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Daniel v. Smoot

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 13, 2018

ROY A. DANIEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
J. PATRICIA WILSON SMOOT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs in this matter are D.C. Code offenders who remain incarcerated for serious felonies committed before March 3, 1985. Plaintiffs brought this action challenging the United States Parole Commission's practice of applying to Plaintiffs' parole eligibility determinations the Commission's regulations that were adopted in 2000, instead of the 1972 guidelines of the now-defunct District of Columbia Parole Board, which were in effect when Plaintiffs committed their offenses. After over five years of litigation, which included a successful appeal by Plaintiffs to the D.C. Circuit, the parties reached a Settlement Agreement on December 18, 2015. Under the settlement's terms, the Commission agreed that it would hold remedial parole hearings for Plaintiffs and, “in good faith, ” apply to those proceedings a newly adopted Commission regulation that incorporated key elements of the 1972 guidelines. Additionally, the parties stipulated that this District Court would maintain jurisdiction over the matter to enforce the terms of the agreement.

         Plaintiffs now have returned to court because they assert that the Commission is in breach of the Settlement Agreement. They contend that, contrary to the Settlement Agreement, the Commission is not in good faith applying the criteria for parole determinations contained in the 1972 guidelines. Additionally, they contend that the Commission is acting contrary to the 1972 guidelines by routinely scheduling rehearings more than one year into the future for Plaintiffs who were denied parole. Plaintiffs have moved to compel the Commission to comply with the Settlement Agreement and to adhere to the 1972 guidelines.

         After considering the parties' legal memoranda and the record, the court finds that: (1) the record does not support Plaintiffs' assertion that the Board is not faithfully applying the 1972 guidelines when making parole determinations, but (2) that the Commission, by regularly setting parole rehearing dates more than one year after denying a Plaintiff parole, is acting inconsistently with the 1972 guidelines. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, the court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 81.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Case History

         1. Genesis of this Action

         This case dates back to 2010, when Plaintiffs[1] filed a class action on behalf of themselves and similarly situated prisoners against Defendants, who are members of the United States Parole Commission (“Commission, ” and collectively, “Defendant”). Plaintiffs are individuals who were convicted of serious felonies under the D.C. Code that occurred before March 3, 1985, have completed their minimum sentences, and thus are eligible for parole. Pls.' Mem. in Support of Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 82 (under seal) [hereinafter Pls.' Mem.], at 1. This action challenged the Commission's application of parole rules created in 2000, rather than the rules that were in place at the time of Plaintiffs' offenses, as violating the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution and Plaintiffs' due process rights. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 50, ¶¶ 1-7, 190-214.

         At the time of Plaintiffs' offenses, the District of Columbia Board of Parole (“D.C. Board”) administered parole for persons convicted of violations of the D.C. Code and did so using parole guidelines that it issued in 1972. Id. ¶¶ 4-6, 20; see 9 D.C.R.R. §§ 105.1, 103 (1972).[2] Congress, however, eliminated the D.C. Board in 1997 and tasked the Commission with making parole decisions for persons convicted of violations of District of Columbia law. Pub. L. 105-33, § 11231(a), (b); Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22-23. Subsequently, the Commission adopted a new set of guidelines in 2000 and began applying them to Plaintiffs as they became eligible for parole.

         In the Complaint, Plaintiffs objected to the Commission's use of the 2000 guidelines out of concern that those rules would inappropriately prolong their incarceration because they were more punitive than the 1972 guidelines. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 52-54, 56, 62, 69. Plaintiffs alleged that the 2000 guidelines made it “impossible for an offender convicted of a violent crime resulting in death to be found suitable for parole at the initial hearing, ” and that such offenders were “presumed non-suitable for parole” until they served substantial periods of time beyond their minimum sentences. Id. ¶¶ 87-88. By contrast, they maintained that under the 1972 guidelines, an offender could be paroled after serving the minimum sentence. Id. ¶ 88. Plaintiffs also alleged that decisions using the 2000 guidelines placed greater weight on disciplinary infractions committed during their incarceration, as compared to the emphasis placed on that factor under the 1972 guidelines. Id. ¶¶ 54, 95, 97.

         The trial court dismissed the Complaint, but the D.C. Circuit reversed. See Daniel v. Fulwood, 766 F.3d 57 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The Circuit held that Plaintiffs had pleaded sufficient facts to give rise to the “reasonable inference that the 2000 Guidelines create a significant risk of prolonging [Plaintiffs'] incarceration in comparison to the 1972 Guidelines.” Id. at 66.

         2. Proceedings Following Remand

         Following remand, and after a period of notice and comment, the Commission promulgated a new regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 2.80(p), that would apply to Plaintiffs (“New Regulation”). The New Regulation, which took effect on October 19, 2015, requires the Commission to apply the factors set forth in the D.C. Board's 1972 guidelines when making parole determinations for persons convicted of violations of the D.C. Code that occurred on or before March 3, 1985. See 28 C.F.R. § 2.80(p)(4). The New Regulation accomplishes this by copying, nearly verbatim, the text of the 1972 guidelines. Compare 28 C.F.R. § 2.80(p)(4)-(5), with 9 D.C.R.R. §§ 105.1, 103; see also Def.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 88, at 1 (noting that the adopted rule “modelled the 1972 guidelines verbatim”). Thus, with regard to parole suitability criteria, the New Regulation applicable to Plaintiffs provides:

(4) Factors considered: Among others, the U.S. Parole Commission takes into account some of the following factors in making its determination as to parole:
(i) The offense, noting the nature of the violation, mitigating or aggravating circumstances and the activities and adjustment of the offender following arrest if on bond or in the community under any pre-sentence type arrangement.
(ii) Prior history of criminality, noting the nature and pattern of any prior offenses as they may relate to the current circumstances.
(iii) Personal and social history of the offender, including such factors as his family situation, educational development, socialization, marital history, employment history, use of leisure time and prior military service, if any.
(iv) Physical and emotional health and/or problems which may have played a role in the individual's socialization process, and efforts made to overcome any such problems.
(v) Institutional experience, including information as to the offender's overall general adjustment, his ability to handle interpersonal relationships, his behavior responses, his planning for himself, setting meaningful goals in areas of academic schooling, vocational education or training, involvements in self-improvement activity and therapy and his utilization of available resources to overcome recognized problems. Achievements in accomplishing goals ...

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