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Carmichael v. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 28, 2019

THOMAS CARMICHAEL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and JOE M. ALLBAUGH, as Director, and the CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY. Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Joint Brief in Opposition of Granting Plaintiff Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 39]. The Joint Opposition was filed in response to the undersigned's Order [Doc. No. 34] directing Defendants to show why Plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment on his claims. Order [Doc. No. 34] at 10-11.

         BACKGROUND

         At issue in this case[1] is the application of the residency restrictions of the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registration Act (“OSORA”), Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 590(A), to Plaintiff's home. The relevant residency restrictions provide that it is:

unlawful for any person registered pursuant to the Sex Offenders Registration Act to reside, either temporarily or permanently, within a two-thousand-foot radius of any . . . playground or park that is established, operated or supported in whole or in part by a homeowners' association.

Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 590(A) (emphasis added). The statute goes on to define “park” as “any outdoor public area specifically designated as being used for recreational purposes that is operated or supported in whole or in part by a homeowners' association.” Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1125. Plaintiff acknowledged these restrictions and definitions in writing prior to his release from incarceration in 2016. Notice of Duty to Register (pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 57, §§ 581-590.2, 21, §§ 1125) [Doc. No. 31-6] at ¶¶ 9-10 (emphasis added).

         On January 17, 2017, Oklahoma City notified Plaintiff that-pursuant to OSORA- his home address was “not acceptable” because of an unidentified “park/playground.” Address Check Form [Doc. No. 31-9]. Plaintiff sued stating three causes of action: (1) that, as applied, § 590 of OSORA violates Article 1, Section 10, the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution; (2) that, as applied, § 590 of OSORA violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (3) claim for declaratory relief and an injunction to enjoin Defendants from enforcing OSORA against Plaintiff. Second Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 10] at 2-5.

         Defendant City of Oklahoma City (“Oklahoma City”) filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on April 8, 2019. [Doc. No. 31]. Oklahoma City argued there was no dispute as to whether the OSORA residency restrictions applied to Plaintiff, as his residence is located within 2, 000 feet of “common areas” or “a large piece of land.” Order [Doc. No. 34] at 5, 8. Oklahoma City attempted to show that several nearby “common areas” and “large piece[s] of land” are operated or supported by a homeowners' association and noted that the land “can be used anytime for recreational purposes.” Order [Doc. No. 34] at 5, 8 (quoting Motion [Doc. No. 31] at 17) (emphasis added). Oklahoma City did not identify which of these “common areas” or “large piece[s] of land” was the “park/playground” used to make the original determination that Plaintiff's home was “not acceptable, ” pursuant to OSORA. Rather, Oklahoma City “instead refer[red] to multiple common areas it alleges are sufficient to trigger the residency restrictions.” Order [Doc. No. 34] at 5, n.3.

         In response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff disputed whether the “common areas” are parks or playgrounds within the meaning of OSORA. Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 32]. Plaintiff contested the application of the residency restrictions based on those “common areas.” He asserted that, given this unresolved matter of statutory interpretation, a question of law precluded summary judgment in favor of Oklahoma City. Id. at 1.

         On May 17, 2019, the Court determined that Oklahoma City failed to provide any evidence that the “common areas” were “established, operated or supported in whole or in part by a homeowner's association, ” nor that they had been “specifically designated as being used for recreational purposes, ” as required by OSORA.[2] Order [Doc. No. 34] at 6- 9 (citing Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 590(A); Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1125). Oklahoma City did not establish that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Based on the lack of evidence supporting the application of the residency restrictions, the Court directed all Defendants to show cause why summary judgment should not be granted to Plaintiff. Order [Doc. No. 34] at 9-10, 11.

         Defendants collectively filed a Joint Brief in Opposition of Granting Plaintiff Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 39]. The Joint Opposition asserts that a question of material fact remains, as the “question of how the subject common areas have been specifically designated or provided must be answered.” Joint Opposition at 4. Plaintiff did not respond to Defendants' Joint Opposition. Because the Court directed Defendants to show cause why summary judgment for Plaintiff should not be granted, Plaintiff is free to rest on the insufficiency of Defendants' filing.

         JURISDICTION

         This Court has federal question jurisdiction over the present action based on the two constitutional challenges brought against Okla. Stat. tit. 57, §590. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court, however, will not now reach these issues; the case is properly-and more narrowly-resolved through the application of OSORA. The Court, in its discretion, retains subject matter jurisdiction over the state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).

         While this narrow disposition leaves undecided legal issues argued by the parties, the Court deems it unnecessary and improper to opine on the constitutional questions. The United States Supreme Court and fundamental adjudicatory principles suggest that this Court “should forbear resolving [these] issue[s].” Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. 692 (2011) (emphasis in original). The “longstanding principle of judicial restraint requires that courts avoid reaching constitutional questions in advance of the necessity of deciding them.” Id. (quoting Lyng v. Nw. Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n., 485 U.S. 439, 445 (1988)); see also Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 346-47 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring).

         This case can be fully and properly resolved without reaching the constitutional issues presented. The Court's holding on the inapplicability of the OSORA restrictions to Plaintiff moots the constitutional issues raised in this case. The Court, therefore, does not decide them.

         STANDARD ...


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