UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
October 29, 1975
RODNEY R. HAYMES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
PAUL J. REGAN, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE PAROLE BOARD; PAROLE BOARD OF JULY 29, 1974, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS
Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Whitman Knapp, Judge, requiring appellants (1) to provide appellee with a statement of the ground of its decision to deny him parole, and the essential facts upon which it was based, and (2) to disclose in writing the release criteria observed in its decision to deny appellee parole.
Kaufman, Chief Judge, Friendly and Smith, Circuit Judges.
KAUFMAN, Chief Judge
We are once again called upon to consider the constraints that Fourteenth Amendment guarantees may impose upon the operation of state parole systems. Specifically, we must decide whether the New York State Parole Board must disclose the release criteria observed in its parole decisions if, in every instance where parole is denied, the inmate is given a statement of specific reasons and facts upon which that decision was based. We hold that such disclosure is not, at this time, required as part of the minimum due process to be accorded the parole applicant.
On August 10, 1971, following his conviction for the crime of manslaughter in the first degree, Rodney Haymes was sentenced to an indeterminate term not to exceed ten years. He is presently imprisoned in the Attica Correctional Facility. On July 29, 1974, Haymes appeared before three members of the New York State Board of Parole; on the following day he received a written parole denial slip from the Board stating "Held to 7/75 Board with improved record."*fn1
On September 3, 1974, Haymes filed his pro se civil rights complaint in which he challenged on federal due process and state statutory grounds the adequacy of various procedures employed by the Parole Board, and sought release from custody. An amended complaint, drafted with the aid of counsel and filed on March 31, 1975, requested injunctive and declaratory relief rather than release from custody. Judge Knapp decided that jurisdiction properly arose pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4), as implemented by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, United States ex rel. Johnson v. Chairman, N.Y. State Board of Parole, 500 F.2d 925, 926 (2d Cir.), vacated and remanded as moot sub nom. Regan v. Johnson, 419 U.S. 1015, 42 L. Ed. 2d 289, 95 S. Ct. 488 (1974), and that the exhaustion of state remedies was therefore not required. Since it is the manner of parole decision-making, not its outcome, that is challenged, appellant does not present a complaint of the sort in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439, 93 S. Ct. 1827 (1973), for which habeas corpus would be appropriate. As in Johnson, the Parole Board does not dispute this characterization.*fn2
On the substantive claims presented by Haymes's amended complaint, the court below ordered the Board to furnish a statement of the grounds and essential facts upon which its July 29, 1974 decision to deny Haymes parole was based, and
2.... [to] disclose in writing the release criteria observed by them on July 29, 1974, and the factors considered by them in determining whether these criteria were met with respect to plaintiff Haymes.
(Order of May 27, 1975).*fn3
The Board contests only the portion of Judge Knapp's order that requires the disclosure of criteria for parole release consideration, as set forth above. It asserts that the district judge's reliance upon language in this Court's recent decision in United States ex rel. Johnson, supra, 500 F.2d at 930, in imposing that requirement, was misplaced because it was dicta. We agree with the Board's interpretation of Johnson. Our brother Mansfield, writing for the majority, observed that until the Board discloses both release criteria and the grounds for denial of parole, the prisoner, community, and reviewing courts "are left in the dark" as to whether permissible criteria were rationally applied and relevant factors considered. 500 F.2d at 930. He went on to express the hope that a body of rules, principles and precedent would one day be established. Id. at 933. But, the majority held only that due process required the Board to furnish state prisoners with a written statement of reasons when release on parole is denied. Id. at 934.
Although we agree with the view expressed in Johnson that a policy of disclosing release criteria would be desirable, and could aid in the review of parole decisions, we cannot conclude at this time that the failure to follow such a policy is a violation of fundamental due process.*fn4
Our conclusion is dictated by consideration of the balance between the inmate's interest in the proceedings and the "need for and usefulness of the particular safeguard in the given circumstances...." Frost v. Weinberger, 515 F.2d 57, 66 (2d Cir. 1975). See also Hannah v. Larche, 363 U.S. 420, 442, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1307, 80 S. Ct. 1502 (1960). The inmate's stake in the Board's decision to grant or deny him parole is, of course, significant. It is equally clear that the Parole Board is invested with vast discretionary authority in deciding whether and when parole release is appropriate. The controlling statutory standard, N.Y. Correction Law § 213, provides merely that discretionary release on parole shall be granted only if the Board is of the opinion that, if released, the prisoner will "live and remain at liberty without violating the law" and that his release "is not incompatible with the welfare of society."*fn5
The task of the reviewing body thus might well be eased by the formulation and promulgation of more precise rules and criteria. See generally Friendly, The Federal Administrative Agencies: The Need for Better Definition of Standards, 75 Harv. L. Rev. 863 (1962). And we recognize that any direct burden which might be imposed on the Board in disclosing its release criteria would be less than oppressive.*fn6
Nonetheless, the "need for and usefulness" of such disclosure are diminished to a critical degree where a specific statement of reasons and underlying facts is furnished to every prisoner denied parole. In this connection, we note that § 214 of the New York Correction Law was recently amended to require the Board to inform each prisoner denied parole of "the facts and reason or reasons for such denial."*fn7 This requirement, if properly observed, should serve to protect the inmate from arbitrary and capricious decisions or actions grounded upon impermissible considerations. United States ex rel. Johnson, supra, 500 F.2d at 929. See also Cardaropoli v. Norton, 523 F.2d 990, slip op. 75, 89-90 (2d Cir. 1975). The compulsion upon the decision-maker to set forth the reasons in each case of denial of parole, with some specificity, "promotes thought by the decider" and impels him to "cover the relevant points." Frankel, Criminal Sentences 40-41 (1973).
To satisfy fundamental due process requirements and render unnecessary the disclosure of release criteria, the statement of reasons should enable the reviewing body to determine whether parole has been denied for an impermissible reason, or indeed, for no reason at all. Although a trial-type hearing and detailed findings of fact are not required, such a statement must evince the Board's consideration of relevant factors. United States ex rel. Johnson, supra, 500 F.2d at 934. Moreover, it must provide the inmate with both the grounds for the decision to deny him parole, and the essential facts from which the Board's inferences have been drawn. Id. Judge Knapp correctly found that vague phrases such as the one here given Haymes do not meet the requirements of Johnson.
Such meaningful compliance with N.Y. Correction Law § 214 will enable a reviewing body to determine whether appropriate and rational criteria have been followed by the Board of Parole. We conclude, therefore, that the provision of a long list of factors considered by the Board, unweighted as to their relative significance, would not at this time appreciably enhance the protection accorded the parole applicant or add to the fairness of the proceeding.*fn8 Unless and until the statements of specific facts and reasons for denial of parole actually given pursuant to N.Y. Correction Law § 214 prove inadequate to protect inmates in the parole decision-making process, we will not compel the Board to reveal its release criteria.*fn9
Accordingly, the order of the District Court of May 27, 1975, as modified in accordance with this opinion, is affirmed.
Affirmed as Modified.