Argued: October 17, 2017
and cross-appeal from the Sept. 28, 2016, judgment of the
District Court for the Southern District of New York (Alvin
K. Hellerstein, District Judge) requiring New York prison and
parole officials to pay William Hassell, a former state
prisoner, nominal damages plus attorney's fees for their
unreasonable delay in requesting a New York trial court to
resentence Hassell and impose a term of post-release
supervision ("PRS") after a term of PRS had been
administratively imposed. Hassell's appeal seeks review
of the District Court's ruling that the state officials
were entitled to qualified immunity on Hassell's claim
for additional damages for the period after a state court at
resentencing imposed a term of PRS. The
Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants Brian Fischer and
Anthony J. Annucci, officials of the New York State
Department of Corrections, and Andrea W. Evans and Terrence
Tracy, officials of the New York State Board of Parole, all
sued in their individual capacities, cross-appeal to seek
review of the District Court's decision denying them
judgment on the pleadings on the ground of qualified immunity
for the six month period, prior to Hassell's
resentencing, for which the District Court awarded Hassell
as to the appeal; affirmed in part, vacated in part, as to
the cross- appeal, and remanded.
Lawrence P. LaBrew, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-
Del Pozo, Asst. Solicitor General, State of New York, New
York, NY (Eric T. Schneiderman, Atty. General, State of New
York, Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Steven C. Wu,
Deputy Solicitor General, New York, NY, on the brief), for
Before: NEWMAN and CABRANES, Circuit Judges, and CHATIGNY,
NEWMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
1998, the New York legislature passed a sentencing reform
statute that changed the sentencing scheme for violent felony
offenders by eliminating parole and requiring a term of
post-release supervision ("PRS") to follow
determinate sentences. See N.Y. Penal Law §
70.45(1); People v. Catu, 4 N.Y.3d 242, 244 (2005).
However, section 70.45(1), as enacted, did not require state
court judges to impose a term of PRS at sentencing. See
Scott v. Fischer, 616 F.3d 100, 103 (2d Cir.
2010). In the many cases where state court judges
did not impose terms of PRS at sentencing, officials of the
New York State Department of Corrections ("DOCS")
administratively imposed such terms. See Betances v.
Fischer, 837 F.3d 162, 165 (2d Cir. 2016)
2006, this Court ruled that DOCS officials violated "the
due process guarantees of the United States
Constitution" by administratively imposing PRS terms.
See Earley v. Murray, 451 F.3d 71, 76 n.1 (2d Cir.)
("Earley I"), reh'g denied,
462 F.3d 147 (2d Cir. 2006) ("Earley II").
Earley I led to several individual prisoner
lawsuits,  and a class action, see Betances v.
Fischer, 304 F.R.D. 416, 432 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)
("Betances Class Op.") (certifying class),
seeking damages for the unconstitutional imposition of PRS
terms or the delay in requesting state courts to resentence
to add such terms. The pending appeal appears to be the first
of these individual cases to reach this Court in which a
judgment has been entered awarding damages to a prisoner.
William Hassell appeals from the September 28, 2016, judgment
of the United States District Court for the Southern District
of New York (Alvin K. Hellerstein, District Judge) entered
against the Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants Brian
Fischer, DOCS Commissioner, Anthony J. Annucci, Acting DOCS
Commissioner, Andrea W. Evans, Chairwoman of the New York
State Board of Parole, and Terrence Tracy, an employee of the
Parole Board, all sued in their individual capacities.
See Hassell v. Fischer, 96 F.Supp.3d 370 (S.D.N.Y.
2015). The judgment awarded Hassell nominal damages of $600,
$100 for each of the six months during which the District
Court ruled that the defendants had unreasonably delayed in
requesting a state trial court to resentence him and impose a
term of PRS after such a term had been administratively
imposed. The judgment also awarded Hassell attorney's
fees of $24, 000.
appeal seeks review of the District Court's ruling that
the state officials were entitled to qualified immunity on
Hassell's claim for additional damages for the period
after a state court, at resentencing on December 3, 2008,
imposed a term of PRS. The state officials' cross-appeal
seeks review of the District Court's decision awarding
Hassell nominal damages for the six-month period prior to
Hassell's resentencing because of the officials'
delay in making reasonably prompt efforts to notify the state
court sentencing judge of the need to resentence Hassell and
add a judicially imposed term of PRS.
Hassell's appeal, we affirm. On the state officials'
cross-appeal, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand
for entry of a revised judgment and consideration of whether
attorney's fees should be adjusted in light of our
disposition of the cross-appeal.
sentencing, PRS, and resentencing.
November 21, 2002, Hassell received a sentence of three and
one-half years, based on a guilty plea to a charge of assault
in the second degree. The sentence was consecutive to a
sentence Hassell was then serving for another offense. The
state court judge did not impose the required PRS term to
follow the second of Hassell's consecutive sentences.
point during Hassell's incarceration, DOCS officials
administratively added a five-year PRS term to his sentence,
and thereafter State Parole Board officials monitored his
compliance with the conditions of that PRS term upon his
release from prison.
expiration date of the second of Hassell's consecutive
sentences was August 31, 2008, but he was released from
prison earlier on February 29, 2008, because he had earned
good time credits equal to one-seventh of his sentence. Had
there been no administratively imposed PRS term, Hassell
would have been subject to a form of supervision called
"conditional release" for the period that his
confinement was shortened by good time credits. See
N.Y. Correction Law § 803(1)(c); N.Y. Penal Law §
70.40(1)(b). However, as the New York Court
of Appeals has explained, "[A] defendant who is
conditionally released immediately commences serving the
imposed term of PRS and the remaining term of incarceration
is 'held in abeyance' during this period."
People v. Williams, 19 N.Y.3d 100, 104 (2012)
(quoting N.Y. Penal Law § 70.45(5)(a)). In conformity
with this explanation of New York law, the District Court
stated that on the date of Hassell's release from
confinement, February 29, 2008, he was subject to the PRS
term of five years that had been administratively imposed.
September 15, 2008, DOCS notified the New York County Supreme
Court that had sentenced Hassell that he needed to be
resentenced to add a term of PRS as part of his sentence. On
December 3, 2008, Hassell was resentenced to his original
sentence plus five years of PRS nunc pro tunc.
17, 2010, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that
Hassell's resentencing violated the Double Jeopardy
Clause of the United States Constitution because the
resentencing added a sanction after his release from custody,
see People v. Hassell, 14 N.Y.3d 925, 926 (2010), a
period when "a legitimate expectation in the finality of
[his] sentence [had] arise[n], " People v.
Williams, 14 N.Y.3d 198, 217 (2010). Hassell's PRS
was terminated that day.
filed his initial complaint (later amended) in 2013, alleging
that he was subjected to PRS in a manner that violated his
due process and double jeopardy rights guaranteed by the
Constitution. He sought monetary damages and attorney's
fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.
Hassell alleged that the DOCS defendants administratively
added a five-year PRS term to his sentence, and that they and
the Parole Board defendants worked with and directed lower
level DOCS and Parole Board employees to subject him to the
conditions of the administratively imposed PRS term upon
Hassell's release, violating his right to due process
(the "First Violation"). Hassell also alleged that
he was subjected to double jeopardy when the defendants
caused the sentencing court to resentence him and add a PRS
term (the "Second Violation").
defendants moved, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the amended complaint on
several grounds, including qualified immunity. In an order
and opinion entered April 1, 2015 ("the April
Opinion"), the District Court granted the motion in part
and denied it in part. See Hassell, 96 F.Supp.3d at
374. On the First Violation-the administrative imposition and
application of PRS conditions between Hassell's release
from prison on February 29, and his resentencing on December
3, 2008-the Court denied the motion as to defendants Fischer,
Annucci, Tracy, and Evans. The Court ruled that they were not
entitled to qualified immunity because they had violated
clearly established law, announced in Earley I, when
they administratively added and then applied the conditions
of a PRS term to Hassell. The District Court also ruled that
there was insufficient evidence to determine whether the
defendants had taken reasonable steps to request the state
court to resentence Hassell.
Second Violation-the defendants' request to have the
state court resentence Hassell with a PRS term and apply its
conditions to him between December 3, 2008, the date of
resentencing, and June 17, 2010, the date when PRS was
terminated-the District Court granted the defendants'
motion to dismiss. The Court ruled that they were entitled to
qualified immunity because they had acted with objective
reasonableness in requesting the state court to resentence
determine the time period for which Hassell could receive
damages for the First Violation, the District Court, in an
order entered July 18, 2016 ("the July Order"),
first established the maximum period for a potential
recovery. That period, the Court ruled, began on February 29,
2008, the date Hassell became subject to administratively
imposed PRS after his release from prison, and ended on
December 3, 2008, the date the state court imposed a PRS term
that period of potential damages, the District Court then
determined a period of actual damages through a
reconstruction of what the Court ruled would have happened if
the defendants had acted in a reasonably timely manner to
request resentencing. First, the Court ruled that by April
15, 2008, 45 days after February 29, 2008, Annucci, Fischer,
and Tracy "should have caused a motion to be filed with
Justice Uviller [the Judge who had sentenced Hassell], asking
her to correct Hassell's sentence." July Order at 3,
Special Appx. ("SA") 29. Then, Judge Hellerstein
continued, by May 31, 2008, 45 days after April 15, 2008, the
State Court "should have acted." Id.
Finally, apparently recognizing that May 31 was a Saturday
and that the next business day when the resentencing could
have occurred was June 2, Judge Hellerstein ruled that the
period of unreasonable delay started on the next day, June 3,
2008, and ran until December 3, 2008, when resentencing
actually occurred. See id.
thus framed a six-month period of unreasonable delay, Judge
Hellerstein then considered what damages were warranted for
that delay. He observed that no matter when Justice Uviller
resentenced Hassell, she would have imposed the same
five-year term of PRS that she imposed on December 3, 2008,
and done so nunc pro tunc. So even though Judge
Hellerstein ruled that there had been an unreasonable delay
in resentencing, he concluded that the delay "would not
have changed Hassell's life in the slightest."
Id. at 4, SA 30. For that reason Judge Hellerstein
awarded only nominal damages of $100 per month for a total of
$600. To ...