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Sorrell v. Stewart

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 27, 2018



          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge.

         This petition for writ of habeas corpus challenges the Federal Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") determination that petitioner is ineligible for a one-year sentence reduction due to a prior conviction for involuntary manslaughter. (ECF No. 1). In response, respondent filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. (ECF No. 5). Petitioner opposes the motion. (ECF No. 9).[1] No. hearing is necessary for the disposition of the matters pending before the court. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, respondent's motion, construed as a motion to dismiss, shall be granted and the petition shall be dismissed.


         Petitioner Kevin Sorrell is confined to the custody of the BOP in the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland. He asserts that on January 10, 2017, the "Unit-team" at a BOP facility located in Bennettsville, South Carolina, informed him that his prior felony or misdemeanor adult conviction history included an offense listed in 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b) that precludes a one-year deduction from his time in custody. (Habeas Pet. at 15, ECF No. 1). Petitioner was advised that if he disagreed with the team's assessment he could file a BP-09 with the Warden explaining why he felt the decision was incorrect. (Id.).

         Petitioner filed a BP-09 Request for Administrative Remedy with the Warden, explaining that 28 C.F.R. § 550.55(b) defined excludable offenses as "homicide (including) death caused by 'reckless[ness]' but not including deaths cause[d] by negligence of [sic] justified homicide." (Id.). He maintained that his involuntary manslaughter conviction involved negligence. (Id.). The Warden responded to petitioner's complaint, explaining that the definition of involuntary manslaughter in North Carolina, where petitioner was convicted of the offense, qualifies the conviction as a precluding prior conviction. (Id.). The Warden further explained that North Carolina defines involuntary manslaughter "as an unintentional [sic] killing that is proximately caused by either (a) an unlawful act not amounting to a felony and not ordinarily dangerous to human life, or (b) culpable negligence." (Id., ). The phrase "culpable negligence" according to the Warden's response, is defined by North Carolina law as "such recklessness or carelessness that it proximately results in death." (Id.). The Warden went on to explain that the "controlling federal regulation . . . specifically provid[es] for death cause[d] by recklessness," but does not include death caused by negligence. (Id.) Petitioner's BP-09 complaint was therefore denied. (Id; see also id., Ex. 2 at 13-14, ECF No. 1-2).

         Petitioner appealed the Warden's response to the BOP's Regional Mid-Atlantic office, complaining that he was not satisfied with the decision that he was precluded from early release upon completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program ("RDAP"). (Habeas Pet. at 15, 17, ECF No. 1). He maintained that his involuntary manslaughter conviction did not have the required level of culpability or state of mind required to exclude him from the program. (Id. at 15).

         On April 21, 2017, the Regional Director for the Mid-Atlantic Region rejected petitioner's appeal, taking the position that the State of North Carolina defines culpable negligence as recklessness. (Id. at 17). In the Regional Director's view, the decision finding the petitioner precluded from receiving an early release benefit was proper. (Id., ).

         On August 10, 2017, petitioner filed an appeal with the Central Office again asserting that involuntary manslaughter involves negligence and is not willful, making it an offense that does not preclude him from the early release program. (Id.). Petitioner maintained that the BOP relies on "UCR Federal regulation established-by the FBI" and the "UCR defines homicide as willfully (non-negligence) killing of one human being by another." (Id.).

         On October 16, 2017, the Central Office denied petitioner's appeal, observing that:

We have reviewed documentation relevant to your appeal and based on the information assessed concur with the manner in which the Warden and Regional Director addressed your issue at the time of your administrative Remedy and subsequent appeal. Our review reveals on January 12, 2017, your case was thoroughly reviewed by the legal staff at the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) for early release eligibility pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e). At the time of your review, it was determined you were precluded from early release in accordance with Program Statement 5331.02 Early Release Procedures under 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e) which is based on the guidelines set forth in program statement 5162.05, Categorization of offense.

(Id; see also id, Ex 2 at 21, ECF No. 1-2).

         By his petition in this court, petitioner seeks a judgment against respondent for erroneously interpreting Program Statement 550.55 and 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e). (Habeas Pet. at 19, ECF No. 1). He further seeks award of a one-year early release upon completion of the RDAP program and an order declaring that involuntary manslaughter is a non-violent offense. (Id.).

         Respondent avers that the petition should be dismissed under FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) because 18 U.S.C. § 3625 precludes judicial review, under the Administrative Procedure Act, of the BOP's discretionary and individualized determination of early release eligibility under § 3621(e). (Mem. P. & A. Supp. Resp't's Mot. Dismiss ["Resp't's Mot."] at 2, ECF No. 5-1). In the alternative, respondent asserts that the petition should be dismissed under FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim because the BOP did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner early release in light of his involuntary manslaughter conviction, and further, petitioner does not have a protected liberty interest in early release. (Id.).

         Respondent further explains that in 2005, petitioner was indicted for first degree murder in North Carolina in connection with the shooting death of an individual. (Resp't Mot. Ex. 2 at 7, ECF No. 5-2). In 2006, in connection with the same ...

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