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Gonzalez v. Benov

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 4, 2014

MICHAEL L. BENOV, Respondent.


BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.


Petitioner is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. The matter has been referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rules 302 through 304. Pending before the Court is the Respondent's motion to dismiss the petition as moot, which was filed on March 3, 2014, and supported with documentation submitted on March 26, 2014. Petitioner filed opposition to the motion on March 20, 2014, and supplemental opposition on May 9, 2014. Although the fourteen-day period for filing a reply has passed, no reply has been filed.

I. Background

Petitioner, an inmate of the Taft Correctional Institution (TCI), challenges the disallowance of twenty-seven days of good conduct time credit that Petitioner suffered as a result of prison disciplinary findings, initially made at TCI on or about April 23, 2013, that he engaged in prohibited conduct by tattooing or self-mutilation. (Pet., doc. 1 at 1, 9, 11.) Petitioner challenges the loss of credit and seeks invalidation of the sanction. Petitioner raises the following claims in the petition: 1) because the disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) was not an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and thus lacked the authority to conduct the disciplinary hearing and make findings resulting in punishment, including disallowance of good time credit, Petitioner suffered a violation of his right to due process of law; and 2) because the DHO was not an employee of the BOP but rather was an employee of a private entity with a financial interest in the disallowance of good time credits, Petitioner's due process right to an independent and impartial decision maker at the disciplinary hearing was violated. (Id. at 1-9.)

Respondent moves for dismissal of the petition as moot because the disciplinary charges were reheard via teleconference on February 27, 2014, by a certified disciplinary hearing officer of the BOP. At the rehearing, Petitioner admitted the violation. The BOP DHO found that Petitioner had committed the prohibited misconduct, and she assessed the same disallowance of good conduct time credit (twenty-seven days), but she reduced the duration of loss of commissary privileges. (Decl., doc. 14, 2-4; doc. 14 at 15-16, 19-21.)

II. Mootness

Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide cases that are moot because the courts' constitutional authority extends to only actual cases or controversies. Iron Arrow Honor Society v. Heckler , 464 U.S. 67, 70-71 (1983). Article III requires a case or controversy in which a litigant has a personal stake in the outcome of the suit throughout all stages of federal judicial proceedings and has suffered some actual injury that can be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Id . A petition for writ of habeas corpus becomes moot when it no longer presents a case or controversy under Article III, § 2 of the Constitution. Wilson v. Terhune , 319 F.3d 477, 479 (9th Cir. 2003). A petition for writ of habeas corpus is moot where a petitioner's claim for relief cannot be redressed by a favorable decision of the court issuing a writ of habeas corpus. Burnett v. Lampert , 432 F.3d 996, 1000-01 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Spencer v. Kemna , 523 U.S. 1, 7 (1998)). Mootness is jurisdictional. See, Cole v. Oroville Union High School District , 228 F.3d 1092, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 2000). Thus, a moot petition must be dismissed because nothing remains before the Court to be remedied. Spencer v. Kemna , 523 U.S. 1, 18.

Here, documentation submitted by Respondent in support of the motion to dismiss demonstrates that the claims initially alleged by Petitioner are no longer in controversy. The charges were reheard by an officer who had the precise qualifications that Petitioner had alleged were required by principles of due process of law and the pertinent regulations. It is undisputed that the findings and sanctions that constituted the object of Petitioner's challenges in the petition have now been superseded by the findings and sanctions of the certified BOP DHO.

When, because of intervening events, a court cannot give any effectual relief in favor of the petitioner, the proceeding should be dismissed as moot. Calderon v. Moore , 518 U.S. 149, 150 (1996). In the present case, it appears that the only relief that Petitioner sought was invalidation of the findings and associated sanctions. It has been demonstrated that the rehearing of the incident report by an indisputably qualified DHO has effectuated the relief sought by Petitioner. Thus, it is no longer possible for this Court to issue a decision redressing the injury.

Petitioner argues that the controversy is not moot because the rehearing was part of disciplinary proceedings that were wholly invalid or unconstitutional. The asserted invalidity is based on the fact that in the earlier stages of the disciplinary process, employees of the private prison management company, who did not constitute BOP staff, participated in violation of various regulations, including 28 C.F.R. § 541.5, which requires "staff" to witness or suspect a violation and issue an incident report, 28 C.F.R. § 541.5(a); requires a "Bureau staff member" to investigate the incident report, 28 C.F.R. § 541.5(b); and directs that it is "staff" who ordinarily serve on a unit disciplinary committee, a body which considers disciplinary charges before the charges are heard by a DHO, § 541.7(b). Petitioner argues that the hearing and rehearing process evinced deliberate indifference to his liberties and violated his Fifth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the documentation attached to the petition shows that the BOP DHO considered not only the incident report and investigation, but also photographic evidence and Petitioner's repeated admissions of the truth of the incident report made during the investigation, at a unit disciplinary hearing, and at the rehearing before the BOP DHO. (Doc. 14, 14-15, 19-21.) Despite Petitioner's post-decision recantation of his previous admissions, the photographs and Petitioner's repeated admissions, including before the BOP DHO, provide strong and independent support for the finding of misconduct and also undercut Petitioner's general allegation that he suffered a taint from the participation of non-BOP staff in the earlier stages of the disciplinary process.

Further, the documentation establishes that Petitioner received all procedural due process due under Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539 (1974). Procedural due process of law requires that where the state has made good time subject to forfeiture only for serious misbehavior, then prisoners subject to a loss of good-time credits must be given advance written notice of the claimed violation, a right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence where it would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals, and a written statement of the finder of fact as to the evidence relied upon and the reasons for disciplinary action taken. Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. at 563-64. Further, if the inmate is illiterate, or the issue so complex that it is unlikely that the inmate will be able to collect and present the evidence necessary for an adequate comprehension of the case, the inmate should have access to help from staff or a sufficiently competent inmate designated by the staff. However, confrontation, cross-examination, and counsel are not required. Wolff , 418 U.S. at 568-70. Where good-time credits are a protected liberty interest, the decision to revoke credits must also be supported by some evidence in the record. Superintendent v. Hill , 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985).

Here, Petitioner's admission of responsibility precludes any claim of a lack of evidence to support the disciplinary finding. Likewise, the documentation shows that Petitioner received adequate notice; waived witnesses, staff representation, and presentation of evidence; and received a written statement of the decision. (Doc. 14, 19-20.) In light of these circumstances, the Court concludes that Petitioner has not suffered any prejudice from either participation of non-BOP ...

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