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Fludd v. Mitchell

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 20, 2016

WAYNE FLUDD, Plaintiff,
COREY D. MITCHELL, et al., Defendant.



While serving a term of supervised release, D.C. Code offender Wayne Fludd was arrested on theft and drug-possession charges. This arrest triggered the eventual revocation of Fludd’s supervised release. Before the revocation, however, Fludd had the right both to a preliminary hearing before a United States Parole Commission (“USPC”) official to determine whether probable cause existed to believe that he had violated the conditions of his supervised release and to a subsequent revocation hearing to determine whether he had in fact violated those conditions. Fludd received both of these hearings-just many days late: Although federal regulations entitle D.C. Code offenders to a probable-cause hearing within 5 days of their arrest and a revocation hearing within 65 days, see 28 C.F.R. §§ 2.101(a), 2.102(f), Fludd did not receive his hearings until 54 days and 76 days, respectively, following his arrest. To make matters worse, Fludd claims, he was denied the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at his probable-cause hearing and was then not permitted to review the evidence on which the USPC relied at his revocation hearing.

Fludd now brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against one parole commissioner and an array of identified and unidentified USPC employees, in both their official and individual capacities, alleging violations of his constitutional due-process rights and seeking compensatory and punitive damages, a declaration that his rights were violated, and attorney’s fees. Defendants have moved to dismiss Fludd’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that any suit for money damages against USPC officials in their official capacities is barred by sovereign immunity and under Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that suits against those officials in their individual capacities are barred by either absolute or qualified immunity. The Court agrees that Fludd’s official-capacity claims are barred by sovereign immunity and that both absolute and qualified immunity preclude Fludd’s claims against USPC officials in their individual capacities for the scheduling of his probable-cause and revocation hearings. It will therefore dismiss those claims with prejudice. The Court also concludes that the officials Fludd sues for alleged defects in his probable-cause and revocation hearing proceedings are protected for their actions by absolute immunity. It will therefore dismiss that claim with prejudice as well.

I. Background

Wayne Fludd began serving a term of supervised release in January 2014, following his conviction and incarceration for attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 13. In November of that year, Fludd was arrested in Prince George’s County, Maryland for vehicle theft, possession of marijuana, possession of codeine without a prescription, and possession of counterfeit U.S. currency. Id. ¶ 14; id. Ex. A, at 6. Following that incident, in May 2015, Commissioner Charles Massarone signed a parole warrant for Fludd’s arrest based on the recommendation of a USPC case analyst, Corey Mitchell, and a violation report prepared by Fludd’s supervising officer, Sheri Dyer. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9-10, 15. The warrant instructed the U.S. Marshal executing it to “advise the Parole Commission . . . [when] the subject is in custody” and generally to “notify the Parole Commission promptly of all developments concerning the disposition of th[e] warrant.” Id. Ex. A. On June 4, Fludd presented himself to the U.S. Marshal’s office in Greenbelt, Maryland, and was committed to the District of Columbia Central Detention Facility. Compl. ¶ 18.

On July 23-forty-nine days later- Sharonda Johnson, Fludd’s partner and the mother of his two children, left phone and email messages with the USPC informing it that Fludd had not yet received a probable-cause hearing. Id. ¶ 20. That same day, a USPC employee-Tiffany Smith-responded to Johnson that Fludd’s probable-cause hearing would be scheduled for the next week. Id. ¶ 21. Fludd ultimately received his probable cause hearing on July 28, five days following Johnson’s messages. Id. ¶ 22. A USPC hearing officer-Sara Asbury Baca-presided over that hearing and determined there was probable cause to believe that Fludd had violated the terms of his supervised release. Id. ¶ 8. Fludd contends that he was not allowed to present mitigating evidence at this hearing. Id. ¶ 23. On August 10, Fludd was informed that his revocation hearing was scheduled for August 17. Id. ¶ 24. That hearing was then postponed until August 19, twenty-seven days following Johnson’s messages. Id. ¶ 24-25. Fludd claims that, prior to the revocation hearing, he “was not permitted to review the evidence that the Commission relied on in making its revocation decision.” Id. ¶ 25. Although he does not specify when he received the final decision revoking his supervised release, USPC records attached to Defendants’ motion to dismiss indicate that the decision was issued on September 8, forty-seven days following Johnson’s messages. Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss Ex. C. Fludd was subsequently transferred from D.C.’s Central Detention Facility into the custody of the U.S. Marshals and ultimately into the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons at its correctional facility in Cumberland, Maryland, where he remains today. Compl. ¶ 27.

II. Standard of Review

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. On a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). Subject-matter jurisdiction is a constitutional requirement that must be satisfied even if neither party raises an objection. See Akinseye v. Dist. of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003). A court may examine materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate in order to resolve the question of its jurisdiction. See Scolaro v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 104 F.Supp.2d 18, 22 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing Herbert v. Nat’l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992)), aff’d, 2001 WL 135857 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 18, 2001).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be granted if the allegations in a complaint do not “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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although the Court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, legal assertions devoid of factual support are not entitled to this presumption. See Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

A motion for summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A dispute is genuine only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving party; a fact is material only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Laningham v. U.S. Dep’t of Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party’s motion for summary judgment, the court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the . . . motion.’” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam)).

III. Analysis

Although “Defendants do not concede that they have been properly served pursuant to [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 4(i) or that Plaintiff has satisfied his burden [to show] that this Court could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over the Defendants, ” Defs.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 9 n.3, they have not briefed either of these issues or explained why service was improper or why personal jurisdiction does not lie. As a result, the Court will proceed to analyze the defenses actually raised and argued-primarily, that sovereign immunity deprives the Court of jurisdiction over some of Fludd’s claims and that absolute or qualified immunity requires other of his claims to be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

A. Procedural Posture

Before proceeding to the merits of Defendants’ motion, however, the Court must address the threshold question of how to treat the motion. “In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [a court] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [it] may take judicial notice.” E.E.O.C. v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Yet “[w]hen, as here, on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion ‘matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.’” Bowe-Connor v. Shinseki, 845 F.Supp.2d 77, 85 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)). “A motion may be treated as one for summary judgment even if the parties have not been provided with notice or an opportunity for discovery if they have had a reasonable opportunity to contest the matters outside of the pleadings such that they are not taken by surprise.” Id. at 86.

As discussed below, Defendants premise their argument that the delay in holding Fludd’s hearings was reasonable on the fact that they were not notified of Fludd’s June 4 arrest until July 23, when Ms. Johnson contacted the USPC to inquire about the status of Fludd’s probable-cause hearing. Fludd describes this inquiry in his complaint, see Compl. ¶ 21, but an email from a USPC employee-which Defendants attach to the motion to dismiss-provides crucial detail. According to that email, it appeared to the USPC that it had never “received notice of execution” of Fludd’s arrest warrant and indicated that the U.S. Marshal’s office in Greenbelt would try to locate the executed warrant and then submit it to the USPC. Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss Ex. A. Because lack of notice is central to Defendants’ qualified-immunity defense, and Defendants’ exhibits provide the only basis for that claim, the Court must look outside the pleadings and treat the motion with regard to that issue as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fludd had the opportunity to question or contest Defendants’ version of events in his opposition but did not do so. The parties thus should not be “taken by surprise, ” Bowe-Connor, 845 F.Supp.2d at 85, by the Court’s ...

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