United States District Court, District of Columbia
ARNOLD J. HILL, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION, et at., Defendants.
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge
spent the last thirty years locked up for strangling an
ex-girlfriend, Plaintiff Arnold Hill is eager to get out. In
bringing this action, he asserts that the U.S. Parole
Commission has unfairly blocked his release in a number of
ways, including by failing to give him notice about testimony
from the victim's family, treating him (a District of
Columbia offender) differently from federal prisoners, and
rescinding a prior parole grant. Although a further rehearing
is now set for November 2018, Hill is unwilling to linger any
longer in limbo. He has thus filed suit against the USPC and
its three Commissioners in their official capacities, seeking
various forms of injunctive and declaratory relief.
now move to dismiss, contending that Plaintiffs claims that
the proceedings violated due process and equal protection and
reached an arbitrary result cannot break the parole cycle.
This is so. Because Hill's only avenues to relief involve
a further parole hearing or filing a habeas petition, the
Court will grant the Government's Motion and dismiss the
an inmate in his mid-sixties serving time for murdering his
ex-girlfriend, Shelby Teresa Duncan, in September 1987.
See Mot., Exh. 1 (Sentence Monitoring Computation
Data) at 1. For that crime, the District of Columbia Superior
Court sentenced him to an indefinite term of imprisonment of
twenty years to life. Id. Under the District's
old sentencing scheme, this meant that Hill would first be
eligible for parole after serving the bottom number -
i.e., twenty years - and could not serve longer than
the top number, which, in this case, was redundant since it
was life. See Warren v. U.S. Parole Comm'n. 659
F.2d 183. 196 (D.C. Cir. 1981) ("Under the penal theory
behind the parole system, [a] sentence [i]s deliberately
designed to be indeterminate within a broad range so that the
precise date of his release could be determined by the best
professional judgment [of parole authorities] available at
the time of his release as to his prospects for a law-abiding
life, among other things."). All told, Plaintiff has now
been incarcerated for this murder for almost thirty years.
See Computation Data at 2.
his twenty-to-life term, Hill first became parole eligible in
October 2007. Id. Although he had been sentenced in
a D.C. court for a D.C. Code offense, the U.S. Parole
Commission handled his case, as Congress had abolished the
D.C. Board of Parole, largely done away with local parole,
and transferred jurisdiction to the Commission for remaining
offenders by enacting the National Capital Revitalization and
Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-33,
§ 11231, 111 Stat. 712, 745 (codified at D.C. Code
§§ 24-101 et seq.). Over time, the
Commission would consider Hill's eligibility on numerous
occasions, as it is required to do. See 28 C.F.R.
§ 2.75(a)(2)(i) (requiring hearings at least every five
years where "offense behavior resulted in the death of a
Hearings & Rehearings
Commission initially conducted a hearing in July 2007 and
denied release after finding that Hill's parole
guidelines recommended at least 26 years' imprisonment.
See Mot., Exh. 3 (August 7, 2007, Notice of Action).
The agency then scheduled a rehearing for July 2012.
Id. Apparently realizing thereafter that it should
have applied the D.C. Board of Parole's so-called
"1987 Guidelines, " not the federal ones, the
Commission conducted a rehearing earlier than scheduled in
November 2009. Id., Exh. 4 (December 17, 2009,
Notice of Action); see ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶¶
33-34; see also 28 C.ER. § 2.8O(o)(1) (making
applicable "1987 guidelines of the former District of
Columbia Board of Parole"). The correct Guidelines
recommended current parole, as opposed to at least several
more years' imprisonment, but the Commission nonetheless
denied release, instructed Hill to complete his GED and a
500-hour drug-abuse program, and then set a further rehearing
a year later. See 2009 Notice of Action.
second rehearing took place in November 2010. See
Mot., Exh. 5 (February 11, 2011, Notice of Action). This
time, despite a Guidelines recommendation of release (again)
and his compliance with rehabilitative programs, the USPC
again denied parole. Id. It informed Hill that
"there is a reasonable probability that you would not
obey the law if released and your release would endanger the
public safety." Id. More specifically, he was a
"more serious parole risk" than the Guidelines
suggested because: he was "involved in the strangulation
of the victim, following [his] harassment of her due to the
relationship ending, " "[t]he victims' nude
body was discovered by her children, " and he had
"two previous convictions which appear violent in
nature, Assault & Battery and Unlawful Wounding, "
the details of which had not been fleshed out in previous
proceedings. Id. Another rehearing was then
scheduled in one year's time. Id. The third
rehearing in November 2011 seemed, at first, to be the charm.
The Commission granted parole and set an effective release
date of August 7, 2012. Id., Exh. 6 (January 11,
2012, Notice of Action). In doing so, it informed Hill that
the "parole effective date is contingent upon approval
of your release plan by the Commission." Id.
(citing 28 C.F.R. §2.82); see 28 C.F.R. §2.83.
that it were so simple. Come February 2012, the USPC learned
that Duncan's family members wished to testify.
Id., Exh. 9 (July 25, 2012, Hearing Summary). When
the Commission receives "new and significant information
concerning the prisoner, " 28 C.F.R. § 2.75(e)
(citing § 2.28), including "adverse information,
" Id. § 2.28(f), it may reopen any case
for a special reconsideration hearing. That process begins
with one Commissioner's recommending reconsideration to
the others; this referral "automatically retard[s] the
prisoner's scheduled release date until a final decision
is reached in the case." Id. § 2.28(f). If
two Commissioners concur in a reopening, then a new hearing
is set. Id. That is what happened here. See Mot.,
Exh. 7 (February 15, 2012, Notice of Action).
subsequent, fourth rehearing in July 2012, an examiner heard
testimony from Duncan's sister and eldest daughter. The
sister mentioned how Hill had never given specifics about how
or why he killed Duncan. See 2012 Hearing Summary at
2. And the daughter discussed how she and her two siblings
(10, 6, and 4 years of age back then) were at home during the
crime and how the youngest one discovered their mother's
body the next morning. Id. at 1, 3. She also
testified that Hill had previously threatened to kill Duncan.
Id. at 1. Finally, she objected to his plan to live
nearby, in the same Maryland county in which she resided,
once released. Id. at 1. Plaintiff was not
represented, but apologized and testified that he did not
remember how or why he strangled Duncan, both because the
events occurred some 25 years ago and because he may have
been on drugs. Id. at 2.
hearing examiner recommended against release, or, in other
words, he advocated for rescinding the initial parole grant.
He recounted how, at the hearing, Hill "never really
displayed any remorse" and was "very methodical,
" and was "a bit evasive" about
"remember[ing] details of the offense" and
"just did not want to bring them up." Id.
The examiner found it "unimaginable to kill the mother
of these young children and then to walk out and leave a
lifeless strangulated body in her apartment knowing full well
that sometime the body would be discovered by the three
children who were residing in the bedroom next to the
mother's bedroom." Id. at 3. Given that
this "total disregard for the victim in this case and
the safety of her children [wa]s so egregious, " he
concluded that there is a "reasonable probability"
he would not obey the law and that release would
"endanger public safety." Id. (noting
"level of violence and the complete disregard for the
victim's children"). The Commission agreed and
scheduled the next rehearing in five years' time - that
is, in July 2017. Id., Exh. 8 (August 29, 2012,
Notice of Action).
even this settled things for long. In September 2015,
Plaintiffs counsel asked the Commission to reopen the case
once again. Id., Exh. 10 (September 30, 2015, Letter from
Chanale Fiebig to Hon. J. Patricia Wilson Smoot). In
particular, Hill argued that he had not received notice of
the nature of the testimony from Duncan's family (thereby
impairing his preparation and retention of legal
representation), and he had recently developed an alternate
release plan to live in a different county in Maryland.
Id. at 2-4. This was to no avail, as the Commission
rejected his plea. Id., Exh. 11 (February 2, 2016,
Memorandum). It reasoned that, "at the outset of the
hearing, the Examiner asked Mr. Hill if was aware that
victims would be testifying and he said that he was" and
that Hill "also informed the Examiner that he was aware
of his right to have a person of his choice represent him but
did not want a representative." Id. The
Commission then found that "the fact that he now has a
release plan that is outside of the county where the victims
live" was not so "significant as to warrant earlier
parole reconsideration." Id.
This Lawsuit & Another Rehearing
responded by filing this lawsuit in July 2016. His Complaint
states two constitutional counts (due process and equal
protection) brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and one
Administrative Procedure Act claim. See Compl.,
¶¶ 58-83. It asks the Court to reverse the
Commission's rescission of Plaintiff s grant of parole
(or, alternatively, to grant a parole rehearing with the
right to appeal) and to declare that D.C. Code offenders have
the right to appeal to the National Appeals Board (as federal
offenders do). Id., Prayer for Relief, ¶¶
more has happened. Two months after the suit was filed, in
September 2016, the Commission notified Hill that it would
"[r]eopen and remand for a reconsideration hearing on
the next available docket to determine whether the
information presented at [the] special reconsideration
hearing on July 25, 2012 was sufficient to deny parole
pursuant to the statutory criteria set forth in D.C. Code
§ 24-404(a)" Mot., Exh. 12 (September 30, 2016,
Notice of Action). In reviewing the case, the
Commission's legal office found that it had "erred
by failing to consider reasons other than offense
accountability when denying the offender parole, " as is
"the Commission's policy with respect to D.C. Code
offender[s]." Id., Exh. 2 (November 8, 2016,
Hearing Summary) at 4 (citing 28 C.ER. § 2.73); see 28
C.F.R. § 2.8O(o)(4) (specifying effective Guidelines and
policies). That is, the parole rescission had focused
exclusively, and incorrectly, only on the circumstances of
the murder. The Commission also let Plaintiff know that it
would "[n]otify victims of reconsideration hearing to be
given an opportunity to present further testimony."
September 2016 Notice of Action.
would be another special reconsideration hearing convened in
November 2016 - in effect, a fifth rehearing - an examiner
heard testimony from Duncan's eldest daughter and two
sisters, elicited statements by Hill himself (represented by
an attorney), and received letters from the victim's son
and uncle. See 2016 Hearing Summary at 1-3. After
the proceedings, Hill submitted a written apology, and his
brother sent in a letter of support. Id. at 7.
time, the witnesses gave more details, first about Plaintiffs
relationship with Duncan. Id. at 5 (noting
"greater details of the events"). The victim's
daughter first discussed how Hill had a history of attacking
not only women but also children, including how he had
"assaulted her by slamming her face into a mirror,
beating her with a weight belt and busting her lip, "
and had abused her and her brother. Id. at 1.
Duncan's sister described "how the offender
repeatedly stalked" Duncan for a month before the murder
and the "family's futile attempts to ensure her
safety by closely monitoring the victim's departures and
returns to her residence." Id. at 2, 6. The
examiner also asked Plaintiff about a petition for a Civil
Protection Order filed by Duncan, discovered by the
Commission's staff, alleging that he "had attempted
to suffocate her with a pillow." Id. at 3, 5.
"[A]fter [he] choked her" on a separate occasion,
in May 1987, Duncan apparently "broke off the
relationship." Id. at 6. Hill testified that he
"was under the influence of PCP when he committed the
offense and did not provide any specific details regarding
the actual murder." Id. at 3.
addition, Duncan's sister also testified how Hill's
ex-wife (a different woman) was left "permanently
disfigured" after a "brutal attack."
Id. at 2. Plaintiff admitted that his prior
convictions for Assault & Battery and Unlawful Wounding
involved his "assaulting his ex-wife by striking her in
the face with the barrel of a pistol" and then shooting
his mother-in-law after she attempted to intervene.
Id. at 3; see Id. at 6 (characterizing
incident, somewhat differently, as "beating her with a
rifle butt[, ] shattering her face"). At the time, Hill
had filed for divorce and was refusing to let his ex-wife
interact with their daughter. Id. at 3.
examiner recommended against parole. She discounted testimony
that Hill had abused Duncan's children, as it lacked
documentation. Id. at 5. But the examiner reasoned
that, "[notwithstanding his [drug-abuse and
anger-management] program participation, clear conduct[, ]
and current age and health, the offender's history of
stalking his female victim [and] history of vicious assaults
against his female paramours and their family make his
release incompatible with public safety." Id.
(finding Government's memorandum and Civil Protection
"very persuasive and indicative of the offender's
propensity for domestic violence"). The Commission
agreed, noting again a "reasonable probability"
that Hill would not obey the law and that release would
"not [be] compatible with the welfare of society."
Id., Exh. 13 (December 15, 2016, Notice of Action). It
considered, in particular, his repeated stalking and
threatening of Duncan, attempting to suffocate her with a
pillow (leading to the Civil Protection Order), choking her,
beating his ex-wife, and shooting his ex-wife's mother.
Id. Given this "history of domestic violence,
" the USPC set a rehearing after Hill served two more
years. Id; see 2016 Hearing Summary at 5 (explaining two
years, not five, warranted due to "age and
made this decision, the Government filed the present Motion
to Dismiss, which is now ripe.
Rule 12(b)(1), the Court may dismiss a case if the plaintiff
cannot show that it has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear
his claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504
U.S. 555, 561 (1992); U.S. Ecology. Inc. v. Dep't of
Interior. 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
"Because subject-matter jurisdiction focuses on the
court's power to hear the plaintiffs claim, a Rule
12(b)(1) motion [also] imposes on the court an affirmative
obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of
its jurisdictional authority." Grand Lodge of
Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9,
13 (D.D.C. 2001). In policing its jurisdictional borders, the
Court must scrutinize the complaint, treating its factual
allegations as true and granting the plaintiff the benefit of
all reasonable inferences that can be derived from those
facts. See Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402
F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The Court need not rely
"on the complaint standing alone, " however, but
may also look to undisputed facts in the record or resolve
disputed ones. Herbert v. Nat'l Acad, of Scis,
974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
12(b)(6), on the other hand, permits a Court to dismiss any
count of a complaint that fails "to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted." In evaluating the motion,
the Court must likewise "treat the complaint's
factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff 'the
benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts
alleged.'" Sparrow v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting
Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C.
Cir. 1979)) (citation omitted). The Court need not accept as
true, however, "a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation" or an inference ...