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Johnson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 10, 2014

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants

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RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff, a prisoner currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California, sues the District of Columbia, former Metropolitan Police Department Detective John A. Burke, and the Chairman and certain named employees of the United States Parole Commission (" the Commission" ).[1] Presently before

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the Court is the federal defendants' motion to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(4), 12(b)(5), and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2] See Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Fed. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 23] at 1. Plaintiff has filed an opposition [Dkt. # 29], defendant has replied [Dkt. # 37], and plaintiff has filed a surreply.[3] For the following reasons, the Court will grant the federal defendants' motion and dismiss this case.[4]


To put the claims against the federal defendants in proper context, the Court begins with the allegations against former MPD Detective Burke. In the enumerated paragraphs comprising his " Statement of Claim," Compl. at 5, plaintiff alleges that on December 26, 1989, Burke " presented [a] Complaint and his sworn Affidavit in Support of An Arrest Warrant to Superior Court Judge Shelli Bowers," who issued an arrest warrant " charging Plaintiff Johnson with rape while armed." Compl. ¶ 24. On December 27, 1989, plaintiff " presented himself for arrest," id. ¶ 25, and was charged with rape while armed of his " 19 year old, live-in girlfriend of 6 months." Id. ¶ ¶ 1-2. The arrest stemmed from events that had occurred on either December 24, 1989, or December 25, 1989. See id. ¶ ¶ 4, 18.

Plaintiff alleges that after Burke spoke with the complaining witness, he contacted plaintiff and plaintiff agreed to appear for an interview with Burke at MPD's Sex Offense Branch on December 26, 1989. In addition to the interview, plaintiff alleges that he submitted a handwritten statement describing his version of the events. See id. ¶ ¶ 4-16. According to plaintiff, Burke failed to " perform[] an adequate investigation [before he] swore out [the foregoing] Affidavit in Support of An Arrest Warrant, asserting that there's probable cause and reasonable grounds for the issuance of an arrest warrant for the Plaintiff . . . ." Id. ¶ 17.

On March 17, 1990, plaintiff was released on bond " but [was] . . . arrested again and charged with the rape of a 22 year old prostitute." Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff entered what he deemed to be " a coerced guilty plea in the latter case" and on November 27, 1990 " was sentenced to 15 years to life." Id. ¶ 30; see Johnson v. U.S., 633 A.2d 828 (D.C. 1993) (affirming denial of collateral motion to withdraw guilty plea); see also Defs.' Ex. H [Dkt. # 23-1] ( Johnson v. Rios, No. 1:10-cv-01164-SMS,

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(E.D.Cal. Mar. 29, 2011) , aff'd sub nom Johnson v. Clay, No. 11-17321, 539 F.App'x 748 (9th Cir. 2013) (unpublished) (denying habeas petition). According to plaintiff, the " December 1989 rape case was dismissed as part of the plea deal." Compl. ¶ 30.

Plaintiff's claims against the Commission and its employees stem from his prison sentence for the 1990 rape conviction. Plaintiff alleges that after the Commission assumed responsibility of D.C. Code offenders in 1998, defendant Dorothy A. Beale, a hearing examiner for the Commission,[5] conducted " a Pre-hearing Assessment of the plaintiff [on October 7, 1999] in preparation of his initial parole hearing," and " applied the 2000 guidelines which indicated that parole should be denied." Am. Compl. ¶ 16. According to plaintiff, Beale " requested a copy of the 1989 police report [that] [s]he believed . . . would 'determine the degree of risk' plaintiff posed." Id. ¶ 17. On February 6, 2000, defendant Jeffrey S. Kosbar, an executive reviewer for the Commission, " noted that the Commission had received the police report of the 1989 rape allegations," and " stated 'that the police report indicates that our subject did rape the victim while armed with a knife.' " Id. ¶ 19. On March 22, 2000, defendant Kenneth Walker, an examiner, " prepared a Hearing Summary after interviewing plaintiff at his initial hearing [and] calculated plaintiff's Total Point Score as a 3." Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff alleges that based on the 2000 guidelines, his Total Point Score " meant parole [was] automatically denied at the initial hearing." Id.

Plaintiff alleges that at the initial hearing in March 2000, " he was asked about the 1989 rape allegations," Compl. ¶ 31, and " [d]espite the facts that [plaintiff] provided, the [C]ommission made a determination of guilt based solely on the fabricated police report prepared by Defendant Burke." Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiff " was denied parole and given a sixty month reconsideration date," which he alleges was a departure from the guidelines' presumptive reconsideration period of 12 to 18 months due to " the use of the 1989 rape allegations." Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff alleges that " [t]hereafter," he lodged objections to the Commission's use of the 1989 rape allegations, id. ¶ 35, but that he " has been seen and denied parole on 3 other occasions (2005, 2008, and 2010), and the 1989 rape allegations are still being relied upon." Id. ¶ 41.

Plaintiff claims, among other violations, that the federal defendants " violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights from 2000 to 2008 when they deprived him [of] parole considerations pursuant to the D.C. Board of Parole Guidelines," Am. Compl. ¶ 56, and that they " violated the ex post facto clause of the [C]onstitution when they retroactively applied the Commission's 2000 guidelines at his parole hearings in 2000, 2005, and 2008." Id. ¶ 61.

Plaintiff seeks removal of the 1989 police report and references thereto from his parole file, id. ¶ 67, a new parole hearing " where the 1987 guidelines will be considered in its entirety," id. ¶ 68, and an unspecified amount of money damages, id. ¶ ¶ 73-74.


A. Legal Standards

1. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law presumes

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that " a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); see also Gen. Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448, 361 U.S.App.D.C. 6 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (" As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and end, with an examination of our jurisdiction." ). It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

Because subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the Court's power to hear a claim, the Court must give the plaintiff's factual allegations closer scrutiny than would be required in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. See Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus, the Court is not limited to the allegations contained in the complaint. See Wilderness Soc'y v. Griles, 824 F.2d 4, 16 n.10, 262 U.S.App.D.C. 277 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

2. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) " tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242, 352 U.S.App.D.C. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The motion does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but only forces the court to determine whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. ACLU Found. of S. Cal. v. Barr, 952 F.2d 457, 467, 293 U.S.App.D.C. 101 (D.C. Cir. 1991).

" To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A plaintiff's factual allegations " must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements," are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. See Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39-40, 359 U.S.App.D.C. 179 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Browning, 292 F.3d at 242.

B. Collateral Estoppel

Defendants have set forth a list of valid reasons why this case should be dismissed. See Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Fed. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 1-2. In light of the earlier decision rendered by the Eastern District of California in plaintiff's habeas proceedings, the Court will first address the defense of issue preclusion, also known as collateral estoppel, which it finds applicable to plaintiff's ex post facto claim for injunctive relief. See WMATA v. Local 2, Office and Professional Employees Intern. Union, AFL-CIO, 965 F.Supp.2d 13, 22 (D.D.C. 2013) (" Collateral estoppel is a threshold issue[.]" ) (citation omitted); Morris v. United States Sentencing Comm'n, __ F.Supp.2d __, 62 F.Supp.3d 67, 2014 WL 3749526, at *3 (D.D.C. Jul. 31, 2014) (" In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may take judicial notice of facts litigated in a prior related case." ) (citing Oveissi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 879 F.Supp.2d 44, 49-50 (D.D.C. 2012)).

Issue preclusion " bars 'successive litigation of an issue of fact or law

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actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment,' even if the issue recurs in the context of a different claim." Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892, 128 S.Ct. 2161, 171 L.Ed.2d 155 (2008) (quoting New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 748-49, 121 S.Ct. 1808, 149 L.Ed.2d 968 (2001). For collateral estoppel to apply, (1) the issue being raised must have been contested by the parties and submitted for adjudication in the prior case, (2) the issue must have been actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, and (3) preclusion in the second case must not work a basic unfairness to the party bound by the first determination. See Yamaha Corp. of Am. v. United States, 961 F.2d 245, 254, 295 U.S.App.D.C. 158 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

In plaintiff's habeas proceedings, the Eastern District of California considered, among other issues, whether " the United States Parole Commission violated the constitutional protections against ex post facto laws" and found that it had not. Johnson v. Rios, at *2. The court recounted the same set of facts underlying this action, see, and addressed the same arguments , i.e., whether the Commission violated the ex post facto clause by applying the 2000 parole guidelines during plaintiff's parole hearings instead of the D.C. Parole Board's 1987 guidelines that were in effect when plaintiff committed his crime. The court concluded that since the Commission had applied the 1987 guidelines " [a]t [plaintiff's] most recent parole consideration hearing in 2010 and 28 C.F.R. § 2.80(o) provides that he will continue to be heard under these guidelines[,] . . . there was no retroactive application of parole guidelines to [plaintiff's] case, and no resulting ex post facto violation.". It reasoned that, given the applicable regulation, the claim was moot since " there is no reasonable expectation that the Commission will apply any other guidelines to [plaintiff's] case besides the D.C. Guidelines in effect when he committed his crime." [6]. The court relied upon

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section 2.80(o)(1) of the Code of Federal Regulations, which provides that a prisoner meeting the listed criteria may " receive a parole determination using the 1987 guidelines of the former District of Columbia Board of Parole." 28 C.F.R. § 2.80(o)(1). Hence, the Court finds that any claim for injunctive relief based on the ex post facto argument is foreclosed by the collateral estoppel doctrine.[7]

In addition, the Court finds that plaintiff's due process claim predicated on the same facts supporting the ex post facto claim is baseless. To trigger the due process clause under the circumstances presented, plaintiff must first identify a protected liberty interest, but it is established that D.C. prisoners do not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in being released to parole. See Ellis v. District of Columbia, 84 F.3d 1413, 1415-20, 318 U.S.App.D.C. 39 (D.C. Cir. 1996). And although plaintiff has not alleged that he was deprived of the minimal due process requirements of notice and a meaningful and timely hearing, see Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976), the record establishes that he was not. Hence, the claims for injunctive relief brought under both the ex post facto clause and the due process clause are dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).

C. Claims for Money Damages

Plaintiff claims that " [e]ach defendant is being sued individually and in his or her official capacities," Am. Compl. ¶ 12, and he seeks an unspecified amount of money damages, Compl. ¶ 74.

1. The Individual-Capacity Claims

" Personal-capacity [or individual-capacity] suits . . . seek to impose individual liability upon a government officer for actions taken under color of state law." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991). In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), the Supreme Court recognized a private cause of action against federal officials who " may be held personally liable . . . for unconstitutional conduct in which [they were] personally and directly involved." Staples v. U.S., 948 F.Supp.2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2013) (citing Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 258, 299 U.S.App.D.C. 228 (D.C. Cir. 1993)). To state a Bivens claim, " a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

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In this case, the individual defendants alleged to have participated directly in the challenged parole decisions are Beale, Kosbar, and perhaps Walker. See Am. Compl.¶ ¶ 16-21. Defendants argue that Chairman Fulwood and the hearing officials enjoy absolute and qualified immunity. See Defs.' Mem. at 21-33. Whether Parole Commissioners enjoy absolute immunity based on their performance of quasi-judicial functions, as defendants contend, has been called into question by at least one judge in the Court of Appeals. See Taylor v. Reilly, 685 F.3d 1110, 1117-18, 401 U.S.App.D.C. 486 (D.C Cir. 2012) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring). Regardless, plaintiff's Bivens claims cannot withstand the qualified immunity defense.

The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from suit for civil damages unless a plaintiff shows that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and that the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). The Supreme Court has explained that there are two inquiries involved in a qualified immunity analysis. The first question is: " Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the [official's] conduct violated a constitutional right?" Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001). If the answer is negative, " there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Id. If there is a constitutional violation, the second question is: Whether the right violated was " clearly established?" Id. The " dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable offic[ial] that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Id. at 202. For a right to be found " clearly established," its " contours . . . must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right.' " Atherton v. District of Columbia Off. of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 689, 386 U.S.App.D.C. 144 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). The Supreme Court has since instructed that the foregoing sequence is " often beneficial" but is not mandatory, and that judges may " exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis" to address first. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

The Court has determined that the due process clause was not violated, thereby ending the inquiry with regard to this ground for recovery. As for the ex post facto ground, the Court of Appeals established in Taylor v. Reilly that under like circumstances, Parole Commissioners and hearing examiners are entitled to qualified immunity. Similar to the plaintiff in this case, the plaintiff in Taylor (1) was convicted when " the District of Columbia had its own parole board that relied on regulations published in 1987," (2) was subjected to parole hearings in 2001 and 2005 where the Commission had applied its own 2000 regulations " regarding suitability for parole, . . . which it made applicable to D.C. Code offenders like Taylor," and (3) sued, inter alia, Parole Commissioners and the Parole Examiner who allegedly presided over his 2005 parole hearing. Id. at 1111-12. In affirming the district court's qualified immunity dismissal, the Court of Appeals held that " [a] parole official applying the 2000 Regulations at . . . parole hearings" conducted in 2001 and 2005 " would not have had reason to know that doing so would create a 'significant risk' of longer incarceration than applying

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the 1987 Regulations," and that " it would not have been clear to reasonable parole officials [in 2005] that applying the new regulations to Taylor would actually create such a risk. Nor had any case required officials . . . to conduct a searching comparison before deciding which regulations to apply." Taylor, 685 F.3d at 1117.

Since plaintiff's circumstances provide no basis for departing from the reasoning in Taylor, his Bivens claims are dismissed on the ground of qualified immunity. Hence, the Court will not address the argument for dismissal of the individual defendants under Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction predicated on the defective service issues that are not now before the Court. See, supra, at 1, n.2; Defs.' Mem. at 13-16.

2. The Official-Capacity Claims

Sovereign immunity shields the federal government and its agencies from suit and is " jurisdictional in nature." American Road & Transp. Builders Ass'n v. EPA, 865 F.Supp.2d 72, 79 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994)) (other citations omitted). The government may waive immunity, but such a waiver " must be unequivocally expressed in statutory text, and will not be implied." Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187, 192, 116 S.Ct. 2092, 135 L.Ed.2d 486 (1996) (citations omitted); see also United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212, 103 S.Ct. 2961, 77 L.Ed.2d 580 (1983) (" It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction." ). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), " [t]he plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both the court's statutory jurisdiction and the government's waiver of its sovereign immunity." American Road & Transp. Builders Ass'n, 865 F.Supp.2d at 80 (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994); Tri-State Hosp. Supply Corp. v. United States, 341 F.3d 571, 575, 358 U.S.App.D.C. 79 (D.C. Cir. 2003); Jackson v. Bush, 448 F.Supp.2d 198, 200 (D.D.C. 2006)).

Plaintiff's official-capacity claims are essentially a claim against the United States. See Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25 (" [T]he real party in interest in an official-capacity suit is the governmental entity and not the named official[.]" ). Therefore, as noted above, plaintiff may recover money damages only if he can identify a statute that waives the government's immunity. The Federal Tort Claims Act (" FTCA" ), 28 U.S.C. § § 2671-80, waives the sovereign's immunity as to certain enumerated claims for money damages. In FTCA cases, the United States is substituted as the proper defendant, and the United States has not consented to be sued for damages based on constitutional violations. Meyer, 510 U.S. at 476-78. Hence, the damages claim against the defendants in their official capacities is dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) on sovereign immunity grounds.[8]

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D. Claim for Injunctive Relief

Plaintiff wants any references to his 1989 arrest removed from his parole file. See Am. Compl. ¶ 67. He claims particularly that the 1989 police report " contains erroneous information and should not have been relied on." Id. Plaintiff's recourse for amending agency records lies exclusively under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and exhaustion of administrative remedies is " a prerequisite to filing a Privacy Act complaint in district court." Davis v. U.S., 84 F.App'x 97 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (per curiam) (citing Dickson v. OPM, 828 F.2d 32, 40, 264 U.S.App.D.C. 182 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). Plaintiff has not shown that he has pursued, let alone exhausted, his administrative remedies under the Privacy Act. Hence, this claim for injunctive relief is dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).


For the reasons discussed above, the federal defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, and this case is dismissed. A final order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.


For the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion and in the Memorandum Opinion of August 25, 2014, it is

ORDERED that the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. # 23] is GRANTED; it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for an Extension of Time to Submit a Surreply [Dkt. # 40] is GRANTED; it is further

ORDERED that this case is DISMISSED. This is a final appealable Order.

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