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Rivera v. Hartley

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 29, 2013

ALEX RIVERA, Petitioner,
v.
J. D. HARTLEY, Warden, Respondent.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RE: RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. 12) ORDER DIRECTING OBJECTIONS TO BE FILED WITHIN TWENTY DAYS

JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding in propria persona with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The instant petition was filed on February 27, 2013. (Doc. 1). On March 6, 2013, the Court ordered Respondent to file a response. (Doc. 4). On May 1, 2013, Respondent filed the instant motion to dismiss. (Doc. 12). On May 16, 2013, Petitioner filed a document entitled, "Motion to Dismiss." (Doc. 13). However, on closer examination, it is clear that the document is intended to be an opposition to Respondent's motion to dismiss and the Court will so construe it.

A. Procedural Grounds for Motion to Dismiss

As mentioned, Respondent has filed a Motion to Dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim for which habeas relief can be granted. Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases allows a district court to dismiss a petition if it "plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court...." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases.

The Ninth Circuit has allowed Respondent's to file a Motion to Dismiss in lieu of an Answer if the motion attacks the pleadings for failing to exhaust state remedies or being in violation of the state's procedural rules. See, e.g., O'Bremski v. Maass , 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990) (using Rule 4 to evaluate motion to dismiss petition for failure to exhaust state remedies); White v. Lewis , 874 F.2d 599, 602-03 (9th Cir. 1989) (using Rule 4 as procedural grounds to review motion to dismiss for state procedural default); Hillery v. Pulley , 533 F.Supp. 1189, 1194 & n.12 (E.D. Cal. 1982) (same). Thus, a Respondent can file a Motion to Dismiss after the court orders a response, and the Court should use Rule 4 standards to review the motion. See Hillery , 533 F.Supp. at 1194 & n. 12.

In this case, Respondent's Motion to Dismiss is based on a lack of habeas jurisdiction. Because Respondent's Motion to Dismiss is similar in procedural standing to a Motion to Dismiss for failure to exhaust state remedies or for state procedural default and Respondent has not yet filed a formal Answer, the Court will review Respondent's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to its authority under Rule 4.

B. Failure To State A Cognizable Habeas Claim.

Respondent contends that the basis for Petitioner's claim, i.e., a purportedly flawed prison disciplinary proceeding, does not implicate the fact of Petitioner's confinement nor its length, and, therefore, the claim is not properly subject to federal habeas corpus jurisdiction. For his part, Petitioner does not allege that, as a result of the disciplinary hearing, he was assessed any loss of credits that would directly affect the length of his sentence. Moreover, Petitioner readily acknowledges that he is serving an indeterminate life sentence. However, Petitioner argues that, pursuant to recent changes in California law, i.e., Marsy's law, the disciplinary hearing will cause the Board of Parole Hearings ("BPH") to set his next parole hearing further into the future, thus delaying the time when he can be paroled and, effectively, extending his term of imprisonment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with Respondent that jurisdiction is absent.

A federal court may only grant a petition for writ of habeas corpus if the petitioner can show that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution...." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A habeas corpus petition is the correct method for a prisoner to challenge the "legality or duration" of his confinement. Badea v. Cox , 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir. 1991), quoting, Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 485, 93 S.Ct. 1827 (1973); Ramirez v. Galaza , 334 F.3d 850, 859 (9th Cir. 2003)("[H]abeas jurisdiction is absent, and a § 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition will not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence."); Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 1 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. Indeed, claims challenging the validity of a prisoner's continued incarceration, including the fact or length of the custody, lie within the "heart of habeas corpus" and are cognizable only in federal habeas corpus. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 498-99, 499 n.14 (1973). In contrast, an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is appropriate for a state prisoner challenging the conditions of prison life but not the fact or length of the custody. McCarthy v. Bronson , 500 U.S. 136, 141-42 (1991); Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. at 499; Badea v. Cox , 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir. 1991).

With respect to prison disciplinary and administrative proceedings, it is established that a constitutional claim concerning the application of rules administered by a prison or penal administrator that challenges the duration of a sentence is a cognizable claim of being in custody in violation of the Constitution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See, e.g., Superintendent v. Hill , 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985) (determining a procedural due process claim concerning loss of time credits resulting from disciplinary procedures and findings). The Supreme Court has held that challenges to prison disciplinary adjudications that have resulted in a loss of time credits must be raised in a federal habeas corpus action and not in a § 1983 action because such a challenge is to the very fact or duration of physical imprisonment, and the relief sought is a determination of entitlement of immediate or speedier release. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 500.

The Supreme Court's decisions concerning any boundaries between habeas jurisdiction and § 1983 jurisdiction have been rendered in cases involving § 1983 proceedings. Thus, it is established that, regardless of the precise relief sought, an action pursuant to § 1983 concerning prison administrative processes is barred if success in the action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of the confinement or its duration, or necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence. Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (parole processes).

However, the limits on habeas jurisdiction, or the appropriate extent of any overlap between habeas and § 1983, have not been definitively addressed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has adverted to the possibility of habeas as a potential alternative remedy to an action under § 1983 for unspecified additional and unconstitutional restraints during lawful custody, Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. at 499-500, but it has declined to address whether a writ of habeas corpus may be used to challenge conditions of confinement as distinct from the fact or length of confinement itself, see Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 527 n.6 (1979). Nevertheless, the Court continues to recognize a "core" of habeas corpus that refers to suits where success would inevitably affect the legality or duration of confinement. For example, in Wilkinson, the Court noted that if success on a claim would mean at most a new opportunity for review of parole ...


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