Wright v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 05-1383.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtTacha
Citation451 F.3d 1231
PartiesGlenn A. WRIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant, v. FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS and Joe L. Norwood, Respondents-Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 05-1383.
Decision Date07 July 2006
451 F.3d 1231
Glenn A. WRIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS and Joe L. Norwood, Respondents-Appellees.
No. 05-1383.
United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.
July 7, 2006.

Page 1232

David Alan Lewis, Brooklyn, NY, (Colleen B. Scissors, Offices of Colleen B. Scissors, LLC, Grand Junction, CO, on the briefs), appearing for Appellant.

Jerry N. Jones, Assistant United States Attorney, (William J. Leone, United States Attorney, with him on the brief), Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, Denver, CO, appearing for Appellees.

Mary Price, Esq., General Counsel, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Denver, CO, and Philip A. Cherner, Esq., Law Office Of Philip A. Cherner, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Before TACHA, Chief Circuit Judge, BARRETT, Senior Circuit Judge, and O'BRIEN, Circuit Judge.

TACHA, Chief Circuit Judge.


In 1996, Petitioner-Appellant Glenn Wright was convicted of interstate transportation of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A and sentenced to 168 months' imprisonment; he began serving his sentence on May 24, 1996. Mr. Wright will not be incarcerated for the entire 168 months, however, and the question this appeal raises is how early he will be released. Based on its interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), the federal statute governing the calculation of credit for good conduct in prison, the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") predicts that Mr. Wright will earn 635 days of good time credit. Under Mr. Wright's interpretation of the statute, he predicts that he will earn 729 days of good time credit. In December 2004, he petitioned the District Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to dispute BOP's method of calculation. The District Court denied his petition; we take jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253(a) and AFFIRM.

I.

This appeal presents a straightforward case of statutory interpretation. The statute at issue, 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), allows a prisoner to earn credit toward the service of his sentence for exemplary conduct in prison. The provision provides in relevant part:

Page 1233

[A] prisoner who is serving a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year other than a term of imprisonment for the duration of the prisoner's life, may receive credit toward the service of the prisoner's sentence, beyond the time served, of up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner's term of imprisonment, beginning at the end of the first year of the term, subject to determination by the Bureau of Prisons that, during that year, the prisoner has displayed exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations. . . . [C]redit for the last year or portion of a year of the term of imprisonment shall be prorated and credited within the last six weeks of the sentence.

18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1) (emphasis added). The BOP issued a regulation, after notice and comment, see 5 U.S.C. § 553, interpreting the emphasized portion of the statute. The regulation provides that the BOP will "award 54 days credit toward service of sentence . . . for each year served." 28 C.F.R. § 523.20(a) (emphasis added). The BOP has also issued, as part of its Sentence Computation Manual, Program Statement 5880.28, which provides a formula for calculating good-time credit on sentences exceeding a year and a day. As the Seventh Circuit has explained:

[The] formula is based on the premise that for every day a prisoner serves on good behavior, he may receive a certain amount of credit toward the service of his sentence, up to a total of fifty-four days for each full year. Thus, under the Bureau's formula, a prisoner earns .148 days' credit for each day served on good behavior (54 / 365 = .148), and for ease of administration the credit is awarded only in whole day amounts. Recognizing that most sentences will end in a partial year, the Bureau's formula provides that the maximum available credit for that partial year must be such that the number of days actually served will entitle the prisoner (on the .148-per-day basis) to a credit that when added to the time served equals the time remaining on the sentence.

White v. Scibana, 390 F.3d 997, 1000 (7th Cir.2004), cert denied, White v. Hobart, ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 2921, 2922, 162 L.Ed.2d 297 (2005). In other words, the BOP reads the statute as mandating good time credits to be calculated based on the amount of time served in prison.

Mr. Wright argues, however, that § 3624(b)(1) unambiguously requires good time credit to be calculated based upon the sentence imposed, as opposed to the time served. Therefore, according to Mr. Wright, he is entitled to fifty-four days of good-time credit for each of the fourteen years to which he was sentenced, minus any deductions for disciplinary violations.

II.

Because this case involves an administrative agency's construction of a statute, our analysis is governed by Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984). Under Chevron, we first determine "whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Id. at 842, 104 S.Ct. 2778. If so, our inquiry is at an end; "the court `must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.'" Food and Drug Admin. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 132, 120 S.Ct. 1291, 146 L.Ed.2d 121 (2000) (quoting Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778). If, on the other hand, the statute is silent or ambiguous on the issue, we will determine whether the agency's view is based on a permissible construction of the statute. Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778.

We review issues of statutory construction de novo. Robbins v. Chronister, 435 F.3d 1238, 1240 (10th Cir.2006) (en banc).

Page 1234

"`[O]ur task is to interpret the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve.'" Hain v. Mullin, 436 F.3d 1168, 1176 (10th Cir.2006) (en banc) (quoting Dickerson v. New Banner Inst., Inc., 460 U.S. 103, 118, 103 S.Ct. 986, 74 L.Ed.2d 845 (1983)). Our starting point, as always, is the language employed by Congress. Id. We read the words of the statute "in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme." Brown & Williamson, 529 U.S. at 132-133, 120 S.Ct. 1291; Hain, 436 F.3d at 1177.

Our focus in this case is directed at the meaning of "term of imprisonment." The phrase has inconsistent meanings throughout § 3624. For example, § 3624(a) states that "[a] prisoner shall be released by the [BOP] on the date of the expiration of the prisoner's term of imprisonment, less any time credited toward the service of the prisoner's sentence as provided in subsection (b)." Here, "term of imprisonment" plainly refers to the "sentence imposed" since the BOP is instructed to deduct time credited from the prisoner's sentence. Perez-Olivo v. Chavez, 394 F.3d 45, 49 (1st Cir.2005). In § 3624(d), however, the same phrase means "time served." That section provides that "[u]pon the release of a prisoner on the expiration of the prisoner's term of imprisonment, the [BOP] shall furnish the prisoner with [suitable clothing, an amount of money not to exceed $500, and transportation]." 18 U.S.C. § 3624(d). Indeed, "[i]t would make no sense to provide [a prisoner] these amenities at a time when the prisoner's original imposed sentence had expired — a date that would obviously occur after the prisoner had been released based on good time credits." Perez-Olivo, 394 F.3d at 49 (quoting Loeffler v. Bureau of Prisons, No. 04-4627, 2004 WL 2417805, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.29, 2004)).

The phrase is also used three times in the first sentence of § 3624(b)(1). The provision applies to a prisoner "serving a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year other than a term of imprisonment for the duration of the prisoner's life." 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1) (emphasis added). Here, the phrase means "sentence imposed" since the statute only applies to prisoners who have been sentenced to more than one year's imprisonment and less than life. Yi v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 412 F.3d 526, 531 (4th Cir.2005). The BOP must be able to determine, on the first day the prisoner arrives in prison, if he will be eligible for good time credits. If, on the other hand, the phrase meant "time served" then a prisoner "who initially would be eligible for the credit because his sentence was, say, 366 days, would become ineligible once the credit was taken into account." White, 390 F.3d at 1001.

But the specific use of the phrase at issue here describes not how to determine whether a prisoner is eligible for good time credits, but how (and when) to calculate them. At the end of each year of imprisonment, if the BOP determines that the prisoner's behavior during that year was exemplary, then it may award up to fifty-four days credit toward service of the prisoner's sentence. 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1). The statute contemplates retrospective annual assessment of a prisoner's behavior — that is, Congress intended that prisoners earn good time credits by "display[ing] exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations." 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1). To interpret "term of imprisonment" to mean "sentence imposed," as Mr. Wright suggests, an inmate could receive credit for time when he was not in prison at all. See White, 390 F.3d at 1002. For example, Mr. Wright suggests that he is entitled to fifty-four days of credit for each of the fourteen years to which he was sentenced (minus any deductions for less-than-exemplary

Page 1235

behavior), even though it is undisputed that Mr. Wright will not serve any of his fourteenth year. Simply put, "[a]n inmate who is not in prison cannot `earn' credit for compliance with disciplinary regulations," Yi, 412 F.3d at 532, and Mr. Wright's reading of the statute would appear to frustrate Congress's intent, see Sash v. Zenk, 428 F.3d 132, 137 (2d Cir.2005)...

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39 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Hinckley, No. 07-7107.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 9, 2008
    ...de novo, "`interpret[ing] the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve.'" Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233-34 (10th Cir.2006) (quoting Hain v. Mullin, 436 F.3d 1168, 1176 (10th Cir.2006) (en banc)); see also Bd. of County Comm'rs, Fremont C......
  • Nat'l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. RBS Sec., Inc., Case Nos. 11–2340–RDR, 11–2649–RDR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • July 25, 2012
    ...we may consider the overriding goals Congress sought to achieve through the legislation. See Wright v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1234 (10th Cir.2006) (the task of statutory construction is to interpret the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serv......
  • Nat'l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. Nomura Home Equity Loan, Inc., Nos. 12–3295
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • August 19, 2014
    ...of the statute controls,” United States v. Quarrell, 310 F.3d 664, 669 (10th Cir.2002); see also Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233 (10th Cir.2006) (“[T]he court ‘must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.’ ” (quoting Food & Drug Admin. v. Brown &......
  • Been v. O.K. Industries, Inc., No. 05-7079.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2007
    ...de novo, "interpret[ing] the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve." Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233-34 (10th Cir.2006) (quotation omitted). In so doing, we begin with "the language employed by Congress," and we "read the words of the s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
39 cases
  • U.S. v. Hinckley, No. 07-7107.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 9, 2008
    ...de novo, "`interpret[ing] the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve.'" Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233-34 (10th Cir.2006) (quoting Hain v. Mullin, 436 F.3d 1168, 1176 (10th Cir.2006) (en banc)); see also Bd. of County Comm'rs, Fremont C......
  • Nat'l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. RBS Sec., Inc., Case Nos. 11–2340–RDR, 11–2649–RDR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
    • July 25, 2012
    ...we may consider the overriding goals Congress sought to achieve through the legislation. See Wright v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1234 (10th Cir.2006) (the task of statutory construction is to interpret the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serv......
  • Nat'l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. Nomura Home Equity Loan, Inc., Nos. 12–3295
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • August 19, 2014
    ...of the statute controls,” United States v. Quarrell, 310 F.3d 664, 669 (10th Cir.2002); see also Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233 (10th Cir.2006) (“[T]he court ‘must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.’ ” (quoting Food & Drug Admin. v. Brown &......
  • Been v. O.K. Industries, Inc., No. 05-7079.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2007
    ...de novo, "interpret[ing] the words of the statute in light of the purposes Congress sought to serve." Wright v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 451 F.3d 1231, 1233-34 (10th Cir.2006) (quotation omitted). In so doing, we begin with "the language employed by Congress," and we "read the words of the s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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