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Theodore Willis v. R. Grounds

September 30, 2011

THEODORE WILLIS,
PETITIONER,
v.
R. GROUNDS, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed this Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302.

Petitioner, who is serving an indeterminate life sentence for murder, seeks habeas relief from a prison disciplinary hearing in which he was found guilty of possessing a weapon and a cell phone. Petitioner lost 360 days of good-time credits, and fears this conviction will hinder his eligibility for parole.

Petitioner maintains his innocence, that the contraband belonged to his cellmate, and argues that because procedures used at his disciplinary hearing violated his due process rights, the conviction should be expunged and his good-time credits should be restored. Presently before the Court is the Respondent's Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a cognizable claim.

On August 31, 2011, the magistrate judge made findings recommending that Respondent's Motion be denied. Those Findings and Recommendations were served on all parties and contained notice that any Objections to the Findings and Recommendations were to be filed within fourteen (14) days. Respondent has filed Objections to the Findings and Recommendations.

In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Local Rule 304, this Court has conducted a de novo review of this case. Having carefully reviewed the entire file, the Court rejects the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations that Respondent's Motion to Dismiss should be denied. Under the standards set forth in Bostic and Ramirez, discussed herein, Petitioner has failed to state a cognizable claim for federal habeas relief because he has not demonstrated that success on his claim is likely to accelerate his eligibility for parole, or will necessarily shorten his sentence. Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.2d 1267 (9th Cir. 1989); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850 (9th Cir. 2003). Therefore, Respondent's Motion to Dismiss should be granted.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

This Court has jurisdiction to consider habeas petitions where the petitioner is "in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court" and alleges that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States."

28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A writ of habeas corpus is not limited to claims seeking immediate release from unlawful confinement, but rather is also available to attack future confinement and obtain future releases. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487, 93 S. Ct. 1827, 1835 (1973).

In Preiser, a prisoner sought restoration of so-called "good-time credits." Id. Such credits are earned by prisoners for good behavior, and potentially have the effect of shortening a prisoner's duration of confinement. Preiser held that the petitioner's habeas claims seeking restoration of good-time credits were proper even though restoration of those credits would merely shorten the length of confinement. The Supreme Court reasoned that such claims were still "within the core of habeas corpus in attacking the very duration of their physical confinement." Preiser, 411 U.S. at 487-88.

Citing Preiser, the Ninth Circuit, in Bostic, Ramirez, and Docken, addressed the boundaries of habeas jurisdiction where prisoners allege violations that potentially impact the duration of their confinement. Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.2d 1267 (9th Cir. 1989); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850 (9th Cir. 2003); Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2004).

In Bostic, the court reviewed a prisoner's claim seeking restoration of good-time credits and expungement of his disciplinary conviction. The court held that habeas corpus jurisdiction exists when a petitioner seeks expungement of a disciplinary finding from his record if expungement is likely to accelerate the prisoner's eligibility for parole. Bostic, 884 F.2d 1267 at 1269 (emphasis added). The court, however, summarily affirmed the district court's grant of dismissal for failing to state a claim without addressing whether the expungement of petitioner's disciplinary convictions would likely accelerate his particular eligibility for parole.

In Ramirez, a prisoner filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit alleging due process violations regarding his prison disciplinary hearing and subsequent conviction. Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 853. Among other claims, Petitioner sought expungement of his disciplinary record. At issue was whether a § 1983 action or a habeas petition was the proper course of action for a prisoner making such a challenge. The court distinguished between those two remedial avenues, stating that "[s]uits challenging the validity of the prisoner's continued incarceration lie within 'the heart of habeas corpus,' whereas 'a § 1983 action is a proper remedy for a state prisoner who is making a constitutional challenge to the conditions of his prison life, but not to the fact or length of his custody.'" Id. at 856 (citing Preiser, 411 U.S. at 498-99). Ramirez then held that "habeas jurisdiction is absent, and a § 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition will not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence." Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 859 (emphasis added).

Under the facts of the case, the court stated petitioner's § 1983 suit was proper, because even "if [his challenge was] successful, Ramirez will not necessarily shorten the length of his confinement because there has been no showing by the State that the expungement Ramirez seeks is likely to accelerate his eligibility for parole." Id. at 859.

Finally, in Docken, a petitioner argued that a parole board violated his constitutional rights when it changed the time between his parole reviews from one to five years. Docken, 393 F.3d at 1026. The court stated that it was possible but not certain that the change in frequency of review could impact the duration of his confinement, especially given the petitioner's designation as a "dangerous offender." Id. at 1031. In defining its guiding principle, the court determined that to find a claim "likely" to accelerate a prisoner's eligibility for parole under Bostic, a "sufficient nexus" between the claim and the length of imprisonment must be found "so as to implicate but not fall squarely within, the core ...


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