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Williams v. Marques

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 5, 2019

R. MARQUES, Defendant.

          Jay Michael Williams, pro se plaintiff.

          Erica H. MacDonald, United States Attorney, and Erin M. Secord, Assistant United States Attorney, for defendant.



         Defendant Jay Michael Williams pled guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Montana to one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and one count of receipt of a firearm by a person under indictment for a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(n). (Plea Agreement at 2, Aug. 18, 2016, Case No. 4:16-cr-00055-BMM, Docket No. 16.) He is currently serving his sentence at a federal facility in Minnesota.

         On October 29, 2018, Williams brought a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Pet. at 6, Oct. 29, 2018, Docket No. 1.) Williams challenged the validity of 28 C.F.R. § 550.55, which prohibits inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses involving firearms from being granted a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621(e)(2)(B). (Id. at 2.) Section 3621 permits the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to reduce the sentence of nonviolent offenders who successfully complete treatment programs for residential substance abuse. Williams argued that § 550.55 is arbitrary and capricious under § 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq., because the regulation “is based only on agency experience, not factual evidence.” (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 6, Oct. 29, 2018, Docket No. 2.)

         On November 20, 2018, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth C. Wright issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the Court deny Williams' petition. (R. & R., Nov. 20, 2018, Docket No. 5.) The Magistrate Judge relied on binding precedent affirming the validity of the regulation denying Williams relief. (Id. at 2-3.) See Lopez v. Davis, 531 U.S. 230, 238-44 (2001) (holding that § 3621(e)(2)(B) permits the BOP to categorically deny certain groups of nonviolent offenders from discretionary relief); Gatewood v. Outlaw, 560 F.3d 843, 846-49 (8th Cir. 2009) (holding that 28 C.F.R. § 550.58 is not arbitrary and capricious, but reasonably based on the BOP's public safety concerns); Stevenson v. FCI Waseca, 383 Fed.Appx. 587, 587-88 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (affirming Gatewood and its application to § 550.55).

         Williams now objects. (Objs., Dec. 6, 2018, Docket No. 6; Objs. Jan. 4, 2019, Docket No. 9.) Because 28 C.F.R. § 550.55 is reasonable and continues to reflect the BOP's safety concerns, the Court will overrule Williams's objections and adopt the R&R in full.


         I. Standard of Review

          Upon the filing of an R&R by a magistrate judge, “a party may serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(1). “The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3). To be proper, the objections must specifically identify the portions of the R&R to which the party objects and explain the basis for the objections. Turner v. Minnesota, No. 16-3962, 2017 WL 5513629, at *1 (D. Minn. Nov. 17, 2017).

         II. Williams' Objections

         Williams first argues that, in light of new evidence, 28 C.F.R. § 550.55 no longer survives arbitrary and capricious review under Section 706 of the APA. Williams cites data from the BOP's 2014 Program Directory, which he says shows that inmates who complete RDAP have a 16% lower rate of re-offense and recidivism, thus decreasing concerns about public safety. According to Williams, evidence of lower recidivism among inmates who have completed RDAP undermines the public safety rationale behind 28 C.F.R. § 550.55 because denial of relief to nonviolent gun offenders deprives them of an important incentive to complete the RDAP program. Williams asserts that the consequence of denial of relief is more crime. Williams further argues that because Lopez, Stevenson, and Gatewood were decided before the new evidence of reduced recidivism was released in 2014, those cases are no longer binding on this Court.

         As Magistrate Judge Wright correctly stated, this Court remains bound by Lopez, Gatewood, and Stevenson. Additionally, Williams misunderstands the standard under which courts must evaluate regulations such as 28 C.F.R. § 550.55. The question for the Court is not whether there may be a more reasonable alternative to the regulation in question; instead, it is whether the regulation reflects “a permissible construction of the statute.” Chevron v. U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843 (1984). In evaluating a regulation, a court must apply “the principle of deference to administrative interpretations.” Id. at 844. When the Eighth Circuit applied these principles to 28 C.F.R. § 550.55, it found that the regulation reflected the BOP's reasonable belief that those who committed nonviolent gun offenses may pose a greater danger to public safety than other nonviolent offenders. See Stevenson, 383 Fed.Appx. at 588. The BOP's concerns about nonviolent gun offenders are not rendered unreasonable by evidence of reduced recidivism among the general population of offenders upon completion of RDAP.

         Williams next argues that the recent passage of the First Step Act of 2018 (the “FSA”) supplants Section 3621(e) such that the BOP no longer has discretion to exclude nonviolent gun offenders from being granted credits for completion of RDAP. See Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018). In relevant part, the FSA will require the Attorney General of the United States to assess and develop recidivism-reduction programs. Id. at 5201 (to be codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3633(a)). These programs may include substance abuse treatment programs. Id. at 5207 (to be codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3635(3)). Prisoners who complete such programs may be granted relief at the BOP's discretion, including but not limited to early release. Id. at 5198 (to be codified at 18 U.S.C. ...

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