United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER & FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.
Petitioner is a California state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Respondent has answered, ECF No. 22, and petitioner filed a traverse, ECF No. 25. For the reasons which follow, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Petitioner was convicted in 2004 of armed robbery and carjacking, and sentenced to a determinate term of fifteen years and eight months. On April 5, 2011, at High Desert State Prison ("HDSP"), petitioner was placed in administrative segregation when prison officials identified him as an affiliate of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. During the ensuing validation process, as detailed below, petitioner was provided summaries of three confidential memoranda which documented the investigation into his alleged gang affiliation. ECF No. 22-1 (Respondent's Exhibit 1) at 105. Petitioner was not provided the memoranda themselves.
On April 25, 2011, petitioner was issued three Confidential Information Disclosure Forms which summarized the substance of the confidential memoranda at issue. One disclosure form reported that a confidential memorandum dated January 26, 2011, had documented the January 19, 2011 interception of two letters sent by petitioner, one of which was directed to inmate Pennucci and identified Aryan Brotherhood leaders at HDSP, and one of which was directed to inmate Schanrock and detailed a planned Aryan Brotherhood assault on members of another group. ECF No. 22-1 at 99. Another disclosure form reported that a confidential memorandum dated April 5, 2011, had documented the March 22, 2011 interception of a letter sent by petitioner to inmate Schanrock that contained a list of inmates to be assaulted by the Aryan Brotherhood. ECF No. 22-1 at 101. The third disclosure form reported that a confidential memorandum dated April 8, 2011, had documented the April 4, 2011 interception of a letter sent by petitioner to inmate Harrison that contained both information regarding a gang-related assault and information about petitioner's association with a validated Aryan Brotherhood associate. ECF No. 22-1 at 103. None of the referenced letters were provided to petitioner.
On June 7, 2011, petitioner was validated as an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood. ECF No. 22-1 at 75, 78. As a consequence of validation, petitioner received an indefinite SHU term and was transferred to Pelican Bay State Prison, and his Earliest Possible Release Date ("EPRD") was extended by more than two years.
On March 16, 2012, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Lassen County Superior Court, claiming that his validation and SHU placement violated his due process rights. The superior court ordered the State to file under seal the confidential memorandum dated April 8, 2011. ECF No. 22-2 (Respondent's Ex. 2). After receiving the sealed exhibit, the court denied the petition on July 12, 2012. ECF No. 22-3 (Respondent's Ex. 3). The court found "that there is ample information contained in said confidential memorandum to establish a direct link between petitioner and the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, and [that] all requisites of due process, procedural and evidentiary, as to petitioner's prison gang validation have been satisfied." Id.
On August 13, 2012, petitioner presented the same claims to the California Court of Appeal. ECF No. 22-6 (Respondent's Ex. 6). The petition was denied without comment or citation on September 18, 2012. ECF No. 22-13 (Respondent's Ex. 10).
On October 22, 2012, petitioner filed his claims in the California Supreme Court. ECF No. 22-1 (Respondent's Ex. 1). The petition was denied without comment or citation on February 20, 2013. ECF No. 1 at 211 (Petitioner's Ex. AE).
The instant federal habeas petition was submitted promptly thereafter. ECF No. 1. Respondent moved to dismiss, on grounds that petitioner's claims fall outside the scope of federal habeas jurisdiction. This court granted the motion as to Ground One of the petition, which alleged that petitioner's continuing SHU placement violates his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, but denied the motion as to Grounds Two and Three, which allege that the gang validation process violated petitioner's due process rights. ECF No. 19 (Findings and Recommendations), ECF No. 21 (Order adopting Findings and Recommendations). Respondent filed an answer on February 21, 2014. Petitioner's traverse was filed on March 10, 2014.
STANDARDS GOVERNING HABEAS RELIEF
28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), provides in relevant part as follows:
(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
The statute applies whenever the state court has denied a federal claim on its merits, whether or not the state court explained its reasons. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 785 (2011). State court rejection of a federal claim will be presumed to have been on the merits absent any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary. Id. at 784-785 (citing Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 265 (1989) (presumption of a merits determination when it is unclear whether a decision appearing to rest on federal grounds was decided on another basis)). "The presumption may be overcome when there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785.
The phrase "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) refers to the "governing legal principle or principles" previously articulated by the Supreme Court. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). Clearly established federal law also includes "the legal principles and standards flowing from precedent." Bradley v. Duncan, 315 F.3d 1091, 1101 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Taylor v. Withrow, 288 F.3d 846, 852 (6th Cir. 2002)). Only Supreme Court precedent may constitute "clearly established Federal law, " but circuit law has persuasive value regarding what law is "clearly established" and what ...