Smith v. Biter

Decision Date15 January 2015
Docket NumberCase No.: 1:14-cv-00384-LJO-JLT
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
PartiesJAMES E. SMITH, Petitioner, v. M. BITER, Warden, Respondent.



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding in propria persona with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

A. Instant Petition

The petition was filed on February 9, 2013 in the Central District of California. (Doc. 1). On March 13, 2013, the matter was transferred to this Court. (Doc. 7). On June 21, 2014, Respondent filed a motion to dismiss the petition for lack of exhaustion and failure to state a habeas claim. (Doc. 18). Respondent also contends that certain claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations and that others are procedurally barred. (Id.). On July 22, 2014, Petitioner filed his opposition. (Doc. 21). On August 1, 2014, Respondent filed a reply to the opposition. (Doc. 22).

B. Prior State Petitions

Here, the record before the Court establishes the following procedural chronology ofPetitioner's claims that involve two separate state court habeas proceedings, i.e., one in the San Diego Superior Court and the other in the Sacramento Superior Court.

1. San Diego Superior Court (Round 1)

On August 8, 2011, Petitioner filed a state habeas corpus petition in the San Diego County Superior court challenging both prison conditions and the results of unspecified prison disciplinary hearings that occurred while Petitioner was incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility ("RJD") in San Diego County. (Doc. 18, Ex. 1). Petitioner's complaints stemmed from his allegation that he was forced to room with inmates who harassed him, as well as the disciplinary hearing (or hearings) that resulted from Petitioner's refusal to be housed with such inmates. This petition was denied by the Superior Court on October 25, 2011, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, citing In re Dexter, 25 Cal.3d 921 (1979), and In re Muszalski, 52 Cal.App.3d 500 (1975), which stand for the proposition that the requirement of exhaustion of administrative remedies is a fundamental rule of procedure which applies to state habeas corpus petitions, e.g., Muszalski, 52 Cal.App.3d at 503-508. (Ex. 2). The Superior Court noted that, while Petitioner alleged that the claims had been administratively exhausted, he had not provided any evidence, other than his own unsupported allegations, to establish exhaustion. (Id.).

2. Sacramento Superior Court

Almost one year later, on October 30, 2012, Petitioner filed a state habeas petition in the Sacramento County Superior Court, raising four grounds for relief: (1) illegal confinement of Petitioner in administrative segregation (against RJD and California State Prison, Sacramento ("CSP-SAC");1 (2) violation of Petitioner's due process rights at prison disciplinary hearings for failure to conduct a proper investigation into Petitioner's living conditions (against RJD and CSP-SAC); (3) wrongful forfeiture of custody credits and addition of classification points resulting from unspecified disciplinary hearings; and (4) wrongful denial of access to administrative remedies by CDCR officials and staff. (Ex. 3, pp. 1-12). The third and fourth claims are not directed specifically at either RJD or CSP-SAC.

On December 14, 2012, the Sacramento Superior Court issued a ruling on the petition. (Ex. 4). As to claims regarding CSP-SAC, the court found the claims to be unexhausted, citing Dexter and Muszalski, and denied the same. As to the RJD claims, the court ordered those claims transferred to the San Diego Superior Court. (Id.).

On February 25, 2013, the San Diego Superior Court, characterizing the transferred claims to be a "second" petition, denied the claims, ruling the "second" petition was untimely, that the "conditions" claims at RJD were now moot since Petitioner had been transferred to CSP-SAC, and the disciplinary claims were denied for failure to establish administrative exhaustion and also on the merits. (Ex. 6). The court concluded that "some evidence" supported the prison's determination that Petitioner had refused to return to his assigned housing when ordered to do so. (Id.).

3. California Court of Appeal Proceedings.

Petitioner filed two separate petitions in the California Courts of Appeal, challenging each of these Superior Court rulings. On February 26, 2013, Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District ("3rd DCA"), which summarily denied the petition without comment on March 14, 2013. (Ex. 8).

Petitioner also filed a petition in the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District ("4thDCA"), on April 30, 2013. (Ex. 9). Unlike the 3rd DCA, the 4th DCA issued a written decision denying the petition on mootness grounds and for lack of exhaustion. (Ex. 10).

4. California Supreme Court

On June 13, 2013, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court that was summarily denied on August 14, 2013. (Exs. 11, 12).

A. Procedural Grounds for Motion to Dismiss

As mentioned, Respondent has filed a Motion to Dismiss the petition because it contains unexhausted claims. Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases allows a district court to dismiss a petition if it "plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court . . . ." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases.

The Ninth Circuit has allowed Respondent's to file a Motion to Dismiss in lieu of an Answer if the motion attacks the pleadings for failing to exhaust state remedies or being in violation of the state's procedural rules. See, e.g., O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990) (using Rule 4 to evaluate motion to dismiss petition for failure to exhaust state remedies); White v. Lewis, 874 F.2d 599, 602-03 (9th Cir. 1989) (using Rule 4 as procedural grounds to review motion to dismiss for state procedural default); Hillery v. Pulley, 533 F.Supp. 1189, 1194 & n.12 (E.D. Cal. 1982) (same). Thus, a Respondent can file a Motion to Dismiss after the court orders a response, and the Court should use Rule 4 standards to review the motion. See Hillery, 533 F. Supp. at 1194 & n. 12.

In this case, Respondent's Motion to Dismiss is based on Respondent's contention that Petitioner has never presented his claims to the California Supreme Court, and also that some claims are untimely while others are procedurally barred. Accordingly, the Court will review Respondent's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to its authority under Rule 4. O'Bremski, 915 F.2d at 420.

B. Dismissal Of Claims

The petition raises two grounds for relief: (1) denial of due process at unspecified prison disciplinary proceedings; and (2) denial of due process in attempting to exhaust administrative remedies. (Doc. 1, pp. 9a-9c). To determine whether habeas relief is available under § 2254(d), the federal court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis of the state court's decision. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 979, 803 (1991); Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). Thus, in the case of the RJD claims, the Court will look to the 4th DCA's opinion, which denied the RJD claims as moot and unexhausted. With regard to the CSP-SAC claims, the Court will look through the summary denial of the 3rd DCA and look to the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's state petition based on lack of exhaustion.2

1. RJD Claims

The 4th DCA held that the RJD claims relating to the conditions of Petitioner's confinement were moot and that his claims regarding prison disciplinary proceedings were unexhausted. (Ex. 10).The claims were moot because the claims were based on conditions of confinement and Petitioner was no longer confined at RJD. The disciplinary claims were unexhausted because Petitioner failed to fully pursue his administrative remedies. Additionally, Respondent contends that the claims are untimely.

a. Mootness.

The case or controversy requirement of Article III of the Federal Constitution deprives the Court of jurisdiction to hear moot cases. Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 70 104 S.Ct. 373, 374-75 (1983); N.A.A.C.P., Western Region v. City of Richmond, 743 F.2d 1346, 1352 (9th Cir. 1984). A case becomes moot if the "the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 481 (1982). The Federal Court is "without power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of the litigants before them." North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971) per curiam, quoting Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Hayworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-241 (1937).

In his state petition to the 4th DCA, Petitioner contended that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") had wrongfully placed him in administrative segregation, and had also repeatedly placed him in housing with cellmates who constituted a danger to Petitioner because they were "known enemies" of Petitioner. (Ex. 9, p. 2). In his prayer for relief on these claims, Petitioner asked for injunctive relief requiring him to be placed in non-segregated and safer housing. (Id., p. 4).

As the state appellate court noted, by the time that court addressed these claims, Petitioner had been moved to another prison facility. Hence, any "conditions" claims arising from Petitioner's incarceration at RJD no longer constituted a "case or controversy" and there was no further relief the 4th DCA could afford Petitioner. Once the "conditions" giving rise to Petitioner's claim ceased to exist, no court, state or federal, could provide any habeas relief for Petitioner. Because there is no further relief that this Court can provide to Petitioner, the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT