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United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.

LAMARR RAYMONDO DENNIS, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. MARY FALLIN, Oklahoma Governor, Defendant - Appellee.

No. 16-5162

Decided: February 15, 2017

Before KELLY and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.**


Plaintiff-Appellant Lamarr Raymondo Dennis, a state inmate appearing pro se, filed a complaint seeking declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Mr. Dennis asked the district court to declare that (1) Oklahoma's sentence enhancement statute, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 51.1, is unconstitutional, (2) Oklahoma's lack of objective sentencing guidelines violates due process, and (3) “Oklahoma's repealed Truth in Sentencing Act should be advisory and can serve as adequate guidelines toward reasonable punishment under constitutional analysis.” 1 R. 4–5.

The district court dismissed the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Id. at 13–17. The court determined that 28 U.S.C. § 2201 does not provide an independent basis for federal jurisdiction and that Mr. Dennis's complaint appeared to be an improper attempt to challenge the validity of his state-court sentence. Id. at 14–15. The court further concluded that Mr. Dennis's complaint could not be treated as a petition for writ of habeas corpus because the statute of limitations had expired. Id. at 16.

On appeal, Mr. Dennis argues that the district court erred because the sentence enhancement statute is arbitrary, capricious, and violates substantive due process. Aplt. Br. at 3. He further asserts that “[e]xcessively broad sentencing ranges without objective guidelines violate due process ․ [because] they promote arbitrariness and inequity.” Id. at 4.

We review the district court's decision to dismiss the complaint de novo. Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124 (10th Cir. 2010). We agree with the district court that 28 U.S.C. § 2201 is not an independent grant of jurisdiction, Devon Energy Prod. Co. v. Mosaic Potash Carlsbad, Inc., 693 F.3d 1195, 1202 (10th Cir. 2012), and that an action for declaratory judgment cannot be used to shorten a sentence or otherwise attack a state criminal judgment, Morton v. Avery, 393 F.2d 138, 138–39 (6th Cir. 1968). “[H]abeas corpus is the exclusive remedy for a state prisoner who challenges the fact or duration of his confinement ․” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1994). Because the statute of limitations applicable to any federal habeas corpus claim has expired, see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), we will not treat his complaint as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the district court properly dismissed Mr. Dennis's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Accordingly, we DISMISS the appeal. We find the appeal frivolous and a “strike” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

Entered for the Court

Paul J. Kelly, Jr. Circuit Judge

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