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Green v. Wright

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 10, 2019

COURTNEY GREEN, Petitioner,
v.
GARY WRIGHT & SCOTT SEMPLE, Respondents.

          RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se petitioner Courtney Green, a prisoner currently confined at the Osborn Correctional Institution ("Osborn") in Somers, Connecticut, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the Commissioner of Correction's policy change that reduced the amount of risk reduction earned credits ("RRECs") that he could earn. Doc. 1 ("Petition"). For the reasons that follow, the Court construes the writ as alleging a violation of the ex post facto clause. Id. at 9. By this Ruling, the Court resolves the Petitioner's request for habeas relief.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Connecticut Appellate Court summarized the underlying facts of the case as follows:

On May 11, 2016, the petitioner, representing himself, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Therein, the petitioner alleged that on or about August 28, 2011, the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction (commissioner), implemented the Risk Reduction Earned Credit (RREC) program pursuant to his authority under General Statutes § 18-98e. He stated that the "RREC allowed . . . [him] to be awarded time at the discretion of the commissioner . . . at the rate of five days per month for participation in programs or activities [and] good conduct and obedience to departmental rules . . . ." Although the petitioner admitted in his petition that the risk reduction credits were awarded at the commissioner's discretion, he also alleged that he signed an "agreement with department staff" that entitles him to receive five risk reduction credits per month.
The petitioner further alleged that on February 1, 2016, the commissioner sent a memo to inmates informing them that he was changing the way he awarded risk reduction credits pursuant to a new policy outlined in Department of Correction, Administrative Directive 4.2A. The directive provided that, thereafter, the amount of credits an inmate would be eligible to receive each month would be based on the inmate's risk classification-a level four inmate could earn up to three days of credit per month, a level two or three inmate could earn up to four days, and a level one inmate could earn up to five days. Moreover, a level four inmate could apply to have reinstated the additional two credits per month that he was earning previously.
The petitioner further alleged that he continues to be in compliance with the aforementioned "agreement" and, despite the change in policy, should therefore "be grandfathered [in] to receive five days RREC per month, pursuant to . . . § 18-98e." He thus requested the habeas court's intervention and that it "reinstate the RREC of five days per month that [he] signed a contract for . . . ."
On May 19, 2016, the habeas court, Oliver, J., disposed of the petition sua sponte pursuant to Practice Book § 23-24 (a) (1)3 because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over it, citing Petaway v. Commissioner of Correction, 160 Conn.App. 727, 125 A.3d 1053 (2015), cert. dismissed, 324 Conn. 912, 153 A.3d 1288 (2017). The court did not hold a hearing prior to reaching this determination.

Green v. Comm'r of Correction, 194 A.3d 857, 859-60 (Conn. App. Ct. 2018) (footnotes omitted).

         On appeal, Petitioner claimed that the habeas court "improperly disposed of his petition because it (1) incorrectly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and (2) failed to conduct a hearing on that issue prior to disposing of the petition." Id. at 859. The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the habeas court's decision, agreeing that he was not entitled to a hearing and that the habeas court did not have jurisdiction over his petition. Id. at 862. In support of its ruling on the latter point, the Appellate Court had found that Petitioner did not show the required interest sufficient to give rise to habeas relief because he does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in RRECs. Id. at 863, 866. It also dismissed Petitioner's argument that he was contractually entitled to the five days' rate of RRECs because there was no basis to conclude that there was a binding contract nor that the commissioner had the statutory authority to strip away his discretion in administrating the RREC program. Id. at 866. The Connecticut Supreme Court denied his petition for certification. Green v. Comm'r of Correction, 195 A.3d 383 (Conn. 2018).

         The action is now before this Court. For the reasons that follow, the Court construes the Petition as alleging a violation of the ex post facto clause. Additionally, Petitioner asserts that the contract entitled him to the five days' rate of RRECs. Doc. 1 at 9; Doc. 1-1 at 3. Petitioner seeks to be released from custody or to be allowed to earn five days' worth of RRECs again. Doc. 1-1 at 3.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), "a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) ("Section 2254(a) permits a federal court to entertain only those applications alleging that a person is in state custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Because federal habeas relief may only be obtained for a violation of federal law, it "does not lie for errors of state law." Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (citation omitted).

         Moreover, as the Second Circuit stated in Lewis v. Connecticut Commissioner of Correction, 790 F.3d 109 (2d Cir. 2015):

[F]ederal courts will not review questions of federal law presented in a habeas petition when the state court's decision rests upon a state-law ground that “is independent of the federal question and adequate to support the judgment.” Cone v. Bell, 556 U.S. 449, 465 (2009) (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991)).

790 F.3d at 117.

         In determining whether a state conviction violates federal law, Section 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." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (citations and internal quotations omitted). This Court cannot grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a person in state custody with regard to any claim that was rejected on the merits by the state court unless the adjudication of the claim in state court either:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented ...

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