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Edwin Vincent Munis v. People of the State of California

June 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), Petitioner has consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings in the case, including the entry of final judgment, by manifesting consent in a signed writing filed by Petitioner on May 22, 2012 (doc. 4). Pending before the Court is the petition, which was filed on May 9, 2012.

I. Screening the Petition

Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (Habeas Rules) requires the Court to make a preliminary review of each petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court must summarily dismiss a petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court...." Habeas Rule 4; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990). Habeas Rule 2(c) requires that a petition 1) specify all grounds of relief available to the Petitioner; 2) state the facts supporting each ground; and 3) state the relief requested. Notice pleading is not sufficient; rather, the petition must state facts that point to a real possibility of constitutional error. Rule 4, Advisory Committee Notes, 1976 Adoption; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d at 420 (quoting Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 75 n.7 (1977)). Allegations in a petition that are vague, conclusory, or palpably incredible are subject to summary dismissal. Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d at 491.

The Court may dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus either on its own motion under Habeas Rule 4, pursuant to the respondent's motion to dismiss, or after an answer to the petition has been filed. Advisory Committee Notes to Habeas Rule 8, 1976 Adoption; see, Herbst v. Cook, 260 F.3d 1039, 1042-43 (9th Cir. 2001). A petition for habeas corpus should not be dismissed without leave to amend unless it appears that no tenable claim for relief can be pleaded were such leave granted. Jarvis v. Nelson, 440 F.2d 13, 14 (9th Cir. 1971).

Here, Petitioner alleges that he is an inmate of the Correctional Training Facility at Soledad serving a sentence for the murder of his wife. Petitioner challenges a state court decision upholding a judgment of the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Stanislaus made in Petitioner's criminal case, in which the court granted the prosecution's motion for an order directing Petitioner to reimburse the California Victim Compensation & Government Claims Board for expenses of the victim's funeral and the victim's son's mental health counseling. (Pet. 1-3.) Petitioner challenges the restitution order in his criminal case for being beyond the authority of the court, untimely, and for conflicting with federal statutes protecting from creditors Petitioner's disability compensation from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Petitioner does not otherwise challenge his judgment of conviction or sentence.

I. Absence of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Habeas relief shall be granted to a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court only on the ground that the custody violates the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The "in custody" requirement for a habeas petition pursuant to § 2254(a) is jurisdictional and thus is the first question a habeas court must consider. Bailey v. Hill, 599 F.3d 976, 978 (9th Cir. 2010). The requirement has two aspects: 1) the petitioner must be in custody at the time the petition is filed, and 2) the custody must be under the conviction or sentence under attack at the time the petition is filed. Id.

"Custody" includes physical imprisonment as well as other significant or severe restraints on liberty, but it does not include mere collateral consequences of a conviction. Id. at 978-80. The imposition of a fine, by itself, is not sufficient to meet the jurisdictional requirements of § 2254. Id. at 979 (quoting Williamson v. Gregoire, 151 F.3d 1180, 1183 (9th Cir. 1998)). Further, liability under a restitution order is not a sufficiently serious restraint on liberty to warrant habeas relief. Bailey v. Hill, 599 F.3d at 979.

The mere fact that a petitioner is physically in custody when challenging a restitution order is insufficient to render the claim cognizable where the petitioner is not challenging the lawfulness of his custody under federal law. Bailey v. Hill, 599 F.3d at 979-980, 984. Mere physical custody does not provide the required nexus between the petitioner's claim and the unlawful nature of the custody. Id. at 980-81. Instead, § 2254(a) requires that the substance of the claim being asserted must challenge the legality of the custody on the ground that it is, or was imposed, in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Id.

Further, the remedy for restitution claims -- eliminating or altering a money judgment -- has no direct impact upon, and is not directed at the source of the restraint upon, the petitioner's liberty. Instead, it would affect only the fact or amount of the restitution that has to be paid. Id. at 981.

Because the defect in Petitioner's petition relates to the nature of the claim and not to the absence of allegations of specific facts with respect to the claim, granting leave to amend would be futile. The Court, therefore, concludes that because Petitioner is not "in custody" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the petition.

When a federal court concludes it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); Moore v. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, 657 F.3d 890, 894 (9th Cir. 2011). It will, therefore, be ordered ...

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