United States District Court, E.D. Michigan
& ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT,
DECLARATORY JUDGMENT AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION (Dkt. 181),
DENYING DEFENDANTS' CROSS-MOTION FOR
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. 190), AND GRANTING
PLAINTIFFS' SECOND RENEWED MOTION FOR
CLASS CERTIFICATION (Dkt. 180)
A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.
United States Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles
convicted of first-degree murder cannot be subject to
mandatory life sentences without parole. Because of their
lesser culpability and greater capacity to change, they must
be sentenced under a process that gives them an
individualized opportunity to present mitigating
circumstances to avert such a harsh sentence. In response,
the Michigan legislature enacted legislation that purported
to comply with the Court's ruling, which included the
possibility of being resentenced to prison for a term of
years. However, the legislature provided that in calculating
any such sentence, the youth offenders were not to receive
any credit - known as good time or disciplinary credit - even
though such credits were earned while the youth offenders
served their illegally imposed sentences. In that respect,
the legislative response ran afoul of our Constitution's
ban on ex post facto laws - the constitutional guarantee that
laws may not retroactively criminalize conduct or enhance the
punishment for criminal acts already perpetrated. For this
reason, the Court must declare that provision of the statute
unconstitutional and order that the youth offenders receive
the credit that they have previously earned.
matter is currently before the Court on competing motions of
the parties, for which a hearing was held on March 22, 2018.
For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and
denies in part Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary
judgment, declaratory judgment and permanent injunction (Dkt.
181); denies Defendants' cross-motion for partial summary
judgment (Dkt. 190); and grants Plaintiffs' second
renewed motion for class certification (Dkt.
are individuals who were sentenced to mandatory life without
parole for homicide crimes that they committed as juveniles.
From the outset of the case over seven years ago, they have
alleged that Michigan's sentencing scheme violates their
constitutional rights by depriving them of a meaningful
opportunity for release - first challenging their mandatory
sentences of life without parole, and now, in light of the
Supreme Court's decisions in Miller v. Alabama,
567 U.S. 460 (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136
S.Ct. 718 (2016), they challenge Michigan's statutes,
policies, and procedures implemented in the
Miller, the Supreme Court held that a mandatory
sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender
convicted of homicide violated the Eighth Amendment's
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In
Montgomery, the Court held that Miller
law had previously provided that youth offenders who were
convicted of first-degree murder were ineligible for parole.
See Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316 (life
imprisonment without parole for first-degree murder); Mich.
Comp. Laws § 791.234(6)(a) (ineligibility for parole for
individuals convicted of first-degree murder under §
750.316). Following Miller, the Michigan legislature
enacted new statutory provisions to ensure that juveniles
convicted of first-degree murder would not be sentenced to
mandatory life imprisonment without parole. As explained by
the Sixth Circuit:
Michigan amended its sentencing scheme to prospectively
address the effect of Miller. The Legislature
enacted a new statutory provision, which covered both
juveniles convicted of first-degree homicide after
Miller and those juveniles whose cases were still
pending or eligible for direct appellate review at the time
of the statute's enactment. See Mich. Comp. Laws
§ 769.25. This new provision allows prosecutors to seek
life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of
first-degree homicide crimes by filing a motion specifying
the grounds for imposing that punishment. Id. §
769.25(3). It also requires courts to conduct a hearing on
such motions, where the judge “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.” Id. § 769.25(6) (citation
omitted). If the court does not sentence the individual to
life without parole, the court must sentence the individual
to a minimum term of 25 to 40 years and a maximum term of 60
years. Id. § 769.25(9).
Michigan simultaneously enacted Section 769.25a, which
anticipated a United States or Michigan Supreme Court
decision making Miller retroactively applicable.
Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(2). This provision applies to
juveniles who were convicted of first-degree homicide
offenses before Miller and who received mandatory
sentences of life without parole. Id. Section
769.25a incorporates portions of Section 769.25 and relies on
the same process for imposing renewed life-without-parole or
term-of-years sentences. In January 2016, the Supreme Court
held that Miller established a new substantive rule
of constitutional law that applies retroactively,
Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 736 (2016),
and thereby triggered implementation of Section 769.25a.
Hill II, 878 F.3d at 200.
to Plaintiffs, there are 363 offenders who are subject to the
resentencing provisions of Section 769.25a. Michigan
prosecutors have filed motions seeking the re-imposition of
sentences of life without parole for 236 of these
individuals. To date, none of these resentencings has taken
place. However, resentencing hearings are
proceeding for those individuals who were not the subject of
motions for re-imposition of life-without-parole sentences.
Approximately one hundred individuals have been resentenced
to a term of years; of these, over thirty have been paroled
and the remaining are parole eligible. Twenty-two individuals
are still awaiting resentencing for a term-of-years sentence.
See Pl. Mot. at 4 (Dkt. 181).
filed their second amended complaint in June 2016, naming
Governor Rick Snyder; Heidi E. Washington, Director of the
Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”);
Michael Eagen, Chair of the Michigan Parole Board; and Bill
Schuette, Michigan Attorney General, as defendants (Dkt.
130). The second amended complaint asserts several claims,
only three of which remain in the case, following the Sixth
Circuit's second opinion, reversing in part and affirming
in part Judge O'Meara's grant of Defendants'
motion to dismiss. Hill II, 878 F.3d at 215. The
remaining claims are: Count IV (alleging that those facing a
term-of-years sentence with a mandatory maximum of sixty
years are subjected to the equivalent of life imprisonment,
in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments); Count V
(alleging that Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(6)
retroactively deprives them of earned good time and/or
disciplinary credits, in violation of the constitutional
guarantee against ex post facto laws); and Count VI (alleging
denial of rehabilitative programming necessary for release on
parole deprives Plaintiffs of a “fair and meaningful
opportunity for release, ” in violation of the Eighth
and Fourteenth Amendments). These remaining claims were
remanded for “expeditious resolution.” Hill
II, 878 F.3d at 215.
promptly filed a motion for partial summary judgment on
Counts V and VI of the second amended complaint (Dkt. 181),
as well as a motion for class certification (Dkt. 180).
Defendants filed a response containing a cross-motion for
partial summary judgment on those same counts (Dkt. 190).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56 shall be granted “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists
when there are “disputes over facts that might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). “[F]acts must be viewed in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a
‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.”
Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
“Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there
is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
the movant satisfies its initial burden of demonstrating the
absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the burden
shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts
showing a triable issue of material fact. Scott, 550
U.S. at 380; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). The nonmoving party “must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, ” Scott, 550 U.S. at 380
(quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586), as the
“mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment, ”
id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-248)
(emphasis in original); see also Babcock & Wilcox Co.
v. Cormetech, Inc., 848 F.3d 754, 758 (6th Cir. 2017)
(“A mere scintilla of evidence or some metaphysical
doubt as to a material fact is insufficient to forestall
addressing the merits of Plaintiffs' claim on Count V,
the Court will address Defendants' argument that the
Court should abstain from deciding the claim. In Count V,
Plaintiffs challenge Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(6),
which provides that individuals resentenced under
Michigan's post-Miller sentencing scheme
“shall not receive any good time credits, special good
time credits, disciplinary credits, or any other credits that
reduce the defendant's minimum or maximum
sentence.” Plaintiffs allege that this statute
retroactively deprives them of earned good time and
disciplinary credits in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause
of the U.S. Constitution. Defendants contend that Plaintiffs
never earned good time or disciplinary credits to begin with,
and thus there has been no retroactive deprivation. The crux
of Plaintiffs' claim, therefore, hinges on an
interpretation of the good time and disciplinary credit
statutes, and whether these statutes previously afforded
credit to individuals who were sentenced to life without
argue that because the constitutional issue turns on an issue
of state law, this Court should leave both the constitutional
and state law issues for decision by the state courts. They
base their abstention arguments on Railroad Comm'n of
Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941), and
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and also
argue that the Court should decline to exercise its
declaratory judgment jurisdiction. The Court finds each of
these arguments without merit.
Pullman Abstention and Certification to the Michigan
“Where uncertain questions of state law must be
resolved before a federal constitutional question can be
decided, federal courts should abstain until a state court
has addressed the state questions.” Brown v.
Tidwell, 169 F.3d 330, 332 (6th Cir. 1999) (quotations
and alterations omitted). “This doctrine of abstention,
known as the Pullman doctrine, acknowledges that
federal courts should avoid the unnecessary resolution of
federal constitutional issues and that state courts provide
the authoritative adjudication of questions of state
law.” Id. A federal court should decline to
exercise jurisdiction where uncertain state law might fairly
be interpreted to avoid constitutional determinations, so as
to honor important principles of federalism and avoid
premature resolution of constitutional issues. Harman v.
Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528, 534-535 (1965). “But the
relevant inquiry is not whether there is a bare, though
unlikely, possibility that state courts might render
adjudication of the federal question unnecessary. Rather, we
have frequently emphasized that abstention is not to be
ordered unless the statute is of an uncertain nature, and is
obviously susceptible of a limiting construction.”
Hawaii Housing Auth. v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229, 237
(1984) (internal quotations and alterations omitted).
argue that Michigan law on whether credits were earned by
individuals convicted of first-degree murder is clear and
favors Defendants' position; but if it is unclear, they
say that state courts should resolve the ambiguity and
potentially obviate the necessity of resolving the federal
constitutional question. Def. Resp. at 11-12 (Dkt. 190). The
Court disagrees. For the reasons set forth infra in
section III.B., the Court concludes that state law regarding
good time and disciplinary credits is unmistakably clear and
solidly supports Plaintiffs' position. Before
modification by the Michigan legislature in 2014, Michigan
law regarding good time and disciplinary credits made no
distinction based on whether the prisoner was serving a life
sentence and allowed such a prisoner to earn credit if
position founders on other grounds. Abstention is inadvisable
if it carries too high a risk that constitutional guarantees
will go unenforced. The Supreme Court has warned that
“because of the delays inherent in the abstention
process and the danger that valuable federal rights might be
lost in the absence of expeditious adjudication in the
federal court, abstention must be invoked only in special
circumstances, and only upon careful consideration of the
facts of each case.” Harris Cty. Comm'rs Ct. v.
Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 83 (1975) (internal citations and
argue that there would be no undue delay if this Court
abstained, because of the pendency of two cases currently
before the Michigan Court of Appeals: People v.
Wiley, No. 336898, and People v. Rucker, No.
338870. The appellants in these cases were resentenced
pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a in 2016 and 2017,
respectively, and now have appealed their new sentences.
Defendants claim that these cases would provide an avenue for
the state courts to promptly address the issue of whether
Plaintiffs earned credits during their prior sentences. Def.
Cross-Reply at 7 (Dkt. 195).
it is not clear whether the court of appeals would decide to
address this question. As Plaintiffs point out, the
prosecutor argued in both cases that the court of appeals
should not consider the question of whether Wiley or Rucker
earned disciplinary credits. See Prosecutor Brief in
People v. Wiley, Ex. A to Pl. Mot. for Leave to File
Supplement, at 6-10 (Dkt. 199-2); Prosecutor Brief in
People v. Rucker, Ex. B. to Pl. Mot. for Leave to
File Supplement, at 8-10 (Dkt. 199-3) (“[I]t seems that
defendant's challenge would be better directed in a suit
against the Department of Corrections and not in an appeal of
his validly imposed sentence.”).
the court of appeals did decide to address the question,
there is every indication that Defendants will not follow its
dictates in cases involving other class members unless and
until there is a definitive ruling by the Michigan Supreme
Court. Thus, only if the court of
appeals addresses the credit issue, and only if the
Michigan Supreme Court decides to grant leave to appeal in
those cases, and only if the Michigan Supreme Court
actually decides the issue will there be a definitive
statement on Michigan law as to the credit issue. Needless to
say, there is no guarantee that any, much less all, of those
contingencies will be realized. And even so, it may take many
months, if not years, for that process to become final.
Furthermore, Wiley and Rucker only involve
disciplinary credits; thus the good time credit issue, which
involves a separate statute, will not be addressed by those
cases at all. This is hardly a prompt avenue for the
definitive determination of state law that would be
applicable in our case.
doctrine of abstention is equitable in its origins, ”
Hostetter v. Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp., 377
U.S. 324, 328 (1964), and it would be inequitable to require
Plaintiffs - some of whom, if they prevail, would be
immediately eligible for parole consideration - to wait even
longer to seek resolution of their claims, particularly where
the interpretation of the good time and disciplinary credits
statute is clear. “[W]here the litigation has already
been long delayed . . . abstention should not be
required.” Moore, 420 U.S. at 84; see also
West v. Village of Morrisville, 728 F.2d 130, 135 (2d
Cir. 1984) (describing “inordinate delay or
inconvenience” as “one of the major drawbacks in
invoking the abstention doctrine”); Bickham v.
Lashof, 620 F.2d 1238, 1245 (7th Cir. 1980) (“[W]e
are mindful that abstention is rooted in equity. Thus, we
cannot overlook the delays that have occurred in
plaintiff's case . . . or the nature of the injury
alleged to occur as long as the Act remains in
force.”). Compelling Plaintiffs to languish in prison
while an uncertain and lengthy state court process plays out
- with no assurance of a definitive answer at the end of that
journey - is the antithesis of the equitable principles
enshrined in the abstention doctrine.
Defendants argue that the Court should certify the question
of whether Plaintiffs earned any credits to the Michigan
Supreme Court. Def. Resp. at 12-13. “Certification
today covers territory once dominated by . . .
Pullman abstention, ” and “allows a
federal court faced with a novel state-law question to put
the question directly to the State's highest
court[.]” Arizonans for Official English v.
Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 75-76 (1997).
of this question to the Michigan Supreme Court would be
inappropriate for the same reason Pullman abstention
is unwarranted - the delay involved in such a process. The
Sixth Circuit has noted that federal courts “will not
trouble our sister state courts every time an arguably
unsettled question of state law comes across our desks. When
we see a reasonably clear and principled course, we will seek
to follow it ourselves.” Pennington v. State Farm
Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 553 F.3d 447, 450 (6th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Pino v. United States, 507 F.3d 1233, 1236
(10th Cir. 2007)); see also City of Houston, Tex. v.
Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 470-471 (1987) (“[T]he
availability of certification is not in itself sufficient to
render abstention appropriate. It would be manifestly
inappropriate to certify a question in a case where, as here,
there is no uncertain question of state law whose resolution
might affect the pending federal claim.”) (internal
citations omitted); State Auto Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co.
v. Hargis, 785 F.3d 189, 194 (6th Cir. 2015) (“The
state court need not have addressed the exact question, so
long as well-established principles exist to govern a
decision.”). Finally, as Plaintiffs note, the Eastern
District of Michigan's Local Rule regarding certification
requires written findings by the court that
“certification of the issue will not cause undue delay
or prejudice.” L.R. 83.40(a)(3). This Court cannot make
such a finding.
this Court will not decline to exercise its jurisdiction
under Pullman, nor certify this issue to the
Michigan Supreme Court.
argue that this Court should abstain from deciding the issue
based on the principles of federalism and comity set forth in
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). “The
Younger abstention doctrine counsels a federal court
to refrain from adjudicating a matter that is properly before
it in deference of ongoing state criminal proceedings.”
Executive Arts Studio, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids,
391 F.3d 783, 791 (6th Cir. 2004). The doctrine has been
expanded to include “certain civil enforcement
proceedings and civil proceedings uniquely involving the
ability of state courts to perform their judicial functions,
such as civil contempt order or appellate bond
requirements.” Id. Younger applies where:
“(1) state proceedings are pending; (2) the state
proceedings involve an important state interest; and (3) the
state proceedings will afford the plaintiff an adequate
opportunity to raise his constitutional claims.”
Kelm v. Hyatt, 44 F.3d 415, 419 (6th Cir. 1995).
However, Younger abstention is the exception, not
the rule, when a federal court must decide whether to
exercise jurisdiction. See Hill II, 878 F.3d at 205
(“Federal courts are to treat Younger as a
limited carve-out to federal courts' virtually unflagging
obligation to exercise their jurisdiction.”) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
argue that there are currently ongoing state judicial
proceedings regarding this same issue - Rucker and
Wiley. In addition, they point to “[t]he
putative class members' state criminal proceedings
[which] were reopened for resentencing when prosecutors
notified the state trial courts in March 2016 which prisoners
were subject to resentencing under Mich. Comp. Laws §
769.25a.” Def. Resp. at 17. Therefore, they argue, at
least two putative class members have raised this ex post
facto claim in state courts, and there may be more who have
the “threshold issue in any Younger analysis
is the ‘question of whether interference
exists.'” Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v.
Conway, 909 F.Supp.2d 781, 784 (E.D. Ky. 2012) (quoting
Mass. Delivery Ass'n v. Coakley, 671 F.3d 33, 40
(1st Cir. 2012)). “In the typical Younger
case, the federal plaintiff is a defendant in ongoing or
threatened state court proceedings seeking to enjoin
continuation of those state proceedings.” Devlin v.
Kalm, 594 F.3d 893, 894 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Crawley v. Hamilton Cty. Cmm'rs, 744 F.2d 28, 30
(6th Cir. 1984)).
Younger abstention is not appropriate, because
Plaintiffs are not seeking to interfere with, or enjoin, any
ongoing judicial proceedings. Michigan courts do not
typically play any role in determining good time and
disciplinary credits to which a defendant may be entitled.
Rather, the Michigan court rules require the sentencing court
to state only the time served by the defendant. See
Mich. Ct. R. 6.425(E)(1)(d) (“The court must . . .
state the sentence being imposed, including the minimum and
maximum sentence if applicable, together with any credit for
time served to which the defendant is entitled . . .
.”). It is the MDOC that regularly calculates good time
and disciplinary credits to determine eligibility for parole.
See Richard Stapleton Aff., Ex. 5 to Pl. Mot.,
¶¶ 10, 14 (Dkt. 181-6). And MDOC has done this
historically when a prisoner serving a life sentence has been
resentenced to a term of years. Id. ¶ 9. Thus,
the relief this Court now orders will not present any
interference with the state courts, within the meaning of
kind of interference that would raise a Younger
concern is on-going intrusion in a state adjudication
process. See, e.g., Shafizadeh v. Bowles,
476 Fed. App'x 71, 73 (6th Cir. 2012) (Younger
abstention applicable where the plaintiff sought “an
injunction to direct the judge who presided over the divorce
to remove himself from the case” and
“declarations that the rules or practices applied in
his case are invalid”); J.P. v. DeSanti, 653
F.2d 1080, 1085 (6th Cir. 1981) (finding interference with a
state proceedings where plaintiffs sought to prevent the use
of “social histories” during juvenile court
proceedings); Parker v. Turner, 626 F.2d 1, 4, 8
(6th Cir. 1980) (finding Younger abstention
appropriate where plaintiffs sought “a declaratory
judgment that certain allegedly widespread practices in the
juvenile court are unconstitutional, ” as this
“would necessarily require monitoring of the manner in
which the state juvenile judges conducted contempt hearings
in non-support cases”).
absence of any on-going interference in state court
proceedings by this Court in granting the relief Plaintiffs
request makes our case like Dwayne B. v. Granholm,
No. 06-13548, 2007 WL 1140920 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 17, 2007),
where the court found Younger abstention
inapplicable - a case seeking class-wide declaratory and
injunctive relief to remedy the “[m]yriad systemic
failings” of Michigan's foster care system. The
court reasoned that while “there may be some ongoing
juvenile court proceedings for individual foster care
children [in the plaintiffs' class], this lawsuit does
not seek to interfere with any such proceedings. The relief
sought here is not directed at the juvenile courts. It is
directed at the executive branch.” Id. at *6.
here, Plaintiffs are correct in arguing that the relief they
seek is “directed at the Michigan Department of
Corrections and the Parole Board, not the state-court
resentencing process.” Pl. Reply at 12 (Dkt. 193). They
properly note that the resentencing courts will only decide a
prisoner's minimum and maximum term, and that any
application of good time or disciplinary credits “is an
administrative and executive function outside the purview of
state judicial proceedings[.]” Id.
Court's ruling on the unconstitutionality of revoking
credits will present no on-going intrusion into state
adjudication, as it “will not require ongoing federal
court oversight or interference with the daily operation of
Michigan's . . . courts.” Dwayne B., 2007
WL 1140920, at *7.