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Nguyen v. Lewis

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 17, 2014

HUAN NGUYEN, Petitioner,
G. D. LEWIS, warden, Respondent.


SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.


Huan Nguyen, a pro se prisoner, has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging a 2009 disciplinary decision. Now before the court for consideration is respondent's motion to dismiss the petition as untimely and for failure to state a federal claim for relief. For the reasons discussed below, the court finds the petition to be barred by the statute of limitations and dismisses it.


Following an incident at Kern Valley State Prison on July 7, 2009, a CDC-115 rule violation report was issued charging Nguyen with attempted murder. A disciplinary hearing was held on August 16, 2009, at which Nguyen was found guilty of the offense and was disciplined. The discipline imposed included a loss of 360 days of time credits and a 25-month term in the security housing unit. A copy of the disciplinary decision was provided to Nguyen on October 20, 2009.

Nguyen attempted to appeal the disciplinary decision. He submitted an administrative appeal on October 22, 2009, which was screened out on October 27, 2009 because necessary supporting documents were not attached. See Docket # 1 at 32. Nguyen failed to submit the required documents, and his administrative appeal was cancelled on November 25, 2009.[1] The cancellation of an appeal is generally the end of the line for that appeal, although the inmate may file a separate inmate appeal to challenge the procedural reason for the cancellation of the appeal. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.6(e). After his inmate appeals of the disciplinary decision were cancelled, Nguyen attempted numerous times over the next couple of years to pursue an inmate appeal challenging the cancellation decisions and the screening out of other inmate appeals as duplicative. He eventually received at least two dozen adverse decisions, the last of which occurred on April 17, 2012.[2]

Nguyen filed several state habeas petitions. His first state habeas petition was signed on July 6, 2012, and filed in the Del Norte County Superior Court on July 12, 2012. Resp. Ex. 2. The Del Norte court rejected the habeas petition as procedurally barred and untimely, explaining that Nguyen had failed to exhaust administrative remedies in 2009, and that, if "he believed that the appeal was wrongfully rejected[, ] he could have pursued the habeas corpus petition at that time but waited almost three years to do so.") He then filed a habeas petition in the California Court of Appeal; the petition in In re Huan Nguyen on Habeas Corpus, Cal.Ct.App. No. A136868, was filed on October 22, 2012, and denied on November 7, 2012. Nguyen's last state habeas petition was denied by the California Supreme Court on April 10, 2013, with citations to In re Robbins, 18 Cal.4th 770, 780 (Cal. 1998), and In re Dexter, 25 Cal.3d 921, 925-26 (1979). In re Robbins states that a petitioner bears the burden of showing that his petition is timely. In re Dexter stands for the proposition that a state habeas petitioner "will not be afforded judicial relief unless he has exhausted available administrative remedies." 25 Cal.3d at 925.

Nguyen then filed his federal petition. The petition has a proof of service showing that he mailed it to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on September 10, 2013. The petition was stamped "filed" in the Eastern District on September 16, 2013, and later transferred to the Northern District, where it was stamped filed on October 16, 2013.

Due to Nguyen's status as a prisoner proceeding pro se, he receives the benefit of the prisoner mailbox rule, which deems most documents filed when they are given to prison officials to mail to the court rather than the day the document reaches the courthouse. See Stillman v. Lamarque, 319 F.3d 1199, 1201 (9th Cir. 2003). For purposes of the present motion, the federal petition is deemed filed as of September 10, 2013, the day the proof of service shows it was mailed to a federal court.


A petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by a state prisoner must comply with the statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). Section 2244's one-year limitations period applies to any habeas petition filed by persons in "custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, " even if the petition challenges an administrative decision rather than a state court judgment. Shelby v. Bartlett, 391 F.3d 1061, 1063 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)). Although the limitations period has four possible starting dates, § 2244(d)(1)(D) usually applies to prisoners challenging administrative decisions such as disciplinary decisions, i.e., the limitations period starts on the "date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence." The one-year limitations period begins on the date the administrative decision becomes final. See Shelby, 391 F.3d at 1066 (limitations period began the day after prisoner received timely notice of the denial of his administrative appeal challenging disciplinary decision); see also Redd v. McGrath, 343 F.3d 1077, 1079 (9th Cir. 2003) (limitations period began when parole board denied prisoner's administrative appeal challenging the board's decision that he was unsuitable for parole). The "factual predicate" of the habeas claims is the finality of the adverse administrative decision and not the denial of the state habeas petition. See Redd, 343 F.3d at 1082.

The disciplinary decision became final no later than November 25, 2009, when Nguyen's inmate appeal of the disciplinary decision was cancelled. On that date, the factual predicate of his claims existed and could have been discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence. That is, as of November 25, 2009, he had received a disciplinary decision that allegedly violated his constitutional rights and had received a final rejection of his inmate appeal. The one-year limitations period started the next day. The presumptive deadline for Nguyen to file his federal habeas petition therefore was November 25, 2010.

Nguyen argues that his inmate appeal was improperly cancelled in November 2009 because prison officials' initial rejection of the appeal for failing to attach documents was too vague and ambiguous for him to know what they wanted. He urges that the screen-out letter that told him he had not submitted the required documents and described "the required documents as...all documents you received....'... was not exact, but quite broad and vague in what was required of petitioner to submit." Docket # 14 at 1. He misdescribes the contents of the screen-out letter, however, as he fails to note that the general command to attach "all documents" was narrowed in the next paragraph by a directive that he needed to include the complete CDC-837 (i.e., the incident report) and CDC-7219s (i.e., reports of injuries). See Docket # 1 at 32. The screen-out letter was not intolerably vague and would not have left a reasonable prisoner guessing as to what prison officials wanted. Nor were these documents insignificant to the inmate appeal: the 42-page CDC-837 and the 12 pages of CDC-7219s had detailed information about the group attack and stabbings that prompted the disciplinary charge against Nguyen. See Docket # 1 at 138-193.

Nguyen's numerous efforts to file inmate appeals over the next few years after his inmate appeal of the disciplinary decision was cancelled on November 25, 2009 did not extend the starting date for the limitations period under § 2244(d). Once the inmate appeal was cancelled, the factual predicate of his claims existed and he was on notice of it. Nguyen filed dozens of inmate appeals after the first appeal was cancelled, see footnote 2, supra, and probably could continue to file inmate appeals as long as he remains in prison, but the starting date of the limitations period cannot be ...

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