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Dixon v. Davis

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

November 15, 2017

PATRICK DIXON, TDCJ #01954209, Petitioner,
v.
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. HANKS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The petitioner, Patrick Dixon (TDCJ #01954209), is a state inmate incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ"). Dixon has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge the result of a prison disciplinary proceeding (Dkt. 1 at p. 2). After reviewing all of the pleadings and the applicable law under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, the Court concludes that this case must be DISMISSED for the reasons set forth below.

         1. BACKGROUND

         Dixon is serving concurrent 40-year sentences for drug possession and aggravated assault (Dkt. 1 at p. 2). In this habeas proceeding, Dixon challenges not his underlying conviction but the result of a prison disciplinary proceeding lodged against him (Dkt. 1 at pp. 2, 5). In his habeas petition, Dixon explains that he was charged in disciplinary case #20170062216 with assaulting a correction officer without causing injury; he was found guilty of the charge on November 2, 2016 (Dkt. 1 at pp. 5-6). As punishment, Dixon was placed on recreation, commissary, and telephone restriction for 30 days; had his custody classification reduced; and lost 30 days of good-time credit (Dkt. 1 at p. 5). For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that Dixon fails to state an actionable claim under the standard of review that governs disciplinary proceedings in the prison context.

         II. PRISON DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         Dixon seeks a federal writ of habeas corpus to challenge a prison disciplinary conviction. The federal writ of habeas corpus is an extraordinary remedy which shall not extend to any prisoner unless he is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c)(3) & 2254(a); Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 633-34 (1993) (explaining that "the writ of habeas corpus has historically been regarded as an extraordinary remedy, a bulwark against convictions that violate fundamental fairness"). Thus, a habeas corpus petitioner must establish a constitutional violation in order to prevail. Dixon's claims, on their face, fail to make the requisite showing.

         A. Due Process

         An inmate's rights in the prison disciplinary setting are governed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974). Prisoners charged with institutional rules violations are only entitled to relief under the Due Process Clause when the disciplinary action may result in a sanction that will infringe upon a constitutionally protected liberty interest. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995). These protected liberty interests can emanate from either the Due Process Clause itself or from state law-Kentucky Dept. of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989)-but the range of constitutionally protected liberty interests is a "narrow" one. Orellana v. Kyle, 65 F.3d 29, 31-32 (5th Cir. 1995) (citing Sandin).

         Dixon does not identify any particular right found in the Due Process Clause upon which his habeas petition is grounded. To the extent that the disciplinary convictions and any consequent reduction in his time-earning classification may affect Dixon's eligibility for early release from prison, the Due Process Clause does not include a right to conditional release before the expiration of a valid sentence. Greenholtz v. Inmates of the Neb. Penal & Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). Under these circumstances, then, Dixon's petition depends on the existence of a constitutionally protected liberty interest created by state law.

         The Supreme Court has decided that only those state-created substantive interests which "inevitably affect the duration of [a prisoner's] sentence" may qualify for constitutional protection under the Due Process Clause. Sandin, 515 U.S. at 487; see also Kyle, 65 F.3d at 31-32. In Texas, only those inmates who are eligible for mandatory supervision have a constitutional expectancy of early release. Malchi v. Thaler, 211 F.3d 953, 956-59 (5th Cir. 2000) (addressing the mandatory supervision scheme in place prior to September 1, 1996); Teague v. Quarterman, 482 F.3d 769, 774-77 (5th Cir. 2007) (discussing the mandatory supervision schemes in place both before and after September 1, 1996). It follows that a Texas prisoner cannot demonstrate a constitutional violation without first establishing: (1) that he is eligible for early release on mandatory supervision; and (2) that the disciplinary conviction at issue resulted in a loss of credit for good conduct (i.e., good-time credit). Malchi, 211 F.3d at 956-59 (explaining that only those Texas inmates who are eligible for early release on mandatory supervision have a protected liberty interest in their previously earned good-time credit). Dixon admits in his petition that he is not eligible for early release on mandatory supervision (Dkt. 1 at p. 5). See Tex. Gov't Code § 508.149(a)(7). This fact is fatal to Dixon's due process claims.

         Dixon's custody classification was reduced as a result of the disciplinary proceeding. However, the Fifth Circuit has held that reductions in a prisoner's time-earning status, and the potential impact of those reductions on good-time credit earning ability, are too attenuated from the prisoner's ultimate release date to invoke the procedural guarantees of the Due Process Clause. Malchi, 211 F.3d at 958-59; Luken v. Scott, 71 F.3d 192, 193 (5th Cir. 1995); Neals v. Norwood, 59 F.3d 530, 533 (5th Cir. 1995). Moreover, changes in the conditions of Dixon's confinement resulting from the reduction in his custody classification do not affect the duration or fact of Dixon's confinement and do not constitute atypical, significant hardships going beyond the ordinary incidents of prison life. They therefore do not implicate due process concerns. Madison v. Parker, 104 F.3d 765, 768 (5th Cir. 1997); Malchi, 211 F.3d at 958 (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 493 (1973)). The same is true of the temporary limitations imposed on Dixon's privileges. Id.

         Because the sanctions at issue do not implicate a protected liberty interest, Dixon cannot demonstrate a violation of the Due Process Clause. Absent an allegation that the petitioner has been deprived of some right secured to him by the United States Constitution or laws of the United States, federal habeas corpus relief is not available. See Kyle, 65 F.3d at 31-32; Hilliard v. Board of Pardons and Paroles, 759 F.2d 1190, 1192 (5th Cir. 1985). Thus, the pending federal habeas petition must be dismissed.

         III. CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

         The federal habeas corpus petition filed in this case is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (the "AEDPA"), codified as amended at 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Therefore, a certificate of appealability is required before an appeal may proceed. See Miller-El v. Cockrell,537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003); see also Hallmark v. Johnson,118 F.3d 1073, 1076 (5th Cir. 1997) (noting ...


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