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Habeas Corpus Resource Center v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 7, 2014

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE and ERIC H. HOLDER, in his official capacity as United States Attorney General, Defendants.


CLAUDIA WILKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Habeas Corpus Resource Center (HCRC)[1] and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona (FDO-Arizona)[2] have filed a motion for summary judgment. Defendants United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and United States Attorney General Eric H. Holder oppose the motion and have filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.[3] The motions were heard on July 31, 2014. Having considered oral argument and the papers submitted by the parties, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion in part (Docket No. 67) and GRANTS Defendants' cross-motion in part (Docket No. 71).


I. The 2013 Final Rule

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996 added chapter 154 of Title 28 of the United States Code. Chapter 154 provides expedited procedures in federal capital habeas corpus cases when a state is able to establish that it has provided qualified, competent, adequately resourced and adequately compensated counsel to death-sentenced prisoners. Under the AEDPA, federal courts were responsible for determining whether states were eligible for the expedited federal procedures. The USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-174, 120 Stat. 192 (2005), amended chapter 154 to shift the eligibility determination from the federal courts to the Attorney General.

In December 2008, the Attorney General published a final rule to implement the procedure prescribed by chapter 154. On January 20, 2009, the Court granted a preliminary injunction, enjoining Defendants from putting the regulation into effect without first providing an additional comment period of at least thirty days and publishing a response to any comments received during such a period. Habeas Corpus Resource Ctr. v. United States Department of Justice , 2009 WL 185423, *10 (N.D. Cal.). On February 5, 2009, Defendants solicited further public comment on its proposed certification process. Defendants thereafter proposed to retract the 2008 regulation pending the completion of a new rulemaking process. See 75 Fed. Reg. 29, 217 (May 25, 2010). On November 23, 2010, Defendants published a final rule retracting the 2008 regulations. See 75 Fed. Reg. 71, 353 (Nov. 23, 2010).

On March 3, 2011, the DOJ published a notice of proposed rulemaking for a new certification process. 76 Fed. Reg. 11, 705. The comment period closed on June 1, 2011. On February 13, 2012, the DOJ then published a supplemental notice soliciting public comments on five contemplated changes. 77 Fed. Reg. 7559. The comment period closed on March 14, 2012. On September 23, 2013, the Final Rule was published.

Section 26.22 of the Final Rule prescribes the standards a state must meet in order to earn certification under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2261 and 2265. The Final Rule provides:

§ 26.22 Requirements.

The Attorney General will certify that a State meets the requirements for certification under 28 U.S.C. 2261 and 2265 if the Attorney General determines that the State has established a mechanism for the appointment of counsel for indigent prisoners under sentence of death in State postconviction proceedings that satisfies the following standards:

(b) The mechanism must provide for appointment of competent counsel as defined in State standards of competency for such appointments.
(1) A State's standards of competency are presumptively adequate if they meet or exceed either of the following criteria:
(i) Appointment of counsel who have been admitted to the bar for at least five years and have at least three years of postconviction litigation experience. But a court, for good cause, may appoint other counsel whose background, knowledge, or experience would otherwise enable them to properly represent the petitioner, with due consideration of the seriousness of the penalty and the unique and complex nature of the litigation; or
(ii) Appointment of counsel meeting qualification standards established in conformity with 42 U.S.C. 14163(e)(1) and (2)(A), if the requirements of 42 U.S.C. 14163(e)(2)(B), (D), and (E) are also satisfied.
(2) Competency standards not satisfying the benchmark criteria in paragraph (b)(1) of this section will be deemed adequate only if they otherwise reasonably assure a level of proficiency appropriate for State postconviction litigation in capital cases.

78 Fed. Reg. at 58, 183. The "standards established in conformity with 42 U.S.C § 14163(e)(1) and (2)(A)" referred to in section 26.22(b)(1)(ii) are provisions of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA). They call for maintenance of a roster of qualified attorneys, specialized training programs for attorneys providing capital case representation, monitoring of the performance of attorneys who are appointed and their attendance at training programs, and removal from the roster of attorneys who fail to deliver effective representation, engage in unethical conduct, or do not participate in required training. 42 U.S.C. §§ 14163(e)(2)(B), (D), and (E).

Section 26.23 of the Final Rule provides the process for a state's certification:

(a) An appropriate State official may request in writing that the Attorney General determine whether the State meets the requirements for certification under § 26.22 of this subpart.
(b) Upon receipt of a State's request for certification, the Attorney General will make the request publicly available on the Internet (including any supporting materials included in the request) and publish a notice in the Federal Register-
(1) Indicating that the State has requested certification;
(2) Identifying the Internet address at which the public may view the State's request for certification; and
(3) Soliciting public comment on the request.
(c) The State's request will be reviewed by the Attorney General. The review will include consideration of timely public comments received in response to the Federal Register notice under paragraph (b) of this section, or any subsequent notice the Attorney General may publish providing a further opportunity for comment. The certification will be published in the Federal Register if certification is granted. The certification will include a determination of the date the capital counsel mechanism qualifying the State for certification was established.
(d) A certification by the Attorney General reflects the Attorney General's determination that the State capital counsel mechanism reviewed under paragraph (c) of this section satisfies chapter 154's requirements. A State may request a new certification by the Attorney General to ensure the continued applicability of chapter 154 to cases in which State postconviction proceedings occur after a change or alleged change in the State's certified capital counsel mechanism. Changes in a State's capital counsel mechanism do not affect the applicability of chapter 154 in any case in which a mechanism certified by the Attorney General existed throughout State postconviction proceedings in the case.
(e) A certification remains effective for a period of five years after the completion of the certification process by the Attorney General and any related judicial review. If a State requests re-certification at or before the end of that five-year period, the certification remains effective for an additional period extending until the completion of the re-certification process by the Attorney General and any related judicial review.

78 Fed. Reg. at 58, 184.

II. The Impact of the 2013 Final Rule

Once a state is certified, the statute of limitations for federal habeas corpus proceedings is "fast-tracked." First, the statute of limitations for filing a habeas petition in federal court is shortened from one year to 180 days. 28 U.S.C. § 2263(a). Second, tolling of the statute of limitations is altered to exclude from tolling (1) the period of time between the finality of direct review in state court to the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court and (2) the filing of exhaustion or successive state habeas petitions. 28 U.S.C. § 2263(b). Third, a petitioner's ability to amend a petition is limited. 28 U.S.C. § 2266(b)(3)(B). Fourth, a federal district court must enter final judgment on a habeas petition within 450 days of the filing of the petition, or sixty days after it is submitted for decision-whichever is earlier. 28 U.S.C. § 2266(b). Finally, the certification is retroactive, reaching back to the date the qualifying mechanism is found to have been established. 28 U.S.C. § 2265(a)(2) ("The date the mechanism described in paragraph 1(A) was established shall be the effective date of the certification under this subsection.").

III. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their complaint in this case on September 30, 2013. On October 18, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and, on December 4, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction. On March 6, 2014, the Court granted the parties' stipulation that Plaintiffs could voluntarily dismiss their fifth cause of action without prejudice. The remaining four causes of action are (1) violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for failure to provide adequate notice; (2) violation of the APA for failure to respond to significant public comment; ...

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