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Crockett v. Kelley

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division

March 14, 2019

THOMAS CROCKETT ADC #080478 PETITIONER
v.
WENDY KELLEY, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction RESPONDENT

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of the entry of this Recommendation. The failure to timely file objections may result in waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Background

         Pending before the Court is a § 2254 habeas Petition[1] filed by Petitioner, Thomas Crockett (“Crockett”). Doc. 1. He attacks a prison disciplinary conviction he received while incarcerated in the Maximum Security Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (“ADC”).[2] Doc. 1.

         On December 15, 2017, Crockett received a major disciplinary charging him with failure to obey staff order(s), refusing a direct verbal order to leave or enter any area, resisting apprehension, battery on staff, and possession of a cell phone. The charges stemmed from ADC Captain Nicola Kelly's contention that, while conducting a security check, she observed Crockett laying in his bed, with a pillow on top of his head, holding what appeared to be a cell phone. As she attempted to seize the object from Crockett, he grabbed it back from her, “ran to the toilet and flushed the phone.” Crockett then refused her order to “submit to restraint.” Doc. 1, p. 10.

         On December 28, 2017, Crockett appeared at a disciplinary hearing, denied all the charges, and read a statement into the record.[3] Doc. 1, p. 11. The hearing officer found Crockett guilty of failure to obey verbal orders of staff, resisting apprehension, battery on staff, and possession of a cell phone. The hearing officer sentenced Crockett to: (1) 17 days' punitive isolation; (2) a reduction in classification from IC to IV; (3) loss of commissary, phone and visitation privileges; and (4) a loss of 500 days of good-time credit. Id.

         Crockett appealed the disciplinary hearing officer's decision to the Warden, the Disciplinary Hearing Administrator, and then to Wendy Kelley, the Director of the ADC. All three affirmed. Doc. 1, p. 13-14.

         On August 17, 2018, Crockett filed the habeas Petition now before this Court. In his first claim, he contends his procedural due process rights were violated because the ADC gave him the wrong form, an ISSR 100, rather than form F-831-1, to initiate the disciplinary proceeding. In claims two through four, Crockett asserts that he is “actually innocent” of the charges of possessing a cell phone, committing battery on staff, and resisting apprehension. Crockett asks this Court to reverse the disciplinary, expunge it from his records, and release him from administrative segregation. Doc. 1.

         Respondent contends that Crockett's claims are not cognizable or lack merit. Doc. 8. Crockett has filed a Reply in further support of his claims. Doc. 15.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court recommends the dismissal of Crockett's habeas Petition, with prejudice, because his claims are not cognizable in a habeas action.

         II. Discussion

         A. Respondent's Claims Are Not Cognizable

         A prisoner may maintain a procedural due process challenge to a prison disciplinary proceeding only if he is deemed to have a liberty interest sufficient to trigger the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 485-86 (1995); Phillips v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 847 (8th Cir. 2002). Liberty interests arising from state law are limited to “freedom from restraint” which “impose[s] atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life, ” or to actions which “inevitably affect the duration of [a prisoner's] sentence.” Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 484, 487 (1995).

         In a habeas action, “[i]f the prisoner is not challenging the validity of his conviction or the length of his detention, such as loss of good time, then a writ of habeas corpus is not the proper remedy.” Kruger v. Erickson, 77 F.3d 1071, 1073 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499 (1983) (emphasis added); see also Spencer v. Haynes, 774 F.3d 467, 469-70 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing and applying Kruger). Thus, for Crockett's claims arising from the disciplinary proceeding to implicate a “liberty interest” capable of making them actionable under § 2254, he must establish that the loss of 500 days of good-time credit served to lengthen his sentence.[4] As the Court noted in Sandin, the “Due Process Clause itself does not create a liberty interest in credit for good behavior.” Id. at 477. Instead, a court must look to the specific state statute in question to determine whether a liberty interest in good-time credit has been created by the state. Id.

         Arkansas statutory law establishing good-time credit “plainly states ‘[m]eritorious good time will not be applied to reduce the length of a sentence, '” but instead impacts an inmate's “transfer eligibility date.” McKinnon v. Norris, 366 Ark. 404, 408, 231 S.W.3d 725, 729 (Ark. 2006) (quoting Ark. Code Ann. § 12-29-201(d) and (e)(1)) (emphasis added). In McKinnon, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the state habeas petitioner's claim that his prison sentence had been extended unlawfully because, following a prison disciplinary, his good-time credits were forfeited and his ability to earn future credits was eliminated. According to the Court, ...


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