870 F.2d 616 (11th Cir. 1989), 87-8514, Gwin v. Snow

Docket Nº:87-8514, 87-8518.
Citation:870 F.2d 616
Party Name:Robert Irwin GWIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Wayne SNOW, Jr., et al., Defendants-Appellees. Robert I. GWIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Mobley HOWELL, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 19, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 616

870 F.2d 616 (11th Cir. 1989)

Robert Irwin GWIN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Wayne SNOW, Jr., et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Robert I. GWIN, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Mobley HOWELL, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 87-8514, 87-8518.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 19, 1989

Page 617

Steven H. Sadow, Maloy, Sadow & Jenkins, Atlanta, Ga., for Robert gwin.

Cathy A. Cox, State Law Dept., Atlanta, Ga., for Wayne Snow, Jr., et al. and Mobley Howell, et al.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before JOHNSON, HATCHETT and COX, Circuit Judges.

HATCHETT, Circuit Judge:

Robert Gwin, the appellant, seeks review of the district court's grant of summary judgment to the individual members of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (Board), Georgia's Governor and Georgia's Attorney General. 1 The district court dismissed

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Gwin's claims challenging the Board's parole procedure and the Board's decisions denying Gwin parole and a compassionate leave. We affirm the district court's dismissal of all claims, excluding the equal protection claims. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the district court's dismissal of Gwin's section 1983 equal protection claims challenging the Board's parole procedure and denial of compassionate leave.

FACTS

Gwin, a black inmate of the Georgia Department of Corrections, is currently serving a life sentence for armed robbery of a white female. The state has incarcerated Gwin in the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. The Board, whose membership includes only one black person, has continually denied Gwin parole. In addition, the Board denied Gwin a compassionate leave when his mother died.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After his first parole denial, Gwin filed a section 1983 action, without counsel, in the Northern District of Georgia. Gwin alleged that the racially imbalanced Board practiced racial discrimination by using both the victim's and the prisoner's race as criteria for its parole decisions. Gwin sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and $70,000 damages from each board member for alleged due process and equal protection violations.

On September 12, 1986, Gwin filed a second action in the Northern District of Georgia. This action resulted from the Board's refusal to grant Gwin a compassionate leave when his mother died. Gwin sued the Board's members and Georgia's Governor and Attorney General, alleging due process and equal protection violations in the Board's denial of compassionate leave. Gwin sought injunctive relief, damages, appointment of counsel, attorney's fees and costs, and a jury trial.

These actions came before the court on several of Gwin's motions and the Board's summary judgment motions. 2 The district court denied Gwin's motions to the extent that its decisions did not render them moot. The court denied Gwin's motion for counsel because it granted summary judgment to all defendants, and therefore Gwin failed to survive a dispositive motion. The court also found Gwin's disqualification motion meritless because Gwin merely alleged bias from the court's unfavorable evidentiary and legal rulings. The court determined that these rulings did not constitute a sufficient basis for disqualification. See In re Corrugated Container Antitrust Litigation, 614 F.2d 958 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 888, 101 S.Ct. 244, 66 L.Ed.2d 114 (1980) (plaintiff must demonstrate that the judge has a personal bias or prejudice either disfavoring the plaintiff or favoring the defendant). The court summarily denied Gwin's remaining motions.

The district court granted summary judgment to the Board and the other defendants on all claims. The court dismissed Gwin's due process claim for the Board's denial of parole and compassionate leave because the Georgia parole statute does not create a liberty interest in parole. Rather, the court concluded that the Georgia statute does not establish an expectancy of release, but merely gives the Board the discretion to act. See Greenholtz v.

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Inmates of the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 99 S.Ct. 2100, 60 L.Ed.2d 668 (1979) (no due process violation unless state statute creates an entitlement to release or parole). The court also held that the Board's use of the 1984 parole guidelines did not violate the ex post facto clause of the Constitution.

The court similarly dismissed Gwin's remaining due process claims. First, the court held that Gwin did not have standing to challenge the Board's racial composition. According to the district court, Gwin failed to allege a concrete injury such as a denial of membership to the Board. To the contrary, the court found Gwin's alleged injury, a likelihood of discrimination, far too speculative to satisfy the standing doctrine's imminent injury component. See Lamar v. Whiteside, 606 F.2d 88, 89 (5th Cir.1979) (no standing where plaintiff claims that alleged racial imbalance will cause injury).

Second, the court dismissed Gwin's claim of a right to have access to his parole file. The court relied on our previous decision which holds that inmates do not have such a right. See Slocum v. Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, 678 F.2d 940, 942 (11th Cir.1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1043, 103 S.Ct. 462, 74 L.Ed.2d 612 (1982) (parole board's refusal to allow inmate to examine his file does not constitute a constitutional violation).

Finally, the district court dismissed Gwin's equal protection claims because Gwin did not exhaust his state remedies. The court concluded that Gwin's claims essentially constituted habeas corpus claims rather than section 1983 actions. Therefore, the court dismissed the claims without prejudice to allow Gwin to exhaust his state remedies.

CONTENTIONS

Gwin contends that the district court improperly dismissed his claims in both actions. First, he contends that the district court improperly treated his section 1983 actions as habeas corpus claims requiring an exhaustion of state remedies. Second, Gwin contends that he suffered a judicially cognizable injury sufficient to give him standing to challenge the Board's racial composition. Third, Gwin contends that the Board's denial of access to his parole files violates his due process rights. Fourth, Gwin contends that the district court improperly concluded that the Georgia parole guidelines did not create a liberty interest in parole. Finally, Gwin contends that the Board's use of the retroactive amendment of the parole guidelines violates the ex post facto clause.

The Board contends that the district court properly dismissed Gwin's claims. According to the Board, Gwin does not have an entitlement to parole or to access his parole files. The Board also contends that Gwin has not suffered a sufficiently concrete injury to challenge the Board's racial composition. Finally, the Board contends that Gwin's equal protection claims essentially constitute unexhausted habeas corpus claims because he challenges the fact and duration of his confinement.

ISSUES

Gwin raises the following issues on appeal: (1) Whether Gwin's equal protection claims constitute unexhausted habeas corpus claims; (2) whether Gwin has a due process right of access to his parole file; (3) whether the Georgia parole statute provides Gwin with a liberty interest in parole; (4) whether Gwin has standing to challenge the Board's racial composition; and (5) whether the Board's use of the retroactive amendment to Georgia's parole guidelines violates the ex post facto clause.

DISCUSSION

I. The Equal Protection Claims

Gwin contends that his equal protection claims did not constitute habeas corpus claims; therefore, he properly asserted these claims under section 1983 without exhausting state remedies. The Board contends that this case presents a question of first impression in this court. Accordingly, the Board urges us to adopt the Fifth Circuit's bright-line test which would require Gwin to bring these actions as habeas corpus

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claims, and therefore require dismissal for failure to exhaust state remedies. The district court summarily concluded that Gwin's claims essentially constituted habeas corpus claims.

We disagree with the district court's dismissal of all of Gwin's claims. Although the court properly dismissed Gwin's challenge to his denial of parole, we find that neither the Supreme Court's nor this court's precedent compels us to treat Gwin's challenge to the Board's parole procedures or his denial of compassionate leave as habeas corpus claims. 3 To the contrary, the relevant decisions demonstrate that such claims constitute proper section 1983 claims which do not require the exhaustion of state remedies.

A. Gwin's Section 1983 Equal Protection Claims Do Not Require Exhaustion of State Remedies

  1. Supreme Court Authority

    We begin our analysis by examining the two seminal Supreme Court decisions in this area. The Supreme Court established the test for determining whether a prisoner's section 1983 claim essentially constitutes a habeas corpus claim, and therefore requires exhaustion of state court remedies, in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 93 S.Ct. 1827, 36 L.Ed.2d 439 (1973). In Preiser, three New York state prisoners challenged the constitutionality of a disciplinary action which deprived them of good-time credits. The prisoners sought injunctive relief to compel the restoration of these credits. The Court held that the prisoners could only bring their action in a habeas corpus petition because they sought to reduce their period of confinement. The Court, however, specifically noted that these prisoners could have sought damages for the same allegedly unconstitutional disciplinary action under section 1983 without exhausting their state court remedies. See Preiser, 411 U.S. at 494, 93 S.Ct. at 1838-39, 36 L.Ed.2d at 453 (prisoner seeking damages does not...

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