United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO GRANT RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (DOC. 14), DISMISS THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS WITHOUT PREJUDICE (DOC. 1), DECLINE TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DIRECT THE CLERK TO CLOSE THE CASE
SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner is a civil detainee who is detained within this district pursuant to the order of a state court that is presiding over proceedings to extend Petitioner's commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) pursuant to California's Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA). Petitioner proceeds 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 because abstention from the exercise of jurisdiction is appropriate. On August 21, 2014, Respondent filed the motion to dismiss the petition filed by Petitioner on or about April 28, 2014, and transferred to this Court on June 11, 2014. The time for filing opposition to the motion has passed and no opposition has been filed.
Petitioner is an inmate of the Coalinga State Hospital awaiting trial in SVPA proceedings pursuant to a petition filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento (SCSC) in 2010. The docket of the SVPA proceeding shows that a pretrial readiness conference and further proceedings were continued in January and April 2014.
Petitioner's history includes a conviction sustained in January 2006 in the SCSC of two counts of oral copulation with a person under eighteen years of age in violation of Cal. Pen. Code § 288a(b)(1) and one count of failing to register as a sex offender in violation of former Cal. Pen. Code § 290(g)(2), which resulted in a state prison sentence of six years and eight months. (Mot., doc. 14, exh. A at 2-3.)
Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of the SVPA, alleging it 1) violates due process because it is not the least restrictive means of protecting the public safety and treating and protecting SVP's; 2) deprives him of his right to equal protection of the law; and 3) denies his right to procedural due process because the scheme for evaluating the need for commitment is arbitrary and capricious. Petitioner seeks a stay of the SVPA proceedings. (Pet., doc. 1, 11-17.)
In the motion, Respondent argues that the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction and dismiss this action because of the pendency of the SVPA proceedings in state court.
Generally the writ of habeas corpus will not extend to one awaiting trial unless special circumstances exist such that there is an absence of state processes effective to protect a federal right. See, Ex parte Royall , 117 U.S. 241, 245-254 (1886); Fay v. Noia , 372 U.S. 391, 420 (1963), overruled in part by Wainwright v. Sykes , 433 U.S. 72 (1977) and Coleman v. Thompson , 501 U.S. 722 (1991). Federal courts will not interfere with pending state criminal proceedings unless the petitioner has exhausted all state court remedies with respect to the claim raised. See, Mannes v. Gillespie , 967 F.2d 1310, 1311-1312 (9th Cir. 1992).
Further, a federal court generally will not enjoin or directly intercede in ongoing state court proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances. Younger v. Harris , 401 U.S. 37, 40-41, 43-45 (1971); Drury v. Cox , 457 F.2d 764, 764-65 (9th Cir. 1972). Federal courts will abstain if the state proceeding 1) is currently pending, 2) involves an important state interest, and 3) affords the petitioner an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional claims. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n. , 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). For abstention to be appropriate, the federal court action must enjoin the state proceeding or have the practical effect of doing so by interfering in a way that Younger disapproves. Gilbertson v. Albright , 381 F.3d 965, 977-78 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). This principle of abstention has been applied to collateral attacks on criminal convictions; federal habeas corpus does not lie, absent special circumstances, to adjudicate the merits of a state criminal charge prior to a judgment of conviction by a state court, Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky , 410 U.S. 484, 489 (1973), or even during the time a case is on appeal in the state courts, New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans , 491 U.S. 350, 369 (1989). This principle has also been applied to pending state civil proceedings where important state interests are at stake. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n , 457 U.S. at 432; Moore v. Sims , 442 U.S. 415, 423 (1979) (pending child custody proceeding); Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd. , 420 U.S. 592, 604 (1975) (pending nuisance action).
There is no comprehensive definition of situations that would warrant an exception to Younger abstention principles, but interference in ongoing state proceedings would be appropriate only if it is shown that the state has engaged in bad faith or harassment, or other unusual or special circumstances warranting equitable relief, such as flagrant and patent violations of express constitutional provisions, or a demonstration of irreparable injury. Younger , 401 U.S. at 53-54; Perez v. Ledesma , 401 U.S. 82, 85 (1971); Carden v. Montana , 626 F.2d 82, 83-84 (9th Cir. 1980).
Here, Petitioner does not dispute that at the time the petition was filed, state SVPA proceedings were ongoing. For purposes of Younger abstention, the critical determination is whether state proceedings were underway at the time the federal action was filed, and state proceedings are deemed ongoing for purposes of Younger abstention until state appellate review is completed. Steffel v. Thompson , 415 U.S. 452, 462 (1974); Gilbertson v. Albright , 381 F.3d at 969 n.4. Here, it is undisputed that Petitioner's SVPA trial has not yet occurred, and Petitioner has not presented his constitutional claims to the California Supreme Court. (Doc. 14, 4.)
SVPA proceedings also involve important state interests. The importance of a state's interest may be shown by a close relationship between noncriminal proceedings to proceedings that are criminal in nature. Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n , 457 U.S. at 432. The SVPA proceedings are closely related to proceedings that are criminal in nature and involve state interests of protection of the public and mental health treatment, which under California law are considered to be compelling, Hubbart v. Superior Court , 19 Cal.4th 1138, 1153 n.20 (1999), and are the types of interests categorized as legitimate and important under federal authority, Dept. of Revenue of Ky. v. Davis , 553 U.S. 328, 340 (2008) (health, safety and welfare of citizens); Hill v. Colorado , 530 U.S. 703, 715 (2000) (traditional police power of the state to protect the health and safety of citizens). Specifically, the Younger abstention principles apply to SVPA proceedings. See, Smith v. Plummer, 458 Fed.Appx. 642, 643 (No. 10-16286, 9th Cir. Nov. 15, 2011) (unpublished); Miller v. Cate , 2011 WL 4457666, *4 (No. 1:11-cv-01111-LJO-GBC(PC), E.D.Cal. Sept. 23, 2011 (unpublished) (collecting cases); Cruz v. Ahlin, 2011 WL 5290092, *3 (No. EDCV 11-658-JST(AJW), C.D.Cal. Aug. 24, 2011) (unpublished) (collecting cases).
Finally, ongoing state SVPA proceeding affords the petitioner an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional claims. Petitioner's federal claims address the legality of the SVPA proceedings and thus would not appear to be categorically excluded from matters that could be addressed in the pending SVPA proceedings. Cf., People v. Taylor , 174 Cal.App.4th 920 (2009) (on appeal from SVPA proceedings, offenders could raise constitutional claims relating to due process, equal protection, double jeopardy, and ex post facto principles); People v. Hubbart , 88 Cal.App.4th 1202 (2001) (on appeal in SVPA proceeding, prisoner could raise equal protection, due process, and double jeopardy concerns and claims relating to the underlying authority of the People to proceed with SVPA proceedings). Although Petitioner's claims may not have been successful at this point in the state proceedings, that does not render the forum inadequate. Baffert v. California Horse Racing Bd. , 332 F.3d 613, 621 (9th Cir. 2003). The trial and appellate ...