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Goree v. Michigan Parole Board

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

June 28, 2019

DENVER GOREE, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHIGAN PAROLE BOARD, Defendant.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), 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. § 1915A(b) and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). 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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Muskegon County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues the Michigan Parole Board.

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about January of 1983, the Michigan Parole Board held an executive session and gave Plaintiff a commutation score of 22 years. At this time, Plaintiff had served 14 years of his life sentence. Plaintiff claims that he received a receipt from the chairman of the parole board, confirming that his score was 22 years. Plaintiff states that this confirmation gives him a liberty interest in being released on parole.

         Plaintiff alleges that in 1992, new members came onto the Parole Board and that they implemented a new policy that “life means life.” Plaintiff has now served 50 years on his sentence after receiving multiple 5 year flops with no other explanation than “no interest.” Plaintiff contends that his continued incarceration violates his constitutional rights.

         Plaintiff seeks a recommendation for commutation or immediate discharge from prison. Plaintiff also seeks damages.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         Plaintiff states that he is currently serving a nonparolable life sentence in a Michigan prison. Plaintiff appears to be claiming that following his conviction and sentence, the Michigan Parole Board changed its policies in regard to its commutation procedures in a manner that violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also asserts that the Parole Board's action created a liberty interest to recommend commutation to the governor after Plaintiff served 22 years of his life sentence.

         Initially, the Court notes that Plaintiff has named the Michigan Parole Board as the sole defendant, not any one or more of the individual members of the board. The Michigan Parole Board is part of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.231a(1). Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts, unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24 F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1994). Congress has not expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal court. Abick v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986). Therefore, the Michigan Parole Board, as part of the Michigan Department of Corrections, is immune from injunctive and monetary relief. See Harrison v. Michigan, 722 F.3d 768, 771 (6th Cir. 2013) (holding that both the MDOC and the parole board are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment); Horton v. Martin, 137 Fed.Appx. 773, 775 (6th Cir. 2005) (Michigan Parole Board entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity); Lee v. Mich. Parole Bd., 104 Fed.Appx. 490, 492 (6th Cir. 2004) (same); Fleming v. Martin, 24 Fed.Appx. 258, 259 (6th Cir. 2001) (same). In addition, the Michigan Parole Board is not a “person” who may be sued under §1983 for money damages. See Harrison, 722 F.3d at 771.

         According to the MDOC Offender Tracking Information System, Plaintiff was convicted of first-degree murder following a jury trial and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on June 26, 1969. See http://mdocweb.state.mi.us/OTIS2/otis2profile. aspx?mdocNumber=111992. Since that time, Plaintiff has been serving his life sentence in Michigan. Although Plaintiff's sentence makes him permanently ineligible for parole, his sentence can be commuted by the governor of Michigan. The Michigan Parole Board has the power to review a prisoner's case and to recommend to the governor that a prisoner's sentence be commuted. Lewis-El v. Sampson, et al., 649 F.3d 423, 423-24 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.244). Plaintiff claims that in 1983, he was screened by Michigan Parole Board members pursuant to the guidelines in effect at that time. According to the guidelines, Plaintiff received a score of 22 years, which he understood to mean that the Parole Board would recommend commutation of Plaintiff's sentence to the governor after he served 22 years in prison.

         Plaintiff's claim that he has a liberty interest in being recommended for commutation is without merit.[1] To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because ยง 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first ...


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