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Brown v. Staffel

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

April 2, 2018

ERIK SHANNON BROWN, Plaintiff/Petitioner,



         On March 27, 2018, Erik Shannon Brown (“Brown”) filed a form “Civil Rights Complaint” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”) along with a “Request to Proceed Without Prepayment of Filing Fees” (“Request”).[1] In the Complaint, Brown alleges that a Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge failed to “act within the Constitutional Provisions set out in the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” of California's Proposition 47 (“Prop 47”). (Compl. at 5). Specifically, Brown contends that the judge failed to reclassify each of Brown's eligible offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor pursuant to Prop 47. (Id.). He further states that he has learned that he satisfies the relevant criteria for qualifying for Prop 47 relief, but that his felony convictions and enhancements remain and the trial court “did not remedy, cure or reclassify every Prop. 47 eligible offense even to this day.” (Id.). Brown asserts that he is entitled to have all of his eligible offenses reclassified and to then “undergo a new sentencing, ” which would eliminate every prison prior that enhanced his “prison sentence of 8 years.” (Compl. at 6). He requests that the Court declare this action “maintainable as a USC § 1983, ” and order defendant and all those acting in concert with defendant to resentence him to the sentence to which he believes he is entitled. (Id.). He also requests “reasonable fees & cost of litigation, this Suit and all other expenses related to this action.” (Id.).

         For the reasons set forth below, Brown is ordered to show cause why the Complaint should not be dismissed as an improperly presented habeas petition.


         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254 empowers the Court to “entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court . . . on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Brown cannot challenge an allegedly unlawful conviction or sentence in a federal civil rights action. A petition for habeas corpus is a prisoner's sole judicial remedy when attacking “the validity of the fact or length of . . . confinement.” Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489-90, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973); Nettles v. Grounds, 830 F.3d 922, 929 (9th Cir. 2016) (the Supreme Court has “made clear that habeas is the exclusive vehicle for claims brought by state prisoners that fall within the core of habeas and that such claims may not be brought under § 1983”) (en banc), cert. denied, 196 L.Ed.2d 542 (2017). Here, based on the Court's review of the Complaint, it appears that Brown is challenging the fact or duration of his sentence, and not his conditions of confinement. Thus, his claims are more appropriately raised in a habeas action and Brown may not use a civil rights action to challenge the validity of his conviction and sentence that allegedly resulted from state sentencing error. Such relief only is available in a habeas corpus action.[2]

         Further, to the extent that Brown is seeking monetary damages for an allegedly unlawful conviction and sentence, his claims are not cognizable under § 1983 unless and until he can show that “the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). Under Heck, if a judgment in favor of a plaintiff on a civil rights action necessarily will imply the invalidity of his or her conviction or sentence, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence already has been invalidated. Id. No such showing has been made here. Therefore, Brown may not seek monetary damages for any alleged civil rights violation if that civil rights violation necessarily implicates the validity of his conviction.

         The Court also notes that prisoners filing civil rights actions, unlike prisoners filing habeas actions, are liable for the full amount of the $350 filing fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1); Naddi v. Hill, 106 F.3d 275 (9th Cir. 1997) (in forma pauperis provisions of section 1915, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, do not apply to habeas actions). In contrast, the filing fee for a habeas petition is $5, which may be waived if the Court grants a Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a).

         B. CONCLUSION

         Based on the foregoing, no later than April 30, 2018, Brown must submit to the Court his response making clear his arguments, if any, as to why the Complaint should not be dismissed as an improperly filed habeas petition. All facts relied upon by Brown must be proved by testimony contained in a declaration signed under penalty of perjury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746, or in properly authenticated documents.

         Alternatively, if he chooses to proceed with a habeas action, Brown shall, no later than April 30, 2018, file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (“Petition”), as follows:

1. The Petition must utilize the form petition that will accompany this Order.
2. The Petition must be completely filled out and must clearly indicate whether Brown has exhausted his habeas claim(s) in the state courts.[3]

         Alternatively, if Brown agrees that the action should be dismissed without prejudice as an improperly filed habeas petition, or for any other reason, [4] he may file a notice of voluntary dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1) (“Rule 41”). Rule 41 allows for the voluntary dismissal of an action without prejudice and without a court order before the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1); Hamilton v. Shearson-Lehman Am. Express, Inc., 813 F.2d 1532, 1534 (9th Cir. 1987). The opposing party has not yet appeared in this action.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that if a response to the Order to Show Cause, or alternatively a completed habeas Petition or Notice of Dismissal is not received by April 30, 2018, the dismissal of the instant action will be recommended for failure to state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, ...

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