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Thomas v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

October 30, 2019

CARSON THOMAS, DOC 392537
v.
JAMES M. LEBLANC, SECRETARY OF THE LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DEGRAVELLES JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter comes before the Court on the second Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 20) filed by Defendant Sheryl Ranatza. Plaintiff Carson Thomas opposes the motion. (Doc. 21.) No reply was filed. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         The following allegations are taken from the Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Complaint” or “Compl.”) (Doc. 1). They are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014).

         Plaintiff is an inmate housed at Dixon Correctional Institute. (Compl. at 1.) Plaintiff brings this § 1983 action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief “alleging violation of Due Process, ex post facto application of law and of a liberty interest cognizable under the United States Constitution and created by the State of Louisiana.” (Id. ¶ 2.)

         Defendants in this action are James LeBlanc, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DPSC”), and “The Committee on Parole of the Louisiana Board of Pardons through the chair, Sheryl Ranatza.” (Id. ¶ 1.) Only Ranatza brings this motion.

         On February 9, 1997, Plaintiff was arrested for one count of armed robbery. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff was convicted and sentenced to 50 years with credit for time served. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff's sentence was later amended to 30 years with credit for time served. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff has served 21 years and is currently 46 years old. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         “For most of the past 20 years, ” Plaintiff's “master prison records reflect[ed] a parole eligibility date of 2017”. (Id. ¶ 7.) This is because of Act 790, also known as “geriatric parole, ” which “provides an offender serving 30 years or greater shall be eligible for parole upon serving 20 years of his sentence and attaining the age of 45.” (Id. ¶ 7.)

         On October 12, 2016, Plaintiff “was brought before the Committee on Parole for his initial parole hearing pursuant to Act 790.” (Compl. ¶ 8.) “Upon entering the parole hearing, Mr. Thomas was informed - for the first time - that he is not parole eligible under Act 790 and must serve 85% of his sentence before becoming parole eligible, pursuant to Act 1099.” (Id. ¶ 8.)

         Plaintiff devotes an entire section of his Complaint to the passage and legislative history of Act 60 of 1987 and Act 760 of 1990. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-18.) This section describes the development of “geriatric parole” in Louisiana. (Id.)

         This section then describes Act 1099 of 1995, “which changed the rate at which offenders earned good time for crimes of violence.” (Compl. ¶ 19.) Act 1099 “specifically decreased the rate at which prisoners earned good time for crimes of violence, requiring that for such offenses the offender must serve 85% of his sentence before being eligible for release on good time.” (Id.) Plaintiff then details the legislative history of this act. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.)

         Next, the Complaint describes Act 624 of 2008, which “specifically removed those individuals convicted of armed robbery from geriatric parole eligibility.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges that the law took effect in August of 2008 and “applied prospectively to all armed robberies committed on or after this date.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff then claims that, because he was arrested on February 9, 1997, for armed robbery, has served 21 years of his sentence, and is 46 years old, “[h]e is therefore eligible for geriatric parole under Act 790.” (Compl. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff further asserts:

In denying Mr. Thomas parole eligibility, the DPSC relied upon Act 1099 and stated that Mr. Thomas must serve 85% of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. However, parole and good time are clearly distinct forms of statutory release. While Mr. Thomas is ineligible for release on good time until he has served 85% of his sentence, Mr. Thomas' eligibility for geriatric parole is unaffected, as his offense occurred prior to 2008, when the legislature clearly removed armed robbers from geriatric parole eligibility. . . .
In denying his second-step, the Department of Corrections informed Mr. Thomas that pursuant to DPSC Regulation B-04-004 F(2), geriatric parole (Act 790) does not apply to offenders with offense dates committed on or after January 1, 1997. Clearly, DPSC has arbitrarily modified its internal regulations, as B-04-004F(2) previously provided:
F. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, unless eligible for parole at an earlier date, an offender sentenced for a term of imprisonment with or without benefit of parole for 30 years or more shall be eligible for parole consideration upon serving at least 20 years in actual custody and upon reaching the age of 45. (Act No. 790 of the 1990 Regular Session). Note: Those offenders convicted of a crime of violence on or after January 1, 1997 must also have served at least 85% of the sentence imposed.
1) The above provision does not apply to those offenders who are serving a life sentence.
2) Pursuant to Act No. 624 of the 2008 Regular Session, the above provision does not apply to those offenders convicted of La. R.S. 14:64 when the offense was committed on or after August 15, 2008.

(Id. (emphasis by Plaintiff).)

         Plaintiff alleges on information and belief, that “there are other individuals similarly situated to [Plaintiff], who committed an armed robbery prior to August 15, 2008, and are being denied geriatric parole eligibility under Act 790.” (Id. ¶ 25.) According to Plaintiff, he has “received at least three master prison records that reflected a parole eligibility date in accordance with Act 790.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff claims:

Because of the inscribing of the master prison record with a parole eligibility release under Act 790, the regulation B-04-004 and the actual practice of the DPSC and the Committee on Parole, a liberty interest has been created. The expectation of the population of armed robbery offenders whose offense dates are between January 1, 1997 and August 15, 2008, is that they will receive a fair parole hearing upon reaching the"20/45" provisions of the geriatric parole statute.

(Id. ¶ 27.)

         Plaintiff next discusses “certain agreements” made between DPSC and counsel for Plaintiff in litigation entitled David Tell v. Richard Stalder, Number 541, 059, Section 8, Nineteenth Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana. (Compl. ¶¶ 28-32.) Under one agreement, “the outcome of the Tell litigation would apply to all prisoners with armed robbery convictions.” (Id. ¶ 29.) In another, “master records would reflect the Act 790 dates for armed robbery inmates.” (Id.¶ 30.) Further, the parties “agreed in the Tell litigation that no appeal would be taken from the State District Court ruling in Tell and that Tell would go final.” (Id. ¶ 31.) According to Plaintiff, this last agreement “further set[s] up an expectation that the “20/45” practice would continue.” (Id. ¶ 32.)

         Plaintiff then makes allegations about another settlement in Francis v. Leblanc, No. 13-5691-JJB-RLB (M.D. La.). (Compl. ¶ 33.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts:

At issue in this case was that the DPSC had removed parole eligibility from armed robbers whose offenses occurred prior to January 1, 1997. As part of the settlement order, the DPSC agreed to restore Act 790 parole eligibility to those offenders whose armed robbery offense occurred prior to January 1, 1997. . . . However, the Francis decision pretermitted any decision concerning those offenders convicted of armed robbery between January 1, 1997 and August 15, 2008.

(Id.)

         Plaintiff claims that, for twenty years, he “believed . . . he would be eligible for parole consideration upon attaining the age of 45 and serving 20 years of his sentence” and that he “held this belief because the DPSC repeatedly informed him that this would be the case, and even set his matter for hearing.” (Compl. ¶ 34.) DPSC, through its Secretary James Leblanc, “is responsible for establishing a parole eligibility date and causing the parole eligibility date to be placed on the offender's master prison record.” (Id. ¶ 35.) Additionally, the Committee on Parole “is responsible for scheduling a parole hearing for an offender.” (Id. ¶ 36.)

         Plaintiff cites to Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 125 S.Ct. 2384, 162 L.Ed.2d 174 (2005), for the proposition that a liberty interest for a parole eligibility date “may arise from an expectation or interest created by state laws or policies.” (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff claims a liberty interest in favor of himself and “any similarly situated individual.” (Id. ¶ 38.) Specifically, the liberty interest is that, “upon fulfilling the requirements of Act 790 (which [Plaintiff] has done), that the parole eligible armed robbery offender will be given a hearing.” (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff maintains that this liberty interest is “protected by the [Fourteenth] Amendment . . . and cannot be arbitrarily withdrawn.” (Id.) Plaintiff claims a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right “by cancelling and refusing to reschedule his parole hearing[, ]” and Plaintiff further claims this is an “ongoing violation” of his rights because “DPSC continues to misinterpret applicable law and misconstrue the statutes to arbitrarily deny [Plaintiff] a parole hearing to which he is clearly entitled.” (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff also asserts that his substantive Due Process right was violated by an ex post facto application of Act 624 “to remove parole eligibility from those individuals convicted of armed robbery” like Plaintiff “who had a geriatric parole date for many years prior to 2008 and was anticipating that hearing.” (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Plaintiff seeks a declaration of his rights and order:

1. That Mr. Thomas' parole eligibility date under Act 790 be restored and reflected on his Master Prison Record;
2. That Mr. Thomas be placed on the next available Dixon Correctional Institute parole docket, so his case may be heard.

(Compl. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff also seeks an “injunction ordering the DPSC and the Committee on Parole to re-set him on the parole docket for hearing.” (Id. ¶ 43.) Plaintiff claims irreparable injury and seeks attorney's fees. (I ...


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