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Damon v. Fletcher

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

February 12, 2018

JOHN DAMON, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL FLETCHER, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          John Johnston United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the Court on John Damon's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Damon is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition

         Based upon a review of Damon's Petition, it appears that the petition is both unexhausted and fails to state a cognizable federal claim. The petition should be dismissed.

         i. Damon's Claims

         Following a conviction of felony DUI in Montana's Eighth Judicial District, Cascade County, [1] Damon was transferred to the Montana State Prison to begin serving his thirteen-month sentence. (Doc. 1 at 1). Damon explains he believed his classification status would be changed from a "Department of Corrections Inmate" to a "Montana State Prison Inmate" via an "override." Id. Damon claims that this change of classification status has never occurred and he believes the inaction to somehow be retaliatory in nature. Id. Damon asserts the present designation may prevent him from appearing before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. He requests this Court order the State of Montana to change his classification status and order his appearance before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole. Id.

         ii. Exhaustion

         A state prisoner must exhaust his state remedies before petitioning for a federal writ of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C. §2254(b)(1)&(c); O 'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). To exhaust state remedies, a petitioner must afford the state courts the opportunity to rule upon the merits of his federal claims by fairly presenting them to the state's highest court in a procedurally appropriate manner. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2OO4)("[t]o provide the State with the necessary opportunity, the prisoner must fairly present [his] claim in each appropriate state court.. .thereby alerting the court to the federal nature of the claim.").

         "Fair presentation requires the petitioner must present 'both the operative facts and the federal legal theory on which his claim is based'" to the state courts. Davis v. Silva, 511 F.3d 1005, 1009 (9th Cir. 2008). "If a petitioner fails to alert the state court to the fact that he is raising a federal constitutional claim, his federal claim is unexhausted regardless of its similarity to the issues raised in state court." Johnson v. Zenon, 88 F.3d 828, 830 (9th Cir. 1996). General appeals to broad constitutional principles, such as due process, equal protection, and the right to a fair trial do not establish exhaustion. Castillo v. McFadden, 399 F.3d 993, 999 (9th Cir.), cert, denied, 546 U.S. 818 (2005).

         Although it appears Damon may have contacted individuals with in the Montana Department of Corrections and/or the Montana State Prison, see (Doc. 1 at 1), the Court has reviewed the Montana Supreme Court Docket and has been unable to locate any court filings made by Damon advancing the claim he attempts to raise in the instant petition. Thus, it appears that Damon's petition is entirely unexhausted.

         iii. Non-cognizable Claim

         Setting exhaustion aside, Damon's petition also fails because the claim he attempts to advance is not cognizable in habeas. A state prisoner is entitled to federal habeas relief only if he is being held in violation of the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §2254(a). Unless an issue of federal constitutional or statutory law is implicated by the facts presented, the claim is not cognizable under federal habeas corpus. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). Federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law. Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990); see also, Peltier v. Wright, 15 F.3d 860, 861061 (generally federal habeas corpus relief is unavailable for alleged errors in interpretation and application of state law). It is not the province of this Court to second guess determinations made by state officials, including classifications regarding an inmate's particular status within the state correctional system.

         Although Damon does not identify what federal claim he is attempting to advance the Court will construe his claim as a due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment. But a closer review reveals no constitutionally protected liberty interest has been implicated by the purported denial of a certain classification status. Damon's desire for a specific designation within the Montana Department of Corrections and/or Montana State Prison is not a cognizable liberty interest.

         A liberty interest may arise either from the Due Process Clause itself, or from the applicable law. Olim v. Wakinekona,461 U.S. 238, 247-51 (1983); Toussaint v. McCarthy,801 F.2d 1080, 1089 (9th Cir. 1986). The Supreme Court has held that transfer of a prisoner to a more restrictive environment, even if it imposes "severe hardships" on an individual, does not impinge on a liberty interest. Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 467 (1983). Likewise, the disinclination of an institution to transfer an individual to a less restrictive environment does not impinge on a constitutional liberty interest. Badea v. Cox,931 F.2d 573, 576 (9thCir. 1991). Moreover an inmate has no constitutional right to a particular security classification or housing. Meachum v. Fano, 477 U.S. 215, 224-25 ...


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