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Baker v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 20, 2019

DWAYNE BAKER, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. JACKSON L. KISER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Dwayne Baker, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging administrative decisions in March and April of 2017 that reduced the rate at which he would earn good-behavior credit against his state prison sentence. The petition is presently before me on the respondent's motion to dismiss and Baker's response thereto. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion to dismiss.

         I.

         Baker is in the custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), serving a six-year prison term for aggravated involuntary manslaughter, imposed in December of 2014.[1] In May of 2016, Baker was confined at Coffeewood Correctional Center ("CWCC") and had been assigned to Class Level 1 for purposes of accruing "sentence credit" to reduce his term of confinement. (Pet. 12, (ECF No. 1]). Baker's ability to earn sentence credit is governed by Virginia's statutory scheme titled "Earned Sentence Credits ["ESC"] for persons Committed Upon Felony Offenses Committed on or After January 1, 1995." See Va. Code Ann. §§ 53.1-202.2 to 53.1-202.4. An ESC-eligible inmate can earn a maximum of four and one-half "sentence credits" for each thirty days of his prison sentence that he serves. By statute, the Board of Corrections establishes "the criteria upon which a person shall be deemed to have earned sentence credits." Va. Code Ann. § 53.1-202.4. According to Baker, VDOC Operating Procedure ("OP") 830.3 provides that an inmate assigned to ESC Class Level 1 is granted the maximum number of sentence credit days for every thirty days served, while inmates in ESC Class Levels 2 and 3 are granted fewer sentence credit days during that period, and an inmate in ESC Class Level 4 is granted no sentence credit days. A "Legal Update" sheet dated May 13, 2016, projected that if Baker "continued to earn good time at the present earning level," his "Good Time Release" date would be November 6, 2019. (Pet. Ex. 7, [ECF No. 1]).

         In 2016 and early 2017, however, Baker incurred nine disciplinary infractions at CWCC.[2](Resp. 17, [ECF No. 15]). Baker alleges that many of these disciplinary charges (and other charges since) were based on conduct caused by symptoms of his "Narcolepsy with Cataplexy," a disability, in violation of the Eighth Amendment (Pet. 8, 22, [ECF No. 1]). On April 20, 2017, Baker was transferred to Lawrenceville Correctional Center ("LVCC"). On August 22, 2017, he received two VDOC documents, dated March 7 and April 19, 2017, stating that institutional classification authority ("ICA") hearings had been conducted, and recommendations to reduce Baker to ESC Class Level 4 had been approved. £Pet. Ex. 9, [ECF No. 1]). His disciplinary infractions in 2016 and early 2017 at CWCC were mentioned as one reason for the ESC Class Level change. On August 22, 2017, Baker also received a VDOC "Legal Update," dated April 13, 2017, showing that he had been reduced to Class Level 3 on November 28, 2016, and to Class Level 4 on March 7, 2017. (Pet. Ex. 8, [ECF No. 1]). At ESC Class Level 4, Baker could not earn good conduct time.

         In April of 2018, Baker filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia, contending that he was denied due process during disciplinary proceedings on many charges, including the nine infractions he incurred at CWCC. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dism. Ex. 1, [ECF No. 8-1]). Baker referred to most of the charges as "false." Id. In his petition, Baker also raised retaliation claims and complained of later "false" disciplinary charges and faulty hearings at LVCC. The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed his habeas petition in July of 2018 and denied his petition for rehearing in October of 2018.

         Baker signed and dated his § 2254 petition on December 7, 2018. In it, he alleges these claims:

1. VDOC officials deprived Baker of his liberty interest in ECS sentence credits without due process in March and April of 2017 because (a) they failed to provide all required procedural protections during disciplinary proceedings at CWCC in 2016 and 2017, and (b) they relied on the wrongfully obtained disciplinary convictions to reduce Baker to Class Level 3 and 4;
2. VDOC officials have conspired to retaliate against Baker for filing grievances and lawsuits by bringing more than forty false disciplinary charges against him that either caused the reduction of his Class Level or have since prevented him from being reclassified to a more favorable Class Level; and
3. VDOC officials discriminated against Baker, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because he is a "disabled African-American Prisoner" who filed grievances.

         As relief, Baker seeks "[restoration of Earned Sentence Credits," invalidation of all disciplinary infractions, and "immediate or speedier release" from confinement. (Id.)

         Respondent has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Baker's claims are untimely filed, without merit, or not cognizable in a habeas corpus proceeding. Baker has responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.[3]

         II.

         The one-year period of limitation for filing a habeas petition under § 2254 begins ...


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