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Saunders v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 10, 2015

MICHAEL J.G. SAUNDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

M. HANNAH LAUCK, District Judge.

Michael J.G. Saunders, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, [1] has submitted this civil action.[2] Saunders brings this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] Saunders appeared pro se at a hearing held on March 10, 2015. For the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction.

I. Background[4]

On September 2, 2008, the Circuit Court of the County of Chesterfield, Virginia ("Circuit Court") convicted Saunders "on a guilty plea to two counts of consensual sodomy with juveniles" under Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-361(A) (West 2008).[5] Saunders I, 753 S.E.2d at 605. On each count, the Circuit Court sentenced Saunders to five years incarceration with five years suspended. Id. At a hearing on August 22, 2012, the Circuit Court found Saunders guilty of violating the conditions of his probation and imposed an active three-year period of incarceration.[6] Id. at 606. Saunders argued during the hearing that the Circuit Court lacked authority to impose any sentence on his probation violation pursuant to Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).[7] Id. The Circuit Court rejected this argument in a September 4, 2012 Show Cause Order. (Compl. 4; Ex. C Show Cause O. Sept. 4, 2012 at 1-2, ECF No. 7.[8])

Saunders appealed the Circuit Court's probation violation finding to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Among other challenges, Saunders attacked his underlying 2008 convictions based on the Lawrence decision and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's recent ruling in MacDonald v. Moose, 710 F.3d 154 (4th Cir. 2013) (" MacDonald/Moose" ).[9] Saunders I, 753 S.E.2d at 606. Saunders argued that the Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction to impose any sentence on his probation violation because his original 2008 convictions flowed from an unconstitutional statute, as declared by MacDonald/Moose. Id. at 607.

On March 15, 2013, while his appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals remained pending, the Circuit Court granted Saunders a personal recognizance appellate bond. (Mot. 3.) The Virginia Department of Corrections released Saunders from custody on the same day. ( Id. ) On April 6, 2013, Saunders's probation officer "released him from probation." (Compl. 5.)

On February 4, 2014, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court and concluded that a Supreme Court of Virginia ("Virginia Supreme Court") decision upholding the constitutionality of the anti-sodomy provision bound its decision regarding Saunders's appeal.[10] Id. at 608, 611. Saunders appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, and, on February 26, 2015, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the Virginia Court of Appeals. Saunders v. Virginia, No. 140507, at 1 (Va. Feb. 26, 2015) (" Saunders II ").[11]

Four days following the Virginia Supreme Court's decision, on March 2, 2015, Saunders submitted this Complaint and his request to proceed in forma pauperis. Saunders seeks redress under the Fourth Circuit's MacDonald/Moose facial unconstitutionality finding. Saunders argues that the Virginia Supreme Court's McDonald, Toghill, and Saunders II decisions violated what he calls binding federal law in MacDonald/Moose. When the Virginia Supreme Court relied on the language in Lawrence saying that its finding did not apply to conduct with minors, Saunders argues that the Virginia Supreme Court improperly ignored the Fourth Circuit. He contends that MacDonald/Moose rendered his guilty pleas unconstitutional. Saunders asks this Court to enjoin the enforcement of the Circuit Court's September 4, 2012 Show Cause Order sentencing him to an active three years of incarceration for violating the conditions of his probation. He argues that the Circuit Court lacked authority to sentence him for violating his probation because the MacDonald/Moose court found unconstitutional the statute underlying his 2008 convictions. (Compl. 12.)

The crux of Saunders's contentions follow:

Notwithstanding the clear and unambiguous holding of [ MacDonald/]Moose that Va. Code [§] 18.2-361(A) has been facially invalid since 2003, absent immediate intervention by this Court, Saunders will be incarcerated by the Defendants, taken to prison, deprived of his liberty, his ability to work, and will most likely lose everything he owns and has gained since his release, therefore sustaining great and immediate irreparable harm due to the patently unlawful and unconstitutional enforcement of a facially unconstitutional law in clear and unambiguous violation of clearly established law as held by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in blatant and irremediable transgression of the 14th Amendment and Plaintiff's rights guaranteed thereunder.

(Compl. 8 (footnotes omitted).)

The majority of the Complaint recites the procedural history described above. In his Complaint, Saunders does not provide any details about why he "undoubtedly will soon be unlawfully incarcerated and deprived of his liberty by Defendant Harold W. Clarke, Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections." (Compl. 3.) At oral argument, Saunders averred, without evidentiary support, that a Virginia mandate will soon issue that would result in his being taken into custody. He currently admits under the penalty of perjury that his probation officer released him from probation on April 6, 2013. Saunders is not in custody. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction and dismisses the action.

II. Discussion

This Court must dismiss the action for three reasons. First, the Complaint does not present an actual case or controversy such that this Court may exercise its limited jurisdiction. Second, neither identified defendant, Harold W. Clarke or the Circuit Court of the County of Chesterfield, is a proper defendant in these circumstances. Third, Saunders does not satisfy ...


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