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Evans v. Davis

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

December 27, 2019

MICHAEL ANTHONY EVANS, TDCJ #00497500, Petitioner,
LORIE DAVIS, Respondent.



         Petitioner, Michael Anthony Evans (TDCJ #00497500), is a state inmate incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice - Correctional Institutions Division ("TDCJ"). Evans filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge the calculation of his sentence, contending that his fiat time served, together with his work time credits, exceed his 40-year sentence for murder. Respondent has filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 13), and Evans has filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 15). After carefully considering the petition, motion for summary judgment,' response, record, and applicable law, the Court concludes that this petition must be dismissed for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 21, 1988, Evans was convicted of two counts of murder in Harris County cause number 506722 and sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment on both counts. (Doc. No. 1 at 2). On direct appeal, the state intermediate appellate court affirmed count two and reversed and remanded count one. See Evans v. State, 781 S.W.2d 376 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist] 1989, pet ref d). On remand, the trial court reduced the first count of murder to involuntary manslaughter and assessed a punishment of five years' imprisonment for that count.[1] Evans has discharged the involuntary manslaughter sentence for count one but is still serving his 40-year i sentence for count two.[2] Evans does not challenge his murder conviction here. In a single ground for relief, Evans claims that he is being illegally restrained because he has accumulated over 14 years of work time credit, which, together with his 31 years of calendar time served, exceed his 40-year sentence for murder.

         Evans submitted a Time Dispute Resolution Form to challenge his continued confinement after he was denied parole on July 11, 2018.[3] On August 17, 2018, TDCJ advised Evans that he was not eligible for early release and that he must either make parole or discharge his sentence.[4] Evans then filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in state court asserting his time calculation claim.[5] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his application without written order on February 6, 2019, [6] and this federal petition timely followed.

         Respondent moves for summary judgment, contending that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals properly denied habeas relief because the TDCJ has correctly calculated Evans's 40-year sentence. Evans was placed in custody on April 27, 1988, the same day he committed the murder offense.[7] TDCJ has calculated Evan's current discharge date as April 27, 2028, 40 years after his sentence began.[8] At issue is whether TDCJ must credit Evans's work time credits towards his 40-year sentence.


         To be entitled to summary judgment, the pleadings and summary judgment evidence must show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of initially raising the basis of the motion and identifying the portions of the record demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue for trial. Duckett v. City of Cedar Park, Tex., 950 F.2d 272, 276 (5th Cir. 1992). Thereafter, "the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show with 'significant probative evidence' that there exists a genuine issue of material fact." Hamilton v. Seque Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Conkling v. Turner, 18 F.3d 1285, 1295 (5th Cir. 1994)). The Court may grant summary judgment on any ground supported by the ; record, even if the ground is not raised by the movant. United States v. Houston Pipeline Co., 37 F.3d 22 4, 227 (5th Cir. 1994).

         While Rule 56 of the Federal Rules regarding summary judgment applies generally "with equal force in the context of habeas corpus cases," Clark v. Johnson, 202 F.3d 760, 764 (5th Cir. 2000), it applies only to the extent that it does not conflict with the habeas rules. Smith v. Cockrell, 311 F.3d 661, 668 (5th Cir. 2002), abrogated on other grounds by Tennard v. Dretke, 542 U.S. 274 (2004).

         The writ of habeas corpus provides an important, but limited, examination of an inmate's conviction and sentence. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011) (noting that "state courts are the principal forum for asserting constitutional challenges to state convictions"). The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), codified as amended at 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), "imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt"; it also codifies the traditional principles of finality, comity, and federalism that underlie the limited scope of federal habeas review. Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quotations omitted).

         AEDPA "bars relitigation of any claim 'adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in [28 U.S.C.] §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2)." Richter, 562 U.S. at 98. "When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Id. at 99. For AEDPA to apply, a state court need not state its reasons for its denial, nor must it issue findings, nor need it specifically state that the adjudication was "on the merits." Id. at 98-99.

         To the extent that the petitioner exhausted his claims, they were adjudicated on the merits by state courts. This Court, therefore, can only grant relief if "the state court's adjudication of the merits was 'contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law.'" Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370, 378 (2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (1)). The focus of this well-developed standard "is not whether a federal court believes the state court's determination was incorrect but whether that determination was unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold." Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). Where a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state courts, relief is available under § 2254(d) only in those situations "where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with" Supreme Court precedent. Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         Whether a federal habeas court would have, or could have, reached a conclusion contrary to that reached by the state court on an issue is not determinative under § 2254(d). Id. ("even a strong case for relief does not mean that the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable."). Thus, AEDPA serves as a "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems," not as a vehicle for error correction. Id. (citation omitted); see also Wilson v. Cain, 641 F.3d 96, 100 (5th Cir. 2011). "If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be." Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         "Review under § 2254(d)(1) focuses on what a state court knew and did." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). Reasoning that "[i]t would be strange to ask federal courts to analyze whether a state court's adjudication resulted in a decision that unreasonably applied federal law to facts not before the state court," Pinholster explicitly held that "[i]f a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal habeas petitioner must overcome the limitation of § 2254(d)(1) on the record that was before that state court." Id. at 185. Thus, "evidence introduced in federal court has no bearing on § 2254(d)(1) review." Id.

         Courts construe pleadings filed by pro se litigants under a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner,404 U.S. 519 (1972); Bledsue v. Johnson,188 F.3d 250, 255 (5th Cir. 1999). Thus, pro se pleadings are entitled to a liberal construction that includes all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Haines, 404 U.S. at 521. Nevertheless, "the notice afforded by the Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules" is considered "sufficient" to advise a pro se party of ...

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