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Baines v. Powell

March 26, 2009

WAYNE BAINES, PLAINTIFF
v.
ELIZABETH POWELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caldwell

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

The pro se plaintiff, Wayne Baines, an inmate at USP- Canaan, Waymart, Pennsylvania, filed this lawsuit against Elizabeth Powell, a supervisor with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA), and Maria Freeman, a CSOSA agent. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment.

Plaintiff is serving time in federal prison on a conviction from the District of Columbia, and he believes the defendants violated his constitutional rights by rejecting potential housing locations for him that would have led to his release on parole. As a consequence, he remains confined. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The defendants' motion argues the following: (1) the suit against the defendants in their official capacities is barred by sovereign immunity; and (2) the defendants are entitled to absolute immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity.

Under the well established standard, see Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008), we will grant the motion for summary judgment. We agree with the defendants that if Plaintiff is suing them in their official capacities, the suit is barred by sovereign immunity. We also agree that they are entitled to absolute immunity for the claim against them in their individual capacities. We add that the favorable termination rule of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), means that he has no cognizable civil rights action in any event.

II. Background

Plaintiff's complaint is minimal. It alleges that both defendants are supervisors at "Community Service," that Freeman was the "first level of denial of the housing assignments... even using a lawyer," and that Powell "denie[d] any relief... requested [for] all recommended locations and g[ave] no means to comply with plaintiff's release." In his opposition to the defendants' motion, he also argues they should have allowed him to live with his mother.*fn1 As noted, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

In February 1998, Plaintiff was sentenced in the District of Columbia for the offenses of the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, attempted first degree child sexual abuse, contempt, and attempted threats. (Baines v. Hill, No. 1:CV-08-471, M.D. Pa., doc. 18-2, Ex. 1).*fn2 It appears he was sentenced to a maximum sentence of twenty years and 405 days. On June 20, 2006, the Commission paroled him, but on July 12, 2007, it revoked his parole.*fn3 (Baines v. Hill, No. 1:CV-08-471, doc. 18-2, Ex. 2 and 3).

Attached as an exhibit to the complaint are documents that provide some more detail. One document is a letter, dated September 25, 2007, from Freeman to a case manager at USPLewisburg objecting to a plan that would place Plaintiff in a shelter and requesting that Plaintiff be placed in a halfway house instead. The letter noted the "lack of a suitable residence" and his "high criminality." (Doc. 1-2, CM/ECF p. 5). Another document is a series of e-mail exchanges from October 19, 2007, through October 23, 2007, between a public defender for the District of Columbia and Freeman, but with the last e-mail coming from Powell. These exchanges reveal that the United States Parole Commission had set a parole date effective as of November 1, 2007, for Plaintiff but that the CSOSA had objected to his release plan because his housing arrangement would be inconsistent with public safety. Powell's October 23, 2007, e-mail to the public defender indicated that the CSOSA had submitted an approved plan for Plaintiff and was awaiting a decision from the Bureau of Prisons.

In moving for summary judgment, the defendants provide some more background. In setting Plaintiff's parole date as November 1, 2007, the Commission specified that it would be contingent upon approval of his release plan by the Commission after an investigation by the CSOSA which would submit a report to the Commission before a parole certificate would be delivered. (Baines v. Powell, Doc. 18-2, p. 3, Commission decision of July 12, 2007).

Plaintiff was not released on that date. The Commission reopened his case on November 8, 2007, and retarded parole until December 1, 2007. (Baines v. Hill, doc. 18-2, Ex. 4). On January 11, 2008, the Commission retarded his parole again, nunc pro tunc effective December 1, 2007, for ninety days with an effective parole date of February 29, 2008. (Id., Ex. 5). On February 29, 2008, the Commission again retarded Plaintiff's parole, stating it was for "release planning purposes." (Id., Ex. 7). According to a note made hy a CSOSA agent on March 18, 2008, following a conversation with Plaintiff's Bureau of Prisons case manager, Plaintiff was still incarcerated at that time because the Commission did not want him in a shelter. According to the same note, Plaintiff was scheduled for a release planning hearing before the Commission on April 28, 2008. (Baines v. Powell, doc. 18-2, p. 17).

The hearing was held on April 29, 2008. Reparole was denied because Plaintiff did not have a residence that would satisfy a suitable release plan. ...


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