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Pena v. Spearman

United States District Court, N.D. California, Oakland Division

February 2, 2015

EUGENIO PENA, Petitioner,
v.
MARION SPEARMAN, Warden, Respondent.

ORDER GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS; AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

SAUNDRA BROWN ARMSTRONG, District Judge.

Petitioner, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the Correctional Training Facility, has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the constitutionality of an adverse disciplinary finding in 2009. This matter is before the Court on Respondent's motion to dismiss. Having read and considered papers filed in connection with this matter, and being fully informed, the Court hereby GRANTS Respondent's motion and dismisses the petition.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1993, Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of life with the possibility of parole plus eleven years. Dkt. 1 in Case No. C 11-6692 SBA (PR) at 2. His minimum eligible parole date was in 2005. Dkt. 6, Exs. 1, 3.

Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition on August 27, 2013. Dkt. 1. He challenges a prison disciplinary hearing held at San Quentin State Prison in 2009, which resulted in a guilty finding for possessing a controlled substance for distribution. Dkt. 6, Ex. 2. Petitioner was assessed 180 days of credit loss. Id . The petition alleges several procedural due process violations with respect to his 2009 disciplinary hearing. Id.

Respondent now moves to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it: (1) fails to invoke federal habeas corpus jurisdiction; (2) fails to implicate a federally protected liberty interest; (3) is unexhausted; and (4) is untimely. Dkt. 6. Petitioner has filed an opposition to the motion, Respondent has filed a reply, and Petitioner has filed a sur-reply. Dkts. 9, 11, 12.

II. DISCUSSION

A. FAILURE TO INVOKE FEDERAL HABEAS CORPUS JURISDICTION

Respondent contends that habeas jurisdiction is lacking because a successful challenge will not result in Petitioner's release or otherwise shorten his confinement. Petitioner responds that habeas jurisdiction is proper because the 2009 disciplinary finding could lengthen his confinement. Specifically, Petitioner argues that the Board of Parole Hearings generally grants postconviction credits[1] once he is deemed suitable for parole, but that the disciplinary finding could prevent him from earning such credits. He cites Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations, which states, in relevant part: "No annual postconviction credit shall be granted in the case of any prisoner who commits serious... or numerous infractions of departmental regulations, violates any state law, or engages in other conduct which could result in rescission of a parole date...." Dkt. 9 at 3 (quoting Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 2410(d)).

"Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus.'" Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 579 (2006) (quoting Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004)). "An inmate's challenge to the circumstances of his confinement, however, may be brought under [section] 1983." Id.

The Supreme Court has consistently held that any claim by a prisoner attacking the fact or duration of his confinement must be brought under the habeas sections of Title 28 of the United States Code. See Calderon v. Ashmus, 523 U.S. 740, 747 (1998); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). Likewise, a claim that would necessarily imply the invalidity of a prisoner's conviction or continuing confinement must be brought in a habeas petition. See id. The Supreme Court, however, has declined to address whether a challenge to a condition of confinement may be brought under habeas. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 526 n.6 (1979); Fierro v. Gomez, 77 F.3d 301, 304 n.2 (9th Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 519 U.S. 918 (1996). Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit has held that "habeas jurisdiction is absent, and a [section] 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition will not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence." Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 859 (9th Cir. 2003).

Here, Respondent argues that a successful challenge to the 2009 disciplinary finding would not affect the fact or length of Petitioner's incarceration. This Court agrees. Habeas is not the proper avenue of relief for Petitioner's claim. Petitioner is serving an indeterminate life sentence, and his minimum eligible parole date passed in 2005. In that situation, a loss of time credits would not delay Petitioner's release date or the date of his parole eligibility. In contrast, if Petitioner were serving a determinate sentence, his claim would be cognizable and appropriate for federal habeas corpus review because the loss of credits would have delayed his release date, and success on his claim would necessarily shorten his time in custody. Alternatively, if Petitioner had not yet reached his minimum eligible parole date, such a claim might also be cognizable because loss of time credits would delay the first date he would be eligible for parole and possibly obtain a release date. However, neither is the case here.

In any event, Petitioner's claim that the 2009 disciplinary finding could affect the length or duration of his confinement is conclusory and speculative. Even if this Court were to vacate the disciplinary violation, Petitioner may nonetheless have been denied postconviction credits under Title 15, section 2410(d), of the California Code of Regulations. As such, it is questionable whether Petitioner would succeed on his claim that the absence of a disciplinary violation would "necessarily shorten" his sentence. See Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 859.; cf. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 487 (1995) (finding that the mere possibility of a denial of parole on the basis of disciplinary findings is too speculative where there are a host of other factors that inform a parole determination). Accordingly, the ...


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