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Nettles v. Grounds

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 31, 2013

RANDY GROUNDS, Warden, Respondent.


EDWARD M. CHEN, District Judge.


Petitioner Damous Nettles, an inmate incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison ("SVSP"), filed this pro se action seeking a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the decision of the Board of Parole Hearings ("Board") to deny him parole at a July 31, 2009 parole suitability hearing. On January 2, 2013, this Court issued an Order to Show Cause finding that Petitioner had stated a cognizable claim that the Board violated his constitutional right to be free of ex post facto laws by denying him parole for ten years under Proposition 9, also known as Marsy's Law. Doc. No. 20. The Court dismissed all other claims Petitioner raised as not cognizable. Respondent Randy Grounds, Warden at SVSP, [1] moves to dismiss on the grounds that the petition fails to state a claim for federal habeas relief and is barred by the applicable one-year statute of limitations. Petitioner has filed an opposition and Respondent has filed a reply. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the motion to dismiss.


On July 31, 2009, the Board, after a hearing, ruled that Petitioner was unsuitable for parole. Respondent's Ex. 2 (Transcript of Parole Suitability Hearing) at 128. The Board denied Petitioner parole for ten years. Id.; Petition at 9-a. The Board's decision became final on November 27, 2009. Respondent's Ex. 2 at 128.

Petitioner sought habeas corpus relief on all of the claims presented in this habeas petition, including the ex post facto claim, in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Respondent's Ex. 3. On June 9, 2010, the Superior Court summarily denied the ex post facto claim. Respondent's Ex. 5. The California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court denied relief without comment. Respondent's Exs. 4, 7. Petitioner then filed this federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus.


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), this Court may entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Rose v. Hodges, 423 U.S. 19, 21 (1975).


Respondent argues that the petition must be dismissed because: (1) habeas relief is not available for this claim challenging the ten-year parole denial as an ex post facto violation and, thus, the Court lacks habeas jurisdiction; (2) Petitioner is a member of a pending class action addressing the same ex post facto claim; and (3) Petitioner failed to file his federal habeas petition within the one-year statute of limitations.

A. Habeas Jurisdiction

"Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus.'" Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 579 (2006) (quoting Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004)). "An inmate's challenge to the circumstances of his confinement, however, may be brought under § 1983." Id. Therefore, challenges to prison conditions have traditionally been cognizable only via § 1983, whereas challenges implicating the fact or duration of confinement are brought through a habeas petition.. Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d 1024, 1026 (9th Cir. 2004). The two remedies are not always mutually exclusive, however. Id. at 1031.

Where an inmate challenges the constitutional validity of the state procedures used to deny parole eligibility or parole suitability, but seeks injunctive relief in the form of an earlier eligibility review or parole hearing rather than earlier release, the claim is cognizable under § 1983. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005). In Wilkinson, the Court held that prisoners' parole claims seeking a new parole hearing need not be brought in a habeas corpus proceeding because the relief sought would not necessarily "invalidate the duration of their confinement - either directly through an injunction compelling speedier release or indirectly through a judicial determination that necessarily implies the unlawfulness of the State's custody." Id. at 81 (emphasis in original). But this does not mean that such a claim may not be brought in habeas as well: "[W]hen 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." Docken, 393 F.3d at 1031 (emphasis in original). Habeas and § 1983 are not mutually exclusive in such a case. Id.

Citing Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 82 and Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 643 (2004), Respondent argues that, because Petitioner seeks the invalidation of state procedures used to deny parole suitability, his claim is cognizable only under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, as discussed above, the Ninth Circuit has stated that such claims may be brought either in a petition for habeas relief or in a complaint under §1983. See Docken, 393 F.3d at 1031. Although in Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 82, the Supreme Court held that a claim for invalidation of state parole procedures may be brought in a civil rights action under § 1983, it did not preclude such a claim from being brought in a habeas petition. Nelson does not support Respondent's argument either. Although the Court held that a challenge to a specific method of executing a death sentence could be brought under § 1983, it left open the question of whether method-of-execution claims in general arise under habeas or civil rights law. Nelson, 541 ...

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