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Hurd v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 19, 2015

MICHAEL D. HURD, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

          For MICHAEL D. HURD, JR., Plaintiff: Eric C. Rowe, LEAD ATTORNEY, WHITEFORD TAYLOR & PRESTON, Washington, DC; Charles Allen Foster, WHITEFORD TAYLOR & PRESTON LLP, Washington, DC.

         For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Government, Defendant: Andrew J. Saindon, D.C. OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC; Matthew Robert Blecher, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC.

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to redress alleged due process violations by the District of Columbia (" the District" ). He claims the District suddenly and unjustly re-incarcerated him without a hearing, four years after he was mistakenly released from a federal prison. (Am. Compl., July 10, 2015 [ECF No. 7].) The District has moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff's substantive due process claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata and that the District did not violate plaintiff's substantive or procedural due process rights. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 9].)[1] For the reasons set forth below, the District's motion to dismiss is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In January 2006, plaintiff Michael Hurd pled guilty in D.C. Superior Court to five counts: (1) carrying a pistol without a license; (2) possession of a prohibited weapon; (3)-(4) two counts of possession of unregistered firearms; and (5) possession of cocaine. (Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 10-11.) He was sentenced to forty-two months in prison with all but forty-five days suspended, a $1,000 fine, and one year of supervised probation. ( Id. ¶ 11) After violating the terms of his probation, Hurd was required to serve the previously suspended portion of his sentence, as well as a three-year term of supervised release. ( Id. ¶ 12.) On September 21, 2006, he began serving his forty-two-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Beckley, West Virginia. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Less than a year later, however, Hurd was inexplicably released to a halfway house in D.C., which in turn released him a month later to begin serving his three-year term of supervised release. ( See id. ¶ ¶ 15, 17.) It is undisputed that he served only thirteen months of his forty-two-month prison sentence. ( See Ex. 3 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-3] at 2 n.1 (" Habeas Motion" ).)[2] At the time of his release, he apparently believed that his motion for a sentence reduction had been successful, but he now acknowledges that no reduction had been granted, and there is no other valid explanation for his early release. ( See id. )

         On July 18, 2010, the U.S. Parole Commission determined that Hurd had successfully completed his three-year term of supervised release, and it no longer had jurisdiction over him. ( See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 19, 22.) During this time, Hurd avers that he successfully completed a sheet metal apprenticeship program; maintained employment as a sheet metal journeyman; consistently tested negative for drugs; successfully completed an anger management course; kept all appointments with officers monitoring his supervised release at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (" CSOSA" ); and re-established ties with his wife and children. ( See Habeas Motion at 2, 5.) By the same token, however, he acknowledges that he failed more than fifty drug tests and was arrested three times while under supervision. ( See Pl.'s Opp'n Br. [ECF No. 10] at 11; see also Ex. 5 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-5] at 2.) First, Hurd was arrested for simple assault in September 2007 and found not guilty at trial. (Ex. 5 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 2.) A year later, he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute cocaine while armed, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of an unregistered firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition, but the charges were later dismissed. ( Id. at 2, 21.) The arrest report indicates that 108.7 grams of crack cocaine were found in false-bottomed containers in Hurd's girlfriend's apartment, along with $8,426 in cash, a Ruger firearm, and nineteen rounds of ammunition. ( Id. at 22-23.) In August 2009, he was again arrested for simple assault, a charge that was dismissed without prejudice when the victim failed to appear to testify against him. ( Id. at 34, 37.)

         Finally, almost a year after his supervision had terminated, Hurd was arrested for possession of marijuana, to which he eventually pled guilty. (Am. Comp. ¶ ¶ 24-25.) This time he was sentenced to nine days in prison, to be served over three weekends. ( See id. ¶ 25.) While serving his second weekend at D.C. Jail, Hurd was informed that he had twenty-seven months remaining on his 2006 sentence, so he would not be released that evening as he had expected. ( See id. ¶ ¶ 27-29.) His interrupted prison sentence thus restarted nearly fifty-one months after he was erroneously released. ( See id. ¶ ¶ 17, 28.) He was not given any prior notice or a hearing to contest his re-incarceration. ( Id. ¶ 30.)

         On November 16, 2011, Hurd filed a motion for habeas corpus in his closed criminal case in D.C. Superior Court. ( See Habeas Motion at 1.) In it, Hurd argued that his re-incarceration " without notice; a hearing, or any sort of warning, is 'so unfair that it must be deemed inconsistent with fundamental notions of fairness embodied in the Due Process Clause.'" ( Id. at 4 (quoting DeWitt v. Ventetoulo, 6 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 1993).) Five days later, the Superior Court issued a show cause order to the United States, which prosecuted Hurd on the 2006 charge, and the District, which was holding him at the jail. ( See Ex. 4 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-4].) Although the United States and the District filed timely oppositions, no further action was taken on Hurd's motion by the Superior Court. ( See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 31-33.) Therefore, in June 2012, he filed a second, emergency petition. ( See id. ) This time, a Superior Court judge scheduled a motions hearing for more than a month later, at which he denied Hurd's petition from the bench. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 34-35.) The court then issued a one-sentence order committing Hurd back to prison, but no written opinion. ( See Ex. 8 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-8].) Hurd filed an appeal to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which took no action for seventeen months. (Am. Compl. ¶ 36.)

         By the time the Court of Appeals issued a ruling, Hurd had already been released from prison on September 30, 2013, so his appeal was denied as moot. (Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 37-39.) In total, his habeas motion and appeal had been pending before the local courts for more than twenty-five months. ( See id. ¶ ¶ 31, 39.)

         ANALYSIS

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint " must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" such that a court may " draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." 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)). The plausibility standard " asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Thus, " [f]actual 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 (citations omitted). In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to or incorporated in the complaint, matters of which courts may take judicial notice, and documents appended to a motion to dismiss whose authenticity is not disputed, if they are referred to in the complaint and integral to a claim. U.S. ex rel. Folliard v. CDW Tech. Servs., Inc., 722 F.Supp.2d 20, 24-25 (D.D.C. 2010).

         II. RES JUDICATA

         Before the Court can reach the substance of plaintiff's constitutional claims, it is necessary to address the District's contention that they are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. ( See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 9-17.) The District first argues that plaintiff's claims were fully adjudicated in a previous class action against it, Barnes v. District of Columbia, No. 06-cv-315 (RCL) (D.D.C.), and that plaintiff is bound by the terms of the class settlement in that case. ( See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 10-14.) It also contends that plaintiff's substantive due process claim was rejected by the D.C. Superior Court when it denied his motion for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he advanced substantially similar arguments. ( Id. at 14-17.)

         A. Barnes v. District of Columbia

         In 2013, the District agreed to settle a class action in which it was alleged, in relevant part, that the District over-detained prisoners beyond their court-ordered release dates. ( See Ex. 10 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-10] ¶ 15.) Latching onto the fact that Mr. Hurd's re-incarceration came about when he was not released from a weekend detention on an unrelated marijuana conviction, the District asserts that the allegations are also based on a claim of " over-detention." ( See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 10-14.) It further argues that, because plaintiff's alleged over-detention occurred during the period covered by the Barnes Settlement Agreement (September 1, 2005 to July 31, 2013), these claims were settled and dismissed pursuant to the settlement. ( See id. )

         To succeed on this defense, the District must show that (1) Hurd was a member of the Barnes class; (2) class members received the best notice practicable under the circumstances; (3) Hurd did not opt out of the Barnes class; and (4) the claims resolved in Barnes included those Hurd seeks to assert here. See Brown v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 25 F.Supp.3d 144, 148 (D.D.C. 2014); see also Cooper v. Fed. Reserve Bank of Richmond, 467 U.S. 867, 874, 104 S.Ct. 2794, 81 L.Ed.2d 718 (1984) (" There is of course no dispute that under elementary principles of prior adjudication a judgment in a properly entertained class action is binding on class members in any subsequent litigation." ). The second and third elements are plainly satisfied--Judge Lamberth found that the notice provided to Barnes class members was the best practicable, and Hurd's name does not appear on the final list of Barnes opt-outs. ( See Ex. 11 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-11] ¶ 15; Ex. 12 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-12].) However, because plaintiff's allegations are materially different from those in Barnes, he is not precluded by the Barnes settlement from pursuing relief here.

         The Barnes class is defined as all persons who " were (a) incarcerated in any DOC facility; and (b) who were not released by midnight on the date on which the person was entitled to be released by court order or the date on which the basis for his or her detention ha[d] otherwise expired." ( See Ex. 10 to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 5-10] ¶ 15.) Although the District tries to construe this as " encompass[ing] every fact pattern that resulted in a person being detained in a DOC facility too long" (Def.'s Reply Br. [ECF No. 11] at 6), the allegations in Barnes involved garden-variety administrative failures that resulted in prisoners' delayed releases. ( See, e.g., Second Am. Compl., 1:06-cv-00315-RCL, ¶ 37 (D.D.C. June 6, 2006) (over-detention problem exacerbated by problems with " computerized inmate population accounting system" ); id. ¶ 42 (one cause of over-detention alleged to be the " resignation of competent managers from [the DOC's] Records Office" ).) In other words, the Barnes plaintiffs alleged that they had satisfied their sentences and yet were inadvertently held over for an additional period. See id. ¶ 11 (whether District is liable to over-detained class members " can be determined by ministerial inspection of the Department of Corrections' records" ). Here, plaintiff alleges that he was released early from prison, satisfied the conditions of his supervised release, and then four years after his release was improperly re-incarcerated to continue serving that same sentence. ( See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 16 (" Plaintiff assert[s] . . . that his re-incarceration after only serving part of his original sentence was improper and violated his rights under the Constitution." ).)

         More fundamentally, the fact that Mr. Hurd was held over by the District after an unrelated detention is only happenstance. The District asserts that plaintiff had no " liberty interest in his freedom after mistaken release" (Def.'s Reply Br. at 8), so according to that logic, it would have been entitled to arrest him at his home and re-incarcerate him without any due process. It is thus clear that the earlier, unrelated detention has no legal relevance to plaintiff's claim. Rather, this is a case of an alleged improper re-incarceration, not over-detention.

         In short, without any evidence that plaintiff was actually a member of the class--that he filed a claim, or was mailed notice, or was included on the list of potential class members--defendant's post hoc ...


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