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THORNDYKE v. WASHINGTON
September 25, 2002
MAURICE THORNDYKE, PETITIONER,
ODIE WASHINGTON ET AL., RESPONDENTS
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge
DISMISSING AS MOOT THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
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
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.
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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