Eyayu v. Wolf

Decision Date14 August 2020
Docket NumberCivil Action No. H-20-1381
Citation479 F.Supp.3d 362
Parties Abeye EYAYU, Petitioner, v. Chad WOLF et al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

Anne Elise Kennedy, Attorney At Law, Houston, TX, for Petitioner.

Ariel Nicole Wiley, U.S. Attorney's Office, Houston, TX, for Respondents.

ORDER

DAVID HITTNER, United States District Judge

Pending before the Court are Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief With Motion for Emergency Hearing (Document No. 1) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Response to Abeye's Petition for Immediate Injunctive Relief (Document No. 6). Having considered the motions, submissions, and applicable law, the Court determines the writ should be denied and the motion to dismiss should be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 20, 1993, Petitioner-Plaintiff, Abeye Eyayu ("Eyayu"), was admitted to the United States as a child of a refugee. Eyayu is a not a United States citizen and his application to adjust his status to a Lawful Permanent Resident has been denied. On July 25, 2019, the 432nd Judicial District Court of Fort Worth, Texas convicted Eyayu of possession of marijuana and sentenced Eyayu to six months confinement. On November 7, 2019, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") encountered Eyayu at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ") Pam Lychner State Jail in Humble, Texas. On December 12, 2019, TDCJ transferred Eyayu to ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations ("ERO") Houston facility. Pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c)(1)(B),1 Eyayu is currently being detained at the Montgomery Processing Center (the "MPC") in Conroe, Texas pending disposition of his removal proceedings. Eyayu alleges ICE is subjecting Eyayu to unreasonable risks of contracting COVID-19 and that detention conditions at the MPC amount to unreasonable punishment in violation of Eyayu's constitutional rights.

Based on the foregoing, on April 17, 2020, Eyayu filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. On April 29, 2020, the Government moved to dismiss Eyayu's petition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Although "the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ ... it demands more than ... ‘labels and conclusions.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). " [A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ " Id. (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.’ " In re Katrina Canal Breeches Litig. , 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit , 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) ). To survive the motion, a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. "Conversely, ‘when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, this basic deficiency should ... be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.’ " Cuvillier v. Taylor , 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 558, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

III. LAW & ANALYSIS

Eyayu seeks immediate release from custody, contending he has been subjected to unconstitutional conditions in retribution for questioning ICE's handling of the facility during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Government moves to dismiss, contending Eyayu has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, because, inter alia , conditions of confinement are not appropriately challenged by way of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2241.

Section 2241 allows for individuals to seek habeas relief when they are "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States...." 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c). The sole function of a habeas petition is to "grant relief from unlawful imprisonment or custody...." Pierre v. United States , 525 F.2d 933, 935-36 (5th Cir. 1976). "Typically, habeas is used to challenge the fact or duration of confinement...." Poree v. Collins , 866 F.3d 235, 243 (5th Cir. 2017). "[H]abeas is not available to review questions unrelated to the cause of detention." Moore v. King , No. 08-60164, 2009 WL 122555 (5th Cir. Jan. 20, 2009) (quoting Pierre , 525 F.2d at 935 ). Rather, "allegations that challenge rules, customs, and procedures affecting conditions of confinement are properly brought in civil rights actions." Schipke v. Van Buren , 239 F. App'x 85, 85–86 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Spina v. Aaron , 821 F.2d 1126, 1127–28 (5th Cir. 1987) ).

Applying these principles, district courts within the Fifth Circuit have held it inappropriate to use habeas petitions to challenge an immigration detainee's conditions of confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. See, e.g., Beltran v. Wolf , No. 20-00152-C, 473 F.Supp.3d 688, 690–92 – ––––, (N.D. Tex. July 20, 2020) (Cummings, J.) (dismissing a § 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus for want of subject matter jurisdiction because the petition challenged conditions of confinement); Cureno Hernandez v. Mora , No. 20-00104-H, 467 F.Supp.3d 454, 456–57, (N.D. Tex. June 15, 2020) (Hendrix, J.) (same); Sacal-Micha v. Longoria , No. 20-37, 2020 WL 1815691, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Apr. 9, 2020) (Rodriguez, J.) (denying a § 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus because the petition challenged conditions of his confinement); but see Vazquez Barrera v. Wolf , No. 4:20-CV-1241, 455 F.Supp.3d 330, 336–37, (S.D. Tex. Apr. 17, 2020) (Ellison, J.) (granting a motion for a temporary restraining order related to a § 2241 petition challenging conditions of confinement in ICE custody). Therefore, the Court turns to whether Eyayu's petition challenges the conditions of his confinement or the fact or duration of his confinement.

Eyayu alleges he has been subjected to "constitutionally repugnant punitive measures by ICE, in response to his advocating for basic human rights to protect himself and other detainees from serious illness and death from COVID-19."2 Specifically, Eyayu alleges: (1) he was denied telephone privileges; (2) denied meaningful access to his counsel; (3) placed into solitary confinement; (4) not given masks sent by his foster mother; and (5) did not receive his medication while in solitary confinement.3 As to his claims concerning ICE's COVID-19 protective measures, Eyayu alleges the MPC lacks soap and masks, and that ICE is detaining large groups of people in close quarters contrary to social distancing guidelines.4 Furthermore, the precedent cited by Eyayu primarily includes cases challenging conditions of confinement for pretrial detainees.5 Eyayu's petition does not challenge the validity of his confinement nor the duration of his confinement. Having carefully reviewed all the allegations in Eyayu's petition, the Court finds Eyayu is challenging the conditions of his confinement. Thus, Eyayu fails to state a claim for relief under a § 2241 petition for writ of habeas corpus. Accordingly, the Government's motion to dismiss is granted.6

IV. CONCLUSION

Based on the foregoing, the Court hereby

ORDERS that Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief With Motion for Emergency Hearing (Document No. 1) is DISMISSED. The Court further

ORDERS that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Response to Abeye's Petition for Immediate Injunctive Relief (Document No. 6) is GRANTED.

THIS IS A FINAL JUDGMENT.

1 Under 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c)(1)(B), the Attorney General of the United States shall "take into custody any alien who ... is deportable by reason of having committed any offense covered in [8 U.S.C. §] 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii), (A)(iii), (B), (C), or (D)...." The provisions in 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2) cover, inter alia , multiple criminal convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, convictions for controlled substances, and certain firearm...

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