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Hernandez v. Washington

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

March 27, 2017


          Anthony P. Patti, Magistrate Judge


          Honorable David M. Lawson, Judge

         Plaintiff Aaron Hernandez, a Michigan prisoner, filed a complaint against the defendant prison officials alleging that they classified him as a sex offender without conducting a pre-classification hearing. He contends that this classification is inaccurate and has wrought damaging consequences, including the denial of parole, exclusion from prison programs, and withholding of privileges. The Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti for pretrial management. Thereafter, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Judge Patti filed a report on January 20, 2017 recommending that the defendants' motion be granted and the case be dismissed, and the plaintiff's motion be denied as moot. The plaintiff filed objections on February 27, 2017, which take issue with some of the statements in the report that found fault with the level of specificity of the allegations of misconduct against individual defendants. However, the objections do not address the core deficiencies in the complaint: that the plaintiff has not identified a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, he has made claims against defendants who are protected by various forms of immunity, and he was afforded adequate due process protection against baseless accusations of sexual misconduct during the sentencing phase of his criminal case. After giving fresh review to the arguments tendered in favor of and against the motion to dismiss, the Court is left with the firm conviction that the magistrate judge decided the case correctly.


         The following facts are taken from the complaint and the public records of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

         Plaintiff Aaron Hernandez presently is in MDOC custody at the Carson City Correctional Facility in Carson City, Michigan. Hernandez was convicted in the Wayne County, Michigan circuit court after pleading guilty to assault and burglary charges. Under the terms of his plea agreement, related charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration were dismissed. On August 6, 2008, he was sentenced to one to 10 years on the assault count and six to 20 years for burglary.

         Hernandez asserts that at his plea hearing he “gave a factual basis for the pleas, but at no time did he ever admit to committing any sexual offense.” Compl. ¶ 21. However, the presentence investigation report (PSIR) “included allegations that Plaintiff had engaged in sexual misconduct during the course of his crimes, even though the sexual offenses were dismissed and Plaintiff did not admit to committing any sexual offense.” Id. ¶ 22. As a result, he says, he “has been directly [or] indirectly classified [and] labeled by the [d]efendants as a ‘sex offender' pursuant to MDOC policies, operating procedures, and administrative rules.” Id. ¶ 23.

         Defendant Heidi Washington is the director of MDOC. Defendants Jerome Warfield and Barbara Sampson are members of the Michigan Parole Board. Defendant Lori Gidley is the warden of the correctional facility where the plaintiff was held when he filed his complaint (the Central Michigan Correctional Facility (CMCF) in St. Louis, Michigan). Defendant Al Sanger is the classification director at the CMCF and is responsible for assigning classifications to all prisoners. Defendant Ivan Scott was the plaintiff's resident unit manager at CMCF.

         On September 23, 2013, the Michigan Parole Board ordered a psychological evaluation of the plaintiff “to determine the risk of sexually re-offending.” Compl. ¶ 24. The report of that evaluation discussed the plaintiff's “risk of sexually offending recidivism” and concluded that he was a “high risk for sexual re-offense.” Id. ¶ 25. That assessment was based in part on the plaintiff's refusal during a psychological evaluation interview to confess that he had committed sexual offenses. Id. ¶ 26. Defendants Warfield and Sampson relied on that assessment when they decided to deny parole to the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 25.

         On October 21, 2013, Hernandez was directed by the defendants (although he does not specify by name which ones) to participate in the Sex Offender Program while in prison. Compl. ¶ 27. He refused to participate, and he was voluntarily terminated from the program. On October 8, 2014, a parole guidelines worksheet was prepared by the defendants (again, unnamed) that stated as an aggravating condition his involvement in a “sexual offense or sexually assaultive behavior.” Id. ¶ 28. On October 31, 2014, defendants Warfield and Sampson issued a decision denying the plaintiff parole, and in their notice of decision they cited as one factor that “psychological programming [had] been recommended or required and [the plaintiff] chose not to be involved.” Id. ¶ 29.

         While he has been in prison, Hernandez has sought access to various programs and privileges, including asking for a gate pass for work details, asking to be allowed to participate in the prison's dog program, hospice program, and college program, and asking to attend family funerals. Those requests were denied on the basis that the plaintiff was ineligible due to his classification or labeling as a “sex offender.” Compl. ¶ 30.

         In August 2015, the plaintiff filed a grievance demanding that he be reclassified, and that all references to his “sex offender” status be purged from any MDOC records, and he pursued that grievance through the full series of administrative appeals, but it was denied. Id. ¶¶ 32-39.

         The complaint sets forth a single count for denial of due process based on the defendants' classification of the plaintiff as a “sex offender” and imposition of the requirement that he participate in sex offender programming as a condition of parole, without holding any hearing before determining his classification or denying him parole. He asks that the Court order the defendants to strike from his prison records all references to his sex offender classification, lift the requirement that he complete sex offender programming as a condition of parole, and hold a ...

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