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Rivera v. Saris

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 18, 2015

MIGUEL A. RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
PATTI B. SARIS, et al., Defendants

Page 398

          MIGUEL A. RIVERA, Plaintiff, Pro se, BUTNER, NC.

         For PATTI B. SARIS, WILLIAM B. CARR, JR., RICARDO H. HINOJOSA, UNITED STATES SENTENCING COMMISSION, as a federal agency of the United States, Defendants: Damon William Taaffe, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC; Mercedeh Momeni, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 399

         MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Miguel Rivera, proceeding pro se, brings claims against the United States Sentencing Commission (" the Commission" ) and three current and former members of the Commission. He contends that the Commission's failure to make retroactive an amendment to the United States Sentencing Guidelines--which, he contends, would have resulted in a reduction to his sentence--violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws. The Defendants move to dismiss Rivera's Complaint on the grounds that his claims are barred by claim preclusion, the Commission and its members are immune from suit, and his constitutional challenges fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because the Court finds that the Commission and its Commissioners are immune from suit--and will grant the motion on that basis--it need not address Defendants' other arguments.

         I. Background

         Rivera is a federal prisoner serving a sentence stemming from a 1994 armed robbery of a bank in Florida, for which he was convicted of three counts: armed bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113; use of a firearm during commission of a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon with at least three prior qualifying convictions under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § § 922(g) and 924(e). Rivera was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 300 months and 327 months on the first and third counts, respectively, and a statutorily required, consecutive sentence of 60 months for the second count.

         A criminal defendant who is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) faces a sentencing enhancement if he or she used the firearm " in connection with another felony offense." U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual (" U.S.S.G." ) § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). If such a defendant is also convicted of using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, an additional mandatory consecutive sentence of at least five years applies. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). To address the potential for " double counting" in this circumstance, Amendment 599 to the U.S.S.G. provides that the sentence of a

Page 400

defendant convicted under both 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and § 924(c) is not enhanced under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). See U.S.S.G. app. C, vol. II, amend. 599 (" This . . . amendment directs that no guideline weapon enhancement should be applied when determining the sentence for the crime of violence . . . offense underlying the 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) conviction . . . ." ). Amendment 599 applies retroactively. See id. amend. 607.

         But Amendment 599 offers no relief to criminal defendants who, like Rivera, are convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and whose prior convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) render them subject to a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). Such defendants are subject to the provisions of U.S.S.G. § 4B1.4, which pertain to armed career criminals, and which increase the applicable base offense level. Amendment 674 addresses the potential for " double counting" in this context and provides that defendants not be subjected both to an increased base offense level and application of the criminal history category for use of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. See U.S.S.G. app. C, vol. III, amend. 674. However, Amendment 674, which became effective in 2004--long after Rivera was sentenced--does not apply retroactively.

         Rivera contends that if the Commission had decided to designate Amendment 674 as retroactive, his sentence would be eligible for reduction. He explains that his sentence was, in part, the product of the double counting--an increased base offense level and an increased criminal history category--that Amendment 674 is designed to prevent. And because, he maintains, applying the Amendment retroactively would result in a reduction to his sentence, the Commission's decision not " to properly consider the retroactive [e]ffect of Amendment 674," Compl. 8, " demonstrat[es] prejudicial bias against defendants with higher Criminal histor[ies]," id. at 6. This " prejudicial bias" in turn, Rivera asserts, violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law. He brings this action against the Commission and, in their individual capacities, the Commission's current Chair, the Honorable Patti B. Saris; its former Chair and Vice-Chair, the Honorable Ricardo H. Hinojosa; and its former Vice-Chair, William B. Carr, Jr. For these alleged violations of his constitutional rights, Rivera requests a declaratory judgment that the failure to apply Amendment 674 retroactively violated the Equal Protection Clause as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 10.

         II. ...


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