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Neelley v. Walker

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

November 10, 2014

CLIFFORD WALKER, et al., Defendants

Page 1320

For Judith A. Neelley, Plaintiff: Barry Alan Ragsdale, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sirote & Permutt PC, Birmingham, AL; Julian Lenwood McPhillips, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, McPhillips Shinbaum L.L.P., Montgomery, AL.

For Clifford Walker, in his official capacity as Chairman of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, William W. Wynne, Jr., in his official capacity as a member of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, Robert P. Longshore, in his official capacity as a member of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, Defendants: Dana Lea Pittman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles, Montgomery, AL; Margaret Lindsey Fleming, William G. Parker, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEYS, State of Alabama, Office of the Attorney General, Montgomery, AL.

Page 1321




This case presents allegations that the Alabama Legislature overstepped its bounds by amending a state statute to ensure that Plaintiff Judith A. Neelley, a former death-row inmate whose sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, would never become eligible for parole consideration. Plaintiff sues the current members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles -- Clifford Walker, William W. Wynne, Jr., and Robert P. Longshore -- the officials required to apply Alabama's allegedly unconstitutional law against her. Before the court is their motion to dismiss, (Doc. # 18), which has been fully briefed, (Docs. # 20, 21). Upon consideration of Plaintiff's amended complaint, the parties' arguments, and the relevant law, the court finds that the motion to dismiss is due to be granted in part and denied in part.


Except as noted infra at Part IV.A., the court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343(a)(3). Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.


A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject-matter jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). On a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, the court evaluates whether the plaintiff " has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject-matter jurisdiction" in the complaint and employs standards similar to those governing Rule 12(b)(6) review. Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323, 1335 (11th Cir. 2013).

When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, " a complaint 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). " [F]acial plausibility" exists " when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference

Page 1322

that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

" [A] Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on statute of limitations grounds is appropriate only if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is time-barred." La Grasta v. First Union Sec., Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).


A. Facts

On March 22, 1983, Plaintiff was convicted of first-degree murder in the Circuit Court of DeKalb County, Alabama. Despite a jury's 10-2 recommendation that Plaintiff be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the trial judge sentenced Plaintiff to death. Plaintiff exhausted all of her state and federal remedies for challenging her death sentence. On January 15, 1999, four days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's last petition for writ of certiorari, see Neelley v. Nagle, 525 U.S. 1075, 119 S.Ct. 811, 142 L.Ed.2d 671 (1999), Governor Fob James, as one of his final official acts before leaving the governorship, notified the Alabama Supreme Court that he commuted Plaintiff's death sentence to " life imprisonment." (Doc. # 1-1 (" Pursuant to the authority granted to me by virtue of Amendment No. 38, Constitution of Alabama, I [Governor Fob James, Jr.] hereby commute the sentence of death of Judith Ann Neel[l]ey to life imprisonment." ).) Plaintiff represents that no Alabama governor had commuted a death sentence since 1962.

At the time of the commutation, Alabama law provided that " [a]ny person whose sentence to death has been commuted by the Governor to life imprisonment shall not be eligible for a parole from the Board of Pardons and Paroles until he shall have served at least [fifteen] years of such life sentence, and any parole granted contrary to the provisions of the section shall be void." Ala. Code § 15-22-27(b) (1975). However, Alabama law also provided that a person convicted of a capital offense must be sentenced to either " life imprisonment without parole or to death." Ala. Code § 13A-5-39 (1975).

Perplexed, Defendants' predecessor members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles (" the Board" ) inquired of the Alabama Attorney General whether, in view of § 13A-5-39, Governor James had the authority to commute Plaintiff's sentence to life imprisonment as opposed to life imprisonment without parole. Attorney General Bill Pryor responded that the Governor in fact had that authority. ( See Doc. # 1-2, at 9.) Assuming that parole was a possibility for Plaintiff, the Board Members also asked whether Plaintiff had to serve fifteen years from the date her sentence was commuted, or whether her time served under the death sentence was adequate. The Attorney General advised that Plaintiff would not be eligible for parole until she had served at least fifteen years of the commuted life sentence. (Doc. # 1-2, at 11.)

On March 8, 1999, the Board notified Plaintiff that her case would be considered for parole in January 2014, fifteen years from the date that Governor James commuted her sentence. On October 1, 2001, counsel for Plaintiff requested that the Board provide Plaintiff with an initial parole consideration hearing. The Board responded by reiterating its stance that Plaintiff would not become eligible for parole consideration until January 2014.

On October 23, 2001, Plaintiff filed a suit for declaratory relief in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama, asking the court ...

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