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Dinham v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 2, 2019

TREVELLE DINHAM
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION

          Argued February 5, 2019

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland, where the court, Hon. Edward J. Mullarkey, judge trial referee, sua sponte, rendered judgment dismissing the petition, from which the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Vishal K. Garg, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Zenobia G. Graham-Days, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, former attorney general, for the appellee (respondent).

          Keller, Elgo and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         The petitioner, Trevelle Dinham, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On appeal, the petitioner argues that the court improperly dismissed his claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for the failure to state a claim upon which habeas relief can be granted. Specifically, the petitioner argues that the court improperly dismissed his claims that (1) he relied on ‘‘governmental representations'' that he would receive risk reduction credit when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, (2) the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, misconstrued and misapplied several statutes pertaining to the petitioner receiving a parole suitability hearing, earning risk reduction credit in the future, and applying risk reduction credit toward the advancement of the petitioner's parole eligibility date, and (3) the respondent's customary practices have created a vested liberty interest in receiving a parole suitability hearing, earning future risk reduction credits, and applying risk reduction credits to advance his parole eligibility date. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. On April 2, 2012, the petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55a, which he committed on or about September 24, 1999, [1] and for which he was sentenced to twenty-eight years of imprisonment. Thereafter, the then self-represented petitioner commenced this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On November 15, 2017, the petitioner, after obtaining counsel, filed an eighteen count amended habeas petition. On March 19, 2018, the court, sua sponte, dismissed the amended petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for the failure to state a claim upon which habeas relief may be granted.[2] See Practice Book § 23-29.[3] Instead of addressing the petitioner's claims individually, the court broadly determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the habeas petition and that the petition had failed to state a claim upon which habeas relief can be granted.[4]The court granted the petitioner's petition for certification to appeal.[5] The petitioner timely filed the present appeal, challenging the dismissal of ten of his claims. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         Before addressing the petitioner's individual claims, we first set forth the standards of review and relevant legal principles applicable to the petitioner's appeal. ‘‘Subject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. . . . [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction . . . . The subject matter jurisdiction requirement may not be waived by any party, and also may be raised by a party, or by the court sua sponte, at any stage of the proceedings, including on appeal.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Pentland v. Commissioner of Correction, 176 Conn.App. 779, 784-85, 169 A.3d 851, cert. denied, 327 Conn. 978, 174 A.3d 800 (2017). ‘‘[I]n order to invoke successfully the jurisdiction of the habeas court, a petitioner must allege an interest sufficient to give rise to habeas relief. . . . We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Perez v. Commissioner of Correction, 326 Conn. 357, 368, 163 A.3d 597 (2017). ‘‘With respect to the habeas court's jurisdiction, [t]he scope of relief available through a petition for habeas corpus is limited. In order to invoke the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction in a habeas action, a petitioner must allege that he is illegally confined or has been deprived of his liberty. . . . In other words, a petitioner must allege an interest sufficient to give rise to habeas relief. . . . In order to . . . qualify as a constitutionally protected liberty [interest] . . . the interest must be one that is assured either by statute, judicial decree, or regulation.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Boria v. Commissioner of Correction, 186 Conn.App. 332, 342, 199 A.3d 1127 (2018).

         ‘‘Likewise, [w]hether a habeas court properly dismissed a petition pursuant to Practice Book § 23-29 (2), on the ground that it fails to state a claim upon which habeas corpus relief can be granted, presents a question of law over which our review is plenary.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Perez v. Commissioner of Correction, supra, 326 Conn. 368. ‘‘In reviewing whether a petition states a claim for habeas relief, we accept its allegations as true.'' Coleman v. Commissioner of Correction, 137 Conn.App. 51, 55, 46 A.3d 1050 (2012). For ease of discussion, we next provide a brief summary of the relevant laws pertaining to the petitioner's ability to receive a parole suitability hearing, to earn future risk reduction credit, and to apply his earned risk reduction credit toward the advancement of his parole eligibility date.

         Pursuant to No. 04-234 of the 2004 Public Acts, codified at General Statutes § 54-125a (e), the Board of Pardons and Paroles (board) was required to hold a parole suitability hearing for any person eligible for parole who had completed 85 percent of his or her sentence. General Statutes (Rev. to 2013) § 54-125a (e) subsequently was amended by No. 13-247 of the 2013 Public Acts (P.A. 13-247), to make the board's parole suitability hearing discretionary, rather than mandatory.[6] If the board declines to hold a hearing, however, § 54-125a (e) requires the board to document specific reasons for declining to hold a hearing and to provide those reasons to the person denied a hearing.

         As to risk reduction credits, our Supreme Court has summarized the relevant statutes as follows: ‘‘In July, 2011 . . . General Statutes § 18-98e[7] became effective, pursuant to which the respondent had discretion to award risk reduction credit toward a reduction of an inmate's sentence, up to five days per month, for positive conduct. General Statutes § 18-98e (a) and (b). The respondent also was vested with discretion to revoke such credit, even credit yet to be earned, for good cause. See General Statutes § 18-98e (b). At the same time, the legislature amended the parole eligibility provision to provide: ‘A person convicted of . . . an offense . . . where the underlying facts and circumstances of the offense involve the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force against another person shall be ineligible for parole under subsection (a) of this section until such person has served not less than eighty-five per cent of the definite sentence imposed less any risk reduction credit earned under the provisions of section 18-98e.' . . . General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 54-125a (b) (2), as amended by Public Acts 2011, No. 11-51, § 25 (P.A. 11-51). The subsection of § 54-125a addressing parole hearings was similarly amended to account for earned risk reduction credit. General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 54-125a (e), as amended by P.A. 11-51, § 25. Accordingly, under the 2011 amendments, earned risk reduction credit was to be applied to an inmate's definite sentence to advance the inmate's end of sentence date, and the parole eligibility date calculated as a percentage of the sentence would advance in similar measure. . . .

         ‘‘Under the 2011 amendments to § 54-125a and § 18-98e, any risk reduction credit earned by an inmate, and not subsequently revoked, would have both reduced his sentence and rendered him eligible for a hearing to determine whether he should be granted parole after he had served 85 percent of that reduced sentence.

         ‘‘Effective July 1, 2013, the legislature again amended § 54-125a. Specifically, with regard to offenses like one of those of which the petitioner was convicted, the legislature eliminated the language that permitted the parole eligibility date to be advanced by the application of any earned risk reduction credit. See [Public Acts 2013, No. 13-3, § 59 (P.A. 13-3)].'' (Emphasis in original; footnote altered.) Perez v. Commissioner of Correction, supra, 326 Conn. 363-65.

         General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 18-98e (a) subsequently was amended by No. 15-216 of the 2015 Public Acts (P.A. 15-216), [8] so that inmates convicted of certain violent crimes, including manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, were ineligible to earn risk reduction credits in the future.[9] Mindful of the foregoing ...


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