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Williams v. Hooks

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 7, 2019

Marlow Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
Erik A. Hooks and Robert Evans, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT T. NUMBERS, II UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Marlow Williams, a state inmate proceeding pro se[1], filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (D.E. 1). This matter is currently before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (D.E. 26, 30). After reviewing the parties' submissions, the undersigned recommends that the district court allow the defendants' motion, deny Williams's motion, and dismiss Williams's complaint.

         I. Background

         Williams was convicted of first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in July 1993. Compl. at 5, D.E. 1. During a single sentencing proceeding, the state court sentenced Williams to consecutive terms of life imprisonment and 40 years incarceration, respectively. See Am. Compl. at 5, D.E. 3; Pl. Ex. at 10, D.E. 3-2. As of January 2013, Williams served the statutory minimum twenty-year term on his life sentence. Am. Compl. at 6, D.E. 3; see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1371(a) (establishing statutory minimums for parole eligibility).

         Having served the minimum term on his life sentence, Williams sought commencement of his robbery sentence. The North Carolina Post Release and Parole Commission (“Commission”) notified Williams “that his second sentence will not commence as it runs after your life sentence, which has no expiration date. Unless you are sooner paroled by the . . . Commission, you will spend your natural life in prison on your sentence number 1.” Pl. Ex. at 9, D.E. 3-2. Williams filed a civil complaint in North Carolina state court challenging this determination. Am. Compl. at 4- 5, D.E. 3.

         The North Carolina Court of Appeals (“NCCOA”) described Williams's civil complaint as seeking:

(1) a declaratory judgment that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1355(a) is valid and mandates that his forty-year robbery sentence begin to run upon completion of the twenty-year minimum term on his life sentence, (2) an injunction compelling the Department and the Parole Commission to treat his forty-year robbery sentence as having commenced upon completion of the twenty-year minimum term on his life sentence, (3) a declaratory judgment that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1371(a) is valid and renders Williams eligible for parole upon completion of the twenty-year minimum term on his life sentence, (4) a declaratory judgment that his United States and North Carolina rights of due process and equal protection are being violated by Defendants' application of the sentencing and parole statutes, and (5) an injunction to enforce Williams's constitutional rights.

Williams v. Perry, 794 S.E.2d 557, 558, 2016 WL 7100600 at * 1 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2016) (unpublished table opinion). The Rowan County Superior Court dismissed Williams's claims on summary judgment, and the NCCOA affirmed. Id. at * 1, 5.

         First, the NCCOA rejected Williams's interpretation of § 1355(a). Section 1355(a) controls the commencement of sentences, stating that a consecutive sentence “commences to run when the State has custody of the defendant following completion of the prior sentence.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1355(a). Based on a plain reading of the statute, the NCCOA held that the “Commission correctly stated in its letter to Williams that his forty-year robbery sentence will not begin to run until completion of his prior life sentence.” Williams, 2016 WL 7100600 at * 3.

         Similarly, the NCCOA rejected Williams's argument that § 1371(a) entitled him to immediate parole eligibility. Section § 1371 states that a prisoner sentenced under the North Carolina Fair Sentencing Act for specific felonies, as Williams was, is eligible for parole after 20 years. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1371(a). In rejecting Williams's argument, the NCCOA found that § 1371(a) must be read alongside North Carolina General Statute § 15A-1354(b), which states:

In determining the effect of consecutive sentences . . . [the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“DPS”)] must treat the defendant as though he has been committed for a single term with the following incidents . . . The maximum prison sentence consists of the total of the maximum terms of the consecutive sentences . . . The minimum term consists of the total of the minimum terms of the consecutive sentences.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1354(b). Accordingly the NCCOA held that § 1354(b) requires DPS “to treat Williams as being committed for a single term with a maximum prison sentence of life plus forty years, and a minimum term of twenty-seven years.” Williams, 2016 WL 7100600 at * 4. Therefore, it concluded, “[t]o allow Williams parole after only twenty years would be to ignore the required minimum term for his robbery sentence in contravention of section 15A-1354(b).” Id.

         Finally, the NCCOA rejected Williams's federal constitutional claims, finding that DPS and the Commission correctly applied the law and did not deprive Williams of any liberty interest. Id. at 5.

         Williams filed a notice of appeal and sought review of the NCCOA's decision from the North Carolina Supreme Court. The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed Williams's notice of appeal, and denied his petition for discretionary ...


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