Blum v. State

Decision Date16 April 1992
Docket NumberNo. 1,CA-CV,1
Citation829 P.2d 1247,171 Ariz. 201
PartiesJon BLUM; Richard Wirta; James Hamm; Brad Wilkinson; David Van Orden; David Skief, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. The STATE of Arizona; Department of Corrections; Arizona Department of Corrections Director Samuel A. Lewis, His Designees in Authority and Successors in Office, Defendants-Appellants. 91-121.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals
OPINION

VOSS, Presiding Judge.

Appellants, State of Arizona, Arizona Department of Corrections ("ADOC"), and ADOC Director Samuel A. Lewis challenge the trial court's ruling that an ADOC policy regarding inmate property violates Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. ("A.R.S.") § 31-228(A) and is invalid and unenforceable as a matter of law. We agree with the trial court that the ADOC policy is contrary to this statute and we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 1988, Lewis issued Internal Management Policy ("IMP") 301.17 ("policy") on the subject of inmate personal property. The policy was effective on October 1, 1988. It set forth the types and quantities of personal items inmates were allowed to possess while incarcerated in ADOC facilities.

Under IMP 301.17, "contraband" includes any item of clothing or items for personal use not cleared through the property room, received through approved channels or purchased in an inmate commissary and any approved items in excess of the quantity allowed, as well as drugs, intoxicating liquor, weapons and other items ordinarily recognized as contraband in a prison. "Unauthorized property" is defined as items not inherently illegal that are considered contraband when possessed by an inmate.

The policy provides that an inmate is to be notified if any personal property in his or her possession or received while in prison is deemed to be unauthorized property. The inmate would then have 90 days in which to notify the property officer of the desired disposition of the unauthorized property. The disposition options would include having the property sent to a person outside the prison system, having an outside person pick up the property, or donating the property to a charity. The inmate would be responsible for all costs incurred in disposing of the property. If an inmate failed to designate a disposition of the unauthorized property, the property would be processed as unclaimed property 1 and disposed of pursuant to ADOC rules and regulations.

The new policy designated as unauthorized a major portion of the personal property then possessed by inmates and kept by them in their cells. ADOC maintained that the policy was necessary for security and the safe and orderly operation of the prisons. Among the reasons for the policy, as explained by ADOC, were that excess property kept in a small cell area was a safety hazard in terms of fire and ventilation and was a security hazard because it blocked the view when security officers looked into cells and provided hiding places for dangerous contraband.

Appellees, who are inmates affected by the new policy, filed a complaint seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent the implementation of IMP 301.17. In their first cause of action, the only portion of the complaint involved in this appeal, appellees alleged that the policy conflicted with, contradicted and violated A.R.S. § 31-228(A) which provides:

When a prisoner is released on parole or discharged from a facility of the department of corrections there shall be returned to the prisoner everything of value taken upon commitment to the department of corrections, or thereafter received by the prisoner.

Appellees argued that they had in their possession property they had "received" while in prison that was approved by ADOC in accordance with ADOC policies then in effect. They contended that under A.R.S. § 31-228(A), the return of all property actually received could be accomplished only by allowing the inmate to keep the property in his or her possession until release or by ADOC storing the property until the inmate's release. Appellees maintained that no statute authorized ADOC instead to implement a policy to shift ownership from the inmate to the state after 90 days had passed. Claiming that they would suffer irreparable harm if ADOC was allowed to implement the policy and confiscate and dispose of their irreplaceable property, appellees asked the trial court to enjoin implementation and declare the policy null and void.

Appellees subsequently moved for summary judgment on the first cause of action of their complaint. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, declaring that IMP 301.17 violated A.R.S. § 31-228(A) and was invalid. After finding that the meaning of § 31-228(A) was clear and unambiguous, the court noted in part that

[s]ince the defendants are required to return to all prisoners everything of value taken upon commitment or thereafter received upon release or discharge, and the defendants have to a limited extent the authority to promulgate rules specifying property which may be in the possession of the prisoner, logically the defendants must store, protect and maintain possession of the prisoner's property in order to return it to the prisoner.

The court ordered appellants to comply with A.R.S. § 31-228(A) by storing and maintaining everything of value taken upon commitment of the appellees to ADOC or thereafter received by appellees and that all such property be returned to appellees upon their release on parole or discharge from ADOC.

Appellants in a motion for new trial and/or amended judgment argued that the judgment requiring storage of all inmate property received by the prison did not take into account the historical background, administrative interpretation, true spirit, purpose, effect and consequences of A.R.S. § 31-228(A). 2 The trial court denied the motion. Appellants appealed from the judgment on the first cause of action and from the denial of their motion for new trial.

II. DISCUSSION

The parties do not dispute any of the material facts in this case. Because the trial court decided the cause of action at issue as a matter of law, we review whether the court correctly applied the law and whether appellants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Schroeder v. Hudgins, 142 Ariz. 395, 397, 690 P.2d 114, 116 (App.1984). Particularly upon review of the trial court's interpretation of an Arizona statute, which involves legal rather than factual questions, this court is not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law; thus, we conduct a de novo review of the statute and regulation at issue. Libra Group, Inc. v. State, 167 Ariz. 176, 179, 805 P.2d 409, 412 (App.1991).

On appeal, appellants argue that A.R.S. § 31-228(A) is a "non-confiscation" statute that prevents the state from confiscating the property of a prisoner and refusing to return the property upon the prisoner's release from the prison system. Based on this interpretation, appellants contend that the statute was not intended and cannot be construed to allow unlimited possession of property by inmates as appellants believe the trial court's order requires. Appellants read the judgment as making the prison system a warehouse for prisoner goods--a role, they argue, that creates an unreasonable burden on ADOC and its resources. Furthermore, appellants believe the judgment requires ADOC to accept everything that a prisoner takes to prison and to maintain whatever property the inmate arrives with or subsequently receives, thus restricting the authority of ADOC to regulate prisoner property.

Appellants also argue that nothing in the language of A.R.S. § 31-228(A) obliges ADOC to store and maintain everything an inmate takes to prison or receives during confinement nor does the statute restrict ADOC from returning property to an inmate prior to his or her release for disposal elsewhere. Their position is that IMP 301.17 is consistent with the statutory non-confiscation provision because ADOC would merely return property in excess of the new policy limits to inmates and allow the inmates to dispose of the unauthorized property as they choose.

Appellants further argue that the abandonment provision of the policy is proper because nothing in A.R.S. § 31-228(A) prevents property from being abandoned by prisoners during incarceration. According to appellants, the new policy simply requires inmates to choose between disposition and abandonment of property that ADOC has deemed unauthorized for prisoner possession.

In response, appellees state that they do not claim that they have a right to unlimited possession of property. They acknowledge that ADOC has the right to determine what amount of property inmates may have in their immediate possession. In their view, the trial court construed A.R.S. § 31-228(A) to preserve ADOC's right to determine which and how much property may be received by prisoners. Appellees contend that the court correctly interpreted A.R.S. § 31-228(A) as protecting certain property rights of prisoners during incarceration--rights that were violated by IMP 301.17.

Appellees argue that despite appellants' claim that A.R.S. § 31-228(A) is an anti-confiscation provision, IMP 301.17 effectively works the confiscation of inmate property by allowing ADOC to unilaterally declare property to be unauthorized and subsequently abandoned or unclaimed so that ADOC can dispose of it. They believe that the policy results in the confiscation or forfeiture of inmate property because the property must be disposed of at the inmate's expense and because if the prisoner does not have anyone outside the prison to whom the property can be sent, the property is declared to be abandoned or unclaimed. Such a forfeiture, they...

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