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Geneo Brown v. Attorney General of Nys; Brian Fisher

June 15, 2011

GENEO BROWN, PETITIONER,
v.
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NYS; BRIAN FISHER, COMMISSIONER, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Geneo Brown ("Brown" or "Petitioner") brings this timely pro se habeas corpus Petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 seeking review of a December 28, 2007 determination by the Time Allowance Committee ("the TAC") of the Southport Correctional Facility to withhold his good time allowance credits. Petitioner does not dispute his underlying convictions.

Petitioner asserts the following grounds for habeas relief, all of which have been properly exhausted in State court: (1) he was denied adequate legal assistance at the TAC hearing, because his assistant refused to investigate his case or to retrieve relevant documents relating to Petitioner's prior disciplinary hearings and "mental health" records; (2) Petitioner's "continuous[] involuntary psychiatric treatment, transfers, and confinements placed an 'atypical and significant' hardship on Petitioner's confinement in relation to his original sentence"; (3) Petitioner's repeated psychiatric treatments, transfers, and confinements were in retaliation for, among other things, Petitioner's filing of grievances and lawsuits, and thus violated his First Amendment rights;(4) the admission into evidence at the TAC hearing of Petitioner's repeated involuntary psychiatric transfers and treatment constituted an "illegal search and seizure" in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and the TAC improperly used this "erroneous information" in rendering its decision; and (5) Petitioner's receipt of allegedly unnecessary psychiatric treatment constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Respondent argues that none of Petitioner's claims present constitutional question cognizable on Federal habeas review and that, in any event, none of them have merit.

For the reasons that follow, the petition is dismissed.

II. Discussion

A. New York State Law Governing "Good Time" Credits

A New York State inmate serving an indeterminate sentence with a maximum term other than life imprisonment may receive an allowance for good behavior in prison not to exceed one-third of the maximum term. See N.Y. CORR. LAW § 803(1). Good time credits "may be granted for good behavior and efficient and willing performance of duties assigned or progress and achievement in an assigned treatment program," and "may be withheld, forfeited or canceled in whole or in part for bad behavior, and violation of institutional rules or failure to perform properly in the duties or program assigned." Id.; see also N.Y. COMP. R. & REGS., tit. 7, § 260.1(c). Once an inmate is granted good time credits equal to the remainder of his sentence, he is conditionally released and placed under supervision by the New York State Division of Parole until the expiration of his sentence. See N.Y. PENAL LAW § 70.40(1)(b).

Recommendations by the TAC are to be distinguished from "Tier III disciplinary hearings, also known as "[s]uperintendent's hearings, [which] are used for the review of the most serious violations of institutional rules." Walker v. Bates, 23 F.3d 652, 654 (2d Cir. 1994). The key distinction between a TAC recommendation and a Tier III Superintendent's hearing is that the TAC recommendation is not punitive. Matter of Amato v. Ward, 41 N.Y.2d 469, 473 (1977) ("The function of the time allowance committee . . . is not the investigation and punishment of particular acts of misconduct, charged or uncharged. Instead the time allowance committee evaluates the inmate's prison record and recommends the amount of good behavior allowance to be granted not as a punitive sanction but as a standard measuring the progress, capacity, efforts, and achievement by the prisoner during his stay in prison . . . .") (citation omitted).

New York law clearly provides that good time credits are a privilege, not a right. Determinations regarding their grant or denial rest in the sound discretion of prison authorities. E.g., Matter of Edwards v. Goord, 26 A.D.3d 659, 660 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dept. 2006) ("The determination to withhold a good time allowance is discretionary in nature and, as long as it is made in accordance with the law, it will not be subject to judicial review."); see also N.Y. CORR. LAW § 803(4) ("No person shall have the right to demand or require [good behavior allowances]. The decision of the commissioner of correctional services as to the granting, withholding, forfeiture, cancellation or restoration of such allowances shall be final and shall not be reviewable if made in accordance with law."); N.Y. COMP. R. & REGS., tit. 7, § 260.2 ("Good behavior allowances are in the nature of a privilege to be earned by the inmate and no inmate has the right to demand or to require that any good behavior allowance be granted to him.").

B. Analysis of Petitioner's Due Process Claims

Claims One and Four pertain to an alleged denial of due process in connection with Petitioner's good time credit determinations--i.e., that he did not receive adequate legal assistance and that certain information was improperly admitted into evidence and considered by the TAC.

"In evaluating due process claims, the threshold issue is always whether the plaintiff has a property or liberty interest protected by the Constitution." Perry v. McDonald, 280 F.3d 159, 173 (2d Cir. 2001) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). The Supreme Court has held that a prisoner does possess a protected liberty interest in an award of good time credits when the applicable state statutory scheme provides that credits, once awarded, may only be revoked under specific circumstances. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556-58 (1974); see also Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 483-84 (1995) (reaffirming the correctness of Wolff's holding). In such a case, ...


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