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Christopher Robert Lute v. People

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 31, 2018

CHRISTOPHER ROBERT LUTE, Petitioner,
v.
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER SUMMARILY DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          HONORABLE DALE S. FISCHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 9, 2018, petitioner Christopher Robert Lute, a pretrial detainee currently housed at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, California, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Petition”). Petitioner appears to ask this Court to issue a writ of mandamus to overturn the denial of his discovery requests by the Riverside County Superior Court during pretrial proceedings in his still-pending state criminal case. See Pet. at 2, 5; see also Id. at 26-28, 38. Alternatively, since the Petition states “stay requested, ” petitioner appears to request the Court to stay his pending state criminal action. See Id. at 1; see also Id. at 19.

         On April 13, 2018, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause (“OSC”) to petitioner, requiring petitioner to show cause why the Petition should not be dismissed. Docket no. 3. In the OSC, the Court explained that it lacks jurisdiction to issue the requested writ of mandamus under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, that the Younger abstention doctrine requires this Court to abstain from staying the state action, and that the pending state action in the California Court of Appeal could moot the Petition. On May 15, 2018, petitioner filed a Response to the OSC. Petitioner has failed to persuade this Court that it has jurisdiction over the Petition, and the Court must abstain from staying the state action in any event.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases authorizes the Court to summarily dismiss a habeas petition “[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4 also authorizes dismissals on procedural grounds. See 28 U.S.C. foll. § 2254, Rule 4 Advisory Committee Notes (1976); White v. Lewis, 874 F.2d 599, 602 (9th Cir. 1989). Here, the Petition must be dismissed because this Court lacks jurisdiction over the Petition, and the Court must abstain from interfering with the state court proceedings.

         A. The Court Lacks Jurisdiction to Issue a Writ of Mandamus Over a State Court

         The Petition appears primarily to request this Court to issue a writ of mandamus against a California state court. The Petition states the Riverside County Superior Court denied petitioner's motions to compel discovery during pretrial proceedings in his still-pending criminal case. See Pet. at 2, 5; see also Id. at 26-28, 38. In one motion, petitioner sought to obtain discovery for his criminal defense relating to his underlying charge of alleged robbery in Palm Springs, California, including store invoices, fingerprint analyses, and cell phone data. See Id. at 31-36, 48-50. In another, he sought discovery from the Riverside District Attorney's office of information relevant to his vindictive or selective prosecution claim. See Id. at 75-79. The Petition effectively asks this Court to grant petitioner's discovery requests, citing a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963).

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars petitioner's request to overturn the state court's denials of his discovery motions. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, derived from two United States Supreme Court opinions, provides that federal district courts may exercise only original jurisdiction; they may not exercise appellate jurisdiction over state court decisions. See D.C. Ct. App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923); Bennett v. Yoshina, 140 F.3d 1218, 1223 (9th Cir. 1998) (as amended). Review of state court decisions may be conducted only by the United States Supreme Court. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 476, 486; Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1257.

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies even when the challenge to the state court decision involves federal constitutional issues. See Dubinka v. Judges of Sup. Ct., 23 F.3d 218, 221 (9th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted); Worldwide Church of God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 891 (9th Cir. 1986). The doctrine applies when a party seeks both to assert a legal wrong stemming from state court proceedings and to overturn the state court decision in an impermissible de facto appeal. Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003).

         In his Response to the OSC, petitioner argues this Court may hear his appeal of the Superior Court's pretrial rulings under the collateral order doctrine. Response at 2-4. Petitioner cites Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S.Ct. 1221, 93 L.Ed. 1528 (1949), to support his argument; however, Cohen does not help him. In the context of considering the appealability of a non-final federal district court decision, Cohen held federal appellate courts may properly consider appeals of such dispositions that fall into “that small class which finally determine claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated.” Cohen, 337 U.S. at 546. Cohen is inapplicable here since it does not concern whether a federal district court has jurisdiction to review non-final state court decisions, as petitioner suggests.

         Even if Cohen applied, plaintiff's denied discovery requests during pretrial proceedings can hardly be described as collateral or separate from the merits of his criminal case. Indeed, plaintiff seeks the requested discovery - including store invoices and merchandise - as evidence to support his criminal defense that the prosecution and arresting officers acted in bad faith and fabricated evidence against him. See Response at 3-4; see also Pet. at 31-36, 48-50. While asserting violations of his constitutional rights, petitioner effectively asks this Court to review the decisions of a state court judge to deny petitioner's motions to compel discovery, raising serious federalism concerns.

         Accordingly, the Court finds it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to grant petitioner's request, and cannot review the state court's orders. The proper venue for such a challenge is in a state court with jurisdiction to hear appeals from the trial court.

         B. The Younger Abstention Doctrine Requires This Court to Abstain fromS ...


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