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Hill v. Whitmer

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

July 12, 2019

HENRY HILL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GRETCHEN WHITMER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. 267)

          Hon. Mark A. Goldsmith Judge.

         The Supreme Court has held that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for a juvenile homicide offender violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). A sentencing scheme must provide juvenile offenders “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Miller, 567 U.S. at 479 (quoting Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 75 (2010)). In this class action, Plaintiffs and class members (together, “Plaintiffs”) are juvenile homicide offenders who, prior to the Supreme Court's decisions, were sentenced to mandatory life without parole. Now, in light of Montgomery and Miller, they are being resentenced and, for the first time, have the opportunity to appear before the parole board.

         Count VI of Plaintiffs' second amended complaint, the sole remaining claim in this case, alleges that Defendants have “refused and failed to provide programming, education, training and rehabilitation opportunities necessary for Plaintiffs to demonstrate their suitability for release, ” 2d Am. Comp. ¶ 226 (Dkt. 130), which “has resulted in Plaintiffs' loss of liberty[ and] extended their incarceration, causing them physical injuries and severe emotional distress, ” id. ¶ 228, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants Heidi Washington and Michael Eagen have moved for summary judgment on this claim (Dkt. 267).[1] The motion is fully briefed, and because oral argument will not aid the decisional process, the motion will be decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2); Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2012, the Supreme Court held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 470 (2012); see also Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 736 (2016) (holding that Miller applies retroactively). The Michigan legislature, which had previously excluded youth offenders convicted of first-degree murder from the jurisdiction of the Michigan Parole Board, see Michigan Compiled Laws §§ 750.316, 791.234(6)(a), amended its statutory scheme to address Miller and Montgomery. The new provision mandates resentencing for juveniles who were convicted of first-degree homicide offenses before Miller and who received mandatory life-without-parole sentences. Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a.

         The statute requires these individuals to be resentenced either to life without parole or to a term of years. Id. § 769.25a(2). Prosecutors may seek a life-without-parole sentence by filing a motion specifying the grounds for imposing such a punishment. See id. § 769.25a(4)(b). The sentencing court must then hold a hearing on the motion, at which “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.” Id. §§ 769.25(6) (internal citations omitted); 769.25a(4)(b). If no such motion is filed, the court must resentence the individual to a minimum term of 25-40 years and a maximum term of 60 years. Id. § 769.25a(4)(c). At the time the instant motion was filed, approximately 235 Plaintiffs were still awaiting resentencing. See Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole - Parole Board Working Document, Ex. A to Defs. Mot. (listing 235 individuals who have yet to be resentenced).[2]

         Plaintiffs who have yet to be resentenced are denied “core” rehabilitative programming. See, e.g., McNeal Dep., Ex. 5 to Pls. Resp., at 63 (“You are currently a lifer and are unable to participate in these programs.”) (Dkt. 274-5). “Core” programming for inmates consists of thirteen programs for men and thirteen programs for women. See Policy Directive 05.01.100, Ex. E to Defs. Mot. (listing programs). This includes the Violence Prevention Program, Michigan Sex Offender Programming, Thinking for a Change, and substance abuse programs, among others. Eagen Dep., Ex. F to Defs. Mot., at 109; Washington Dep., Ex. 4 to Pls. Resp., at 33-34 (Dkt. 274-4).[3] The programs have certain specific criteria, and when an individual meets those criteria, the core program is recommended for him or her when he or she enters the prison. Eagen Dep. at 109; Washington Dep. at 34.

         Core programming is made available to a particular prisoner based on his or her proximity to the prisoner's earliest release date (“ERD”) (also known as “parole board jurisdiction date, ” or “PBJ”). Defs. Mot. at 4-5 (citing Eagen Dep. at 71).

         Plaintiffs who have not yet been resentenced do not have an ERD/PBJ date, and, therefore, are not put into core programs. Defendant Michael Eagen, chairperson for the Michigan Parole Board, explained that “we don't know if they're going to get a parole decision, and . . . some of these services are offered to other prisoners and I wouldn't want to be pushing out people that might have ERD dates that are going to be paroled out from getting those programs.” Eagen Dep. at 71. Kyle Kaminski, Legislative Liaison for MDOC, further explained that Plaintiffs “were often advised that they wouldn't be placed in the program because the program groups were set based on the Parole Board Jurisdiction Date, and we program those closest to their Parole Board Jurisdiction Date first, and so the lifers were not at the top of the list to go to programming.” Kaminski Dep., Ex. D to Defs. Mot., at 41. Plaintiffs contend that the denial of core programming violates their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         Defendants admit that it is possible that prisoners who have not completed certain programming may be directed by the parole board to complete that programming before they can be released on parole, even though the programming has not yet been made available to them. Defs. Mot. at 5. Defendants point out, however, that once a Plaintiff is resentenced, he or she then has an ERD/PBJ date, and is able to participate in core programming in accordance with this date. Defs. Reply at 4 (Dkt. 277).

         Defendants represent that the vast majority of Plaintiffs who have received a parole decision - 68 out of 72 parole-eligible class members - were released on parole. Defs. Mot. at 3 (citing Mandatory Juvenile Life Without Parole - Parole Board Working Document). The four Plaintiffs who were parole eligible, but denied immediate parole, will be able to appear again before the parole board anywhere from one to five years after their initial appearance. Id. at 2-3. The majority of Plaintiffs, however - 235 out of a class of 373 - have yet to be resentenced. Id. at 3.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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 (1986).

         Once 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 summary judgment.”).

         III. ...


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