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Luther v. Hunt

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2020

MICHAEL LUTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS HUNT, et al., Defendants.

          INITIAL REVIEW ORDER AND RULING ON MOTION FOR EMERGENCY HEARING

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Incarcerated at the Brooklyn Correctional Institution, Michael Luther (“Plaintiff”) has sued Community Release Unit Director Thomas Hunt (“Director Hunt”), Commissioner of Correction Rollin Cook, and Inmate Classification Director David Maiga (collectively “Defendants”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and has alleged that the Defendants have an unconstitutional policy or practice of denying community release to sex offenders. He also seeks an emergency hearing.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss Mr. Luther's claims under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and all of his claims on behalf of an alleged class. Mr. Luther's claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment will proceed, but this ruling is without prejudice to Defendants filing a motion to dismiss addressing this claim.

         Mr. Luther's motion for an emergency hearing will be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Luther, now thirty-two years old, allegedly has been incarcerated since the age of fifteen for “sexually related offenses.” Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1 (May 16, 2019).

         On January 11, 2006, a judge imposed a total effective sentence of thirty years of incarceration, execution suspended after twenty years and followed by twenty-five years of probation. State v. Luther, Nos. A22MCR02122949, A22MCR02122950, A22MCR02122951, A22MCR02122952, AANCR02122556, AANCR04222687, 2008 WL 1734696, at *1 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 25, 2008).[1]

         Mr. Luther alleges that “[i]nmates are assigned a number of classification scores corresponding with various . . . risks and needs” and that “a Classification Sex Treatment Needs Score of 2 or greater . . . indicates a history of one or more sexually related offenses.” Compl. ¶¶ 14-15.

         On April 24, 2019, Mr. Luther allegedly submitted an application to the Department of Correction Community Release Unit for community release. Id. ¶ 9, 11; Compl. at 43 (Ex. G, Agreement for Community Release (Apr. 24, 2019)). “Community release” allegedly refers to a number of programs or facilities designed to assist individuals with successfully transitioning back into their communities after incarceration. See Compl. at 45-47 (Ex. I, Conn. Dep't of Corr., Community Release Unit (undated); Ex. H, Community Release Outlook (unknown source) (undated)).

         Individuals granted community release are released before the end of their sentence to complete their sentence in the community. See Compl. at 45-47 (Ex. O, Releases and discharges in 2005 (unknown source) (undated)).

         On May 10, 2019, Director Hunt allegedly denied Mr. Luther's application due to the nature and/or circumstances of his criminal offense and/or the impact to the victim or the victim's family. Compl. at 12-13 ¶ 9; Compl. at 44, Ex. H (Community Release Program Cover Sheet (May 10, 2019) (denying Mr. Luther community release)).

         On May 16, 2019, Mr. Luther filed this lawsuit, alleging that the Connecticut Department of Correction has an unconstitutional policy or practice of denying community release to individuals incarcerated for sex offenses. Compl. at 11, ¶ 1-6.

         On July 15, 2019, Mr. Luther filed a motion for an emergency hearing requesting injunctive relief permitting him to “submit a new Community Release/Halfway house application” soon enough for him to spend time in a halfway house before his term of imprisonment ends in 2020. Mot. for Emerg. Hearing ¶ 3-6, ECF No. 8 (July 15, 2019) (“With the Risk Reduction Earned Credit [Mr. Luther] stands to earn, he will discharge July 2020.”); Compl. at 44 (Ex. H, Community Release Program Cover Sheet, Conn. Dep't of Corr. (May 10, 2019) (estimating Mr. Luther's release date as October 20, 2020)).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), a court must review prisoner civil complaints against governmental actors and “dismiss . . . any portion of [a] complaint [that] is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or that “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Id. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Although detailed allegations are not required, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         A complaint that includes only “‘labels and conclusions,' ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action' or ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement, '” does not meet the facial plausibility standard. Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007)). Although courts still have an obligation to interpret “a pro se complaint liberally, ” the complaint must still include sufficient factual allegations to meet the standard of facial plausibility. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Luther argues that the Defendants and the Department of Correction have denied virtually every application for community release submitted by a juvenile sex offender in violation of his federal constitutional and human rights as well as the rights of similarly situated juvenile sex offenders. Compl. at 11 ¶ 3. In his view, this decision violates his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and equal protection of the laws and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Id. ¶ 41. He seeks an order allowing meaningful review of the applications for community placement by juvenile sex offenders, including his own. Id. ¶ 43.

         The Court addresses each of his claims in turn.

         A. Claims on Behalf of Other Inmates

         As to his request for class relief, pro se litigants do not have standing to sue on behalf of other litigants. See Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 114 (1976) (“Ordinarily, one may not claim standing in this Court to vindicate the constitutional rights of some third party” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. 693, 707-08 (2013) (“In the ordinary course, a litigant must assert his or her own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest a claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

         In addition, a litigant in federal court has a right to act as his own counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1654, but no authority to appear as an attorney for others. See United States ex rel. Mergent Servs. v. Flaherty, 540 F.3d 89, 92 (2d Cir. 2008) (“[A]n individual who is not licensed as an attorney may not appear on another's behalf in the other's cause.”); Eagle Assocs. v. Bank of Montreal, 926 F.2d 1305, 1308 (2d Cir. 1991) (Section 1654 “does not allow for unlicensed laymen to represent anyone else other than themselves.” (internal quotation omitted)).

         Thus, Mr. Luther only has standing to assert claims on behalf of himself. See Am. Psychiatric Ass'n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 821 F.3d 352, 358 (2d Cir. 2016) (ÔÇťAnother prudential principle [regarding standing] is that a plaintiff may ...


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