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Decambra v. Sakai

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

March 18, 2014

JOHN DeCAMBRA, Petitioner,


DERRICK K. WATSON, District Judge.

Petitioner John DeCambra is a Hawaii state prisoner incarcerated at the Saguaro Correctional Center ("SCC"), located in Eloy, Arizona. Petitioner submitted this action as a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 with a request to proceed in forma pauperis.

Although Petitioner names Hawaii Department of Public Safety Director Ted Sakai as respondent, [1] he claims that SCC prison officials in Arizona have denied him medical care in violation of the United States Constitution. Petitioner seeks an order directing prison officials to provide him with the medical care and treatment he allegedly requires. See generally, Petition, Doc. No. 1.


Petitioner complains that SCC prison physician Dr. Baird diagnosed him with Hepatitis C on or about July 16, 2013, yet refuses to treat him for this condition. Dr. Baird allegedly told Petitioner that "Hawaii's insurance won't cover his treatment, " and that Petitioner has insufficient time remaining in custody to begin treatment. Pet., Doc. No. 1 at PageID #2. Petitioner alleges that he became depressed and anxious for several days after receiving this news, and fearing that he might harm himself or others, requested medical supervision. Id. Petitioner has since repeatedly requested treatment for his Hepatitis C and access to his medical files, but has been denied both by SCC medical unit personnel. He concedes that SCC medical personnel explained that the Hepatitis C treatment protocol requires twenty-four uninterrupted weeks of treatment and causes side effects that may be dangerous given Petitioner's past mental health issues. Id., PageID #3.

Petitioner filed grievances concerning these claims and pursued habeas relief in the Hawaii state court on or about November 25, 2013. He states his grievances were denied and the Hawaii court has not responded. Id., PageID #4-9.


Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (Habeas Rules) requires the district court to make a preliminary review of each petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court must summarily dismiss a petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court...." Habeas Rule 4; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990). The Advisory Notes to Rule 8 indicate that the court may dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus at several stages of a case, including "summary dismissal under Rule 4; a dismissal pursuant to a motion by the respondent; a dismissal after the answer and petition are considered; or a dismissal after consideration of the pleadings and an expanded record."


"Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the lawfulness of confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus.'" Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 574, 579 (2006) (quoting Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004)). "An inmate's challenge to the circumstances of his confinement, however, may be brought under § 1983." Id.

Thus, as a general rule, a prisoner's challenge of the fact or duration of a confinement should be addressed by filing a habeas corpus petition, while a challenge to the conditions of confinement should be addressed by filing a civil rights action. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 554 (1974); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499-500 (1973); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 858-859 (9th Cir. 2003) (explaining that "habeas jurisdiction is absent, and a § 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition would not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence").

A. Petitioner Does Not Challenge His Conviction or Sentence

Petitioner does not challenge his conviction or sentence-he challenges the alleged denial of medical care by prison medical officials in Arizona. A favorable judgment would alter the conditions under which Petitioner is confined, but would not result in his release or effect the duration of his sentence. Because Petitioner's claims are properly construed as challenging the conditions of his confinement, they are cognizable, if at all, in a civil rights action, and not in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Moreover, Petitioner concedes he has an ongoing petition in the Hawaii state courts raising the same claims he presents here. Although Petitioner may have been unaware when he mailed this pleading to the court, the Hawaii Supreme Court has since directed the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General to answer Petitioner's claims within twenty days of February 21, 2014. See DeCambra v. Sakai, No. SCPW-13-0005657, 2014 WL 715543, *1 (Haw. 2014). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), habeas relief may not be granted unless a petitioner has exhausted the remedies available in state court. Exhaustion requires the petitioner to fairly present all claims to the state courts before commencing a federal action. Ybarra v. McDaniel, 656 F.3d 984, 991 (9th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___ , 133 S.Ct. 424 (2012). As a matter of comity, a federal court will not entertain a habeas petition unless the petitioner has exhausted the available state judicial remedies on ...

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