United States District Court, N.D. California
October 6, 2005.
LETITIA BRENG ROSE a/k/a Tish Rose, Petitioner,
J MICHAEL HOGAN, SR, Deputy County Counsel Monterey County, Public Guardian and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VAUGHN WALKER, District Judge
On October 1, 2004, a petition filed by Gail Sutton, the adult
daughter of the petitioner named on the caption, Letitia Breng
Rose, was filed with this court after transfer from two other
federal district courts. The stated purpose of the petition was
"to have [Ms Sutton's mother released from the custody of the
State of California and to go to the State of New York so that
she can be with her family." Doc # 1, Petition at 2. See order
filed October 29, 2004 (Doc # 3). This court dismissed the
petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies.
Id. The court did not reach two issues presented by the petition:
(1) whether federal habeas relief was available for an individual committed
to a nursing home by a public guardian; and (2) whether Ms Sutton
could file on behalf of Mrs Rose as a "next friend" pursuant to
28 USC § 2242.
On July 20, 2005, Ms Sutton, appearing in propria persona,
filed an "emergency request for leave to move for
reconsideration" of the order dismissing the petition. Doc # 4.
Ms Sutton describes further procedural steps taken following the
October 29, 2004 dismissal of the petition and attaches documents
and photographs concerning Mrs Rose's situation. Id. She also
states more clearly that the objective of the petition is to
obtain the release of Mrs Rose from a private nursing home, the
Victorian at Carmel-by-the-Sea, to which she had allegedly been
committed by the public guardian for the County of Monterey under
the authority of a court-ordered conservatorship. Id. For these
reasons, Ms Sutton's filing is more properly styled as an amended
petition for habeas corpus. Because Ms Sutton is in propria
persona and the court must construe her papers liberally, the
court construes the motion for leave to file motion for
reconsideration as, instead, an amended petition for habeas
corpus under 28 USC § 2254. For the reasons stated herein, the
amended petition is DISMISSED, without leave to amend.
As stated in the court's October 29 order, prisoners in state
custody who wish to challenge collaterally in federal habeas
proceedings either the fact or length of their confinement are
first required to exhaust state judicial remedies, either on
direct appeal or through collateral proceedings, by presenting the
highest state court available with a fair opportunity to rule on
the merits of each and every claim they seek to raise in federal
court. See 28 USC § 2254(b), (c); Rose v. Lundy, 455 US 509,
515-16 (1982); Duckworth v. Serrano, 454 US 1, 3 (1981);
McNeeley v. Arave, 842 F2d 230, 231 (9th Cir 1988). The state's
highest court must be given an opportunity to rule on the claims
even if review is discretionary. See O'Sullivan v. Boerckel,
526 US 838, 845 (1999) (petitioner must invoke "one complete
round of the State's established appellate review process").
Because the original petition openly acknowledged the failure
to exhaust state remedies ("Gail Sutton did not appeal to any
higher State Court in the State of California because she did not
have the resources to pursue same," Doc # 1, ¶ 24), the court
dismissed the petition. The court has examined Ms Sutton's new
filing and determined, for the reasons stated below, that state
remedies have still not been exhausted.
In her papers, Ms Sutton recites the steps she and her husband
John Sutton took in the California courts after the dismissal of
the original petition by this court, Doc # 3 at 2: they
petitioned twice to terminate the conservatorship; they filed a
writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal of the State of
California, Sixth Appellate District, "dismissed and Suttons'
request to file in forma pauperis denied"; and they filed a
petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme
Court, which was rejected for filing by the clerk of that court.
Doc # 4 at 2-3. Ms Sutton does not submit with her petition either of the
orders of the superior court to which she refers. As Exhibit C to
the petition, Ms Sutton attaches a copy of an order of the Court
of Appeal dated May 12, 2005 which states: "The petitioners
having failed to submit the required filing fee, the petition for
writ of mandate filed April 18, 2005 is hereby stricken." The
order makes no reference to an in forma pauperis application, nor
is any order relating to such an application attached to the
petition. As Exhibit D to the petition, Ms Sutton includes a
letter dated May 26, 2005 from the clerk of the California
Supreme Court stating: "Returned unfiled is the petition for writ
of habeas corpus you attempted to file on behalf of Letitia Rose.
California law does not allow you to file on behalf of another
party unless you are an attorney." Ms Sutton submits no other
evidence regarding Ms Sutton's efforts on behalf of Mrs Rose in
the state courts.
The exhaustion requirement is satisfied only if the federal
claim: (1) has been "fairly presented" to the state courts,
Picard v. Connor, 404 US 270, 275 (1971), Crotts v. Smith,
73 F3d 861, 865 (9th Cir. 1996); or (2) no state remedy remains
available, see Johnson v. Zenon, 88 F3d 828, 829 (9th Cir
1996). Peterson v. Lampert, 319 F3d 1153, 1155-56 (9th Cir 2003)
(en banc). It does not constitute "fair presentation" if the
claim is raised by a procedural method which makes it unlikely
that the claim will be considered on the merits. See Castille v.
Peoples, 489 US 346, 351 (1989) (presentation by way of petition
to state supreme court for allocatur, which under state procedure
may be considered only when "there are special and important
reasons therefor," insufficient to exhaust); Casey,
386 F3d at 917 (federal claims not fairly presented when petitioner "raised them for the first and
only time upon petitioning for discretionary review to the
Washington State Supreme Court"); Kibler v. Walters,
220 F 3d 1151, 1153 (9th Cir 2000) (where state habeas petitioner failed
to satisfy procedural requirements for presentation of his claims
to Washington Supreme Court, he failed to fairly present his
claims for purposes of federal habeas corpus review).
It was incumbent on Ms Sutton to allege in her amended petition
that she has met the requirements for exhaustion and, where
appropriate, to attach evidence in support of that allegation.
The few attachments to the amended petition suggest that Ms
Sutton did not "fairly present" all available state courts with
an opportunity to rule on the merits. The petition states that
the superior court issued additional orders, but does not explain
why Ms Sutton did not file an appeal of those orders. Filing a
petition for writ of mandamus in the court of appeal
unaccompanied by a filing fee or valid in forma pauperis
application does not constitute fair presentation of claims to
Moreover, to establish exhaustion of state remedies, a habeas
petitioner must have apprised the California courts that she was
making a claim under the United States Constitution. Castillo v.
McFadden, 399 F3d 993, 999 (9th Cir 2005). In so doing, she must
describe "both the operative facts and the federal legal theory
on which [her] claim is based," id, citing Kelly v. Small,
315 F3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir 2003), and must have characterized the
claims raised in state proceedings "specifically as federal
claims," Castillo at 999, citing Lyons v. Crawford,
232 F3d 666, 670 (2000). "Mere general appeals to broad constitutional principles, such as
due process, equal protection, and the right to a fair trial, do
not establish exhaustion." Hiivala v. Wood, 195 F3d 1098, 1106
(9th Cir 1999).
The original petition alleged three grounds for relief under
the United States Constitution, but specifically stated "[t]he
grounds for relief raised in this petition have not been
presented to the highest State Court in California having
jurisdiction," Doc # 1 at 7, ¶ 31 and "[t]he grounds for relief
set forth in this petition have not been presented in any State
or Federal court." Id at ¶ 32. Ms Sutton's amended petition does
not allege or in any way suggest that she presented her
Constitutional claims on behalf of Mrs Rose to the state courts.
Because Ms Sutton's amended pleading fails to allege exhaustion
of state remedies, it must be, and hereby is, DISMISSED.
In its previous order, the court noted that there is little or
no precedent for the use of the writ of habeas corpus to
challenge the confinement of an individual who has been
adjudicated incompetent. Ms Sutton's amended petition sets forth
additional facts that plainly establish that the writ of habeas
corpus is not available to address the circumstances of Ms Rose's
confinement at the Victorian.
The United States Supreme Court's opinion in Lehman v. Lycoming
County Children's Services, 458 US 502, 512-16 (1982), held that
the writ of habeas corpus was not available to challenge the
placement of a child into the custody of foster and adoptive parents. A footnote, however, left open the possibility that
federal habeas corpus relief might be available in situations in
which individuals, including children, are confined in state
institutions pursuant to court order: "We express no view as to
the availability of federal habeas when a child is actually
confined in a state institution rather than being at liberty in
the custody of a foster parent pursuant to a court order."
458 US 502, 511, n. 12.
The First Circuit, however, extended Lehman to the context of
placement of an elderly person into a nursing home by a
state-court appointed guardian, holding that such action was not
"imprisonment" redressable by federal habeas. Hemon v. Office of
Public Guardian, 878 F2d 13, 15 (1st Cir 1989). That court cited
concerns about federalism and finality in the field of family
[T]he same concerns about federalism and finality
that counsel against federal habeas jurisdiction over
child custody disputes also counsel against federal
habeas jurisdiction over disputes regarding
guardianship. The long-standing policy of the federal
courts to avoid interference in state domestic
relations disputes for example, by abstaining from
asserting federal subject matter jurisdiction over
domestic relations matters * * * is not limited to
the area of child custody, but extends to the entire
field of domestic relations.
The Ninth Circuit has not spoken on this issue. This court,
however, finds the reasoning of Hemon compelling in the context
of this case. The crux of Ms Sutton's complaint is the
establishment of a conservatorship over her mother and the
appointment of a public guardian for her a guardian whose
decisions she strongly disagrees with. Ms Rose is housed not in a
state institution but in a private nursing home, albeit pursuant
to a decision of the public guardian, to whom the superior court
conferred the authority to make decisions regarding her care.
These are matters traditionally committed entirely to state law.
Because the court has determined that an exercise of federal
jurisdiction would not be appropriate given the underlying facts
of Ms Rose's case, a further opportunity to amend the petition
would be futile.
Another issue that remains unresolved is that Ms Sutton must
establish her qualifications to proceed as a "next friend" for
purposes of bringing a petition for writ of habeas corpus on Ms
Rose's behalf. See 28 USC section 2242; Whitmore v. Arkansas,
495 US 149, 165 (1990); Coalition of Clergy, Lawyers, and
Professors v. Bush, 310 F3d 1153, 1159-60 (9th Cir 2002). There
is insufficient evidence in the record to allow the court to
determine this question. Given the court's disposition of the
amended petition, it is unnecessary to reach this issue.
Finally, Ms Sutton cites Grant v. Johnson, 757 F Supp 1127 (D
Or 1991), in which a federal district court found
unconstitutional a state statute authorizing ex parte
appointments of indefinite temporary guardians without notice
without due process safeguards. Grant, however, is a civil
rights action brought under 42 USC § 1983, and therefore has
little bearing on the issues presented in the instant case, a
habeas corpus matter. Pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in
the United States District Courts, this matter is DISMISSED,
without leave to amend.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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