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THORNDYKE v. WASHINGTON

September 25, 2002

MAURICE THORNDYKE, PETITIONER,
V.
ODIE WASHINGTON ET AL., RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION DISMISSING AS MOOT THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
I. INTRODUCTION
This matter is before the court on Maurice Thorndyke's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2243. The petitioner claims that the respondents have illegally incarcerated him pending a final decision on the revocation of his parole, and asks the court to release him. The United States Parole Commission ("the Commission"), one of the respondents, has already issued a final action revoking the petitioner's parole. For the reasons that follow, the court dismisses the petition as moot.*fn1
II. BACKGROUND
On April 2, 1992, the Superior Court for the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") sentenced the petitioner to a term of imprisonment of 8-24 years for a conviction of involuntary manslaughter. Comm'n Opp'n at 1. Six years later, the District of Columbia Parole Board ("Parole Board") released the petitioner on parole. Id. On June 29, 1999, the petitioner was arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill. Id. As a result, the Parole Board issued a parole detainer warrant. Petition at 3.
On September 28, 2000, the Superior Court sentenced the petitioner to an aggregate term of incarceration of one year for his convictions for (1) carrying a pistol without a license and (2) possessing unregistered ammunition and firearms. Comm'n Opp'n at 2. By this point, an intervening change in the relevant law had transferred jurisdiction over the petitioner from the Parole Board to the Commission. Id.; D.C. Code § 24-131(a). Therefore, on November 7, 2000, the Commission took custody of the petitioner pursuant to the parole violation warrant charging him with violations of law stemming from his June 29, 1999 arrest. Comm'n Opp'n at 2.
On July 13, 2001, the Commission held a second hearing and revoked the petitioner's parole based on the violation described in charge one. Id. Ex. 10. The Commission again deferred a finding on charge two due to the failure of key witnesses to appear. Id. Exs. 10, 12. On December 20, 2001, the Commission held another hearing and concluded that the petitioner had committed assault with serious bodily injury, in partial violation of charge two. Id. Ex. 13. The Commission documented its findings and parole revocation in a Notice of Action on December 26, 2001. Id. Ex. 14. This notice correctly stated that the Commission sentenced the petitioner to 84 months. But it erroneously stated that the Commission made no finding on charge two, that it rated the violation as category three severity, that the Commission's guideline range was 18-24 months, and that the Commission decided to give a sentence above the guideline range. Id. According to the petitioner, he did not receive the December 26, 2001 notice until March or early April, 2002. Petition Supp. at 1. On June 4, 2002, the Commission issued a Notice of Action which corrected the December 26, 2001 Notice of Action. Comm'n Opp'n Ex. 15. The corrected notice stated that the Commission found that the petitioner committed the charge two violation of assault, the violation was a category seven severity, and therefore the Commission's guideline range was 78-110 months. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Mootness
Before a court may consider the merits of a case, it must determine whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has held that Article III's "case-or-controversy" requirement prohibits courts from issuing advisory opinions or decisions based on hypothetical facts or abstract issues. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 96 (1968). Courts can only rule on actual and ongoing controversies. McBryde v. Comm. to Review Cir. Council Conduct & Disability Orders of the Jud. Conf., 264 F.3d 52, 55 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Accordingly, a court may not rule on the merits of a case in which the claims for relief are moot.
A case is moot when "the issues presented are no longer `live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969); Albritton v. Kantor, 944 F. Supp. 966, 974 (D.D.C. 1996) (quoting County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979)). An intervening factual event may render a claim moot because the change in circumstances deprives the plaintiff of a present right to be vindicated or causes the plaintiff to no longer have a stake in the outcome of the litigation. Aiona v. Judiciary of Haw., 17 F.3d 1244, 1248 & n. 6 (9th Cir. 1994); McPherson v. Mich. High Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 119 F.3d 453, 458-59 (6th Cir. 1997). The intervening event will render the case moot only if the event eliminates the effect of the alleged violation and there is no reason to believe the alleged violation will recur. Honig v. Students of the Cal. Sch. for the Blind, 471 U.S. 148, 149 (1985). The burden of establishing mootness rests on the party raising the issue, and it is a heavy burden. Davis, 440 U.S. at 631; Motor & Equip. Mfrs. Ass'n v. Nichols, 142 F.3d 449, 458-59 (D.C. Cir. 1998).
B. The June 4, 2002 Corrected Notice of Action Renders the Petitioner's Claim Moot
In response to the petition and the supplement to the petition, the defendant includes the December 26, 2001 and the June 4, 2002 Notices of Action to demonstrate that the petitioner's claims are moot. The defendant argues that these intervening factual events have rendered the claims moot. Comm'n Opp'n at 3. For the following ...

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