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ABDUS SHAHID ALI v. UNITED STATES

August 13, 1990

ABDUS SHAHID M.S. ALI, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 CHARLES R. RICHEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The plaintiff, convicted of first-degree murder under the District of Columbia ("D.C.") Code, brings this pro se damages action under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and also seeks a writ of mandamus. He contends that the federal and the D.C. defendants violated his first amendment and due process rights by transferring him, for allegedly punitive reasons, from the D.C. Department of Corrections Facility in Lorton, Virginia to the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc, California. The defendants have filed summary judgment motions, and the plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the entire record herein, and the underlying law, the Court will grant summary judgment for the defendants because there are no material facts in dispute and because, as a matter of law, the plaintiff -- once legally convicted -- had no constitutionally protected right to incarceration in any particular facility.

 The plaintiff complains that the defendants' decision to transfer him across the country violated his due process and first amendment rights in that the transfer unduly impairs: (1) his access to the courts to continue litigating various lawsuits pending here; (2) the practice of his religion (Muslim); (3) the ability of his mother to visit him in prison; and (4) the completion of his studies in a program sponsored by the University of the District of Columbia. While the Court is sympathetic to the plaintiff's distress over the disruption created by his transfer to California, the Court sees no reason on this record to intrude into the "wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts." Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225, 49 L. Ed. 2d 451, 96 S. Ct. 2532 (1976); see also Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 192 App. D.C. 357, 591 F.2d 966, 972 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ("because the realities of running a penal institution are complex and difficult, we have . . . recognized the wide-ranging deference to be accorded the decisions of prison administrators" (quoting Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U.S. 119, 126, 53 L. Ed. 2d 629, 97 S. Ct. 2532 (1977))).

 The linchpin of the plaintiff's argument -- that he has a constitutionally protected right to incarceration in any one particular facility -- does not survive scrutiny under controlling Supreme Court precedents. For example, in Meachum the Court held that, in the absence of a specific right conferred by state law, a prisoner may be transferred from one state prison to another prison within the same state without violating the Due Process Clause. The Meachum Court noted:

 
Given a valid conviction, the criminal defendant has been constitutionally deprived of his liberty to the extent that the State may confine him and subject him to the rules of its prison system so long as the conditions of confinement do not otherwise violate the Constitution. The Constitution does not require that the State have more than one prison for convicted felons; nor does it guarantee that the convicted prisoner will be placed in any particular prison . . . . The initial decision to assign the convict to a particular institution is not subject to audit under the Due Process Clause . . . . The conviction has sufficiently extinguished the defendant's liberty interest to empower the State to confine him in any of its prisons.

 Id. 427 U.S. at 224 (emphasis in original); see also Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 243-44, 49 L. Ed. 2d 466, 96 S. Ct. 2543 (1976) (because state law imposes no conditions on discretionary power to transfer, intrastate transfer of an inmate from one prison to another without a hearing does not violate due process).

 Similarly, and equally important for the purposes of resolving this case, the Supreme Court has explicitly extended the scope of its Meachum and Montanye holdings to include inter state transfers. In Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 75 L. Ed. 2d 813, 103 S. Ct. 1741 (1983), the Court held that "an interstate prison transfer, including one from Hawaii to California, does not deprive an inmate of any liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause in and of itself," id. at 248 (emphasis added), and that, because Hawaii's prison regulations gave the prison administrator unfettered discretion to transfer inmates, they also did not create a protected liberty interest, id. at 249-51. In addition, the Olim Court stated:

 
Just as an inmate has no justifiable expectation that he will be incarcerated in any particular prison within a State, he has no justifiable expectation that he will be incarcerated in any particular State. Often, confinement in the inmate's home State will not be possible . . . .
 
. . . .
 
In short, it is neither unreasonable nor unusual for an inmate to serve practically his entire sentence in a State other than the one in which he was convicted and sentenced, or to be transferred to an out-of-state prison after serving a portion of his sentence in his home State. Confinement in another State . . . is "within the normal limits or range of custody which the conviction has authorized the State to impose." Meachum, 427 U.S. at 225. Even when, as here, the transfer involves long distances and an ocean crossing, the confinement remains within constitutional limits.

 Olim, 461 U.S. at 245-47 (emphasis added; footnotes omitted).

 
shall be committed . . . to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States . . ., who shall designate the places of confinement where the sentences of all such persons shall be served. The Attorney General may designate any available, suitable, and appropriate institutions, whether maintained by the District of Columbia government, the federal government, or otherwise, or whether within or without the District of Columbia. The Attorney General is also authorized to order the transfer of any such person from one institution to another if, in his judgment, it shall be for the ...

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