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United States District Court, S.D. California

October 4, 2005.

CHARLES H. BROSE, Petitioner,
R.J. HERNANDEZ, Warden, Respondent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES STIVEN, Magistrate Judge

Charles H. Brose, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising one ground for relief. The Court has considered the Petition, Respondent's Answer, and all supporting documents submitted by the parties. Based upon the documents and evidence presented in this case, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the Petition be DENIED and the case be dismissed with prejudice.

I. Factual Background

  On April 18, 2003, Petitioner pleaded guilty to receiving a stolen vehicle with a prior. He was sentenced to four years in prison less 270 days credit for time spent in custody. (Lodgment 6.) At a March 16, 2004, disciplinary hearing, Petitioner was found to be in possession of inmate manufactured alcohol in violation of 15 Cal. Code Regs. § 3016(a). As a result, Petitioner lost 120 days of good behavior credits. (Lodgment 2.)

  II. Procedural Background

  Petitioner filed a number of petitions for writ of habeas corpus, requesting to have his good behavior credits reinstated. The first through fourth petitions were denied, because Petitioner had not exhausted all of his administrative remedies. (Pet., Exh. A.) After Petitioner exhausted his administrative remedies, the superior court considered and denied his fifth petition for writ of habeas corpus on December 21, 2004. (Lodgment 4.) Petitioner then filed a "petition for writ of mandate" in the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One. (Lodgment 5.) The state appellate court treated the petition as a petition for writ of habeas corpus and denied the petition on February 7, 2005. (Lodgment 6.) On March 7, 2005, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. (Lodgment 7.) The state supreme court denied the petition on March 23, 2005. (Lodgment 8.)

  On April 15, 2005, Petitioner filed the current Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Docket No. 1.) Respondent filed an Answer and Lodgments on June 20, 2005. (Docket Nos. 5-6.) Petitioner has not filed a Traverse in this case.

  III. Discussion

  A. Scope of Review

  Title 28, United States Code, § 2254(a), sets forth the following scope of review for federal habeas corpus claims:

The Supreme Court, a Justice thereof, a circuit judge, or a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (1994) (emphasis added).

  The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") applies to habeas corpus petitions filed after 1996. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). As amended, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) reads:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim —
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in State court proceeding. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254(d) (West Supp. 2004).
  To obtain federal habeas relief, Petitioner must satisfy either § 2254(d)(1) or § 2254(d)(2). Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403 (2000). The Supreme Court interprets § 2254(d)(1) as follows:


Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decided a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.
Williams, 529 U.S. at 412-13; see Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73-74 (2003).

  Where there is no reasoned decision from the state's highest court, this Court "looks through" to the underlying appellate court decision. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991). If the dispositive state court order does not "furnish a basis for its reasoning," federal habeas courts must conduct an independent review of the record "to determine whether the state court clearly erred in its application of controlling federal law." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003); Delgado v. Lewis, 223 F.3d 976, 982 (9th Cir. 2000) (overruled on other grounds by Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75-76). However, a state court need not cite Supreme Court precedent when resolving a habeas corpus claim. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). As long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts Supreme Court precedent, the state court decision will not be "contrary to" clearly established federal law. Id.

  B. Analysis

  Petitioner's only claim for relief is that his good behavior credits were reduced in violation of his due process rights. (Pet., Exh. A.) Petitioner argues that his cell mate was the one making the alcohol, and his cell mate took full responsibility for the alcohol in the cell. (Pet., Exh. D.) Petitioner further argues that the California Department of Corrections violated its own guidelines and regulations when it took away his good behavior credits. Respondent argues that the prison disciplinary proceedings were based on state law and, therefore, do not establish a claim for federal habeas corpus relief. Respondent also argues that, even if the Petition presents a claim for federal habeas corpus relief, the state court's decision was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.

  State law questions do not create cognizable claims in federal habeas corpus proceedings. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). Nor is the possible reduction of a sentence for good behavior a legal entitlement. Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1095 (9th Cir. 1986). Insofar as the disciplinary action against Petitioner involved the application of state law, Petitioner has not presented a claim for federal habeas corpus relief. However, an inmate is entitled to due process before being disciplined when the discipline imposed will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 487 (1995). Because the discipline imposed on Petitioner included the loss of time credits, he was entitled to certain procedural due process safeguards in connection with the disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974).

  The process due in such a prison disciplinary proceeding includes: (1) written notice of the charges; (2) at least a brief period of time after the notice to prepare for the hearing; (3) a written statement by the fact-finders as to the evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action; (4) allowing the inmate to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense when permitting him to do so will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals; and (5) aid from a fellow inmate or staff member where an illiterate inmate is involved or where the complexity of the issues makes it unlikely that the inmate will be able to collect and present the evidence necessary for an adequate comprehension of the case. See id. at 564, 566, 570.

  Here, the record reveals that prison officials met the due process requirements of Wolff before holding the disciplinary hearing and before reducing Petitioner's good behavior credits. Petitioner indicated at the March 16, 2004, disciplinary hearing that he had received copies of all papers relating to the disciplinary action 24 hours prior to the hearing, satisfying requirements (1), (2) and (3). (Lodgment 2.) Petitioner was also given an opportunity to question the correctional officer testifying against him and to call witnesses. (Id.) Petitioner originally requested that his cell mate be present to testify but later waived the cell mate's appearance. (Id.) Thus, the prison officials had satisfied requirement (4). The hearing officer did not assign a staff assistant to Petitioner, because Petitioner was not illiterate, the issues were not complex, and no confidential relationship existed. (Id.) Therefore, requirement (5) did not apply to Petitioner. Due process also requires that the findings of the prison disciplinary board be supported by "some" evidence. See Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985). And there must be some indicia of reliability of the information that forms the basis for prison disciplinary actions. See Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 704-05 (9th Cir. 1987). The Due Process Clause only requires that prisoners be afforded those procedures mandated by Wolff and its progeny; it does not require that a prison comply with its own, more generous procedures. See Walker v. Sumner, 14 F.3d 1415, 1419-20 (9th Cir. 1994).

  In this case, the record reveals that there was "some" evidence that Petitioner was in possession of inmate manufactured alcohol. Following is the evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing: On March 7, 2004, Officer Jannusch was conducting a security inspection when he observed Petitioner and his cell mate making a reddish liquid substance. Officer Jannusch also observed Petitioner kicking the bucket containing the substance under a bunk in an effort to conceal it. The contents of the bucket was verified as inmate manufactured alcohol. Petitioner also testified at his disciplinary hearing that he was aware of the substance being in his cell. (Lodgment 2.)

  The Supreme Court noted in Hill: "Prison disciplinary proceedings take place in a highly charged atmosphere, and prison administrators must often act swiftly on the basis of evidence that might be insufficient in less exigent circumstances. See Wolff, 418 U.S. [at 562-63, 567-69]. The fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Due Process Clause does not require courts to set aside decisions of prison administrators that have some basis in fact." Hill, 472 U.S. at 456. In this case, the decision of the hearing officer meets the requirements of the due process clause, because the evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing provided "some basis in fact" for the decision.

  The last reasoned state court opinion that addresses this claim is the state appellate court decision of February 7, 2005, rejecting Petitioner's habeas petition. (Lodgment No. 6.) That court found that the prison officials did not act without information, fraudulently or on mere personal caprice. (Id.) In addition, the court found that there was ample evidence in the record to support the finding that Petitioner was in possession of inmate manufactured alcohol. Because the prison officials met the due process requirements set out in Wolff and its progeny, this Court finds the state court decision was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, established federal law Accordingly, this Court recommends that the Petition be DENIED.

  IV. Conclusion

  After thorough review of the record in this matter and based on the foregoing analysis, this Court recommends that the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus be DENIED and this action be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

  This Report and Recommendation of the undersigned Magistrate Judge is submitted to the District Judge assigned to this case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

  On or before October 21, 2005, any party may file and serve written objections with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. The document shall be entitled "Objections to Report and Recommendation." Any reply to the objections shall be filed and served no later than ten days after being served with the objections. The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to raise those objections on appeal of the Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).


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