Where the last reasoned opinion in state habeas proceedings explicitly imposes a procedural default on a claim, the presumption that a later decision rejecting the claim did not consider the claim on the merits is rebutted when the later decision obviously rested on another ground. Hinojosa was serving a sentence in California for robbery and other offenses when he was “validated” as a gang associate and placed in a secured housing unit (SHU). There, he was subjected to loss of conduct credits based on a 2010 change in the law prohibiting prison gang associates in the SHU from earning future conduct credits (Pen. Code, § 2933.6, subd. (a)). Hinojosa filed a state habeas petition based on an ex post facto argument. The superior court denied the claim on venue grounds because defendant was required to raise issues regarding his confinement in the superior court in the county where he was confined, which he had not done. The petitions Hinojosa filed in the Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court were summarily denied and he sought federal habeas relief. The district court denied the petition under AEDPA’s deferential review standard (see U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1)-(2)). The Ninth Circuit reversed (Hinojosa v. Davey (2015) 803 F.3d 412), finding that the California Supreme Court’s denial of the habeas petition was not a determination on the merits and a deferential standard did not apply. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed in per curiam opinion. In Ylst v. Nunnemaker (1991) 501 U.S. 797, the Court held that “where the last reasoned opinion on the claim explicitly imposes a procedural default, [the Court] will presume that a later decision rejecting the claim did not silently disregard that bar and consider the merits.” However, this presumption was refuted here, as improper venue could not have been the California Supreme Court’s ground for denying the claim; there is only one California Supreme Court and thus only one venue in which defendant could have filed a habeas petition. As a denial on the merits, the federal court was required to apply AEDPA’s deferential standard of review to Hinojosa’s ex post facto claim.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-833_2dq6.pdf