and Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: September 17, 2015
/s/ Robert Holmes Bell
ROBERT HOLMES BELL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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