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Redmond v. Fulwood

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 9, 2017

Jesse R. Redmond, Jr., Appellant
v.
Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Former Chairman, United States Parole Commission, Appellee

          Argued November 15, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-00308)

          David C. Wolff, appointed by the court, argued the cause as amicus curiae in support of appellant. With him on the briefs was Kathryn L. Clune.

          Peter C. Pfaffenroth, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

          Before: Rogers, Brown and Millett, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Millett, Circuit Judge.

         Jesse Redmond, Jr. was convicted of sexual assault under District of Columbia law. He was twice denied parole by the United States Parole Commission. Alleging that his denials of parole were infected by unconstitutional decisionmaking, Redmond filed suit against the then-Chair of the Commission, Isaac Fulwood, Jr., in his personal capacity. The district court dismissed the case sua sponte, concluding that parole commissioners are entitled to absolute immunity from such lawsuits. We affirm, albeit on the ground that Fulwood is entitled to qualified immunity. We leave for another day the question of whether parole commissioners merit absolute immunity as a matter of law.

         I

         Jesse R. Redmond, Jr. was convicted in the District of Columbia in 1996 of one count of first-degree sexual assault, and acquitted of one count of oral sodomy and one count of anal sodomy. He was sentenced to serve fifteen years to life in prison. Fifteen years after his conviction, in 2011, Redmond became eligible for parole. He was denied parole both at his 2010 pre-eligibility hearing and in a subsequent hearing held in 2011. The 2011 denial occurred despite the Hearing Examiner's finding that Redmond should be paroled under the applicable parole guidelines.

         Dissatisfied with his parole denials and without any option to appeal, Redmond brought suit against the then-Chairman of the United States Parole Commission, Isaac Fulwood, Jr., in his personal capacity, pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).[1]The district court sua sponte dismissed Redmond's complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii), 1915A(b)(2), holding that Fulwood is absolutely immune from suit for acts taken in the course of his duties as Chairman of the United States Parole Commission.

         Redmond appealed to this court, and we now affirm. We do so, however, because Fulwood is entitled to qualified immunity for each of the claims in Redmond's complaint. Accordingly, we need not and do not reach the question of whether Fulwood is entitled to absolute immunity for actions taken during his tenure as Chairman of the United States Parole Commission. See Taylor v. Reilly, 685 F.3d 1110, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2012) ("Because we conclude that the [Parole Commission] defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, we do not address the issue of absolute immunity."); see also Radtke v. Caschetta, 822 F.3d 571, 573 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 2016) ("[W]e are free to affirm the lower court on alternative grounds.") (citing RSM Prod. Corp. v. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer U.S. LLP, 682 F.3d 1043, 1045 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 2012)).

         II

         Courts are required to dismiss complaints in civil actions "in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " and the complaint "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; see also id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). Accordingly, a prisoner's civil complaint is properly dismissed sua sponte if the person the prisoner seeks to sue is protected by either qualified or absolute immunity. See, e.g., Reynolds v. Morrison, No. 16-5151, 2016 WL 7438665, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 22, 2016) (affirming dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) because defendants were entitled to judicial immunity); cf. Thompson v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 492 F.3d 428, 435 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (noting that qualified immunity is a basis for dismissal of prisoner complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A).

         Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from suits for money damages unless a plaintiff shows both that (i) the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (ii) that right was "clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct." Taylor, 685 F.3d at 1113 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011)). We can begin-and often ...


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