Dunn v. Jenkins

Decision Date14 June 1978
Docket NumberNo. 376S89,376S89
Citation268 Ind. 478,377 N.E.2d 868
PartiesJames DUNN et al., Appellants, v. Leo D. JENKINS, Warden, Indiana State Prison, et al., Appellees.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Theodore L. Sendak, Atty. Gen., David A. Arthur, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellants.

Harriette Bailey Conn, Public Defender, Indianapolis, for appellees.

GIVAN, Chief Justice.

This is a consolidation of two appeals from a judgment in the LaPorte Circuit Court regarding the diminution of sentences under the new good time statute, IC § 11-7-6.1 (Burns' Supp.1977). Appellants Jimmy Norris, Harold Richardson, Arthur Ramsey, Ronald Baurle and Steve Henry, filed separate petitions for habeas corpus prior to May 15, 1975. On April 15, 1975, a class action petition for habeas corpus was filed and this cause was ordered to proceed as a class action on May 15, 1975. The individual petitions and the class action were consolidated in the trial court, following which the court entered judgment denying in part and granting in part the relief sought. The State and the petitioners appealed the court's decision. Upon petition of the inmates, the cases were transferred to the Supreme Court and consolidated.

At the outset we note that although the petitions in this action were denominated petitions for habeas corpus, they were in fact petitions for post-conviction relief pursuant to Indiana PC. 1, § 1(a)(5) and were treated as such by the trial court. Indiana PC. 1, § 1(a)(5) states that a person convicted of a crime by a court in this State may institute a proceeding under the rule by claiming, "that his sentence has expired, his probation, parole or conditional release unlawfully revoked, or he is otherwise unlawfully held in custody or other restraint." This Court has held that no court has jurisdiction to entertain a petition for habeas corpus unless it is alleged that the prisoner is entitled to immediate discharge. See Hendrixson v. Lash, (1972) 258 Ind. 550, 282 N.E.2d 792. Furthermore, a prisoner can only obtain a discharge through habeas corpus relief, not a modification of his commitment. Hawkins v. Jenkins, (1978) Ind., 374 N.E.2d 496; Shoemaker v. Dowd, (1953) 232 Ind. 602, 115 N.E.2d 443. The petitioners sought modification of their sentences pursuant to the provisions of the new good time statute. They did not seek a discharge. Therefore, this action must be treated as one for post-conviction relief.

This, however, raises an additional problem since the record fails to indicate whether all members of the class were sentenced to terms of greater than ten years. This is a jurisdictional requirement of this Court. Indiana PC. 1, § 7; AP. 4(A)(7). It must be assumed however that this is not the case, in that the class action is on behalf of all inmates of the state prison. Nevertheless, since this action has already been consolidated in this Court, we will assume jurisdiction and will proceed to decide the merits of the case.

The State alleges four errors on appeal: that the trial court erred, (1) in certifying the petition for habeas corpus filed by inmates on April 15, 1975, as a class action; (2) in ruling that the reclassification of inmates into time-earning class three or four under the new statute, IC § 11-7-6.1 (Burns' Supp.1977), amounted to a violation of the prohibition against ex post facto laws; (3) in placing inmates who have been discharged from one sentence to serve a second sentence in time-earning class two; and (4) in not ruling as to the proper method of computing diminution of inmates' sentences under the old good time statute. IC § 11-7-6 (Burns' 1973).

The petitioners claim the trial court erred:

(1) In holding that the new good time act, IC § 11-7-6.1, does not mandate the respondent either implicitly or explicitly, to credit petitioners of subclass "C" with good time that accumulated prior to February 20, 1974, toward their parole eligibility date, where such petitioners are serving determinate sentences. Further, in holding that respondents' practice of not so crediting petitioners of subclass "C" is not a denial of the equal protection of the law; and

(2) In holding that the members of subclass "E," inmates who were initially classified into time earning classes three or four, pursuant to IC § 11-7-6.1-3(c), were not entitled to hearings prior to such classification and that the procedures used for such classification were adequate to protect the subclass members so as not to arbitrarily and capriciously deny them their interest in higher time-earning classifications.

The State argues that a class action was an improper vehicle for adjudicating the petitioners' claims because the facts relative to each of the five subclasses were dissimilar and because the class was not so large as to justify a class action, in that each inmate had access to the court and the ability to bring an action to enforce his particular rights.

Class actions are generally proper where a question exists which is of common or general interest to a large number of individuals, but for reasons of judicial economy and convenience, separate actions by each individual would be impractical. Generally, the party seeking to establish the propriety of a class action has the burden of proof. Wilson v. Kelley, (1968) 393 U.S. 266, 89 S.Ct. 477, 21 L.Ed.2d 425. The rules governing class actions in this State are set out in Indiana TR. 23. The circuit court in this case relied upon TR. 23(c)(4), which is designed to be utilized whenever members of the class have divergent or antagonistic interests. This section provides:

"(4) When appropriate

"(a) an action may be brought or maintained as a class action with respect to particular issues; or

"(b) a class may be divided into subclasses and each subclass treated as a class, and the provisions of this rule shall then be construed and applied accordingly."

Pursuant to the above section, the circuit court divided the class into five subclasses and treated each subclass as a class in itself for the purpose of settling the issues raised. These subclasses were: (A) those claiming IC § 11-7-6.1 (Burns' Supp.1977), was applied ex post facto when certain inmates were placed in time-earning class three or four for misconduct occurring before the effective date of the new statute; (B) those contending that inmates earning credit in time-earning class one on one sentence were improperly placed into time-earning class two when beginning to serve the second sentence; (C) inmates denied good time towards parole eligibility for that part of the determinate sentence served under the old good time statute; (D) inmates challenging the method of calculating good time credit under IC § 11-7-6 (Burns' 1973); and (E) inmates challenging their placement into time earning class three or four without an administrative hearing. Each subclass presented distinct interests which were sufficiently common to justify the circuit court's finding that each subclass constituted a separate class under TR. 23(c) (4). In addition, we cannot accept the State's argument that judicial economy and convenience and the best interests of the individual inmate would be served by requiring each inmate to bring an individual action to litigate his particular grievance. The petitioners therefore sustained their burden and the circuit court committed no error in certifying this cause as a class action.

A judgment of this Court will therefore be binding upon all inmates incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison who fall within the definition of the established subclass and who have not requested exclusion from that class in accordance with TR. 23(c)(2).

The circuit court ruled that the initial classification of inmates under the new good time act, IC § 11-7-6.1 (Burns' Supp.1977), into time earning class three or four, based solely upon the bad conduct of those inmates which had occurred prior to the enactment of the new statute, was a violation of constitutional proscriptions against ex post facto laws. The court applied this ruling only to those inmates whose rate of good time accumulation was "deleteriously" affected because they were accumulating good time credit at a faster rate under the old good time law, IC § 11-7-6 (Burns' 1973), than they were receiving after their classification into classes three or four under the new statute.

The State alleges that the circuit court erred in finding an ex post facto violation. It is the State's claim that past conduct of inmates was a proper criteria in classifying the inmates because it was reflective of their performance, rehabilitation, ability and willingness to accept responsibility and to cooperate with prison officials. It is argued that the criteria adopted were reasonable and necessary and therefore related to the objective of the statute, citing State ex rel. Van Natta v. Rising, (1974) 262 Ind. 33, 310 N.E.2d 873, to support its argument.

In Van Natta this Court reversed a lower court finding that the application of the habitual traffic offender statute violated ex post facto proscriptions. This statute provided for automatic revocation of one's driver's license upon three convictions of driving while under the influence of alcohol. One of these convictions had to occur subsequent to the statute thereby putting the offender on notice of the consequences of future conduct. The Court found the retroactive character of the new statute constitutional. The Court determined that the appellant was not receiving an increased punishment for prior conduct but was merely falling into a statutory class, which is prohibited from traveling upon the public highways in order to protect other persons using the highways.

The Van Natta case does not control in the case at bar. In Van Natta we found the statute valid because drivers were put on notice that a subsequent violation would result in an automatic revocation of their license. In the present case, the new good...

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