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Steven Hypolite v. Board of Parole Hearings

August 9, 2011

STEVEN HYPOLITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF PAROLE HEARINGS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Introduction

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned. Docket # 4, filed on May 18, 2011. By Order, filed on June 15, 2011, plaintiff's complaint was dismissed with leave to amend within twenty-eight days. On July 7, 2011, plaintiff filed both a motion for an extension of time to amend his complaint and a motion for reconsideration. By Order filed on July 14, 2011, plaintiff filed a request for clarification, wherein he explains that he intended the request for an extension of time to be considered after the court's ruling on the motion for reconsideration, wherein plaintiff asks the court to reconsider whether defendant Board of Parole Hearing (BPH) panel members are entitled to absolute immunity. Plaintiff claimed in his original complaint that the defendants' 2009 parole denial at his initial suitability hearing was arbitrary and fundamentally unfair and was in retaliation for his exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech to testify truthfully; he also contended that the application of Proposition 9 violated plaintiff's due process and equal protection rights. Order, filed on June 15, 2011, citing Complaint, p. 3.

With respect to his allegations against two BPH commissioners, the court stated, in part:

In Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1102 (1981), the Ninth Circuit addressed the question of whether parole board officials are entitled to qualified or absolute immunity from civil rights suits. The court considered the fact that "absolute immunity for parole board officials does leave the genuinely wronged prisoner without civil redress against the official whose malicious or dishonest actions deprive the prisoner of liberty." Id. at 1303. But the court reasoned that because "parole board officials perform functionally comparable tasks to judges when they decide to grant, deny, or revoke parole," the broader public interest would best be served by granting parole board officials the absolute immunity given to judges, in order to keep them free from fear of litigation. Therefore, the defendants appear to be absolutely immune from suit based on their decision at an initial parole board suitability hearing.

Order, filed on 6/15/11 (docket # 5), p. 4.

It is primarily to this aspect of the order that plaintiff addresses his request for reconsideration.

Standards For Motions To Reconsider

Although motions to reconsider are directed to the sound discretion of the court, Frito-Lay of Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Canas, 92 F.R.D. 384, 390 (D.C. Puerto Rico 1981), considerations of judicial economy weigh heavily in the process. Thus Local Rule 230(j) requires that a party seeking reconsideration of a district court's order must brief the "new or different facts or circumstances [which] were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion." The rule derives from the "law of the case" doctrine which provides that the decisions on legal issues made in a case "should be followed unless there is substantially different evidence . . . new controlling authority, or the prior decision was clearly erroneous and would result in injustice." Handi Investment Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 653 F.2d 391, 392 (9th Cir. 1981); see also Waggoner v. Dallaire, 767 F.2d 589, 593 (9th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1064 (1986).

Courts construing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), providing for the alteration or amendment of a judgment, have noted that a motion to reconsider is not a vehicle permitting the unsuccessful party to "rehash" arguments previously presented, or to present "contentions which might have been raised prior to the challenged judgment." Costello v. United States, 765 F.Supp. 1003, 1009 (C.D.Cal. 1991); see also F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 781 F.2d 1260, 1268 (7th Cir. 1986); Keyes v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 766 F. Supp. 277, 280 (E.D. Pa. 1991). These holdings "reflect[] district courts' concerns for preserving dwindling resources and promoting judicial efficiency." Costello, 765 F.Supp. at 1009.

Plaintiff cites Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 486-87, 111 S. Ct. 1934, 1939 (1991), for support for his position that defendant BPH panel members are not entitled to absolute immunity. Plaintiff cites Burns for the proposition "that the official seeking absolute immunity bears the burden of showing that such immunity is justified for the function in question." Id. That decision is specifically addressed to the question of absolute prosecutorial immunity, finding a prosecutor absolutely immune for a court appearance in support of a search warrant application and for presenting evidence at a hearing, but not for giving police legal advice. Id., at 492-496, 111 S. Ct. at 1942-45. Ironically, in quoting Burns, plaintiff appears to concede that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity: "The presumption is that qualified rather than absolute immunity is sufficient to protect government officials in the exercise of their duties." Motion, p. 2, citing id. Plaintiff goes on to state that qualified immunity is sufficient to cover defendants. Motion, p. 2. Of course, the upshot of entitlement to qualified immunity by the defendants is that plaintiff may not obtain money damages in a suit against them.

In addition, plaintiff relies on Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 200, 106 S. Ct. 496, 500 (1985) (Motion, p. 2), wherein the Supreme Court stated that it had not yet decided whether state parole officials were entitled, as a matter of federal law, to absolute immunity. However, plaintiff in doing so misses the context relevant for this court:

Although this Court has not decided whether state parole officials enjoy absolute immunity as a matter of federal law, see Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284, 100 S.Ct. 553, 558, 62 L.Ed.2d 481 (1980), federal appellate courts have so held. See, e.g., Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1303 (CA9), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1102, 102 S.Ct. 678, 70 L.Ed.2d 644 (1981); Evans v. ...


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