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Couture v. Blair

United States District Court, D. Vermont

April 28, 2015

SUE BLAIR, Director of the Vermont State Board of Parole; D. GEORGE, Vermont State Parole Board Hearing Officer; P. BOUCHER, Vermont State Parole Board Hearing Officer; and P. OZAROWSKI, Vermont State Parole Board Hearing Officer, Defendants.



Plaintiff Darren Couture filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action pro se against defendant parole board director and officers alleging constitutional violations arising from the revocation of his parole. Couture's most recent amended complaint (Doc. 24) alleges various due process violations as well as an equal protection claim. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Couture's first amended complaint (Doc. 18) as well as a supplemental memorandum to dismiss Couture's second amended complaint. (Doc. 26.) For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

I. Background

The court draws this account of the factual background of the case to the extent possible from Couture's pleadings, with help from the background sections of defendants' motion. (Docs. 3, 5, 18, 23, 24, 26, 27.) Couture is an inmate in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections ("DOC") and is currently incarcerated at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Vermont. He had been on parole release until March 20, 2014, when he was arrested for allegedly violating condition 5 of his parole agreement, which prohibited engaging in "violent, threatening, or assaultive behavior." (Doc. 24 at 2.) The specific charge was that he slapped his daughter in the face. (Id. )

On April 1, 2014, the Vermont State Parole Board ("Parole Board") held a preliminary hearing. Defendants George, Boucher, and Ozarowski were the three hearing officers on the Board. (Id. ) Couture alleges that without his knowledge or permission, his attorney waived his right to a hearing on the issue of probable cause, which limited the purpose of the hearing to determining whether Couture would be released on bail. (Id. )

Couture further alleges that his attorney failed to object to any evidence presented at the hearing, even though the evidence was fabricated. He claims that he said nothing at the hearing upon his attorney's advice. Couture explains that he was ultimately denied bail as a result of a "[F]acebook posting" and having contact with his ex-girlfriend. (Id. at 3.) This contact was found to have violated parole condition 20, which gave the parole office the authority "to restrict people he associate[d] with." (Id. at 4.) Couture's parole officer had previously restricted his association with his ex-girlfriend.

On April 2, 2014, Couture's parole officer, Barbara Quilliam, submitted a supplemental violation report alleging that he violated condition 20, described above, and condition 1 (which prohibited him from committing an act punishable by the law or in violation of a court order) in addition to condition 5, which had prompted the preliminary hearing. On May 1, 2014, Couture signed a form waiving his right to a parole revocation hearing. (Id. ) Couture claims that he signed the waiver with the understanding that the allegations of the parole condition violations would be dropped; his parole would be revoked; he would receive a punitive sanction; and then he would be re-released on "Conditional Re-Entry." (Id.; Doc. 27 at 3.)

Despite the fact that Couture waived his right to a hearing, a parole revocation hearing took place on or before May 6, 2014. After the second hearing, the Parole Board revoked parole on the grounds that Couture violated condition 20 because he had maintained contact with his ex-girlfriend. Couture claims that he did so in order to pick up his daughter at his ex-girlfriend's request. Couture states that two Parole Board officers, George and Ozarowski, were present at the hearing, along with his attorney and his parole officer.

II. Couture's Claims

Couture alleges eight numbered claims, which the court determines can be analyzed as two categories of claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 24 at 4-5; Doc. 27 at 4.)

First, Couture claims that various aspects of his parole revocation proceedings violated his right to procedural due process (numbered claims 1 through 8). He claims that defendants violated proper procedure as codified by Vermont law by: acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner; accepting the waiver of his right to a hearing when that waiver was not made "knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily" (Doc. 24 at 5); revoking his parole on the basis of inadmissible, uncorroborated evidence which was unduly prejudicial; and being biased against him specifically and against criminals more generally. He alleges that condition 20 of his parole agreement-the violation of which led to his parole revocation-was unconstitutionally vague. He also claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at his parole hearings, which the court construes as an allegation of a due process violation. See Clark v. Walsh, No. 11-CV-44 (KMK), 2015 WL 1501457, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2015) (noting ineffective assistance of counsel as potential ground for habeas petitioner's due process violation allegation).

Second, Couture alleges that his parole violation proceedings violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause (numbered claim 1).

Couture's requested relief includes: a new parole revocation hearing held by a new Parole Board; an order dismantling the current Parole Board; an order directing the Vermont Legislature to establish a new Parole Board Directive; an order appointing new, unbiased Parole Board officials; and compensatory and punitive damages against each defendant. In his response to defendants' supplemental motion to dismiss, Couture further requests the court to "set aside [his] violation." (Doc. 27 at 13.)[1]

III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations, " Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), but to survive a motion to dismiss it must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct ...

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