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Van v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 9, 2014

DANIEL VAN, # XXXXX-XXX, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU of PRISONS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion ("Marion"), where he is serving a 180-month sentence after pleading guilty to distribution of crack cocaine. United States v. Van, Case No. 03-cr-10033 (C.D. Ill., Doc. 48). He brings the instant complaint under the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Specifically, he seeks to compel the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") to reclassify an earlier conviction as a "non-violent offense" in order to make him eligible for a sentence reduction for his participation in the Residential Drug Abuse Program ("RDAP").

This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening. - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal. - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A and shall dismiss this claim.

The Complaint

Plaintiff explains that prisoners who successfully complete the RDAP are eligible for a sentence reduction of up to one year, which is granted at the discretion of the BOP (Doc. 1, p. 1-2). This benefit is only available, however, to prisoners who have been convicted of a nonviolent offense. 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(B). Further, the implementing regulations provide that certain inmates shall not be eligible for early release, including those who have a prior conviction for one of the enumerated offenses (for example, robbery, aggravated assault, and kidnaping). 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b)(4).

Prior to his federal drug conviction, Plaintiff had several convictions in Illinois state court (Doc. 1, p. 8). They include a conviction for battery in December 1981; three aggravated battery convictions in July 1984, September 1984, and December 1993; and domestic battery in August 1997. Only one of these offenses, the December 1993 aggravated battery, was determined to be a "precluding offense" under 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b)(4), which made Plaintiff ineligible for the early release benefit. Id. It was deemed to be the equivalent of an "aggravated assault" as listed in the regulations.

Plaintiff asserts that the BOP's discretionary finding that his 1993 aggravated battery conviction was a "violent" offense was "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law, " under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) (Doc. 1, p. 2). He claims that other inmates who have prior offenses either identical to or more serious than his own have been found eligible for the sentence reduction. The BOP looks beyond the statute under which an inmate was convicted, and relies on the particular offense conduct as described in the inmate's PSR (pre-sentence report) in order to determine whether a particular conviction qualifies as a "violent felony" (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff argues that the BOP's consideration of the PSR documents runs afoul of Descamps v. United States, 133 S.Ct. ...


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