Hill v. Snyder

Decision Date20 December 2017
Docket NumberNo. 17-1252,17-1252
Citation878 F.3d 193
Parties Henry HILL, et al., Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. Rick SNYDER, et al., Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Appellants. B. Eric Restuccia, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Brandon J. Buskey, Steven M. Watt, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, New York, New York, Daniel S. Korobkin, Michael J. Steinberg, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FUND OF MICHIGAN, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellants. B. Eric Restuccia, Margaret A. Nelson, Joseph Froehlich, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: MERRITT, STRANCH, and DONALD, Circuit Judges

JANE B. STRANCH, Circuit Judge.

Since 2010, Plaintiffs have sought federal court review of the punishments Michigan may constitutionally impose on individuals convicted of first-degree murder for acts they committed as children. When we last considered this case, the legal landscape had changed in a few fundamental ways: The Supreme Court had twice ruled that the unique characteristics of youth must factor into sentencing decisions for juvenile offenders facing life imprisonment, and the Michigan Legislature had amended its statutory scheme to implement these rulings. Recognizing the import of these developments, we remanded the case to the district court with express instructions that the parties be authorized to amend the pleadings. The Plaintiffs heeded our opinion and filed a Second Amended Complaint (SAC) in June 2016. Now, as before, they assert that Michigan's sentencing scheme and parole system deny youth offenders a meaningful opportunity for release. The district court determined that jurisprudential concerns barred Plaintiffs' claims and dismissed the SAC in its entirety.

Although we agree that certain claims in the SAC may not proceed, we do not find that the concerns articulated by the district court require dismissal of the entire action. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal of Counts I and II, REVERSE the district court's dismissal of Counts IV, V, and VI, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this decision.


We provided a thorough recitation of the factual and procedural history to date in the previous opinion in this case. See Hill v. Snyder (Hill I ), 821 F.3d 763 (6th Cir. 2016). The legal issues now presented call for some repetition, and there have been several developments in the intervening time period.

A. Case Overview

Plaintiffs are individuals who received mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed while below the age of eighteen. They originally filed this case in November 2010, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Then, as now, Plaintiffs asserted that Michigan's sentencing scheme violated their constitutional rights by depriving them of a meaningful opportunity for release. Plaintiffs specifically challenged the then-applicable statutory provisions that excluded youth offenders who were convicted of first-degree murder from the jurisdiction of the Michigan Parole Board. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316 (life imprisonment without parole for first-degree murder); Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.234(6)(a) (ineligibility for parole for people convicted of first-degree murder under Section 750.316 ). The Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint to add four more Named Plaintiffs in February 2012, four months before the Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama , 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). Miller held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences of life without parole for those under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes. See 567 U.S. at 489, 132 S.Ct. 2455. Following Miller , the district court granted partial summary judgment to the Plaintiffs, holding that Michigan's sentencing scheme violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment by mandating life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. The district court also issued an injunction directing the Defendants to consider all juvenile offenders who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison immediately eligible for parole.

Defendants appealed the injunction to this court. While the appeal was pending, Michigan amended its sentencing scheme to prospectively address the effect of Miller . The Legislature enacted a new statutory provision, which covered both juveniles convicted of first-degree homicide after Miller and those juveniles whose cases were still pending or eligible for direct appellate review at the time of the statute's enactment. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25. This new provision allows prosecutors to seek life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree homicide crimes by filing a motion specifying the grounds for imposing that punishment. Id. § 769.25(3). It also requires courts to conduct a hearing on such motions, where the judge "shall consider the factors listed in Miller v. Alabama , ... and may consider any other criteria relevant to its decision, including the individual's record while incarcerated." Id. § 769.25(6) (citation omitted). If the court does not sentence the individual to life without parole, the court must sentence the individual to a minimum term of 25 to 40 years and a maximum term of 60 years. Id. § 769.25(9).

Michigan simultaneously enacted Section 769.25a, which anticipated a United States or Michigan Supreme Court decision making Miller retroactively applicable. Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.25a(2). This provision applies to juveniles who were convicted of first-degree homicide offenses before Miller and who received mandatory sentences of life without parole. Id. Section 769.25a incorporates portions of Section 769.25 and relies on the same process for imposing renewed life-without-parole or term-of-years sentences. In January 2016, the Supreme Court held that Miller established a new substantive rule of constitutional law that applies retroactively, Montgomery v. Louisiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 718, 736, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), and thereby triggered implementation of Section 769.25a. This panel subsequently issued its decision in Defendants' appeal of the district court's injunction, vacating the order and remanding the case with instructions to grant the parties leave to amend the pleadings and supplement the record in light of the changed legal landscape from Miller , Montgomery , and Michigan's new sentencing statutes. Hill I , 821 F.3d at 771.

B. The Federal Proceedings Since Hill I

Approximately six weeks after our decision in Hill I , Plaintiffs filed the SAC, which is the subject of this appeal. The Plaintiffs name Governor Rick Snyder; Heidi E. Washington, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections; Michael Eagen, Chair of the Michigan Parole Board; and Bill Schuette, Michigan Attorney General, as defendants. The SAC alleges that: Section 791.234(6) continues to be enforced against Plaintiffs in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count I); Michigan's amended sentencing scheme violates the Eighth Amendment by subjecting juvenile offenders to sentences of life without parole (Count II); Michigan's policies and procedures governing parole deny Plaintiffs a meaningful opportunity for release in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count IV); the deprivation of Plaintiffs' good time and disciplinary credits in Section 769.25a(6) violates the Ex Post Facto Clause (Count V); and Defendants have failed to provide the Plaintiffs with access to programming, education, training, and rehabilitation opportunities in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count VI).1

Soon after filing the SAC, Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a preliminary injunction to prevent prosecutors from filing motions seeking renewed sentences of life without parole under Section 769.25a(4)(b). The district court granted Plaintiffs' motion for a TRO, but this court stayed the TRO pending the district court's decision on the preliminary injunction. The district court subsequently denied Plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, finding that they were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims.

Following briefing and oral argument, the district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss the SAC. The district court determined that Count I was moot because the Michigan mandatory life-without-parole statute, Section 791.234(6), no longer applied to the Plaintiffs. The district court dismissed Counts II, IV, and VI as not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 pursuant to the rule set forth in Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994). In the alternative, the district court held that the abstention doctrine outlined in Younger v. Harris , 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), rendered federal court consideration of those counts inappropriate. Finally, the district court dismissed Count V for failure to state a claim after finding that the Plaintiffs could not show that they were disadvantaged by the elimination of good time and deprivation credits as needed to establish an Ex Post Facto Clause violation. Plaintiffs brought this timely appeal.

C. Michigan's Current Statutory Scheme

Michigan relies on a web of sentencing and parole statutes, many of which incorporate each other by reference. A number of these provisions are at issue in this appeal, and we pause to identify those implicated by Plaintiffs' claims in the SAC:

Section 750.316 : This provision identifies first-degree murder crimes and states that such crimes are punishable by life imprisonment without eligibility for parole. As of 2014, this section specifically excepts individuals covered by Sections 769.25 and 769.25a, which

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