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Sproul v. Grace

April 7, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard P. Conaboy United States District Judge



Dennis Sproul, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania (SCIHuntingdon), filed this pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus. Named as Respondents are SCI-Huntingdon Superintendent James L. Grace and Pennsylvania Attorney General Gerald Pappert. Service of the petition was previously ordered.

Sproul states that he was convicted of possession with intent following a non-jury trial in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. On March 2, 2001, the Petitioner was sentenced to a four (4) to ten (10) year term of imprisonment.*fn1

Petitioner states that on February 17, 2004, SCI-Huntingdon Counselor J. Dinardi and an unidentified prison Unit Manager rescinded his institutional recommendation for parole on the basis that he had given his home address to a female prison employee during 2001.*fn2 See Doc. 1, ¶ 12(A). His petition adds that the Counselor and Unit Manager violated his due process and equal protection rights in that they "fundamentally altered the application of the parole release program," and fabricated documents to make it appear that he is a sex offender. Id. at (b). As a result of that allegedly false and inaccurate information, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (Parole Board) has denied Sproul favorable consideration. The Petitioner adds that there are no available state court remedies by which he can raise his present claims. See id. at ¶ 13. As relief, Sproul seeks immediate reconsideration by the Parole Board, or in the alternative, a transfer to a Community Corrections Center.


In their response, Respondents acknowledge that by decision dated February 25, 2004, the Parole Board denied Sproul favorable parole consideration. According to Respondents, the decision cited the following three (3) reasons: Petitioner had refused to accept responsibility for his offenses; reports, evaluations, and assessments concerning the prisoner's physical, mental and behavioral condition and history; and the Petitioner's interview with the hearing examiner. They add that Sproul has not presented his present claims to any Pennsylvania state court. Accordingly, they request that this action be dismissed for non-exhaustion. In the alternative, Respondents argue that Sproul is not entitled to federal habeas corpus relief because he has not established either a due process or equal protection violation.


Respondents argue that the Petitioner has failed to exhaust his available state court remedies. See Doc. 11, p. 4. Relying upon Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 489 (3d Cir. 2001), they argue that Sproul could raise his challenge to the denial of parole to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court via a petition for writ of mandamus.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1) provides that "[a]n application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that ... the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State." See Clifford v. Jacobs, 739 F. Supp. 957, 959-60 (M.D. Pa. 1990). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(c), such a petitioner "shall not be deemed to have exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State ... if he has the right under the law of the State to raise, by any available procedure, the question presented." In O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838 (1999), the Supreme Court held that while exhaustion does not demand that state prisoners "invoke extraordinary remedies," "state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process." Id. at 844-45.

Exceptions to the exhaustion requirement are made when the state corrective process is so deficient as to render any effort to obtain relief futile. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). In Lines v. Larkin, 208 F.3d 153, 162-63 (3d Cir. 2001), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals identified four (4) situations where futility exists: (1) "where a state's highest court has ruled unfavorably on a claim involving facts and issues materially identical to those undergirding a federal habeas petition and there is no plausible reason to believe that a replay will persuade the court to reverse its field;" (2) "where the state provides no means of seeking the relief sought;" (3) "the state courts have failed to alleviate obstacles to state review presented by such circumstances such as the petitioner's pro se status, poor handwriting, and illiteracy;" and (4) "exhaustion is not possible because the state court would refuse on procedural grounds to hear the merits of the claims." Id. at 162-63.

Although "the exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional," Landano v. Rafferty, 897 F.2d 661, 668 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 811 (1990), "the requirement should be strictly adhered to because it expresses respect for our dual judicial system and concern for harmonious relations between the two adjudicatory institutions." Id.; see also Doctor v. Walters, 96 F.3d 675, 683 (3d Cir. 1996):

The exhaustion requirement reflects concerns of comity and federalism which require this Court to give state courts [the] first opportunity to 'consider allegations of legal error without interference from the federal judiciary.' Although exhaustion may be excused where a return to the state courts would be futile, we must be certain that state review is clearly foreclosed lest we deprive state courts of an 'opportunity to correct their own errors, if any.' (citations omitted).

Since the filing of this action and submission of the response there have been important federal case law developments in the area of when, and if, a Pennsylvania state prisoner must seek state court review of a denial of parole. Specifically, in January of 2005, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Defoy v. McCullough, 393 F.3d 439, 445 (3d Cir. 2005), held that a state prisoner challenging the denial of parole on constitutional grounds, other than for a violation of the Ex Post ...

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