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Mitchell v. Johnson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 20, 2018

WALLACE G. MITCHELL, Petitioner,
v.
LENNARD JOHNSON, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In August 2015, Petitioner Wallace G. Mitchell brought this action for a writ of habeas corpus while detained at the District of Columbia Jail on a D.C. Superior Court writ. See Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Pet.]. Petitioner challenges a disciplinary decision rendered in June 2015, following a hearing on a charge of “Threatening Conduct and Disrepect.” Pet.r's Opp'n to Resp't's Mot. for Recons., ECF No. 95 [hereinafter Pet'r Opp'n], Ex. 2, ECF No. 95-2. Petitioner alleges that the decision resulted in his placement in “disciplinary segregation [for 30 days], loss of good time, [and] loss of privileges.” Pet. ¶ 6; see Apr. 29, 2016 Mem. Op., ECF No. 31, at 2. He seeks expungement of the disciplinary report, the restoration of “all good time and privileges, ” his return to the general population, and a declaratory judgment that his due process rights were violated. Pet. ¶ 15.

         In a Motion for Reconsideration filed on May 11, 2018, Respondent suggests that this action is moot. See Resp't's Mot. for Recons., ECF No. 92 [hereinafter Resp't Mot.]. The court agrees that a live case or controversy no longer exists. Accordingly, for the reasons explained more fully below, the court grants Respondent's motion and dismisses the petition as moot.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 18, 2016, then-presiding Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled in favor of Petitioner on the meaningful hearing requirement of the Due Process Clause but could not determine “whether the conditions of Mr. Mitchell's ensuing placement in a segregated housing unit created a liberty interest consistent with Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 471 (1995).” Order, ECF No. 37, at 1. Consequently, Judge Collyer set this matter for an evidentiary hearing and eventually obtained the assistance of the Federal Public Defender to appoint counsel under 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a)(2) to represent Petitioner “for purposes of the evidentiary hearing.” Order, ECF No. 45. In addition, Judge Collyer issued a scheduling order, ECF No. 54, to govern discovery through September 29, 2017. The hearing was to commence on November 15, 2017.[1]

         Meanwhile, Petitioner's appointed counsel was permitted to withdraw on July 17, 2017, and this case was reassigned to the undersigned judge on September 27, 2017. The evidentiary hearing was vacated in part because Petitioner was no longer represented. This court appointed new counsel on October 13, 2017. Following additional discovery and several status hearings, Petitioner's second appointed counsel was permitted to withdraw on July 30, 2018. The court postponed consideration of a third appointment of counsel pending resolution of the instant motion to reconsider. See July 30, 2018 Min. Order.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Respondent seeks reconsideration of Judge Collyer's order, which is interlocutory or non-final and thus evaluated under Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Ferrer v. CareFirst, Inc., 278 F.Supp.3d 330, 332 (D.D.C. 2017). Rule 54(b) provides that “any order . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). “Interlocutory orders are not subject to the law of the case doctrine and may always be reconsidered prior to final judgment . . . even when a case is reassigned to a new judge.” Langevine v. D.C., 106 F.3d 1018, 1023 (D.C. Cir. 1997). The succeeding judge has “full authority to reconsider [a prior] order granting a new trial” or hearing. Id. Relief under Rule 54(b) may be granted “as justice requires.” Cobell v. Norton, 355 F.Supp.2d 531, 539 (D.D.C. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Respondent contends that the Petition is rendered moot by “the passage of time, ” Resp't. Mot. at 3, thereby depriving this court of subject-matter jurisdiction. “Federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide moot cases because their constitutional authority extends only to actual cases or controversies.” Conservation Force, Inc. v. Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1204 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Iron Arrow Honor Soc'y v. Heckler, 464 U.S. 67, 70 (1983)). “Even where litigation poses a live controversy when filed, the [mootness] doctrine requires a federal court to refrain from deciding it if events have so transpired that the decision will neither presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future.” Clarke v. United States, 915 F.2d 699, 701 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord District of Columbia v. Doe, 611 F.3d 888, 894 (D.C. Cir. 2010). “The initial ‘heavy burden' of establishing mootness lies with the party asserting a case is moot, but the opposing party bears the burden of showing an exception applies[.]” Honeywell Int'l, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 628 F.3d 568, 576 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

         Judge Collyer recently dismissed as moot another of Petitioner's habeas petitions challenging “a long expired ‘punitive' detention” from November 2016. Mitchell v. Johnson, No. 17-cv-764 (RMC), 2018 WL 4637361, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 27, 2018).[2] She explained:

A case is moot when (1) interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation and (2) there is no reasonable expectation that the alleged wrong(s) will be repeated. Doe v. Harris, 696 F.2d 109, 111 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (citing Cty. of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979)). When both conditions are satisfied, the case is moot because neither party has a legally cognizable interest in the final determination of the underlying facts and law. See id. A prisoner “seeking injunctive or declaratory relief” must show “continuing adverse consequences” from the challenged action.

Id. Asserting an exception to the mootness doctrine, Petitioner argued in that case that his petition raised “a classic issue that is capable of repetition yet evading review, ” id. at *2 (internal quotation marks and record citation omitted), which Judge Collyer ultimately rejected because of the “highly fact-dependent” nature of prison disciplinary actions that makes recurrence of the same due process violation highly unlikely, id. (citations omitted); see Mundo Verde Pub. Charter Sch. v. Sokolov, 315 F.Supp.3d 374, 383 (D.D.C. 2018) (finding the “‘legal wrong complained of by the plaintiff' . . . unlikely to recur precisely because it is so dependent on the facts of each case”) (citing Del ...


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