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Pennsylvania Prison Society v. Rendell

March 13, 2006

PENNSYLVANIA PRISON SOCIETY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HONORABLE EDWARD RENDELL, GOVERNOR, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Plaintiffs' Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 82) and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 84). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiffs' motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

BACKGROUND

On October 16, 1997, Plaintiffs filed a petition for review in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, challenging the legality of a ballot question scheduled to be submitted to Pennsylvania voters in November 1997. The proposed ballot question read:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require a unanimous recommendation of the Board of Pardons before the Governor can pardon or commute the death sentence of an individual sentenced in a criminal case to death or life imprisonment, to require only a majority vote of the Senate to approve the Governor's appointments to the Board, and to substitute a crime victim for an attorney and a corrections expert for a penologist as Board members?

Plaintiffs argued that the ballot question violated various provisions of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

On November 4, 1997, prior to any ruling by the Commonwealth Court, the ballot question was presented to and approved by Pennsylvania voters. The Court will refer to the resulting changes in the Pennsylvania Constitution as "the 1997 amendments."

On November 12, 1997, Defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on January 5, 1998. (Doc. 9.) On January 15, 1998, the Court granted a joint motion to remand the state law claims and to stay the federal claims pending resolution of the state law claims. (Doc. 11.) While the Commonwealth Court found for Plaintiffs, Defendants prevailed upon appeal. See Pennsylvania Prison Soc. v. Commonwealth, 727 A.2d 632, 635 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999), rev'd, 776 A.2d 971 (Pa. 2001).

Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint on July 29, 2002. (Doc. 22.) Plaintiffs alleged that the 1997 amendments violate the following provisions of the United States Constitution: the rights of life prisoners and prisoners under death sentence under the Due Process Clause (Count I); the Ex Post Facto Clause (Count II); the Equal Protection Clause (Count III); Pennsylvania voters' rights under the Due Process Clause (Count IV); the Eighth Amendment (Counts V and VI); and the Guarantee Clause (Count VII). Plaintiffs also brought claims under the Pennsylvania Constitution (Counts VII and VIII).

Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' second amended complaint on August 12, 2002. (Doc. 24.) On March 6, 2003, the Court issued a memorandum opinion granting Defendants' motion in part, and denying Defendants' motion in part. (Doc. 43.) The Court dismissed Counts III, IV, V, VI, VII and VIII, as well as the portion of Count I regarding the due process rights of inmates with life sentences. The Court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss the due process claims of inmates under death sentences, as well as Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim under the Ex Post Facto Clause.

Both parties filed motions for reconsideration of the Court's March 6, 2003 memorandum opinion. (Docs. 44, 47.) On May 5, 2003, the Court issued a memorandum opinion denying Plaintiffs' motion and granting Defendants' motion in part, and denying Defendants' motion in part. (Doc. 52.) The Court determined that Plaintiffs are not entitled to present facts in support of an argument that individual members of the Board of Pardons ("Board") are biased, but allowed Plaintiffs to pursue the argument that the inclusion of a crime victim on the Board impermissibly introduces decision-maker bias into the parole process. Id.

On August 19, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 80) and a misfiled Brief in Support (Doc. 81). Following instructions from the Court to refile, on August 23, 2005, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 82) and Brief in Support (Doc. 83). That same day, Plaintiffs previous filings were terminated by the Court. Then, on September 13, 2005, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 84) and Brief in Support (Doc. 85). The parties have also drafted a Stipulations of Fact (Doc. 86-2), and agree, in relevant part, that the following facts are established:

8. There have been no Board considered applications for pardon or commutation by individuals sentenced to death since at least 1967.

9. From January 1, 1970 until November 4, 1997, the effective date of the 1997 Amendment, the following numbers of life sentenced prisoners were recommended for commutation based on a less than unanimous vote: 1970: 0 1971: 12 1972: 9 1973: 6 1974: 3 1975: 0 1976: 3 1977: 0 1978: 1 1979: 2 1980: 0 1981: 1 1982: 0 1983: 0 1984: 0 1985: 1 1986: 1 1987: 1 1988: 9 1989: 12 1990: 3 1991: 8 1992: 10 1993: 9 1994: 3 1995: 3 1996: 1 1997: 0 (January 1 -- November 4)

10. Prior to the vote November 4, 1997, on the 1997 Amendment and beginning with 1987, the following number of life sentenced prisoners who were recommended for commutation by the Board of Pardons on less than unanimous votes were granted commutation by the Governor: 1987: 0 1988: 0 1989: 3 (all granted in 1990) 1990: 0 1991: 1 (granted in 1992) 1992: 1 (granted in 1994) 1993: 0 1994: 0 1995: 0 1996: 0 1997: 0 (January 1-November 4)

11. From January 1, 1973, until June 30, 2005, the following numbers of life sentenced prisoners were recommended for commutation by the Board of Pardons: 1973: 40 1974: 29 1975: 26 1976: 27 1977: 17 1978: 23 1979: 15 1980: 9 1981: 9 1982: 5 1983: 12 1984: 8 1985: 12 1986: 5 1987: 22 1988: 23 1989: 19 1990: 10 1991: 20 1992: 22 1993: 16 1994: 10 1995: 3 1996: 1 1997: 0 1998: 0 1999: 0 2000: 0 2001: 0 2002: 1 2003: 1 2004: 1 2005: 0 (January 1 -- June 30)

12. From January 1, 1973, until June 30, 2005, the following numbers of life sentenced prisoners, listed by year of Board of Pardons recommendation, were granted commutation by the Governor: 1973: 39 1974: 27 1975: 26 1976: 21 1977: 17 1978: 13 1979: 2 1980: 0 1981: 9 1982: 1 1983: 1 1984: 1 1985: 1 1986: 0 1987: 3 1988: 0 1989: 9 1990: 5 1991: 5 1992: 2 1993: 1 1994: 1 1995: 0 1996: 0 1997: 0 1998: 0 1999: 0 2000: 0 2001: 0 2002: 1 2003: 0 2004: 0 2005: 0 (January 1 -- June 30)

(Doc. 86-2, at 2-6.) These Cross Summary Judgment Motions are adequately briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is ...


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