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Bartholomew v. Swarthout

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 4, 2014



CAROLYN K. DELANEY, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner, a state prisoner incarcerated at the California State Prison-Solano ("CSP-Solano"), is proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petition, ECF No. 1, challenges a decision by prison authorities finding him guilty of a disciplinary violation for possession of a cell phone, cell phone charger, and cell phone batteries. Respondent has answered. ECF No. 11. Petitioner has requested a ruling on the matter, ECF No. 17. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that the petition be denied.


On July 18, 2011, petitioner was issued a rules violation report ("RVR") for possession of a cellular telephone and chargers after the items were discovered during a random cell search. ECF No. 1 at 50.[1] The facts underlying the violation can be summarized as follows: During a random search of a cell assigned to petitioner and his cellmate, inmate Rahmen, a correctional officer noticed that the screws of the cable box outlet were scratched and loose. Id . After removing the cable plate from the wall, the officer discovered a black LG cellular telephone, two LG batteries, and two chargers. Id . When asked about the phone, inmate Rahmen stated, "I've used it and texted with it, but it's not mine." Id. at 55. The officer informed inmate Rahmen that he would be receiving a violation for possession of a cell phone and chargers. Id . Petitioner was asked about the phone and stated, "I don't know nothing about no phone." Id. at 50. Petitioner was also informed that he would be receiving a violation for possession of a cell phone and chargers. Id . Inmate Rahmen declined to provide a statement or testimony in his defense, and pleaded guilty to the written charge. Id. at 58. Petitioner denied ownership of the cell phone and pleaded not guilty to the charge, and also claimed that he was not timely notified of the violation. Id. at 51. At petitioner's disciplinary hearing on August 18, 2011, inmate Rahmen testified that the cell phone was his, that he used it for text messages, and that Bartholomew had no knowledge of it. Id. at 53. Petitioner's request to call two prison officials as witnesses was denied, as their testimony was deemed irrelevant. Id . The hearing officer found petitioner guilty of the charge, concluding that he had constructive possession of the contraband because he was jointly responsible for the shared area. Id . Punishment was assessed at 30 days loss of credit and 90 days loss of yard privileges. Id.

Petitioner exhausted all of his appeals with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") before seeking relief in the state courts. Id. at 42-48. On June 11, 2012, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Solano County Superior Court, challenging the prison disciplinary violation. ECF No. 11-1 at 2-18. On August 7, 2012, the California Superior Court, in a reasoned decision, denied the petition. Id. at 49-51. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal, which was summarily denied on November 8, 2012. Id., at 53-118, 120. Petitioner then filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court, which was summarily denied on March 13, 2013. Id. at 122-164, 166. After exhausting all of his state court remedies, petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus on April 10, 2013.[2] ECF No. 1.

Petitioner seeks federal habeas relief on the following grounds: (1) that his right to equal protection was denied because he was treated differently than other inmates who were found to be in possession of contraband following a routine cell search; and (2) his due process rights were violated because he was not given advance notice of the charges against him, was not provided with the evidence supporting the charge, and was not allowed to call witnesses in his defense. Id. at 13, 28, 34-39.


28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), provides in relevant part as follows:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

The statute applies whenever the state court has denied a federal claim on its merits, whether or not the state court explained its reasons. Harrington v. Richter , 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011). State court rejection of a federal claim will be presumed to have been on the merits absent any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary. Id. at 784-785 (citing Harris v. Reed , 489 U.S. 255, 265 (1989) (presumption of a merits determination when it is unclear whether a decision appearing to rest on federal grounds was decided on another basis)). "The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785.

The phrase "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) refers to the "governing legal principle or principles" previously articulated by the Supreme Court. Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). Clearly established federal law also includes "the legal principles and standards flowing from precedent." Bradley v. Duncan , 315 F.3d 1091, 1101 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Taylor v. Withrow , 288 F.3d 846, 852 (6th Cir. 2002)). Only Supreme Court precedent may constitute "clearly established Federal law, " but circuit law has persuasive value regarding what law is "clearly established" and what constitutes "unreasonable application" of that law. Duchaime v. Ducharme , 200 F.3d 597, 600 (9th Cir. 2000); Robinson v. Ignacio , 360 F.3d 1044, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004).

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if the decision "contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases." Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state court decision "unreasonably applies" federal law "if the state court identifies the correct rule from [the Supreme Court's] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Id. at 407-08. It is not enough that the state court was incorrect in the view of ...

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