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Habeas Relief Unavailable for Civil Rights Violations

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (7th Circuit) has affirmed a District Court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s habeas action because it presented only civil rights claims.

In March of 2001, Steven Glaus began hepatitis C (hep C) treatment at the federal prison in Marion, Illinos. In March of 2002, although Glaus had improved considerably, prison medical staff deemed him a “non-responder” and stopped treating him. In October of that year, Glaus filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that his termination from the hep C treatment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He filed the petition under 28 U.S.C. 2241 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Eastern District of Missouri, and Southern District of Indiana, requesting transfer to a prison medical facility, or to the streets, where he could resume the hep C treatment.

In January of 2003, the District Court dismissed Glaus’ petition without prejudice. It reasoned that since Glaus’ complaints involved the conditions under which he was confined, they were civil rights claims. Because 28 U.S.C. 2241 provides relief only in situations where a person’s confinement itself, or the quantum level of confinement, is unlawful, relief thereunder was not available to Glaus. Therefore, the Court dismissed Glaus’ petition, and he appealed.

On appeal, the 7th Circuit found that Glaus’ claim that prison officials had provided substandard medical care for his broken arm was a civil rights claim. On that basis, the 7th Circuit agreed with the District Court’s conclusion that habeas relief was not available to him. Therefore, the 7th Circuit upheld the District Court’s dismissal of the case.

However, the 7th Circuit did find that the District Court didn’t adequately explain to Glaus what it was doing by dismissing the case without prejudice. The Circuit Court ruled that District Courts in such circumstances must inform prisoners that in dismissing the case without prejudice means: (1) that the Court is not deciding the merits of the case; (2) that the prisoner may refile under a civil rights label (42 U.S.C. 1983 for state prisoners, or Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics; 403 U.S. 388 (1971) for federal prisoners); and (3) that refilling under the proper label could result in a frivolous litigation strike against him if the newly filed case is dismissed as frivolous (three frivolous litigation strikes against the same prison litigator will result in his or her being required to pay the filing fee for all future cases in advance). See: Glaus v. Anderson, 408 F.3d 382 (7th Cir. 2005)

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Related legal case

Glaus v. Anderson, 408 F.3d 382 (7th Cir. 2005).