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Hassell v. Fischer

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 3, 2018

WILLIAM HASSELL, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections (in an individual capacity), ANTHONY J. ANNUCCI, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections (in an individual capacity), ANDREA W. EVANS, Chairwoman, New York State Board of Parole (in an individual capacity), TERRENCE TRACY, New York State Parole Employee (in an individual capacity), Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants, ANTHONY COSTANTINI, New York State Parole Officer (in an individual capacity), JOSE BULNES, New York State Parole Officer (in an individual capacity), MONTY BYNUM, New York State Parole Officer (in an individual capacity), IRMA MACHADO, New York State Parole Officer (in an individual capacity), GREGORY FREEMAN, New York State Parole Officer (in an individual capacity), NEW YORK STATE CORRECTIONS EMPLOYEE JOHN DOE, (fictitious name) (in an individual capacity), NEW YORK STATE PAROLE EMPLOYEE JANE DOE, (fictitious name) (in an individual capacity), Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: October 17, 2017

         Appeal 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 nominal damages.

         Affirmed 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- Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

          Eric 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 Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants and Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: NEWMAN and CABRANES, Circuit Judges, and CHATIGNY, [2] District Judge.

          JON O. NEWMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In 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).[3] 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) ("Betances II").

         In 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, [4] and a class action, see Betances v. Fischer, 304 F.R.D. 416, 432 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) ("Betances Class Op.") (certifying class), [5] 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.

         Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee 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.

         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 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.

         On 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.

         BACKGROUND

         Hassell's sentencing, PRS, and resentencing.

         On 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.

         At some 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.

         The 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.

         On 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.

         On June 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.

         Hassell's lawsuit.

         Hassell 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").

         The 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

         On the 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 Hassell.[9]

         To 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 at resentencing.

         Within 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.

         Having 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.[10] To ...


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