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Hamilton v. Edge

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

February 19, 2019

JAMES LEROY HAMILTON, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN EDGE, Respondent.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BENJAMIN W. CHEESBRO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner James Hamilton (“Hamilton”) filed this 28 U.S.C. § 1361 action while he was housed at the Federal Correctional Institution-Satellite Low in Jesup, Georgia. Doc. 1. Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss, and Hamilton filed a Response. Docs. 10, 15. For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT in part and DENY without prejudice in part Respondent's Motion to Dismiss. I also RECOMMEND the Court DISMISS Hamilton's Petition as moot, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal, and DENY Hamilton in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         Hamilton was sentenced to 188 months' imprisonment in the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on February 17, 2016, after his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1). His projected release date is September 30, 2028, via good conduct time release. Doc. 1 at 2; Doc. 10-1 at 4-5. In his Petition, Hamilton asserts he has been diagnosed with stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver, which is a chronic, incurable, and terminal disease, and which is complicated by his type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, hypertension, and a large tumor on his spleen. Doc. 1 at 2. Hamilton asserts that life expectancy for patients diagnosed with stage 4 cirrhosis is 18 months. Id.

         Hamilton asserts he submitted a compassionate release request to Respondent on October 3, 2017, and supplemented his request on November 13, 2017. Doc. 15 at 2. He further asserts he “supplied numerous medical records with his requests showing conclusively that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Liver Cirrhosis . . . .” Id. at 3. At the time he filed this Petition on January 8, 2018, he alleged that he had “not been notified of any action taken by Respondent to grant or deny his request for compassionate release.” He, therefore, asks the Court to issue a writ of mandamus to compel Respondent to respond to his request for compassionate release due to his terminal disease. Doc. 1 at 3, 4. Hamilton does not ask the Court to determine whether his request for compassionate release should be granted or denied, but, rather, to order the Respondent to respond to the request. Doc. 15 at 5.

         DISCUSSION

         Respondent moves to dismiss Hamilton's Petition on two grounds: because Hamilton's request is moot and because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Doc. 10. Regarding mootness, Respondent argues that he did, in fact, respond to Hamilton's request and points to a denial of the request dated February 21, 2018. Doc. 10-2 at 4. Notably, that denial apparently came after Hamilton filed this Petition but before Respondent moved to dismiss the Petition. Respondent contends that, because he has now responded to Hamilton's request, the instant Petition is moot. Id. at 3-5. Additionally, Respondent argues Hamilton was required to exhaust administrative remedies before filing this Petition, but he failed to appeal to the General Counsel's National Inmate Appeals Office. Id.

         Hamilton disputes both arguments in his Response. Doc. 15. Hamilton contends that Respondent's February 21, 2018 response is not actually a response to his initial request, and, therefore, cannot moot his Petition. Id. at 3. Hamilton argues that Respondent's February 21, 2018 response incorrectly states Hamilton's original request was submitted on December 22, 2017, despite the fact the original request was submitted on October 3, 2017, and supplemented on November 13, 2017. Id. Hamilton contends this date error demonstrates that Respondent did not actually consider the contents of his original request and supplement. Id. In further support of this position, Hamilton also contends the statement in Respondent's February 21, 2018 response that Hamilton has “not been diagnosed with a terminal incurable disease” is contrary to the medical records Hamilton provided with his request and demonstrates that Respondent did not consider those records. Id. at 3. Hamilton also contends that, in April 2018, Respondent sent employees to acquire the original request and supplement, and the employees took the original request and supplement, copied the documents, and returned them to Hamilton. Id. at 4. Hamilton contends this action demonstrates Respondent “misplaced, lost or destroyed” his initial request and supplement and did not consider those items. Id. In light of these facts, Hamilton contends that Respondent's February 21, 2018 response was not a response to his original request, and, thus, his Petition is not moot, and he had no available administrative remedy process. Id. at 4, 5.

         I. Hamilton's Petition is Moot [1]

         Respondent contends that Hamilton's Petition is moot because he has already responded to Hamilton's request for compassionate release. Doc. 10 at 3-5. Based on the record as it stands now, I agree and find that Hamilton's request is moot.

         Article III of the Constitution “extends the jurisdiction of federal courts to only ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies.'” Strickland v. Alexander, 772 F.3d 876, 882 (11th Cir. 2014). This “case-or-controversy restriction imposes” what is “generally referred to as ‘justiciability' limitations.” Id. There are “three strands of justiciability doctrine-standing, ripeness, and mootness-that go to the heart of the Article III case or controversy requirement.” Harrell v. The Fla. Bar, 608 F.3d 1241, 1247 (11th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Regarding the mootness strand, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that “a federal court has no authority ‘to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.'” Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) (internal citation omitted). Accordingly, “[a]n issue is moot when it no longer presents a live controversy with respect to which the court can give meaningful relief.” Friends of Everglades v. S. Fla. Water Mgmt. Dist., 570 F.3d 1210, 1216 (11th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Questions of justiciability are not answered “simply by looking to the state of affairs at the time the suit was filed. Rather, the Supreme Court has made clear that the controversy ‘must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.'” Christian Coal. of Fla., Inc. v. United States, 662 F.3d 1182, 1189-90 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401 (1975)).

         Hamilton criticizes the sufficiency, completeness, and foundation of Respondent's February 21, 2018 response, but it is undisputed that Respondent denied Hamilton's request for compassionate release in that document. Doc. 10-2 at 4; Doc. 15-1 at 68. Regardless of whether Hamilton submitted an Inmate Request to Staff on December 22, 2017, or on a prior date, Respondent has now provided him with a response to his compassionate release request. Even if the Warden was mistaken in his denial of Hamilton's compassionate release request, failed to consider all of the materials submitted in support of the request, or lost the original submission, the Warden considered the request and has now denied it. As the only relief Hamilton requests was to obtain consideration of and a response to his compassionate release request, doc. 1 at 4; doc. 15 at 5, 6, there is no longer a “live controversy” over which the Court can give meaningful relief. Friends of Everglades, 570 F.3d at 1216. Accordingly, the Court should GRANT this portion of Respondent's Motion to Dismiss and DISMISS as moot Hamilton's Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

         II. The Court need not Address Respondent's Exhaustion Argument

          The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a habeas petitioner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a jurisdictional defect. Santiago-Lugo v. Warden, 785 F.3d 467, 474 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Fleming v. Warden of FCI Tallahassee, 631 Fed.Appx. 840, 842 (11th Cir. 2015) (“[Section] 2241's exhaustion requirement was judicially imposed, not congressionally mandated, and . . . nothing in the statute itself support[s] the conclusion that the requirement [is] jurisdictional.”). Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit has noted “that the exhaustion requirement is still a requirement and that courts cannot ‘disregard a failure to exhaust . . . if the respondent properly asserts the defense.'” Id. (citing Santiago-Lugo, 785 F.3d at 475). It appears that the exhaustion requirements apply to mandamus proceedings regarding compassionate release requests. Jorgenson v. O'Brien, Civil Action No. 5:11cv174, 2012 WL ...


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