United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
A. VARLAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Mike Settle is a Tennessee inmate proceeding pro se on a
petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2241 [Doc. 1]. Before the Court is
Respondent's motion to dismiss the petition for
Petitioner's failure to exhaust his State-court remedies
[Doc. 7]. For the reasons set forth below, the petition for
writ of habeas corpus [Doc. 1] will be
DENIED, and Respondent's motion [Doc. 7]
will be DISMISSED AS MOOT.
ALLEGATIONS OF PETITION
claims that his parole-eligibility date has been
miscalculated, and that he has attempted to exhaust his
administrative remedies with the Board of Parole and
Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) [Doc.
1 p. 2]. He asserts that he has sought and been denied a
declaratory judgment, and that he is prohibited from pursuing
the matter further, because Tennessee's law prevents him
from litigating the matter in State court due to his unpaid
court fees [Id.; see also Doc. 9].
petitioner seeking federal habeas relief must first exhaust
his available State-court remedies. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(b) and (c); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel,
526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). The burden is on the petitioner to
demonstrate compliance with the exhaustion requirement.
See Rust v. Zent, 17 F.3d 155, 160 (6th Cir. 1994).
If a petitioner fails to exhaust his claims prior to seeking
federal habeas relief, his federal habeas petition must
ordinarily be dismissed. See Coleman v. Thompson,
501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991); see also Duncan v. Walker,
533 U.S. 167, 178-79 (2001) (“The exhaustion
requirement of § 2254(b) ensures that the state courts
have the opportunity fully to consider federal-law challenges
to a state custodial judgment before the lower federal courts
may entertain a collateral attack upon that
judgment.”). An exception to the exhaustion requirement
exists where “(i) there is an absence of available
State corrective process; or (ii) circumstances exist that
render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the
applicant.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(B).
in TDOC custody must address their parole eligibility through
the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act
(“UAPA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-101, et
seq. If an inmate claims that TDOC incorrectly
calculated his sentence, he must first seek a declaratory
order regarding that calculation from the TDOC. See
Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-223(a) (“Any affected person
may petition an agency for a declaratory order as to the
validity or applicability of a statute, rule or order within
the primary jurisdiction of the agency.”). Following
the exhaustion of those administrative remedies, an inmate
can seek judicial review in the criminal trial court, and
subsequently, with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
See Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-225(b).
argues that he cannot seek such relief, however, because he
is statutorily prevented from litigating his claims in State
court due to unpaid court fees. See Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 41-21-812 (providing, with limited exception in cases
of irreparable injury, court clerk may not accept for filing
a subsequent claim made by an inmate noticed under section
until prior fees are paid in full). Therefore, Petitioner
claims, he is barred from exhausting his State court
remedies, which leaves him without an available State
corrective process. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b)(1)(B)(i). Respondent has not addressed
Petitioner's claim that an exception to the exhaustion
requirement applies in his case.
Court determines that it need not decide the exhaustion
issue, however, as Petitioner's allegations do not raise
a constitutional issue. It is fundamental that a petitioner
is only entitled to federal habeas relief if he is imprisoned
in violation of the federal constitution or federal laws.
See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c)(3), 2254(a). It
is also well established that there is no constitutional
right to parole. See Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482
U.S. 369, 373 (1987); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S.
539, 557 (1974). Rather, a protected liberty interest in
parole exists only when State law creates “a legitimate
claim of entitlement to it[.]” Inmates of Orient
Corr. Inst. v. Ohio State Adult Parole Auth., 929 F.2d
233, 235 (6th Cir. 1991) (quoting Greenholtz v. Inmates
of the Nebraska Penal & Corr. Complex, 422 U.S. 1, 7
inmates do not have an entitlement to parole; they have, at
most “a mere hope that the benefit will be
obtained.” Wright v. Trammell, 810 F.2d 589,
590-91 (6th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted); see also
Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-28-117(a) (defining parole as
“a privilege and not a right” and holding that if
parole board determines that parole is appropriate “the
prisoner may be paroled”). Because Tennessee law
provides the parole board with discretion in determining
parole eligibility, Petitioner has no protected liberty
interest in parole and no basis for a challenge to the
calculation of his parole eligibility. Therefore, the instant
petition must be DENIED.
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability
(“COA”) before he may appeal this Court's
decision denying federal habeas relief. 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c)(1). A COA will not issue unless a petitioner makes
“a substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right” of any claim rejected on its
merits, which he may do by demonstrating that
“reasonable jurists would find the district court's
assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or
wrong.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2); Slack v.
McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). To obtain a COA on a
claim that has been rejected on procedural grounds, a
petitioner must demonstrate “that jurists of reason
would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid
claim of the denial of a constitutional right and that
jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the
district court was correct in its procedural ruling.”
Slack, 529 U.S. at 484. Applying this standard, the
Court concludes that a COA should be denied in this case.