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Jones v. Director of Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 20, 2018

EDWARD JONES, Petitioner,
v.
DIRECTOR OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS [DKT. NO. 58.]

          HON. GONZALO P. CURIEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On May 4, 2015, Petitioner Edward Jones (“Petitioner”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. No. 1.) The Director of Corrections (“Respondent”) filed a Motion to Dismiss on August 12, 2015, and Petitioner filed his Response on September 14, 2015. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 15.) This Court granted in part, dismissing Petitioner's ex post facto claims, and denied in part, ordering Respondent to respond to Petitioner's Due Process and Equal Protection claims. (Dkt. No. 32.) Respondent filed an Answer and supporting Lodgments on June 27, 2016. (Dkt. Nos. 38, 39.) Petition filed a Traverse as to the matters raised in the Answer on October 5, 2016, and filed an Amendment to Traverse on October 6, 2016. (Dkt. Nos. 53, 55.)

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule HC.2 of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal filed a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that this Court deny the Petition. (Dkt. No. 58.) On July 21, 2017, Petitioner filed objections (“Objections”) to the Magistrate Judge's Report. (Dkt. No. 59.)

         After a thorough review of the issues, the documents presented, and Objections filed, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and DENIES the petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court also DENIES a certificate of appealability.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 26, 1999, Petitioner committed armed robbery. (Dkt. No. 1, Ex. G). On November 8, 2000, a jury convicted Petitioner of one count of robbery, five counts of attempted robbery, and two counts of false imprisonment by violence/menace, and multiple firearm-use allegations. (Dkt. No. 12-1.) Petitioner was sentenced to 37 years and his conviction was upheld on direct appeal. (Id.) Thereafter, Petitioner filed numerous habeas petitions both in state and federal court. (Id.)

         Petitioner's instant petition in this Court is rooted in petitions that he filed in the California state courts from 2014 to 2015. (Dkt. No. 1 at 65.)[1] There, Petitioner alleged, inter alia, that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) violated the Constitutional proscription against ex post facto laws by retroactively classifying his armed-robbery offense as a “violent felony, ” thus denying him, under California Penal Code § 2933.1, [2] the full measure of work time credits he claims he was otherwise entitled to. (Dkt. No. 1, Ex. G.) On December 2, 2014, the Superior Court denied his ex post facto petition on the merits. (Id.)

         Petitioner subsequently filed a Petition Writ of Habeas Corpus in the state intermediate court of appeal, again raising his ex post facto claim. (Dkt. No. 12-1.) On January 8, 2015, the court denied that claim on procedural grounds and, alternatively, on the merits. (Id.) Procedurally, the appellate court held that this claim was “stale, repetitive, and successive” because “[t]his petition is Jones's seventh writ petition challenging his conviction and resulting judgment and involves contentions similar to those raised in his previous petitions.” (Id.) (emphasis added). In so holding, the court relied on the state's procedural bar against successive or repetitive petitions, as specified in In re Clark, 5 Cal.4th 750, 769 (1993) (“[T]his court has never condoned abusive writ practice or repetitious collateral attacks on a final judgment. Entertaining the merits of successive petitions is inconsistent with our recognition that delayed and repetitious presentation of claims is an abuse of the writ.”). On the merits, the court rejected Petitioner's ex post facto claim because Petitioner's armed robbery offenses were classified as a “violent felony” under California law when he committed his crimes. (Dkt. No. 12-1.) Accordingly, the court held that Petitioner was never entitled to the worktime credits he claims he was entitled to because his crime had always been a violent felony. (Id.)

         On January 13, 2015, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the California Supreme Court, again presenting his ex post facto claim. (Dkt. No. 12-2.) On February 6, 2015, however, Petitioner transmitted an “amended” petition to the California Supreme Court. (Dkt. No. 15 at 36, 45.) There, Petitioner presented his ex post facto claim but also added two additional claims - (1) a Due Process claim and (2) an Equal Protection claim - that he did not include in his earlier petition. (Id. at 39-45.) The California Supreme Court's docket reflects that it “received” Petitioner's “amended” petition. (Dkt. No. 24-3 at 2; Dkt. No. 29 at 3-4.) On March 11, 2015, the California Supreme Court summarily denied Petitioner's petition. (Dkt. No. 24-3.)

         On May 4, 2015, Petitioner filed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas in this Court. (Dkt No. 1.) Petitioner raised here all three claims that he presented in his amended petition to the California Supreme Court. (Id.) First, Petitioner again argued that CDCR violated the proscription against ex post facto laws by retroactively classifying his robbery offenses as “violent felonies, ” thus improperly denying him certain worktime credits to which he claims he was entitled. (Id.) Second, Petitioner argued that CDCR denied him Due Process because he lacked notice that a firearm enhancement constituted a violent felony under California Penal Code § 667.5(c). (Id.) Third, Petitioner argued that the state violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause because he was treated differently with respect to worktime credits than other similarly situated inmates. (Id.)

         On August 12, 2015, Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases. (Dkt. No. 11-1.) First, Respondent argued that Petitioner's ex post facto claim, grounded in the denial of worktime credits under state law, was not federally cognizable because it effectively amounts to a claim that the state misapplied its own state laws. (Id. at 2-3.) Second, Respondent argued that Petitioner's Due Process and Equal Protection claims have been procedurally defaulted - or, in the alternative, remain unexhausted in state courts. (Id. at 4-7.) In either case, Respondent contends that this Court is unable to entertain these claims. (Id.)

         On December 8, 2015 Magistrate Judge Skomal issued a Report and Recommendation advising that this Court grant Respondent's Motion to Dismiss with respect to the ex post facto claim and deny it with respect to the Due Process and Equal Protection claims. (Dkt. No. 16.) This Court, having reviewed the issues, the documents presented, and the filed objections, adopted the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation on March 30, 2016. (Dkt. No. 32.)

         In granting Respondent's Motion to Dismiss Petitioner's ex post facto claim, this Court reasoned that Petitioner “fails to state a claim that is federally cognizable.” (Dkt. No. 32 at 11.) Rather, Petitioner is challenging the CDCR's application of California state law concerning worktime credits. (Id.) Because this is “ultimately a state-law question, ” the Court found that “federal habeas corpus relief is not available. . . .” (Id. at 10-11, citing Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)). In denying Respondent's Motion to Dismiss Petitioner's Due Process and Equal Protection Claims, this Court found Petitioner's constitutional claims to be neither procedurally defaulted nor unexhausted.[3](Id. at 15-19.) In so doing, this Court ordered Respondents to respond to Petition's Due Process and Equal Protection claims on or before May 1, 2016. (Id. at 20.)

         On April 28, 2016, Respondent filed an ex parte application for an extension of time to answer. (Dkt. No. 33.) On April 29, the Court issued an order granting Respondent an extension of time, through May 31, 2016, to file the answer. (Dkt. No. 35.) Respondent filed a second ex parte application for an extension of time to answer on May 27, 2016. (Dkt. No. 36.) The Court granted Respondent a second extension to file an answer to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus until June 28, 2016.[4] (Dkt. No. 37.)

         On June 27, 2016, Respondent filed an answer responding to Petitioner's constitutional claims. (Dkt. No. 38.) Respondent argued that Petition did not exhaust his Due Process and Equal Protection claims either administratively or in state court;[5] that Petitioner's Due Process claim is untimely and frivolous;[6] that both constitutional claims are based solely on state law, thus are not cognizable on federal habeas corpus; and that Petition failed to demonstrate that the state court decisions were an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. (Id. at 4-9.)

         Petitioner filed a Traverse and an Amendment to Traverse in October of 2016. (Dkt. Nos. 53, 55.) On June 30, 2017, Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal filed a Report and Recommendation (“Report”) recommending that this Court deny Petitioner's remaining Due Process and Equal Protection claims, thereby denying Petitioner's Writ of Habeas Corpus. (Dkt. No. 58.) On July 21, 2017, Petitioner filed Objections to the Report, which this Court now turns to. (Dkt. No. 59.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

         The duties of the district court with respect to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation are set forth in Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made” and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings of recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir. 1989).

         As to the portions of the report to which no objection is made, the Court may assume the correctness of the magistrate judge's findings of fact and decide the motion on the applicable law. Campbell v. U.S. District Court, 501 F.2d 196, 206 (9th Cir. 1974); Johnson v. Nelson, 142 F.Supp.2d 1215, 1217 (S.D. Cal. 2001). Under such circumstances, the Ninth Circuit has held that a failure to file objections only relieves the trial court of its burden to give de novo review to factual findings; conclusions of law must still be reviewed de novo. See Robbins v. Carey, 481 F.3d 1143, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007).

         B. Review of Habeas Petitions

         Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases requires that “[i]f it plainly appears from the face of the petition . . . that the petitioner is not entitled to relief. . . the judge shall make an order for summary dismissal.” See Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990). A petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 “is expected to state facts that point to a real possibility of a constitutional error.” Aubut v. Maine, 431 F.2d 688, 689 (1st Cir. 1970). In addition, the facts alleged in the petition must be sufficiently specific to allow the Court to understand the claim. See Hendricks, 908 F.2d at 491-92.

         C. AEDPA

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) governs this Petition. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336-37 (1997). Under AEDPA, a federal court must not grant habeas relief with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the decision was (1) “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law” or (2) “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7-8 (2002). “‘[C]learly established Federal law' under § 2254(d)(1) [refers to] the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003). However, a state court's judgment need not cite Supreme Court cases or “[e]ven require awareness of our cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.” Early, 537 U.S. at 8 (emphasis added); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 734 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (“In other words, mistakes in reasoning or in predicate decisions of the type in question here-use of a wrong legal rule or framework-do constitute error under the ‘contrary to' prong of § 2254(d)(1).”)

         The court “may issue the [habeas] writ under the ‘contrary to' clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). “The court may grant relief under the ‘unreasonable application' clause if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from [Supreme Court] decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular case.” Id. Under the “unreasonable application” clause, the state court decision must be “more than incorrect or ...


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