United States District Court, S.D. California
October 20, 2005.
JOEL BROWN Petitioner,
STUART J. RYAN, Warden-Acting, et al., Respondents.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANTHONY BATTAGLIA, Magistrate Judge
Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Motion to Dismiss [Doc.
Petitioner Joel Brown, a state prisoner proceeding pro se,
filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his May 19, 2004 conviction in
Riverside County Superior Court Case No. CR-23726. The Petitioner
is currently serving an indeterminate term of twenty-seven (27)
years to life at Calipatria State Prison for first degree murder.
See Lodgements, Exh. 1. Respondents have filed a Motion to
Dismiss and lodged relevant portions of the state court record.
Petitioner has filed an Opposition. Upon review and for the
reasons set forth herein, it is recommended that Respondents'
Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
On or about July 10, 2003, Petitioner filed a petition for Writ
of Habeas Corpus with Imperial County Superior Court in
California alleging violations similar to those asserted in the
instant petition. [Pet. for Writ, Imperial Sup. Ct., Case No.
W-0459]. On August 8, 2003, the Superior Court of the State of
California in and for the County of Imperial entered an Order
Denying Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus citing Petitioner's
failure to present any evidence of exhaustion of administrative
remedies, however, recognizing and agreeing with Petitioner's
assessment that the CDC's administrative remedies could not grant relief and noting Petitioner's failure
to state sufficient facts upon which relief by writ could be
granted. [Sup. Ct. of Imperial County, On February 3, 2005, Case
On or about August 19, 2003, Petitioner filed a Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus with the California Court of Appeal, Fourth
Appellate District alleging the same Eighth Amendment violations
and alleging that the Imperial County Superior Court had violated
his Due Process rights. [Pet. for Writ, Cal. Ct. of App., Case
No. D042759]. On September 18, 2003, Petitioner's claims were
again denied, with the California Court of Appeal citing failure
to exhaust administrative remedies. [Cal. Ct. of App., September
18, 2003, Case No. W0459]. On October 2, 2003, Petitioner filed a
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the California Supreme
Court opposing the California Court of Appeal's decision and
laying out similar claims of Eighth Amendment violations and also
alleging that the lower court had violated his Due Process
rights. [Pet. Writ., Sup. Ct. Cal., October 2, 2003, Case No.
S119461]. On May 19, 2004, the California Supreme Court denied
Petitioner's Writ without comment. [Sup. Ct. of Cal., May 19,
2004, Case No. S119461].
On February 3, 2005, Petitioner filed a petition for Writ of
Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court relying
on facts that were exhausted in the California Supreme Court Case
No. S119461. On February 23, 3005, this Court dismissed the
Petition for failure to satisfy the filing fee requirement and
for failing to identify a cognizable federal habeas claim.
Petitioner was ordered to either pay the filing fee or submit
adequate proof of his inability to pay and was ordered to cure
his pleadings. The Court also ordered Petitioner to file a
separate complaint pursuant to § 1983 if he wished to proceed
with any or all of the civil rights claims set forth in his
habeas petition. Petitioner responded on March 18, 2005, by
filing a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and rather than
filing an amended petition, Petitioner filed objections to the
Court's February 23, 2005 Order of Dismissal.
On April 8, 2005 the Court entered an order denying
Petitioner's request to proceed in forma pauperis. [Order Deny.
in Form. Paup., U.S. Dist. Ct. South. Dist. of Cal., April 8,
2005, Case No. 05CV0216]. The Court again reiterated that
Petitioner had not clearly defined his claims and that the Court
was unsure as to whether Petitioner meant to assert claims under
28 U.S.C. § 2254 or under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addressing the objections raised by Petitioner,
the Court noted two identifiable liberty interests that could
only be restored via a habeas corpus action. First, the Court
noted Petitioner's claim that the CDC's failure to release him
due to overcrowding, a practice common in other states,
constituted a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Second, the Court noted Petitioner's claim
that the CDC's restrictions on participation in programs which
allow inmates to earn custody credits that could ultimately
reduce the length of their sentence also raised a liberty
interest. However, the Court noted that these claims were not
sufficiently articulated to satisfy the requirements of Rule 2(c)
of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases where the claims
contained only references to prior petitions with the requisite
facts buried in attachments. As such, the Court found the
Petition failed to specify all grounds for relief available to
the petitioner and failed to state the facts supporting each
ground and dismissed the action without prejudice to allow
Petitioner to file an amended petition.
On or about May 23, 2005, Petitioner filed this First Amended
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
[First Amend. Pet. for Writ., U.S. Dist. Ct. South. Dist. of Cal,
Case No. 06CV0216-BTM]. On or about August 24, 2005, Respondent
filed a Motion to Dismiss Petitioner's Writ of Habeas Corpus
arguing that the Petition was barred by procedural default and on
the basis that the Petition fails to raise a cognizable claim
under § 2254.
1. Procedural Default
The procedural default doctrine forecloses review of a state
prisoner's federal habeas claims, if those claims were defaulted
in a state court pursuant to an independent and adequate state
procedural rule. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30
(1991). For a state procedural rule to be "independent," the
state law basis for the decision must not be interwoven*fn2
with federal law. Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1040-41
(1983); Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 265 (1989). In order for
a state procedural rule to be "adequate," it "must have been
`firmly established and regularly followed' by the time as of
which it is to be applied." Ford v. Georgia, 498 U.S. 411, 424
(1991) (quoting James v. Kentucky, 466 U.S. 341, 348 (1984)).
In the instant case, the Court must determine whether the state courts were regularly and consistently applying the relevant
procedural default rule "at the time the claim should have been
raised." Fields v. Calderon, 125 F.3d 757, 760 (9th Cir. 1997).
A state procedural bar rule is inadequate to preclude federal
habeas review if the state rule is not consistently applied.
Loveland v. Hatcher, 231 F.3d 640 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing
Moran v. McDaniel, 80 F.3d 1261, 1269 (9th Cir. 1996)); see
also Lambright v. Stewart, 241 F.3d 1201 (9th Cir. 2001). "In
all cases in which a state prisoner has defaulted his federal
claims in state court pursuant to an independent and adequate
state procedural rule, federal habeas review of the claims is
barred unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default
and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of
federal law, or demonstrate that failure to consider the claims
will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice." Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).
2. Whether a Prisoner Should Proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 or
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
The Supreme Court has held that a prisoner may use § 1983 to
challenge the conditions of his confinement, but habeas corpus is
the only avenue for a challenge to the fact or duration of
confinement, at least when the remedy requested would result in
the prisoner's immediate or speedier release from that
confinement. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 125 S.Ct. 1242 (2005). The
Supreme Court sets forth an implied exception to § 1983's
coverage where the claims seek, but not where they simply relate
to, core habeas corpus relief, i.e., where a state prisoner
requests present or future release. Preiser v. Rodriguez,
411 U.S. 475, 499-500 (1973). Section 1983 remains available for
procedural challenges where success in the action would not
necessarily spell immediate or speedier release for the prisoner.
Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). However, habeas
remedies do not displace § 1983 actions where success in the
civil rights suit would not necessarily vitiate the legality of
state confinement, which was not previously invalidated. Edwards
v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641(1997). A prisoner may not use § 1983 to
obtain damages where success would necessarily imply the
unlawfulness of a conviction or sentence, which was not
previously invalidated. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
In the parole context, the divide between habeas and § 1983
civil rights actions, grows ever murkier with respect to the
question of whether a prisoner should proceed pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254 or under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Docken v. Chase,
the Ninth Circuit recently held that "when prison inmates seek
only equitable relief in challenging aspects of their parole
review, that, so long as they prevail, could potentially affect the duration of their
confinement, such relief is available under the federal habeas
statute." 393 F.3d 1024, 1031 (9th Cir. 2004) (Emphasis added).
Under Docken, even when, as here, petitioner's claims do not
constitute the kind of "core" challenge contemplated by
Preiser, the Petitioner may still proceed under § 2254 so long
as there is an undeniable "potential relationship between his
claim and the duration of his confinement. . . ." Id. at 1031.
The Petitioner contends that state budgetary cuts and
shortfalls are causing prisons to operate at double the designed
capacity, and that such cut backs have eliminated or adversely
affected certain prison programs and privileges (e.g. work
participation, family visits, monthly canteen draw, telephone
access, yard access, receipt of special packages, dayroom
activities, food quality and quantity, prisoner transfers and
programs for life-sentence prisoners) in violation of
Petitioner's Constitutional Fourteenth Amendment right to equal
protection and Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and
unusual punishment. See Lodgements, Exh. 2. Petitioner claims
that California's budgetary constraints have resulted in a
decrease in the number of prison staff, which has in turn led to
a reduction in the availability of self-help programs and
vocational and educational programs. Petitioner alleges that the
absence of such programs can negatively impact a prisoner's
ability to win favor with the parole board and that the overall
decline in prison staff presence can lead to an increase in
prisoner hostility and violence further negatively impacting a
prisoner's likelihood of favorable review. Petitioner alleges
that this is a violation of his Equal Protection rights because
inmates in other states that do not suffer from budgetary
deficiencies have less hostile living environments, have access
to the type of programs that Petitioner does not, and have
received early releases as a result as a result of such
The Petition further claims that California's budget cuts have
impacted Petitioner's standard of living to a degree that amounts
to cruel and unusual punishment. As evidence, Petitioner claims
that inmates are receiving less than the mandatory 2,700 calories
per day and that a reduction in medical staff has led to
substandard medical care.
Respondents' contend that the Petition should be dismissed for
two reasons. Respondents argue that the Petition is barred by
procedural default because the Petitioner failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies before seeking relief in state court.
Respondents also contend that the Petition fails to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court, as Petitioner's challenges
to the conditions of his confinement are not cognizable on
federal habeas corpus review.
1. Procedural Default
Respondents argue that Petitioner's claims are procedurally
defaulted because he failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies prior to initiating habeas corpus proceedings.
Respondents contend that Petition was denied at every level of
state court review on the ground that Petitioner failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies prior to initiating habeas
corpus proceedings. Dft. Mem. at 3. However, the Petitioner
argues, and the Court agrees, that the Petition was not denied by
the Superior Court for failure to exhaust administrative
remedies, rather, the Superior Court agreed with Petitioner's
assessment that the "CDC does not have the authority to grant
relief, nor can they remedy the concerns of the petition."
As set forth above, the requirement that one exhaust a
well-defined system of administrative remedies before turning to
the court for relief is a well settled legal doctrine. In re
Serna, 76 Cal. App.3d 1010, (Cal.Ct.App. 1978) (citing McKart
v. United States 395 U.S. 185, 193-195 (1969); Abelleira v.
District Court of Appeal 17 Cal. 2d 280, 291-296 (1941); In re
Muszalski (1975) 52 Cal. App. 3d 500, 503 (1975). Indeed, a
California court that hears a cause which is prematurely
withdrawn from an administrative appeals procedure is considered
to be without jurisdiction. Hesperia Land Development Co. v.
Superior Court, 184 Cal. App.2d 865, 876 (1960).
The Court agrees with Respondents argument that the appeals
procedure of the CDC which provides administrative remedies must
normally be exhausted before habeas corpus relief is sought in
Superior Court. In re Muszalski, 52 Cal. App.3d at p. 508.
However, this Court notes that the administrative exhaustion
requirement is not without exception. Ogo Associates v. City of
Torrance, 37 Cal. App.3d 830, 834 (1974). The rule requiring
administrative exhaustion is frequently waived where the
administrative procedure is not well-defined (Endler v.
Schutzbank, 68 Cal.2d 162, 168 (1968)), where the administrative
remedy is inadequate (Glendale City Employees' Assn., Inc. v.
City of Glendale, 15 Cal.3d 328, 342-343 (1975)), or futile
(Gantner & Mattern Co. v. California E. Com., 17 Cal.2d 314,
318 (1941)), or where there is a threat of irreparable injury
(Abelleira v. District Court of Appeal, 17 Cal.2d at pp.
296-297; Walker v. Munro, 178 Cal. App.2d 67, 72-73 (1960)). It appears that the Superior Court not only acknowledged
Petitioner's assertion that the CDC's administrative remedies
could not address his complaints, but that the Superior Court
agreed with Petitioner that his claims fell within one of the
recognized exceptions to the rule requiring administrative
exhaustion. Lodgements at 41. As such, the Court finds that the
instant Petition is not procedurally barred by Petitioner's
failure to exhaust available CDC administrative remedies.
2. Failure to State a Cognizable Claim on Federal Habeas
Applying the principles set forth above to the present case,
the Court concludes that the Petitioner has, with regard to the
claims involving early release and cuts in prison programs which
would allow Petitioner to earn custody credits, stated a
cognizable habeas claim in the instant Petition sufficient to
survive Respondents' Motion to Dismiss. In the Court's Order
dated April 8, 2005, Judge Moskowitz stated that while the
majority of the Petitioner's claims relate to conditions of
confinement which have no bearing on the length or validity of
his sentence, Petitioner correctly points out that the above two
claims arguably affect the length of his confinement. Nothing in
Ninth Circuit or Supreme Court precedent forecloses habeas in
such cases. Indeed, the Ninth Circuit's use of the term "likely"
to identify claims with a sufficient nexus to the length of
imprisonment, so as to implicate, but not fall squarely within
the "core" challenges identified by the Preiser Court, implies
the availability of relief under the federal habeas statute.
Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.2d 1267, 1269 (9th Cir. 1989) (Such a
reading follows from Bostic itself, which speeks of claims that
are likely to accelerate the prisoner's eligibility for parole,
rather than those likely to accelerate the prisoner's release).
Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit has stated that they are
"reluctant to unnecessarily constrain our jurisdiction to
entertain habeas petitions absent clear indicia of congressional
intent to do so." See, e.g., INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289
(2001); Flores-Miramontes v. INS, 212 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir.
2000). As such, this Court recommends that Respondents Motion to
Dismiss as to these claims be DENIED.
With regard to the remaining claims in the Petition, namely,
increased risk to inmate safety resulting from cuts in prison
staff; reduction or elimination of transfers to CDC facilities
which provide access to college level courses; quality and
quantity of CDC meals provided to inmates; and the reduction of
medical services, prescriptions and procedures afforded inmates,
this Court recommends that Respondents Motion to Dismiss be
GRANTED. As aptly stated in Judge Moskowitz's Order of February 23, 2005, these claims seek to challenge the conditions
of Petitioners' prison life, rather than the fact or length of
his custody. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 554-555. And as such, a
favorable judgment will not "necessarily imply the invalidity of
[his] conviction[s] or sentence[s]." Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. at 487. Since these claims implicate the conditions of his
confinement and not the fact or duration of his custody, they
cannot form the basis of habeas relief. It is the preferred
practice in this Circuit to bring challenges to conditions of
confinement through a civil rights complaint under section 1983.
See Badea, 931 F.2d at 574 (finding that challenges to terms
and conditions of confinement are properly raised through a §
1983 action); Crawford v. Bell, 599 F.2d 890, 891-92 (9th Cir.
1979) (holding that challenges to terms and conditions of
confinement must be brought in civil rights complaints).
Should Petitioner seek to proceed with the dismissed claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Petitioner is advised that he must
provide specific factual details as to the actual injuries
suffered and identify the federal constitutional basis, if any,
for each of these claims which challenge the conditions of his
confinement. In drafting such a complaint, Petitioner should
assume that this Court knows nothing about his case and should
therefore provide a clear explanation of what events occurred and
how his federal constitutional rights were violated.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby recommends that
Respondent's Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
PART without prejudice. This report and recommendation will be
submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to this
case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Any
party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy
on all parties by November 11, 2005. The document should be
captioned "Objections to Report and Recommendation." Any reply to
the objections shall be served and filed by November 28, 2005.
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).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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