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Lawless v. Kennedy

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

September 19, 2019

KRISTY LAWLESS, Petitioner,
v.
VANESSA KENNEDY, [1] Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves. Chief Judge

         Kristy Lawless has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking to expunge a prison disciplinary conviction and to restore 1');">1, 321');">1 days of good time credits. [Record No. 1');">1] The petitioner, an inmate at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women (“KCIW”), asserts grounds for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 225');">54. Id. at p. 1');">1. The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge to prepare a report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 6');">6');">6');">636');">6');">6');">6(b)(1');">1)(B). Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram recommended that the Court deny the petition without issuing a Certificate of Appealability (“COA”). [Record No. 8]

         Lawless raises several objections to Magistrate Judge Ingram’s Recommended Disposition. [Record No. 9] First, she contends that the Magistrate Judge failed to accurately analyze precedent relevant to Ground One of her petition (i.e., the claim that the Adjustment Officer’s affidavit mentioning camera footage did not accord with due process). She argues that applicable precedent reveals that the Supreme Court of Kentucky’s decision regarding her habeas petition was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. [Record No. 9, pp. 2-3] Next, Lawless asserts that the Magistrate Judge improperly determined that § 225');">54 AEDPA deference applies to the state court’s decision regarding Ground Two of her petition (i.e., the claim that she was denied due process when she was prohibited from viewing the video evidence herself). Id. at pp. 4');">p. 4-5');">5. Alternatively, she objects to the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the denial of Ground Two was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Id. at pp. 5');">5-6');">6');">6');">6. Finally, Lawless objects to the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation that the Court decline to issue a COA. Id. at pp. 6');">6');">6');">6-7');">7.

         This Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Magistrate Judge’s recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 6');">6');">6');">636');">6');">6');">6(b)(1');">1)(C). However, Congress intended to require district court review of a magistrate’s factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard, when neither party objects to those findings. Thomas v. Arn, 47');">74 U.S. 1');">140, 1');">15');">50 (1');">1985');">5). After a careful examination of the record, including the petitioner’s objections, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge’s Recommended Disposition [Record No. 8] and deny the relief requested by Lawless.

         I.

         Lawless was involved in a prison fight with a fellow inmate on February 24, 201');">14. Corrections Officer Jessica Evans’ suffered a knee injury while attempting to defuse the situation. [Record No. 1');">1-6');">6');">6');">6, 22');">p. 22] Following an investigation, Lawless was charged with “physical action resulting in death or injury of an employee.” Id. Evans alleged that Lawless kicked her during the fight, causing the injury. Id. Lawless waived a full Adjustment Committee hearing and submitted to a review by Adjustment Officer Kristine Goetzinger (“the AO”). Id. Lawless testified, and the testimony of third-party witnesses was read into the record. Id. at p. 23. The AO’s disciplinary report form noted: “Inmate also request[ed] that cameras be viewed as a witness on her behalf.” Id. The AO found Lawless guilty of the infraction and, inter alia, revoked 1');">1, 321');">1 days of good time credits. Id. The “Findings” section of the prison official’s disciplinary report form stated that the AO reached this conclusion, “due to [Evans’ report] that [the] injury was caused from this inmate while trying to separate a physical altercation . . . .” Id. The “Findings” section did not mention the video footage, however. See id.

         Lawless appealed the AO’s determination to the warden. She disputed in the appeal the reasoning of the AO’s “write-up, ” contending that she did not understand how the officer could weigh Evans’ report over her own witnesses’ testimony. Id. at p. 25');">5. Lawson further argued that “[c]amera footage would be clear support of [her] defense, but [she] was refused the right to have it as evidence.” Id. The KCIW warden denied the appeal on May 8, 201');">14. Id. at p. 24.

         Lawless filed a timely Petition for a Declaration of Rights in the Shelby Circuit Court on November 4, 201');">14. Id. at pp. 1');">11');">1-20. The AO filed an affidavit during the circuit court’s review of the prison disciplinary proceeding, stating in relevant part:

1');">1. I, Kristine Goetzinger, am an Adjustment Officer at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women (“KCIW”).
2. I was the adjustment officer for the prison disciplinary hearing held March 1');">18, 201');">14 regarding Inmate Kristy Lawless #1');">18287');">78 on the charge of physical action resulting in death or injury of an employee.
3. In addition to requesting various witnesses, Inmate Lawless requested that the camera footage of the incident be viewed. Per the inmate’s request I viewed the requested camera.
4. Based upon the evidence in the record I found “some evidence” that Inmate Lawless committed the infraction charged and found nothing in the camera footage that would alter this determination.
5');">5. Since my determination of guilt was not based upon the camera footage but rather on the statement of the officer (the victim) regarding who injured her, I did not include any statement in my finding regarding the camera footage.

Id. at p. 4');">p. 49.

         The Shelby Circuit Court dismissed the petition on November 26');">6');">6');">6, 201');">14. Id. at p. 5');">54. However, the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Shelby Circuit Court. [Record No. 1');">1-3] The warden then appealed to the Supreme Court of Kentucky. During this appeal, Lawless asserted arguments that have developed into “Ground One” and “Ground Two” of her § 225');">54 petition. More specifically, she claims: (1');">1) the AO’s affidavit did not comport with her due process rights because it was submitted during the later circuit court proceeding and did not describe what was in the video; and (2) she was denied due process when the AO denied her personal access to the camera footage. [Record Nos. 1');">1, pp. 1');">18-24, 5');">5-5');">5, pp. 6');">6');">6');">6-1');">11');">1, and 7');">7, p. 4');">p. 4] The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed the decision of the court of appeals, denying the petition and explicitly holding that the affidavit comported with Lawless’ due process rights. [Record No. 1');">1-2, 5');">5');">p.5');">5] The Supreme Court of Kentucky’s opinion did not specifically address Lawless’ claim that she was denied due process when she was refused personal access to the video evidence. [Record No. 1');">1-2] Lawless now reasserts these two arguments as grounds to expunge the prison disciplinary proceeding conviction and restore the 1');">1, 321');">1 days of good time credits. [Record No. 1');">1]

         II.

         A writ of habeas corpus is the proper remedy for an inmate seeking relief from a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the loss of good time credits because the inmate is challenging the fact or duration of her confinement. Wolff v. McDonnell, 1');">18 U.S. 5');">539');">41');">18 U.S. 5');">539, 5');">55');">54 (1');">197');">74) (citing Preiser v. Rodriguez, 1');">11');">1 U.S. 47');">75');">5');">41');">11');">1 U.S. 47');">75');">5, 5');">500 (1');">197');">73)). A state prisoner may accordingly seek habeas relief in federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 225');">54, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1');">1996');">6');">6');">6, Pub. L. No. 1');">104-1');">132, 1');">11');">10 Stat. 1');">121');">14 (“AEDPA”).

         Assuming the inmate has complied with AEDPA’s procedural requirements, [2" name="FN2" id= "FN2">2] the federal habeas court must determine what standard of review applies to the merits of each of the petitioner’s grounds for § 225');">54 relief. State court findings of fact are presumed to be correct, and the petitioner bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 225');">54(e). Regarding the standard of review for legal rulings, AEDPA provides:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1');">1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme ...

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