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Ciotta v. Frauenheim

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 23, 2016

STEVEN CIOTTA, Petitioner,
v.
S. FRAUENHEIM, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS, DENY PETITIONER'S MOTIONS TO AMEND, AND DISMISS PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (ECF Nos. 1, 13, 22, 23)

         Petitioner Steven Ciotta is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the loss of 360 days of good time credit and 24 months in the Security Housing Unit. The undersigned recommends granting Respondent's motion to dismiss given that Petitioner's claim is not cognizable under the federal habeas statute and the instant petition was filed outside the one-year limitations period.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner currently is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at Pleasant Valley State Prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. (ECF No. 1 at 1; ECF No. 13 at 3).[1] On March 25, 2011, Officer J. Figueroa observed Petitioner striking another inmate in the neck area approximately two times with his right fist. All inmates were ordered to get down, but Officer Figueroa observed Petitioner walking towards the inmate urinals and Petitioner appeared to place an unknown object in the toilet. Petitioner then got down by the urinals. Officer Figueroa approached the victim inmate and observed bleeding from the left side of his neck. (ECF No. 1 at 19).

         Petitioner was charged with battery on an inmate with a weapon in Rules Violation Report Log No. FA-11-03-049, dated March 25, 2011, and a disciplinary hearing was held on April 11, 2011. (ECF No. 1 at 20). Petitioner pleaded not guilty and submitted a written statement. No witnesses were requested or called. The Senior Hearing Officer found Petitioner guilty of battery on an inmate with a weapon, a Division A-1 offense. Petitioner was penalized with the forfeiture of 360 days of credit and 10 days of yard. Petitioner also was referred for a Security Housing Unit ("SHU") term assessment. (Id. at 21). Petitioner ultimately was assessed twenty-four months in the SHU. (Id. at 4).

         On December 29, 2011, Petitioner's administrative appeal was denied at the third level of review. (ECF No. 1 at 23-24). On January 3, 2014, Petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the Kern County Superior Court, which denied the petition on March 24, 2014. (Id. at 25-26). On August 15, 2014, Petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, which denied the petition on November 3, 2014. (Id. at 27). Thereafter, Petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the California Supreme Court, which denied the petition on May 13, 2015. (Id. at 28).

         On December 10, 2015, the Court received the instant federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. (ECF No. 1). On February 5, 2016, Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that there is no habeas jurisdiction because Petitioner is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole and that the petition was filed outside the one-year limitations period. (ECF No. 13). Petitioner filed multiple oppositions.[2] (ECF Nos. 15, 17, 18, 20). Respondent has filed a reply. (ECF No. 16).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Habeas Corpus Jurisdiction

         Respondent asserts that the petition should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Respondent argues that because Petitioner is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, success on his claim would not necessarily spell speedier release and thus, there is no habeas jurisdiction. (ECF No. 13 at 3-4).

         In general, the Supreme Court has explained that claims challenging "the fact or duration" of confinement and "seek[ing] either immediate release from that confinement or the shortening of its duration" lie at "the core of habeas corpus." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973). Although Preiser defined the core of habeas, it did not "explore the appropriate limits of habeas corpus as an alternative remedy to a proper action under § 1983." Id. at 500. Subsequently, the Ninth Circuit has wrestled with issues arising out of the interplay between habeas corpus and § 1983 jurisdiction.

         In Bostic v. Carlson, a prisoner filed multiple habeas petitions challenging disciplinary infractions for which he was assessed forfeiture of statutory good time or segregation from the general prison population. 884 F.2d 1267, 1269 (9th Cir. 1989). The Ninth Circuit "assume[d]" habeas jurisdiction existed over all the petitions, stating that habeas jurisdiction is available: (1) for a prisoner's claims that he has been denied good time credits, (2) for a prisoner's claims that he has been subjected to disciplinary segregation without due process of law, and (3) when a petitioner seeks expungement of a disciplinary finding from his record if expungement is likely to accelerate the prisoner's eligibility for parole. Id. The Ninth Circuit did not elaborate on when expungement would be "likely to accelerate" parole eligibility.

         In Ramirez v. Galaza, a prisoner brought a civil rights action under § 1983 to challenge procedures used in imposing disciplinary sanctions of ten days of disciplinary detention, loss of privileges for sixty days, and assignment to administrative segregation for twenty-four months. 334 F.3d 850, 852-53 (9th Cir. 2003). He was not subject to a loss of good time credits. The Ninth Circuit held that "habeas jurisdiction is absent, and a § 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition will not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence." Id. at 859. Because there was no showing that the expungement sought by the prisoner was likely to accelerate his eligibility for parole, the Ninth Circuit found that the challenge to the disciplinary proceeding was properly brought under § 1983. Id.

         In Docken v. Chase, a prisoner brought a habeas corpus action to challenge the timing of his parole eligibility reviews. 393 F.3d 1024, 1026 (9th Cir. 2004). The Ninth Circuit understood "Bostic's use of the term ‘likely' to identify claims with a sufficient nexus to the length of imprisonment so as to implicate, but not fall squarely within, the ‘core' challenges identified by the Preiser Court." Id. at 1031. The court held that prisoners could bring habeas petitions so long as success on the claims "could potentially affect the duration of their confinement." Id.

         The Supreme Court discussed the distinction between habeas corpus and § 1983 in Skinner v. Switzer, considering the question, "[w]hen may a state prisoner, complaining of unconstitutional state action, pursue a civil rights claim under § 1983, and when is habeas corpus the prisoner's sole remedy?" 562 U.S. 521, 533 (2011). In Skinner, a prisoner brought a § 1983 action alleging that Texas violated his due process rights by refusing to provide for DNA testing he requested. Id. at 529. The Supreme Court found the prisoner properly invoked § 1983 because "[s]uccess in his suit for DNA testing would not ‘necessarily imply' the invalidity of his conviction." Id. at 534. The Supreme Court noted that none of its cases "has recognized habeas as the sole remedy, or even an available one, where the relief sought would ‘neither terminat[e] custody, accelerat[e] the future date of release from custody, nor reduc[e] the level of custody.'" Id. (alterations in original) (quoting Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 86 (2005) (Scalia, J., concurring)). The Court further noted that "Dotson declared . . . in no uncertain terms, that when a prisoner's claim would not ‘necessarily spell speedier release, ...


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