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Gordon v. Snyder

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 17, 2017

DEONTAE JAREE GORDON, Plaintiff,
v.
RICK SNYDER, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Janet T. Neff United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff's action will be dismissed as barred by the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Deontae Gordon is presently incarcerated at the Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. Plaintiff is serving a sentence of 33 to 100 years for second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, consecutive to a sentence of 2 years for felony firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b(1), following a January 19, 2000 jury conviction for those crimes in Kent County Circuit Court. Plaintiff was sentenced as a habitual offender-second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10. Plaintiff was sixteen years old when he committed the crime. He has spent more than half of his life in prison.

         On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). The Court held that mandatory life imprisonment without parole, for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes, violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. At the time the Supreme Court issued the Miller decision, the case of Hill v. Snyder, No. 10-14568 (E.D. Mich.) was pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In Hill, the plaintiffs asked the Court to declare Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.234(6)(a), which prohibits the Michigan Parole Board from considering for parole prisoners sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder, unconstitutional as applied to prisoners who committed first-degree murder when they were under the age of eighteen years. Hill v. Snyder, No. 10-14568, 2013 WL 364198 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 30, 2013) vacated and remanded 821 F.3d 763 (6th Cir. 2016).

         In an opinion issued on January 30, 2013, the Hill district court declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs and directed the parties to provide supplemental briefing regarding the appropriate form of equitable relief. Hill v. Snyder, 821 F.3d 763, 767 (6th Cir. 2016). In an order issued August 12, 2013, the Hill district court clarified that its January 30 determination applied to “‘every person convicted of first-degree murder in the State of Michigan as a juvenile . . . who was sentenced to life in prison[.]'” Id. Despite those orders, the State of Michigan took no action to remedy application of the “unconstitutional” statute by considering the affected group for parole. On November 26, 2013, the Hill district court ordered the State of Michigan to create an administrative structure to consider the affected group for parole by the end of January, 2014, or the court would appoint a Special Master to do so. Id.; Hill v. Snyder, No. 10-14568 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 26, 2013).

         By order entered December 23, 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the district court's order. Hill v. Snyder, No. 13-2661 (6th Cir. Dec. 23, 2013). In the interim, however, the Michigan legislature worked diligently to create a process to apply Miller to Michigan prisoners. In 2014, the legislature passed Public Act No. 22 (herein “the Miller Procedures Act”), a solution directed to resentencing each prisoner rather than changing parole procedures. The Sixth Circuit has described the content of the Miller Procedures Act as follows:

[T]he legislature created two new statutory provisions regarding juvenile offender sentencing: sections 25 and 25a of chapter IX of the Michigan code of criminal procedure. See Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 769.25, 769.25a. Section 25 applies to juvenile offenders who committed certain enumerated offenses-including first-degree murder under section 316 of the penal code which, as explained, carries a mandatory life sentence-and who were convicted after Miller or whose cases were still pending or subject to appeal as of June 25, 2012, the date Miller was decided. Section 25 requires prosecutors to file motions if they intend to seek new sentences of life without parole for these juvenile offenders and provides for court hearings to determine whether or not such a sentence is appropriate under Miller in each individual's case. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25(6) (“If the prosecuting attorney files a motion under subsection (2), the court shall conduct a hearing on the motion as part of the sentencing process. At the hearing, the trial court shall consider the factors listed in Miller v. Alabama . . . and may consider any other criteria relevant to its decision, including the individual's record while incarcerated.”). If, however, the prosecution does not file a motion within the designated time period, “the court shall sentence the [juvenile offender] to a term of years . . . for which the maximum term shall be not less than 60 years and the minimum term shall be not less than 25 years or more than 40 years.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25(4), (9).
Section 25a, meanwhile, clarifies that “the procedures set forth in section 25 . . . do not apply to any case that is final for purposes of appeal on or before June 24, 2012”-i.e., any conviction that was final before Miller. Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(1). Instead, and as relevant here, section 25a states that:
If the state supreme court or the United States supreme court finds that the decision of the United States supreme court in Miller v. Alabama . . . applies retroactively to all defendants who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes, and that decision is final for appellate purposes, the determination of whether a sentence of imprisonment for a violation set forth in section 25(2) of this chapter [including first-degree murder under section 316 of the penal code] shall be imprisonment for life without parole eligibility or a term of years as set forth in section 25(9) of this chapter shall be made by the sentencing judge or his or her successor as provided in this section.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(2). Section 25a goes on to provide time frames for resentencing this category of juvenile offenders. Prosecuting attorneys would have “180 days after the date the supreme court's decision becomes final” to “file motions for resentencing in all cases in which the prosecuting attorney will be requesting the court to impose a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(4)(b). If such a motion were filed, “[a] hearing on t h e motion shall be conducted as provided in section 25[.]” Id. In the absence of such a motion, however, section 25a provides that “the court shall sentence the [juvenile offender] to a term of imprisonment for which the maximum term shall be 60 years and the minimum term shall be not less than 25 years or more than 40 years.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(4)(c).

Hill v. Snyder, 821 F.3d 763, 768-769 (6th Cir. 2016).[1]

         In January of 2016, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), the Supreme Court concluded that “Miller announced a substantive rule of constitutional law.” Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 734. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined, Miller should be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review because “[a] conviction or sentence imposed in violation of a substantive rule is not just erroneous but contrary to law and, as a result, void . . . [; t]here is no grandfather clause that permits States to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.” Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 731.

         Between Miller, the Miller Procedures Act, and Montgomery, every Michigan prisoner serving a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole who committed the offense as a juvenile could be receiving a new and possibly different sentence. The sentence could still be life without parole (Miller did not ban such sentences for juveniles, only the legislative mandate) or it might be a term of years with a minimum of 25 to 40 years and a maximum of 60 years, for those who are resentenced because Miller applies retroactively, or at least 60 years, for those who enjoy the benefit of Miller prospectively. Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 769.25, 769.25a.

         Plaintiff was not convicted of an offense that carried a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Thus, the holdings of Miller and Montgomery do not provide any basis for collateral relief from his sentence. See, e.g., In re Harrell, No. 16-1048, 2016 WL 4708184 (6th Cir. Sept. 8, 2016) (holding that Miller and Montgomery apply only to mandatory sentences of life without parole, not to sentences that are not mandatory or are not life without parole, even if the sentence is the functional equivalent of life without parole); Starks v. Easterling, 659 F. App'x 277, 280 (6th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he Supreme Court has not yet explicitly held that the Eighth Amendment extends to juvenile sentences that are the functional equivalent of life . . . .”). Nonetheless, Plaintiff is suing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder seeking two declaratory rulings from this Court: (1) a declaration that the Miller Procedures Act violates Plaintiff's right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment because it benefits only juveniles who committed ...


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