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Matthews v. Warden, FCI-Berlin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 26, 2018

Alexander Otis Matthews
v.
Warden, FCI-Berlin

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Andrea K. Johnstone United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the court for preliminary review is pro se petitioner Alexander Otis Matthews's petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. No. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, and petition addenda (Doc. Nos. 8, 10) asserting facts pertinent to Matthews's claims. The matter is before the court to determine whether the petition and addenda state facially valid claims that may proceed. See Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases (“§ 2254 Rules”); see also § 2254 Rule 1(b) (authorizing court to apply § 2254 Rules to petitions filed under § 2241).

         Background

         Matthews was an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin, New Hampshire (“FCI Berlin”) when he filed this petition. He notified this court in October 2017 that he has been transferred to a Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) facility in Pennsylvania. See Not. (Doc. No. 11).

         Matthews has described himself as “a frequent filer in federal courts.” See Pet., Matthews v. Warden, FCI Berlin, 16-cv-054-LM (“Matthews I”) (ECF No. 1). As Matthews has proceeded in forma pauperis in a number of civil cases he has filed, he has incurred a number of filing fees in those matters which must be paid in full, by deductions from his inmate account, pursuant to the in forma pauperis provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b).

         Following the Supreme Court's decision in Bruce v. Samuels, 136 S.Ct. 627 (2016), the BOP implemented the provisions of § 1915(b)(2) by withdrawing all but $10.00 of Matthews's available funds each month to pay his federal court filing fees. See Pet., Matthews I, (ECF No. 1); see also Doc. No. 10, at 3.

         Matthews follows a modified meatless diet that he alleges he cannot satisfy with the regular meals provided by BOP. While in prison, he has eaten rice, beans, and mackerel that he purchases from the commissary. He states that two types of non-meat substitutes have been available in the FCI Berlin cafeteria: cottage cheese and soy patties. Matthews asserts that he cannot eat cottage cheese because of a digestive condition, and that the soy patties are expired and too hard to eat. He further claims that at some meals at FCI Berlin, the kitchen staff has not prepared any non-meat substitute. Because of a low balance in his inmate account, Matthews asserts he was unable to buy food he wanted from the commissary at FCI Berlin, so he missed meals or parts of meals six or seven times per week.

         Matthews further states that the lack of funds in his inmate account made it difficult at FCI Berlin to pay for stamps, email, phone calls, typing ribbon, and copies he needed to maintain his state and federal court cases and to communicate with his family. He asserts that FCI Berlin Camp Counselor S. Seymour told Matthews that Matthews was not considered to be an indigent inmate since his own conduct in filing cases resulted in his lack of available funds, and that even if he had been deemed indigent, he would receive only five free stamps per month for personal mail and five per month for legal mail.

         Claims

         Construing Matthews's initial filings here (Doc. Nos. 1, 8, 10) liberally, and in light of matters alleged in the petition in Matthews I (ECF No. 1), the court identifies Matthews's claims as follows:

1. The PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2), as implemented in his case, violates Matthews's First and Fifth Amendment right of access to the courts, as the BOP's depletion of his inmate account precludes Matthews from filing new cases and maintaining cases he has filed.
2. The PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2), as implemented in his case, violates Matthews's First Amendment rights to family association, as the BOP's depletion of his inmate account precludes Matthews from making phone calls, sending letters, and maintaining email contact, at a level sufficient to maintain more than de minimis contact with his family.
3. The PLRA, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2), as implemented in his case, violates Matthews's Eighth Amendment rights, as the BOP's depletion of his inmate account precludes Matthews from purchasing hygiene items and food from the prison commissary.

         Matthews requests the following relief: (1) an order declaring 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2) to be unconstitutional and directing Congress to amend it; and (2) an injunction restraining the BOP from making any further withdrawals from ...


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