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Williams v. Davis

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

November 15, 2017

FRANK ALBERT WILLIAMS, JR., TDCJ #00831336, 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, Frank Albert Williams, Jr. (TDCJ #00831336), is a state inmate incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ"). Williams 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to publicly available records and his petition, Williams is serving a life sentence for capital murder (Dkt. 1 at p. 2). In this habeas proceeding, Williams 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, Williams explains that he was charged in disciplinary case #20160373237 with trafficking and trading; he was found guilty of the charge on August 22, 2016 (Dkt. 1 at pp. 5-6). As punishment, Williams was placed on recreation and commissary restriction for 30 days; lost his craft shop privileges; lost his field minister job; and lost five days of good-time credit (Dkt. 1 at p. 5). He is not eligible for release on mandatory supervision (Dkt. 1 at p. 5). See Tex. Gov't Code § 508.149(a)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that Williams fails to state an actionable claim under the standard of review that governs disciplinary proceedings in the prison context.

         II. PRISON DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         Williams 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. Williams'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).

         Williams 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 conviction and any consequent reduction in his time-earning classification may affect Williams'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, Williams'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). Although he lost good-time credit, Williams is not eligible for early release on mandatory supervision (Dkt. 1 at p. 5). See Tex. Gov't Code § 508.149(a)(3). That fact is fatal to Williams's due process claims. Moreover, the changes in the conditions of Williams's confinement resulting from the disciplinary conviction (namely, the loss of craft shop privileges and his field minister job) do not affect the duration or fact of Williams'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 Williams's privileges. Id.

         Because the sanctions at issue do not implicate a protected liberty interest, Williams 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 that actions filed under either 28 U.S.C. §2254 or §2255 require a certificate of appealability).

         A certificate of appealability will not issue unless the petitioner makes "a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, " 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), which requires a petitioner to demonstrate "that reasonable jurists would find the district court's assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong." Tennard v. Dretke,542 U.S. 274, 282 (2004) (quoting Slack v. McDaniel,529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000)). Under the controlling standard, a petitioner must show "that reasonable jurists could debate whether (or, for that matter, agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a different manner or that the issues presented were 'adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further.'" Miller-El, 537 U.S. at 336. Where denial of relief is based on procedural grounds, the petitioner must show not only that "jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states ...


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