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Bolanos-Renteria v. Benov

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 7, 2014

MICHAEL L. BENOV, Respondent.


SHEILA K. OBERTO, 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 July 16, 2014, and supported with documentation. Petitioner filed opposition to the motion on September 24, 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 forty-one days of good conduct time credit, as well as one month in disciplinary segregation and loss of privileges for a year, that Petitioner suffered as a result of prison disciplinary findings that he engaged in the prohibited conduct of use of a controlled substance or paraphernalia. (Pet., doc. 1, 1-12.)

Petitioner seeks invalidation of the sanctions as well as injunctive relief. 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 lacked the authority to conduct the disciplinary hearing and make findings resulting in punishment, including disallowance of good conduct time credit, Petitioner suffered a violation of his due process rights; and 2) because the DHO was not an employee of the BOP but 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 June 17, 2014, by a certified disciplinary hearing officer of the BOP. At the rehearing, Petitioner admitted the violation, explaining that he had felt sick, and someone had offered him medication. (Doc. 13-1, 15.) The BOP DHO found that Petitioner had committed the prohibited misconduct, and he assessed the same disallowance of good conduct time credit (forty-one days) and imposed the same month-long placement in disciplinary segregation and year's loss of privileges. (Doc. 13-1, 16-17.)

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). 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, this Court can no longer issue a decision redressing the injury.

Petitioner contends 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(a), which requires "staff" to witness or suspect a violation and issue an incident report; 28 C.F.R. § 541.5(b) which requires a "Bureau staff member" to investigate the incident report; and § 541.7(b), which provides it is "staff" who ordinarily serve on a unit disciplinary committee (UDC) - a body which considers disciplinary charges before the charges are heard by a DHO. Petitioner argues the hearing and rehearing processes 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.

The documentation attached to the petition shows that the BOP DHO considered the incident report and investigation, and also the results of laboratory testing of Petitioner's urine, which revealed the presence of methamphetamine; evidence that Petitioner lacked a prescription for any medication that contained methamphetamine; and Petitioner's admission that he had taken the substance. (Doc. 13-1, 16.) This evidence supports the finding of misconduct and also undercuts Petitioner's general allegation that he suffered a taint from the participation of non-BOP staff in the earlier stages of the disciplinary process.

The documentation also establishes that Petitioner received all procedural due process due under Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). (Doc. 13-1 at 11-13, 15-17.) Procedural due process requires that where the state has made good time subject to forfeiture only for serious misbehavior, 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 the disciplinary action taken. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. at 563-64. If the inmate is illiterate, or the issue is so complex that it is unlikely 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 conduct 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, the forensic evidence and Petitioner's admission preclude a claim of a lack of evidence to support the disciplinary finding. The documentation also shows that Petitioner received adequate notice; waived witnesses, staff representation, and presentation of evidence; and received a written statement of the decision. (Doc. 13-1 at 11-13, 15-17.) The Court, therefore, concludes that Petitioner has not suffered any prejudice from either participation of ...

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