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Morgan v. United States Parole Commission

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 4, 2016

BOBBY D. MORGAN, Plaintiff,


KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge

Pro se plaintiff Bobby D. Morgan, a prisoner who is currently incarcerated at the Hazelton Federal Correctional Institution in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, has filed the instant action against the United States Parole Commission (“the Commission”) and Commission Hearing Examiner Paul R. A. Howard (“Howard, ” and collectively, “Defendants”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In 2008, the Commission revoked the parole period that Morgan had been serving upon his release from prison for two 1988 District of Columbia convictions for armed robbery and carrying a pistol without a license. Howard was the official who presided over Morgan’s parole revocation hearing; the Commission adopted Howard’s recommendation that Morgan’s parole be revoked following new convictions for weapons offenses in North Carolina, and the presumptive reparole date was set based on the Commission’s then-current revocation guidelines. Morgan’s complaint claims, in essence, that the Commission violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution by applying the parole guidelines that were in effect in 2008, when Howard conducted the revocation hearing, rather than guidelines that were in effect in 1988, when Morgan committed the underlying offenses. (Compl., ECF No. 1, at 3.) Morgan seeks money damages against the Commission and against Howard (in his official and individual capacities) for “subject[ing] him to a longer period of incarceration” upon revocation than would have been the case if the 1987 regulations had been applied, as well as an order that the Commission afford him “a new parole hearing with instructions to the [Commission] to exercise its discretion within the framework created by the 1987 Regulations[.]” (Compl. at 3; Pl.’s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Compl. (“Pl.’s Compl. Mem.”), ECF No. 1-2, at 5; Am. & Suppl. Compl., ECF No. 13, at 1.)[1]

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ motion to dismiss Morgan’s complaint. (Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 15.) In this motion, Howard and the Commission argue, among other things, that they are immune from the claims for monetary damages that Morgan has brought in this action, and that the doctrine of res judicata bars all of Morgan’s claims relief because, in the context of a habeas action that he filed in federal district court in West Virginia, he previously litigated (and lost) the legal argument that his parole sentence violates the Ex Post Facto Clause. (Defs.’ Mot. at 10-11.) For the reasons explained below, this Court has concluded that Defendants are, indeed, immune from Morgan’s damages claims, and that res judicata bars all of his claims, including those for injunctive relief. Therefore, as set forth in the Order that this Court issued on March 31, 2016, Defendants’ motion to dismiss has been GRANTED, and Morgan’s complaint has been DISMISSED in its entirety.


A. Morgan’s District Of Columbia Sentence And Parole Violations

In September of 1998, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia convicted Morgan of armed robbery and carrying a pistol without a license and sentenced him to consecutive terms of imprisonment of 15 years to life on the robbery charge and one year on the firearms charge. (Pl.’s Compl. Mem. at 7.) Morgan was released on parole in March of 2003 to the Western District of North Carolina, and in 2007, while under supervision in North Carolina, he was arrested for and charged with discharging a weapon into occupied property and assault with a deadly weapon causing serious injury. (Id. at 8.) Shortly thereafter, the Commission submitted an application for a parole violation warrant, alleging that Morgan had violated the conditions of his parole as a result of these new offenses and also that he had used illegal narcotics while under supervision. See Morgan v. Berkebile, No. 09-cv-0966, 2011 WL 5040432, at *1 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 7, 2011) (Morgan I), adopted by 2011 WL 5040435 (S.D. W.Va. Oct. 21, 2011) (Morgan II).[2] Morgan was arrested on the Commission’s parole violation warrant on December 7, 2007. (Pl.’s Compl. Mem. at 8.)

On August 19, 2008, the Commission held a parole revocation hearing in Morgan’s case, over which Howard presided. See Morgan I, 2011 WL 5040432, at *1. As a result of the hearing, Howard found that Morgan had violated the conditions of his parole and determined, under the Commission’s 2000 parole revocation guidelines, that Morgan’s guideline range was 78-110 months of incarceration. Id. Accordingly, Howard recommended that the Commission revoke Morgan’s parole and a set presumptive reparole date of July 24, 2016, which would result in Morgan serving an additional 110 months in prison. Id. On September 19, 2008, the Commission issued a “Notice of Action, ” in which it implemented Howard’s recommendations. Id. Morgan subsequently appealed that determination, and the National Appeals Board affirmed the Commission’s decision. Id. at *2.

B. Morgan’s West Virginia Petition For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus

On August 25, 2009, Morgan filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. Id. His petition included a claim that the Commission’s “retroactive application of new federal re-parole guidelines” in his case established a “[p]rima facie ex post facto claim” because there was “a significant risk that his punishment [was] increased” due to the application of those guidelines, when compared to the reparole guidelines that were in effect when he committed his original offenses in 1988. Id. The matter was referred to a magistrate judge, who recommended that Morgan’s habeas petition be dismissed in its entirety. See Id. at *1. Regarding the ex post facto claim, the assigned magistrate judge found in the first instance that Morgan “failed to establish[] that the 2000 Guidelines were retroactively applied during his parole revocation proceedings.” Id. at *6. The magistrate judge also found that, even if the Commission had improperly applied the 2000 Guidelines, this did not amount to an ex post facto violation because this purported error “did not . . . create a significant risk of prolonging [Morgan’s] incarceration.” Id. at *7; see also Fletcher v. Reilly, 433 F.3d 867, 877 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (holding that “a retroactively applied parole or reparole regulation or guideline violates the Ex Post Facto Clause if it creates a significant risk of prolonging an inmate’s incarceration[]”).

The West Virginia district court judge adopted the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, expressly rejecting Morgan’s objection to the magistrate judge’s recommendation regarding his ex post facto claim, and dismissed Morgan’s petition. See Morgan II, 2011 WL 5040435, at *4. The court explained that the Commission’s application of year 2000 guidelines to evaluate the parole consequences of conduct that Morgan has engaged in in 2007 was not a “retroactive” application of the guidelines, and in any event, “[Morgan’s] objection that he was subjected to a significant risk of prolonging his incarceration [through application of the 2000 Guidelines] is without merit” because the 1987 Regulations afforded the parole board “discretion to depart from the guidelines” and permitted it to set whatever reparole date that it deemed appropriate. Id.

C. The Instant Lawsuit

Proceeding pro se, on May 5, 2014, Morgan filed a lawsuit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Howard-in his personal and official capacities-and the Commission. (See Compl.). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (permitting suit against any “person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects . . . any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws”).[3] As he did in the habeas petition that he filed in West Virginia, Morgan’s initial complaint claimed that Defendants violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution by applying the year 2000 parole regulations during his parole revocation proceedings, which, according to Morgan, had the effect of “subject[ing] him to a longer period of incarceration” than if Defendants had applied the former D.C. Board of Parole’s 1987 regulations. (Compl. at 3.) The complaint also alleged that Howard further violated the Ex Post Facto Clause “by incorrectly imposing a term of imprisonment exceeding the sanction imposed for the crime that occurred in North Carolina.” (Id.)[4] As relief, the complaint requested “a rehearing with reconsideration of his parole eligibility” under the former D.C. Board of Parole’s 1987 regulations. (Compl. at 3.)

In December of 2014, Defendants moved to dismiss Morgan’s complaint based on res judicata (Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7); this Court denied the motion without prejudice after Morgan requested leave to file a supplemental and amended complaint-a request that the Court granted. (See Min. Order of Mar. 3, 2015.) In the new pleading, Morgan continued to press the core ex post facto allegation; the only substantive addition was a demand for $250, 000 in monetary damages as a result of the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. (Am. & Suppl. Compl. at 1.)[5]

On March 20, 2015, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss in which they argue that res judicata bars Morgan’s complaint in its entirety because Morgan previously litigated the question of whether or not his parole sentence violates the ex post facto clause in the context of his West Virginia habeas suit. (Id. at 10-16.) Defendants also contend that they are immune to lawsuits for money damages under the circumstances presented here. (See Id. at 16-18 (asserting sovereign immunity); id. at 25-29 (asserting quasi-judicial immunity)). They further assert that Morgan has failed to state a claim upon which declaratory or equitable relief can be granted (id. at 29-30), and that this action is otherwise plagued by a number of procedural defects including a failure to effect proper service (id. at 18-19), lack of personal jurisdiction (id. at 19- 23), and improper venue (id. at 23-24). Morgan has filed a brief in opposition to the ...

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