Peck v. Thomas

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 06-19-2012
  • Case #: 11-35283, 11-35296, 11-35355
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bybee for the Court; Circuit Judges Fletcher and Fisher
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), agency decisions excluding inmates from early release carry a presumption of validity, and will be upheld if there is a reasonable basis for the decision.

Congress tasked the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) with creating substance abuse programs in prisons. In order to encourage participation in those programs, Congress determined inmates who successfully complete such a program would be eligible for early release, up to a year. Exercising its agency discretion in carrying out Congress's directive, the BOP implemented a regulation excluding inmates convicted of an violent offense or an offense involving a firearm. Lonnie Peck, Louis Moon and Deven Suesue were each convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Each completed the substance abuse program, but were denied early release by the BOP on the basis of the firearm convictions. The district court dismissed the petitions to invalidate the exclusionary regulation. Previous versions of the regulation had been struck down in several jurisdictions, but the most recent version passed judicial review. Following that trend, the Court upheld the regulation, finding the BOP supported its exclusion rule with a public policy reason for both the firearm and violent offense exclusion. The BOP reasoned both situations demonstrate an individual had a “readiness to endanger the public,” and the Court found this was a valid basis for the decision. In addition, the Court did not find a need for a heightened review standard, because a denial of early release does not amount to a loss of liberty for inmates. The Court found the BOP did not need to base its decision on empirical evidence, as the BOP's experience is a valid justification. The regulation is also not in conflict with Congress's intent because the agency's interpretation is reasonable and the BOP is taking appropriate actions in light of interest in the program and limited resources. AFFIRMED

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