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Griffin v. Foulk

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2019

F. FOULK, Respondent.



         Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. He seeks relief from a disciplinary action which resulted in the loss of custody credits, thus affecting the duration of his incarceration. Id. Respondent filed an answer (ECF No. 22) and petitioner filed a traverse (ECF No. 25).


         Petitioner is serving a determinate, nineteen-year eight-month sentence in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. ECF No. 1 at 1. On September 20, 2011, while petitioner was an inmate at the Deuel Vocational Institution, he and his cellmate, Nix, got into a fight. Id. at 9, ¶ 7. According to petitioner, during the fight, Nix “accidentally hit his own head on a cell fixture, which caused him to start bleeding.” Id., ¶ 8. After Nix hit his head, the fighting stopped, and when Nix's forehead would not stop bleeding, Nix and petitioner agreed that the injuries should be reported. Id., ¶¶ 8, 11. To avoid getting in trouble for fighting, petitioner and Nix agreed that they would say that Nix injured himself falling off the top bunk, but they eventually admitted that they had been engaged in mutual combat. Id. at 10-11, ¶¶ 12, 15-16.

         Prison officials issued a Rules Violation Report (“RVR”) charging petitioner with battery on an inmate with serious bodily injury, a violation of title 15, section 3005(d)(1) of the California Code of Regulations. Id. at 75. A prison disciplinary hearing was held, and the hearing officer found petitioner guilty of the charge and assessed a 181-day loss of custody credits. Id. at 18, 24, ¶¶ 37, 53. Petitioner filed an administrative appeal, which was denied at all levels of review. Id. at 84-90. He then filed a habeas corpus petition in the Lassen County Superior Court, which was transferred to the superior court in San Joaquin County, where Deuel Vocational Institution is located. Id. at 92. The petition was denied on August 16, 2013. Id. at 92-94. Next, petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, and the petition was denied in an unreasoned decision on November 1, 2013. Id. at 97. Petitioner's last state habeas corpus petition was in the California Supreme Court and denied on March 19, 2014. ECF No. 22-7.

         Petitioner filed the instant petition on December 30, 2013. ECF No. 1. Respondent then moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that it was untimely. ECF No. 13. The motion was denied, and respondent was directed to answer the petition. ECF No. 21. Respondent proceeded to file an answer arguing that petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief (ECF No. 22) and petitioner filed a traverse (ECF No. 25).


         A writ of habeas corpus is the appropriate federal remedy “[w]hen a state prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment.” Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). If success on the merits of a petitioner's challenged disciplinary proceeding will not necessarily impact the fact or duration of his confinement, his claim does not fall within “the core of habeas corpus, ” and unless a state prisoner's claim lies at the core of habeas corpus, it may not be brought in habeas corpus. Nettles v. Grounds, 830 F.3d 922, 934-35 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc). In this case, petitioner is serving a determinate sentence and the loss of good-time credits will therefore necessarily affect the duration of his confinement.


         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, 562 U.S. 86, 100 (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 99 (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 99-100 (citation omitted).

         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 constitutes “unreasonable application” of that law. Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 600 (9th Cir. 2000); Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted).

         A state court decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law if the decision “contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state court decision “unreasonably applies” federal law “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme Court's] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case.” Id. at 407-08. It is not enough that the state court was incorrect in the view of the federal habeas court; the state court decision must be objectively unreasonable. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520-21 (2003) (citations omitted).

         “[R]eview under § 2254(d)(1) is limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). The question at this stage is whether the state court reasonably applied clearly established federal law to the facts before it. Id. at 181-82. In other words, the focus of the § 2254(d) inquiry is “on what a state court knew and did.” Id. at 182. Where the state court's adjudication is set forth in a reasoned opinion, §2254(d)(1) review is confined to “the state court's actual decisions and analysis.” Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 737 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (emphasis in original). A different rule applies where the state court rejects claims summarily, without a reasoned opinion. In Richter, supra, the Supreme Court held that when a state court denies a claim on the merits but without a reasoned opinion, the federal habeas court must determine what arguments or theories may have supported the state court's decision and subject those arguments or theories to § 2254(d) scrutiny. Richter, 562 U.S. at 101-02.

         Relief is also available under the AEDPA where the state court predicated its adjudication of a claim on an unreasonable factual determination. Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005); DeWeaver v. Runnels, 556 F.3d 995, 997 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). The statute explicitly limits this inquiry to the evidence that was before the state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).

         To prevail in federal habeas proceedings, a petitioner must establish the applicability of one of the § 2254(d) exceptions and must also affirmatively establish the constitutional invalidity of his custody under pre-AEDPA standards. Frantz, 533 F.3d at 735-37. There is no single prescribed order in which these two inquiries must be conducted. Id. at 736. The AEDPA does not require the federal habeas court to adopt any one methodology. Andrade, 538 U.S. at 71.


         I. Grounds for Relief

         Petitioner challenges the guilty finding on multiple grounds. As a general matter, he alleges that the disciplinary hearing did not meet the Constitutional standards of due process. ECF No. 1 at 8, ¶ 2. More specifically, he alleges that the hearing was not recorded sufficiently to allow a thorough judicial review, the finding of guilt was improper because there was only some evidence to convict him of fighting based on mutual combat rather than battery with serious bodily injury, and he was denied the ability to call a witness and present documentary evidence. Id. at 8, 27. Though not specifically enumerated as grounds for relief, petitioner also asserts that he was denied the assistance of an investigative employee and that the hearing officer was biased. Id. at 17, 22-23, 31-32, ¶¶ 33-35, 48-50, 63-66. By way of relief, petitioner requests that the disciplinary finding be reversed, his good-time credits be restored, and that any reference to the violation be expunged from his Central File maintained by prison authorities. Id. at 8, ¶ 3.

         II. The Clearly Established Federal Law

         Errors of state law do not support federal habeas relief. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991). In the context of prison disciplinary proceedings, due process requires that an inmate subject to disciplinary sanctions that include the loss of good-time credits must receive (1) twenty-four-hour advanced written notice of the charges against him, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-64 (1974); (2) “a written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action, ” id. at 564-65 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence where doing so “will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals, ” id. at 566; (4) assistance at the hearing if he is illiterate or if the matter is complex, id. at 570; and (5) a sufficiently impartial fact finder, id. at 570-71. A finding of guilt must also be “supported by some evidence in the record.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985). Accordingly, the only cognizable issues are (1) substantively, whether the disciplinary finding was supported by “some evidence” as required by Hill; and (2) procedurally, whether the disciplinary hearing itself afforded petitioner the minimum procedural protections required by Wolff.

         III. Insufficient Record

         A. Petitioner&#3 ...

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