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Gaines v. Florida Commission on Offender Review

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

March 2, 2018

TOMMY LEE GAINES, Petitioner,
v.
FLORIDA COMMISSION ON OFFENDER REVIEW, et al., Respondents.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          GARY R. JONES United States Magistrate Judge

         Petitioner initiated this case by filing a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) He filed an amended petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241[1] (“Petition”), along with a memorandum of law in support. (ECF Nos. 7, 11.) Respondent Florida Commission on Offender Review[2] (“FPC”) filed a response, ECF No. 17, along with relevant portions of the state-court record. (ECF Nos. 17-1-17- 33 (“Ex.”).[3]) Respondent Florida Department of Corrections (“FDOC”) also filed a response, ECF No. 21, along with relevant portions of the state-court record. (ECF No. 21 at 24-46.) Petitioner then filed a reply to each response. (ECF Nos. 22, 23.) Upon due consideration of the Petition, the Responses, the state-court record, and the Replies, the undersigned recommends that the Petition be denied.[4]

         Summary of Relevant State-Court and Federal-Court Proceedings

         In June 1990 Petitioner entered a plea of guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Count I) and unlawful possession of a controlled substance (Count II) in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, in and for Putnam County (“Putnam County Circuit Court”). (Ex. A.) The court found Petitioner was a habitual felony offender under Section 775.084, Florida Statutes (1988). (Id.) Petitioner was sentenced on June 6, 1990, to 30 years in prison for Count I and 10 years in prison for Count II. (Id.) An amended sentence was entered on August 17, 1994, stating that the sentence in Count II shall run concurrent with Count I. (Id.)

         On September 1, 2008, Petitioner began a period of conditional release under the supervision of the FPC. (Ex. B.) In September 2010, a warrant was issued regarding Petitioner's alleged violation of Condition 7 of his conditional release by failing to obey the law. (Ex. C.) Petitioner waived his right to a conditional release violation hearing, and then withdrew his waiver. (Id.) After a hearing, the FPC reinstated his supervision. (Id.)

         A second warrant was issued on May 31, 2012, regarding an alleged violation of Petitioner's conditional release, again stating that Petitioner violated Condition 7 by failing to obey the law. (Ex. D.) The specific allegation was that Petitioner unlawfully touched, struck, or caused bodily harm to a victim on or about May 26, 2012. (Exs. D, E.) Petitioner then waived his right to a conditional release violation hearing. (Exs. E, F, G.) Petitioner's conditional release was revoked on July 11, 2012, effective May 26, 2012. (Ex. H.) Notably, the revocation order stated that “[t]he award of credit for time on Conditional Release was considered denied by a majority vote of the Commission.” (Id.) He was given credit for August 31, 2010, to February 24, 2011, but he was not given credit for September 1, 2008, through May 26, 2012-when he was on conditional release.[5] (Id.)

         On April 1, 2014, Petitioner submitted for mailing a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Gaines v. Julie L. Jones, No. 4:14cv178-RH/CAS, ECF No. 1 (N.D. Fla. Apr. 1, 2014). In that petition, he challenged the FPC's revocation of his supervised release. Id. The magistrate judge recommended denying the petition on December 6, 2016, and the district judge adopted that recommendation on June 13, 2017. Id. at ECF Nos. 17, 19.

         Approximately six months after he filed that petition and prior to the Court's ruling on the petition, Petitioner submitted the instant habeas Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on November 19, 2014, to prison officials for mailing. (ECF No. 7.)

         Section 2254 Standard of Review[6]

         The role of a federal habeas court when reviewing a state prisoner's application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is limited. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 403-04 (2000). Under section 2254(a), federal courts “shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgement 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.”

         Additionally, federal courts must give deference to state court adjudications unless the state court's adjudication of the claim is “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

         With regard to factual findings, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), a federal court may not grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus based on a claim already adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Under § 2254(e)(1), the petitioner must advance clear and convincing evidence that the state court's factual determination was “objectively unreasonable” to rebut the presumption that the determination was correct. Gill v. Mecusker, 633 F.3d 1272, 1287 (11th Cir. 2011); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). “‘[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.'” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010)).

         As to legal findings, as mentioned above, a petitioner is entitled to federal habeas relief only if the state court's adjudication of the merits of the federal claim “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.” § 2254(d)(1). “[C]learly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” refers only to holdings (rather than dicta) of the Supreme Court, but decisions of lower federal courts may be considered to the extent that they demonstrate how those courts applied Supreme Court holdings. Hawkins v. Alabama, 318 F.3d 1302, 1309 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74-77 (2006).

         “Under § 2254(d)(1)'s ‘contrary to' clause, we grant relief only ‘if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.'” Jones v. GDCP Warden, 753 F.3d 1171, 1182 (11th Cir. 2014) (alterations in original) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000)). For § 2254(d)(1), clearly established federal law includes only the holdings, not the dicta of Supreme Court decisions. White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). “Under § 2254(d)(1)'s ‘unreasonable application' clause, we grant relief only ‘if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.'” Jones, 753 F.3d at 1182 (alteration in original) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413).

         The Supreme Court has interpreted § 2254(d) as requiring that “a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). “[A]n ‘unreasonable application' of [Supreme Court] holdings must be ‘objectively unreasonable, ' not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not suffice.” Woodall, 134 S.Ct. at 1702. In other words, Petitioner must establish that no fairminded jurist would have reached the Florida court's conclusion. See Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03; Holsey v. Warden, Ga. Diagnostic Prison, 694 F.3d 1230, 1257-58 (11th Cir.2012). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

         In light of Gill, the “unreasonable determination of facts” standard plays a limited role in habeas review because the district court considers the reasonableness of the trial court's fact-finding only to the extent that the state court's ultimate conclusion relied on it. 633 F.3d at 1292. A federal habeas court can consider the full record before it to answer “the only question” that matters: “whether the state court's determination [was] objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 1290.

         Section 2254 Exhaustion Requirement

         Before bringing a habeas action in federal court, a petitioner must exhaust all state court remedies that are available for challenging his conviction, either on direct appeal or in a state post-conviction motion. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1), (c). Exhaustion requires that prisoners give the state courts a “full and fair opportunity” to resolve all federal constitutional claims by “invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845 (1999). To properly exhaust a federal claim, a petitioner must fairly present the claim in each appropriate state court, thereby affording the state courts a meaningful “opportunity to pass upon and correct alleged violations of its prisoners' federal rights.” Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 29 (2004) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995)).

         DISCUSSION

         In his Petition, Petitioner states that he is being illegally detained. He says that he entered into a “contract plea agreement” in 1990 to a sentence of 30 years, minus 20 days each month in gain-time. As a result of this plea agreement, Petitioner argues that he completed his sentence on September 1, 2008, after he served 18 years and earned 12 years of incentive gain-time. (ECF No. 7 at 3-4.)

         At that time, however, Petitioner was placed on conditional release, which was revoked on July 11, 2012. Petitioner then states that on July 2, 2013, he learned that the FDOC forfeited 4237 days of incentive gain-time and did not award Petitioner the 1362 days he was out on conditional release. Petitioner's maximum release date was then extended from April 8, 2020, to July 26, 2023. (Id. at 4-6.)

         Petitioner argues that this “newly discovered information” regarding the forfeiture of gain-time and his sentence calculation entitles him to immediate release because he is now in prison beyond the sentence dictated by his “contract plea agreement, ” which he says he completed on September 1, 2008. Petitioner also says that the State of Florida has failed to comply with federal and Florida laws and has violated his rights under the Eighth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at 4-6.)

         Liberally construing his Petition, Petitioner attempts to make two arguments. Primarily, Petitioner challenges the forfeiture of his gain-time and the decision not to award Petitioner credit for the time he was out on conditional release. The FDOC, which is responsible for the forfeiture of gain-time and sentence calculations, filed a response to this challenge. (ECF No. 21.) Secondarily, Petitioner is challenging his placement on conditional release supervision after allegedly completing his sentence prior to being placed on conditional release, pursuant to his “contract plea agreement” of 30 years minus 20 days a month for gain-time. The FPC, which ...


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