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Stevens v. Napa State Hospital

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 31, 2014

DEAN STEVENS, Petitioner,


WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.

Petitioner Dean Stevens is being detained at the Napa State Hospital. It is unclear from the petition whether he is awaiting trial, or has been tried and is awaiting sentencing. What is clear is that he has not been sentenced for charges he faced in the Mendocino County Superior Court. Dkt. 1, p.2. Although he has filed a federal habeas petition for initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2243 and Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, the petition is DISMISSED as premature.

This Court may entertain a petition for 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). A district court considering an application for a writ of habeas corpus shall "award the writ or issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted, unless it appears from the application that the applicant or person detained is not entitled thereto." 28 U.S.C. § 2243. Summary dismissal is appropriate only where the allegations in the petition are vague or conclusory, palpably incredible, or patently frivolous or false. See Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490, 491 (9th Cir. 1990).

As grounds for federal habeas relief, Stevens alleges that he and other inmates at Napa State Hospital are not "get[ting] the same 4013 credits bec[a]use we are incompeten[t]." (Pet. at 3.) But because Stevens has not yet been sentenced, it is unknown what credits he will be awarded or denied, including those he may have accrued during his detention at Napa State Hospital. It is therefore premature to consider his claim.

Under principles of comity and federalism, a federal court should not interfere with ongoing state criminal proceedings by granting injunctive or declaratory relief absent extraordinary circumstances. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-54 (1971). More specifically, federal courts should not enjoin pending state criminal prosecutions absent a showing of the state's bad faith or harassment, or a showing that the statute challenged is "flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions." Id. at 46, 53-54. Younger abstention is required when (1) state proceedings, judicial in nature, are pending; (2) the state proceedings involve important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford adequate opportunity to raise the constitutional issue. See Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982).

Abstention is appropriate here because all of the elements of Younger are present. Nothing in the petition suggests there are extraordinary circumstances requiring this Court's interference in state court criminal proceedings. As to the first Younger element, the record demonstrates that Stevens's state court proceedings are ongoing. As to the second Younger element, the Supreme Court has held that "a proper respect for state functions, " such as ongoing criminal trial proceedings, is an important issue of state interest. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 491-92 (1973) (quoting Younger, 401 U.S. at 44). As to the third prong of Younger, the Court finds no reason that Stevens cannot pursue his claims in state court. Furthermore, any interference by this Court in the state court proceedings would cause results disapproved of by Younger. SJSVCCPAC v. City of San Jose, 546 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing cases). Thus, Younger abstention is applicable here.

When Younger applies and the party seeks injunctive relief, as does Stevens, federal courts should dismiss the action in its entirety. See Colorado River Water Conserv. Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800, 816 n.22 (1976). Accordingly, the petition is DISMISSED without prejudice on grounds of abstention.

Stevens's second claim, which arises from the conditions of confinement (detention in solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, etc.) at Napa State Hospital is DISMISSED without prejudice. Claims regarding conditions of confinement should be raised in a civil rights action, not a habeas petition. Stevens may file a separate civil rights action if he seeks relief on his conditions of confinement claims.

Stevens's application to proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 3) is GRANTED. The Clerk shall terminate Docket No. 3, enter judgment in favor of respondents, and close the file.


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