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Walker v. Luther

decided: October 6, 1987.

MELVIN T. WALKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DENNIS M. LUTHER, WARDEN, DANIEL R. LOPEZ, REGIONAL COMMISSIONER, AND UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS; LOUIS BOLDEN, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. DENNIS M. LUTHER, WARDEN, DANIEL R. LOPEZ, REGIONAL COMMISSIONER, AND UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On July 16, 1986, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Zampano, J.) granted the habeas corpus petitions of petitioners-appellees Melvin T. Walker and Louis Bolden, Jr., requesting new parole hearings conducted in accordance with District of Columbia parole standards. Respondents-appellants, Dennis M. Luther, Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, Daniel R. Lopez, Northeast Regional Commissioner of the United States Parole Commission, and the United States Parole Commission, appeal. Affirmed.

Newman, Cardamone, and Winter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge

The question presented on the appeal is whether a prisoner should have his term of confinement determined by two separate parole authorities simultaneously exercising parole power over him. From the standpoint of parole fairness -- which is Congress' purpose -- this is not a situation where two heads are better than one. Instead, release rules that are reasonably expected to be consistently applied become confounded. Here the United States Parole Commission and the District of Columbia Parole Board exercise simultaneous parole powers over District of Columbia offenders. The District of Columbia Parole Board (D.C. Board) has general parole decisionmaking power over prisoners convicted of crimes under the laws of the District of Columbia (D.C. Code offenders or D.C. offenders), who are housed in D.C. prisons. See D.C. Code Ann. § 24-204 (1981). The United States Parole Commission has similar parole power over offenders housed in federal prisons. See D.C. Code Ann. § 24-209 (1981). Under D.C. Code Ann. § 24-425, the Attorney General may assign D.C. Code offenders to incarceration either in federal institutions or in local D.C. prisons.*fn1 The sole issue to be decided is which standards the Commission must apply in exercising its authority over D.C. offenders in its custody.

Appellants, Dennis M. Luther, Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, Daniel R. Lopez, Northeast Regional Commissioner of the United States Parole Commission, and the United States Parole Commission, (collectively "the Commission"), argue that the Commission is authorized to apply its own federal parole guidelines. Conversely, petitioners Melvin T. Walker and Louis Bolden, Jr. maintain, as they did below, that the Commission must apply D.C. guidelines in making parole decisions. Consequently, petitioners -- as inmates convicted under the laws of the District of Columbia, but serving their sentences in federal correctional institutions -- claimed in the district court that their statutory and constitutional rights were violated when the Commission applied federal rather than D.C. parole standards in determining their parole eligibility. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Zampano, J.) agreed, and on July 16, 1986 granted petitioners writs of habeas corpus, affording them new parole hearings in accordance with D.C. parole guidelines. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On July 13, 1983 petitioner Walker was sentenced in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia after pleading guilty to burglary in the second degree. He received an indeterminate sentence of 16 months to seven-years imprisonment and initially was confined at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Lorton, Virginia and later was transferred to the FCI at Danbury, Connecticut. The Commission conducted Walker's initial parole hearing at Danbury and, using federal parole standards, determined that he would be released in November, 1988. In June 1985 Walker filed a petition for a writ o, habeas corpus alleging statutory and constitutional violations as a result of the Commission's application of federal parole standards to his parole release date.

On April 28, 1977 petitioner Bolden was sentenced to the District Court for the District of Columbia to five-years imprisonment for possession of stolen mail and alteration of a United States Treasury check. Paroled from that sentence in 1982, he was returned to federal custody for a parole violation in 1984. In August of that year the Commission conducted Bolden's parole revocation hearing and, using federal guidelines, determined that he would receive a presumptive parole on August 25, 1990. In June 1985 Bolden filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the Commission's authority to determine parole release dates under federal parole standards.

After consolidation of the two habeas petitions, the district court held that D.C. Code § 24-209 requires the U.S. Parole Commission to apply D.C. parole standards and guidelines to D.C. offenders housed in federal prisons. Walker v. Luther, 644 F. Supp. 76, 80-81 (D. Conn. 1986). The habeas court also decided that the application of the stricter federal parole procedures to those offenders violated their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights. Id. at 81. And finally, it concluded that the disparate treatment between male and female D.C. offenders also violated equal protection requirements. Id. Accordingly, it granted the habeas corpus petitions and ordered the Commission to give Walker and Bolden new parole hearings in accordance with D.C. parole standards.

Moving under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Commission sought reconsideration or, in the alternative, clarification of the decision. On July 30, 1986 the district court denied the motion and ordered the Commission to hold new parole hearings under D.C. standards by September 1986. Pursuant to that order, the Commission held a new parole hearing for Walker on August 20, 1986 and, applying D.C. parole standards, granted him a parole release date of February 19, 1987. On August 22, 1986 the Commission held a similar hearing for Bolden, but denied him parole and scheduled a rehearing for November 1987. The Commission determined that though Bolden would normally be paroled in August 1986 under the D.C. guidelines, his case warranted a parole decision outside the guidelines under the D.C. "unusual circumstances" exception. See D.C. Mun. Regs., Title 28, § 204.22 (1984).

Neither petitioner has been released on parole as a result of the Commission's most recent parole decisions. The Commission rendered them solely for the purpose of complying with the district court's order and reserved the right to rescind them should that order be reversed or vacated on appeal. The Commission has now appealed. We agree with the district court's statutory interpretation of § 24-209. Because under our view of that statute petitioners were entitled to parole hearings under the District of Columbia standards, we need not reach or decide their constitutional claims.

Discussion

I Language of § 24-209

As always, an analysis of a statute begins by an examination of its language. See Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth, 471 U.S. 681, 685, 85 L. Ed. 2d 692, 105 S. Ct. 2297 (1985); United States v. Gaggi, 811 F.2d 47, 54 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 483 U.S. 1007, 107 S. Ct. 3233, 97 L. Ed. 2d 739 (1987). For, "absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108, 64 L. Ed. 2d 766, 100 S. Ct. 2051 (1980).

D.C. Code § 24-209 provides that the United States Parole Commission:

shall have and exercise the same power and authority over prisoners convicted in the District of Columbia of crimes against the United States or now or hereafter confined in any United States penitentiary or prison (other than the penal institutions of the District of Columbia) as is vested in the District Board of Parole over ...


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