United States District Court, D. Maryland
James K. Bredar United States District Judge
This matter is before the court on Mark Tibbs’s petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF 1), which was supplemented at direction of the court. ECF 2, 3. Counsel for respondents, former Warden Gregg Hershberger, and Parole Commissioners Mattie Meehan and Sheila Sullivan, have filed a response and a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment supported by affidavits and verified exhibits. ECF 10. Tibbs, who is self-represented, filed an opposition. ECF 14.
After considering the pleadings, exhibits, and applicable law, the court finds a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For reasons to follow, the court will dismiss the petition without prejudice for lack of exhaustion, dismiss Warden Hershberger, dismiss the claims for monetary damages against the Commissioners Meehan and Sullivan (collectively, “the Commissioners”), and grant summary judgment in favor of the Commissioners.
Tibbs is in the custody of the Maryland Division of Correction and presently incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution - Hagerstown. He claims he was improperly denied parole on August 27, 2015, because his prison file contained information which “falsely labeled” him as a gang member. ECF 1 at 1. He faults defendants for considering this information during his parole hearing. Id. at 2.
As relief, Tibbs requests removal of his name from all state, federal, and local gang lists, a new parole hearing, compensatory damages of $100, 000, punitive damages of $100, 000, and injunctive relief to include “[a] findings no checks and balances exist in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services” and “[t]ransparent rules and regulations need to be created which adhere to constitutional rights; while simultaneously advocating penological interests and safety.” ECF 3 at 12.
Tibbs’s petition challenges the denial of his parole and seeks habeas relief. It also sets forth causes of action for violation of civil rights. Accordingly, it shall be treated as a hybrid petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005) (ruling a challenge to state procedures denying parole could be brought under § 1983, because plaintiff would be entitled, at most, to a new parole hearing, not a reduced sentence); see also Brown v. Johnson, 169 F. App’x 155, 157 (4th Cir. 2006) (unpublished) (prisoner challenges to parole guidelines should proceed under § 1983); Overman v. Beck, 186 F. App’x 337, 338 (4th Cir. 2006) (unpublished) (Section 1983 is the appropriate cause of action for inmate challenges to “policies and procedures applicable to their parole reviews, [but] not the denial of parole itself”).
Tibbs is serving a life sentence imposed for first-degree murder and three concurrent 20 year sentences, all consecutive to his life sentence, for robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy, and a hand gun offense. He has been reviewed for parole on four occasions. ECF 10-1 (Affidavit of Mattie Meehan); ECF 10-7. The Maryland Parole Commission (“MPC”) conducted two administrative reviews of Tibbs’s parole file in 1991 and 1996. Id; see also ECF 10-4, ECF 10-5. He was considered for parole on July 25, 2001, at which time the Commission decided to rehear his parole application in July of 2013. ECF 10-6. Tibbs’s parole hearing was not scheduled until 2014. Tibbs indicated he wanted to postpone his hearing, and later, on December 1, 2014, requested a parole hearing. ECF 10-7, 10- 8.
On August 27, 2015, Commissioners Meehan and Sullivan considered Tibbs’s request for parole. The Commissioners have submitted affidavits and attest that in considering Tibbs for parole, they reviewed his entire parole file. They did not review Tibbs’s Division of Correction (DOC) base file. ECF 10-1, 10-14. They attest their review was consistent with MPC practice. Id.
The Commissioners explain that before an inmate is considered for parole, the DOC prepares a pre-parole investigation, called a case plan, for Commission review. Tibbs’s case plan, dated June 19, 2015, included notes that on March 11, 2011, he was “flagged as a security threat group member. BGF [Black Guerilla Family].” ECF 10-1, 10-9 at 1, 10-14, 10-15 at 1. The case plan notes for March 19, 2013, read that there was “no change” to this information. Id. The case plan notes dated June 19, 2015, however, read in relevant part: “Inmate denies any gang affiliation and there are no such alerts.” Id. Notably, the case plan does not include gang member affiliation among the aggravating risk factors used for parole consideration. ECF 10-9 at 5, 6; ECF 10-15 at 5, 6.
On June 15, 2015, Tibbs was provided his case plan. The Notice of Parole Hearing signed by Tibbs on June 15, 2015, outlined for him the factors and information considered in determining parole. ECF 10-10. Tibbs indicated that he understood and agreed with the information in the case plan. ECF 10-10, ECF 10-11.
The Commissioners observe the case plan they reviewed is dated June 19, 2015. They posit the June 15, 2015, note was not in the case plan when Tibbs reviewed and indicated his agreement with the information. ECF 10-1, ECF 10-15.
Meehan and Sullivan deny the reference in Tibbs’s case plan to past gang involvement caused them to deny parole. The Commissioners provide the following identical statements in their declarations:
In considering Mr. Tibbs for parole, I fully understood that although the DOC had flagged him as a member of the Black Guerilla Family (“BGF”) in 2011, he is not currently a member of a gang or a security threat group. During the hearing, an issue arose concerning DOC labeling Mr. Tibbs as a BGF member in 2011. Mr. Tibbs credibly explained that the DOD had labelled him in error, and that the DOC had removed the BGF label after he litigated the issue.
The DOC’s labeling of Mr. Tibbs as a member of BGF in 2011 played no role in my decision to refuse him parole. In reaching that decision, I considered all of the statutory factors listed in Correctional Services Article § 7-305. I based my decision to refuse Mr. Tibbs parole on his poor disciplinary history, the nature of the crime, his limited lack of ...