Filed Date: Nov. 17, 2010
Closed Date: Nov. 17, 2020
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This is a lawsuit challenging mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles in Michigan.
On November 17, 2010, juvenile prisoners filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the State of Michigan, challenging the state law that prohibited the Michigan Parole Board from considering for parole juveniles who were sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder. The plaintiffs, represented by counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, asked the court for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.
The state subsequently moved to dismiss this case. On July 15, 2011, the district court (Hon. John Corbett O'Meara) granted, in part, the state's motion to dismiss, holding that all but one of the plaintiffs were barred from action by the statute of limitations. 2011 WL 2788205. The state moved the court for certification of interlocutory appeal to dismiss that final claim while the plaintiffs moved the court to reconsider their holding regarding the statute of limitations. In January of 2012, the Court denied both motions. 2012 WL 75313.
On February 1, 2012, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to include a number of new plaintiffs whose actions were not barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Supreme Court had held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. On January 30, 2013, the court granted partial summary judgment for the plaintiffs, ordering that the plaintiffs should have a fair and meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that they are appropriate candidates for parole, and directing the parties to provide briefing on what would constitute a "fair and meaningful" opportunity. 2013 WL 364198. On August 12, 2013, the court defined the scope of the January 30, 2013 order as applying to all persons convicted of first-degree murder in the State of Michigan as juveniles and who were sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state appealed the January 30 order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and requested that the Circuit stay the court's order pending appeal.
After two years at the appellate court, on June 20, 2016, Judge Jane Stranch issued an opinion for the Sixth Circuit vacating the district court's orders from January and August of 2013 and remanding the suit to the district level for consideration of several new legal developments. 821 F.3d 763. The Supreme Court's 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), prohibited sentences of life without parole for juveniles except in very rare and extreme circumstances. The Court later held in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), that the decision in Miller would apply retroactively to juveniles sentenced to life without parole. In addition, Michigan passed new statutes, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25-25a, in response to the Miller decision.
The plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint in response to Michigan's new statutes, alleging that the revised parole system was unfair and inequitable. The case was remanded to the district court where Judge O'Meara granted the plaintiff's motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on July 7, 2016 to stop the re-sentencing of juvenile offenders that would occur under Michigan's new laws. The state appealed this decision, and a second appellate decision was issued on July 20, 2016. 2016 WL 4046827. There, the Sixth Circuit (Stranch, Merritt, Bouie Donald, JJ.) reversed the district court's order for a TRO reasoning that the district court was effectively issuing an injunction contrary to the original June 2016 Sixth Circuit opinion.
On August 3, 2016, Judge O'Meara denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. 2016 WL 4119805. The plaintiffs were seeking to stop prosecutors from re-sentencing juveniles under Michigan's new laws, but Judge O'Meara noted that Miller did not entirely prohibit sentences for life without parole, so states had discretion to determine which rare offenders would continued to be sentenced to life without parole.
On February 7, 2017, Judge O'Meara granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the court no longer had jurisdiction over the matter at hand. 2017 WL 492076. Based upon the change in the legal landscape the plaintiffs were to receive individualized sentencing hearings taking the new statute and the plaintiff's age at the time of the alleged crime into account. The court held that this should redound to the plaintiff's benefit and that any claims regarding the constitutionality of the new statute must be brought up at the forthcoming sentencing hearings or under the writ of habeas corpus.
A month later, the plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Sixth Circuit. On December 20, 2017, that court issued its opinion, affirming the district court's dismissal of counts I and II as moot and reversing counts IV, V, and VI. While claims concerning the state's statutes issuing life without parole were barred from constitutional challenge under Heck doctrine, Heck did not bar review of the state's policies and procedures regarding parole eligibility. Younger abstention was not warranted. The amended complaint's ex post facto claims good time credit revocation were sufficiently stated and ripe for review. These claims were remanded to the district court for review. 878 F.3d 193 (6th Cir. 2017).
The plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on count V for injunctive relief and again for class certification once the case was remanded. The case was reassigned to Judge Mark A. Goldsmith in Detroit. The court held hearings on March 22, and the defendants moved to stay the results of those proceedings in the event an injunction was granted. On March 30, in anticipation of an unfavorable summary judgement ruling as to count V, the state moved to request a 14-day stay of any forthcoming order from the court to allow time to file an appeal.
On April 9, 2018 Judge Goldsmith granted the plaintiff’s motions for class certification in full and partial summary judgement as to count V, and denied the state’s request for a 14-day stay. 308 F. Supp. 3d 398. Judge Goldsmith certified a class consisting of “all individuals in Michigan DOC custody who were convicted of first-degree murder for offenses committed when they were below 18 years of age, were or will be subjected to resentencing under M.C.L. § 769.25a, and are or could become eligible for parole.” He also certified two subclasses: the first including “all persons in the primary class whose offenses occurred prior to December 15, 1998,” and the second consisting of “all persons in the primary class who are still awaiting resentencing."
Judge Goldsmith found that Pullman abstention was not warranted in this case as Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(6) was “unmistakably clear” and solidly supported the plaintiffs' position that it retroactively deprived them of good time and disciplinary credits previously earned. He also said that Pullman abstention would carry too great a risk of constitutional guarantees going unenforced, noting the state’s pattern in this case of failing to carry out court orders to anyone other than the named plaintiffs. Judge Goldmith found that Younger absention would be inappropriate because the plaintiffs were not seeking to interfere with any ongoing state judicial proceedings, noting that it is the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), not Michigan state courts, to calculate good time and disciplinary credits.
Judge Goldsmith then held that Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(6) was an unconstitutional ex post facto law because it retroactively removed the plaintiffs’ credits, and ordered the state to apply good time and disciplinary credits in calculating parole eligibility dates for juvenile lifers resentenced to a term of years, denying the state’s request for a 14-day stay. Judge Goldsmith denied without prejudice both parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment as to the Count VI allegation that the denial of rehabilitative programming denied the plaintiffs a fair and meaningful opportunity for release, pointing out that no discovery had taken place on this issue. The state appealed the April 9 decision to the Sixth Circuit and moved for an emergency stay of the district court’s order to deny the 14-day stay. 2018 WL 1782710, 308 F.Supp.3d 893. A week later, the Sixth Circuit (Judge Stranch) denied the state’s request for a stay of the district court order but said that the Court of Appeals would consider the appeal on an expedited basis.
In its appeal, the state asked the Sixth Circuit to determine that the district court should not have considered Count V, based on either the Pullman or Younger abstention doctrines. On August 14, 2018, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion by Judge Stranch rejecting both of the state's arguments and affirming the decision of the district court.
Under Pullman abstention, the defendants argued that "whether Plaintiffs earned good time credits while serving their life sentences is an unsettled question of Michigan law that must be answered, in the first instance, by Michigan courts." Judge Stranch said that the relevant statutory provisions were unambiguous and supported the plaintiffs’ position and that Michigan courts had made it clear that individuals previously serving life sentences without parole who received new sentences may not be deprived of the credits earned during their prior sentences.
As for Younger abstention, Judge Stranch said that "the late stage of the litigation rendered the doctrine incongruous and inapplicable." The district court had awarded the plaintiffs summary judgment on Count V (the deprivation of Plaintiffs’ good time and disciplinary credits in Section 769.25a(6) violates the Ex Post Facto Clause) and ordered permanent injunctive relief that prohibited the defendants from enforcing or applying the statutory provision that effected the credit elimination, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.265a(6). Judge Stranch affirmed this decision, concluding that because the elimination of credits delayed the plaintiffs' release, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(6) makes a defendant's sentence more onerous, and thus violates the Ex Post Facto Clause.
Judge Stranch affirmed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment and permanent injunctive relief for the plaintiffs. 900 F.3d 260 (6th Cir. 2018). The Sixth Circuit later denied rehearing en banc.
While the state's appeal was pending before the Sixth Circuit, the plaintiffs agreed to withdraw their claim for money damages in exchange for the state withdrawing its defense that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.
On November 13, 2018, Judge Goldsmith entered a stipulated order of voluntary dismissal as to Count IV of the plaintiff's second amended complaint. This cause of action alleged that the statutory scheme under M.C.L. §§ 791.231 through 791.246 violated the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) and Fourteenth Amendment (due process) rights because the mandatory term of imprisonment is the equivalent of life imprisonment and they would not be guaranteed a meaningful opportunity for release on parole before the end of their natural lives.
The same day, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to Count VI of plaintiffs' second amended complaint. This claim alleged Eighth Amendment violations on the part of two individual defendants for refusal to provide the plaintiffs with the programming, education, training, and rehabilitation opportunities necessary for the plaintiffs to demonstrate their suitability for release, and thereby denying the plaintiffs parole opportunities.
The plaintiffs filed a motion to compel compliance with judgment, alleging that the defendants had refused to apply credits as required by state law and Michigan Department of Corrections policies for at least two subclass members, in violation of the April 2018 judgment. After a hearing, the motion was denied by Judge Goldsmith on February 26, 2019.
Also in February, Judge Goldsmith denied the plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees without prejudice because Count VI of the plaintiffs' second amended complaint remained pending before the court.
On July 12, 2019, Judge Goldsmith issued an opinion on the defendants' motion for summary judgment with regard to Count VI. Judge Goldsmith granted summary judgment as to the issue of whether plaintiffs were being denied a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation because of their inability to take core programming. However, Judge Goldsmith denied summary judgment as to whether denial of core programs to plaintiffs without an early release date/parole board jurisdiction date affects their ability to obtain release on parole. 2019 WL 3067977 (July 12 2019 E.D. Mich.)
The plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint on October 29, 2019 adding two new causes of action. Count VII alleged that subjecting the plaintiffs to life in prison without a meaningful opportunity for release based on their juvenile status and their demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation violates international law reflected in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Count VIII alleged that the defendants' failure to provide resentencing hearings to the plaintiff class violated the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
A fourth amended complaint was filed on February 27, 2020, adding new plaintiffs. In March 2020, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss count VIII of the plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint.
In June 2020, Judge Goldsmith issued an opinion denying the defendants' September 2019 motion for summary judgment as to count VI of the plaintiffs' complaint, writing that the defendants had not established that their policy of denying class members access to core programming did not result in a deprivation of their right to a meaningful opportunity to obtain release. 2020 WL 2849969 (June 2 2020 E.D. Mich.) Two weeks later, the defendants filed a motion for reconsideration.
The parties proceeded with settlement talks before Magistrate Judge David R. Grand throughout the summer and reached a settlement agreement during a conference on September 17, 2020. Under the terms of the settlement, the Michigan Department of Corrections agreed to complete a file review and propose programming recommendations for all class members yet to be resentenced, subject to approval by the Parole Board. An artificial Earliest Release Date of 25 years would be calculated for all class members awaiting resentencing and class members will be placed in programming or on waitlists based on their artificial Earliest Release Date. Upon resentencing, placement on programming waitlists will be automatically adjusted based on their actual Earliest Release Date.
In addition, the Attorney General agreed to send written communications to all elected county prosecutors in each county where class members' resentencing hearings were not completed. The communication would include a request that prosecutors complete review of cases not yet resentenced and notify the sentencing court and Attorney General whether they intended to seek reimposition of life-without-parole. It would also include an offer to provide staffing and resources for case reviews and/or to intervene and complete a case review upon request of the prosecuting attorney.
The court approved the settlement and entered final judgment on November 17, 2020.
Maurice Youkanna (6/10/2014)
Salvatore Mancina (11/9/2016)
Nichollas Dawson (11/6/2017)
Alexander Walling (7/20/2018)
Sabrina Glavota (6/19/2020)
Rachel Harrington (4/21/2021)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4291780/parties/hill-v-whitmer/
Cook, Deborah L. (Ohio)
Donald, Bernice Bouie (Tennessee)
Buskey, Brandon (New York)
Dahlberg, Robin L. (New York)
Dalzell, Kathryn M (Michigan)
Cook, Deborah L. (Ohio)
Donald, Bernice Bouie (Tennessee)
Goldsmith, Mark Allan (Michigan)
Grand, David R. (Michigan)
Griffin, Richard Allen (Michigan)
Merritt, Gilbert Stroud Jr. (Tennessee)
O'Meara, John Corbett (Michigan)
Rogers, John M. (District of Columbia)
Stranch, Jane Branstetter (Tennessee)
Whalen, R. Steven (Michigan)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4291780/hill-v-whitmer/
Last updated July 7, 2023, 3:14 a.m.
State / Territory: Michigan
Filing Date: Nov. 17, 2010
Closing Date: Nov. 17, 2020
Case Ongoing: No
Juvenile plaintiffs in prison for life without parole
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Special Case Type(s):
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: $800,000
Content of Injunction: