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Rhodes v. Chavez

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 9, 2016

David Thomas Rhodes, Plaintiff,
Ricardo E Chavez, et al., Defendants.


          David G. Campbell, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff and Defendants have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Defendants claim that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants Watts and Johnson and that all Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Doc. 54. Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs complaint does not plead anything beyond ordinary negligence, which they assert is not actionable under Bivens. Id. at 3. Plaintiff does not challenge the statement of facts set out by Defendants, but argues that he is entitled to summary judgment even in light of those facts. Doc. 59. The motions are fully briefed and no party requests oral argument. The Court will grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants Chavez, Johnson, and Watts, and deny summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and Defendant Hoffman.

         I. Background.

         On October 24, 1990, Plaintiff David Rhodes received early release from an 11-year sentence imposed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Doc. 55, ¶ 7. He had 1, 681 days remaining on his sentence. Id. On July 30, 1991, the United States Parole Commission ("USPC") issued a warrant for Plaintiffs arrest based on violation of his early release terms due to newly filed federal drug charges. Id., ¶ 8. Plaintiff was arrested by the U.S. Marshals on the USPC warrant on September 25, 1991, although the U.S. Marshals actually executed the warrant on October 2, 1991.[1] Id., ¶ 9. On October 31, 1991, the USPC issued a Notice of Action stating that Plaintiff was released from custody on the warrant and placed on detainer pending disposition of the new drug charges. Id., ¶ 10. Almost two years later, on August 13, 1993, Plaintiff was found guilty on the drug charges after a jury trial and sentenced to 20 years. The trial and sentencing occurred in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. Id., ¶ 11. Following his conviction and sentence, the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") granted Plaintiff credit on the drug sentence for time served since his September 25, 1991 arrest, resulting in a projected release date of February 25, 2009. Id., ¶¶ 12, 16.

         Because his parole violation was still pending and had not been resolved, Plaintiff filed a habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. On March 28, 1994, Magistrate Judge Richard M. Borchers found that Plaintiffs September 25, 1991 arrest was solely the result of the USPC's warrant, and ordered the USPC to hold a revocation hearing within 60 days. Doc. 34-1 at 47, 49. He also recommended that the USPC give Plaintiff credit for every day served since his arrest if his parole was revoked. Id.

         The USPC held the revocation hearing on June 23, 1994, revoked Plaintiffs parole, and required him to complete the remaining 1, 681 days of his 11-year sentence. Doc. 55, ¶ 14. On May 2, 1996, the USPC issued a Notice of Action stating that Plaintiff would receive credit for time served from the date of his original arrest on September 25, 1991. Id., ¶ 15. BOP completed a new sentence computation, commencing the release violator term on October 2, 1991 - the day the U.S Marshals executed the warrant - and granting Plaintiff credit for time served since his arrest. Id., ¶ 16. At the same time, BOP removed the credit for time served from the 20-year drug sentence. Id. As a result, Plaintiffs release date for the drug offense was changed to March 2, 2011. Id.

         When Plaintiff learned of this change several years later, he pursued administrative remedies within BOP, seeking to reapply the time-served credit to the 20-year drug sentence. Id., ¶¶ 25-26. Plaintiff alleged that his sentence computation was incorrect and should be recalculated because the credit for time served was improperly removed from his 20-year sentence and applied to his sentence for violating parole. Doc. 34-1 at 92.

         Defendant Chavez was the warden of the federal facility in Phoenix, Arizona, where Plaintiff was housed when he pursued administrative remedies. Chavez was not involved in the sentence calculation that resulted in Plaintiffs time-served credit being transferred from his 20-year sentence, nor did he supervise that effort. Chavez had no authority to change the sentence calculation. Chavez's only involvement was to sign a response to Plaintiffs appeal of his administrative complaint - a response prepared by Hoffman. The response was issued on July 21, 2009, some 13 years after Plaintiffs time-served credit had been transferred. It denied Plaintiffs appeal and stated that his sentence calculation was correct. Docs. 1, ¶ 37; 55, ¶¶ 20-22, 25.

         Defendant Joel Hoffman served as a Supervisory Correctional Systems Specialist at the BOP in Phoenix. In 2009, Hoffman was tasked with responding to prisoners' administrative filings regarding sentence computations. Although the computations were made at the BOP Designations and Sentence Computation Center ("DSCC") in Grand Prairie, Texas, Hoffman was tasked with drafting a response to Plaintiffs request for administrative remedies regarding the accuracy of his computation. Doc. 55, ¶ 3.

         Defendant Watts served as the BOP National Inmate Appeals Coordinator in Washington, D.C. As part of his duties, he signed all responses to inmate administrative remedy requests filed at the national level. Watts was not personally involved in preparing or auditing sentence computations. Other staff members reviewed sentence computations and drafted responses for Watts to sign. Watts signed a response denying the appeal of one of Plaintiff s administrative complaints. Docs. 1, ¶ 39; 55, ¶¶ 4, 23.

         Defendant Johnson served as a Correctional Program Specialist at the BOP office in Grand Prairie, Texas. After Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies, he filed a habeas petition on July 23, 2009. In response to this court action, Johnson was assigned to audit Plaintiffs sentence. Johnson determined that the sentence computation was correct and signed a declaration to that effect that was filed in the habeas action. Johnson was not involved in the original decision to transfer Plaintiffs time-served credit from his 20-year sentence to his parole violation sentence. Docs. 1, ¶ 40; 55, ¶¶ 5, 24.

         Plaintiff sues each of these defendants as individuals, seeking to recover $1, 131, 000 from them personally. Doc. 1 at 15-16. Although Plaintiff also has alleged an official capacity claim against Defendants, that claim is not available in a Bivens action, as explained below.[2]

         II. Legal Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate against a party who "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.[3]

         III. Leave to Amend.

         Leave to amend should be granted freely "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Plaintiff filed his motion to amend on August 25, 2016, some six days after the Court's deadline for amending pleadings. See Doc. 52. Defendants correctly note that extensions of a case management deadline may be granted only for good cause. In this case, however, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, he seeks to amend his complaint only slightly to specify the level of culpability with which Defendants allegedly acted, this is the first time Plaintiff has sought leave to amend, discovery has not commenced, and there is no evidence of an improper motive. The Court will grant leave to amend.[4]

         IV. Plaintiffs Official Capacity Claims.

         Plaintiffs complaint can be read as suing Defendants in their official and individual capacities. As Defendants correctly note, however, official capacity claims may not be brought in a Bivens action. See Vaccaro v. Dobre, 81 F.3d 854, 857 (9th Cir. 1996) ("a Bivens action can be maintained against a defendant in his or her individual capacity only, and not in his or her official capacity."). The Court will grant summary judgment on Plaintiff's official capacity claims.

         V. Nature of Plaintiffs Claims.

         Before addressing the parties' arguments, the Court pauses to clarify the nature of Plaintiffs claims. Plaintiff sues Defendant Chavez for "violating Plaintiffs Fifth Amended right to due process." Doc. 1, ¶ 37. Plaintiff does not assert a procedural due process claim. He argues instead that Defendant's actions denied him "substantive" due process. Doc. 58 at 4, 10. Plaintiff cites no authority to suggest that he has a substantive due process claim for his alleged injury, but Defendants "concede that a due process violation may occur where a defendant causes a prisoner to remain confined past his proper release date." Doc. 54 at 8.

         Plaintiff describes the alleged violation in these terms: Defendants "failed to carry out their duty to review a sentence when it is brought to their attention that a possible error existed, and to take the necessary steps to correct the mistaken sentence computation." Doc. 58 at 7. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' "failure to take proper corrective action creates their liability, especially after Plaintiff explained to each where and how the errors had been made." Id. at 10.

         VI. ...

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