Fisher v. Drankus, 2015–CA–01045–SCT

Decision Date08 December 2016
Docket NumberNO. 2015–CA–01045–SCT,2015–CA–01045–SCT
Citation204 So.3d 1232
Parties Marshall Fisher v. Michael Drankus
CourtMississippi Supreme Court





¶ 1. The State appeals from the Sunflower County Circuit Court's order granting partial relief on Michael Drankus's motion for declaratory and injunctive relief. Drankus, an inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), sought a declaratory judgment that Mississippi Code Section 47–7–3.1 is a mandate to MDOC which requires MDOC to develop a "case plan" for all parole-eligible inmates and that MDOC is in violation of that section. Drankus also sought an order that would reverse an adverse decision by MDOC's Administrative Remedy Program (ARP); an injunction directing MDOC to promulgate policies and procedures that comply with Section 47–7–3.1 ; and an order directing MDOC to develop a case plan for Drankus. The circuit court ruled only on MDOC's adverse ARP decision, found that, based on the circuit court's interpretation of Section 47–7–3.1, Drankus is entitled to receive a case plan pursuant to Section 47–7–3.1, and so ordered. MDOC appeals that decision. Finding that Drankus is not entitled to a case plan, we reverse the circuit court's order.


¶ 2. In August 2014, Drankus filed an ARP request with MDOC that he be issued a case plan pursuant to "Section 43 of House Bill 585 (2014)," prescribing that "all inmates who are eligible for parole are to be issued a case plan to guide in their rehabilitation while in the custody of MDOC."1

¶ 3. In October 2014, MDOC issued its "first step response" to Drankus's ARP request, denying the request on the basis that "[House] Bill 585 does not apply to [Drankus], due to [the fact he was] sentenced in 1987[;] [t]he Bill only affect[s] offenders who [were] sentenced on or after [July 1, 2014] and the Bill is not retroactive."

¶ 4. In November 2014, Drankus proceeded to "step two" of the ARP. In his "step two" appeal, Drankus again contended that "Section 43 of [HB] 585 (which was codified as Mississippi Code Section 47–7–3.1 )2 was created so that all parole-eligible inmates would be issued ‘case plans' to guide in their rehabilitation during incarceration." Drankus asserted that "[b]y law, I am entitled to have a case plan," and repeated his "request[ ] that the MDOC develop one for me and provide me a written copy."

¶ 5. In December 2014, MDOC issued its "second-step response," maintaining that Drankus is ineligible to receive a case plan because he was sentenced in 1987 and HB 585 applies only to those parole-eligible inmates sentenced on or after July 1, 2014.

¶ 6. Drankus thereafter sought judicial review of MDOC's ARP decision in the Sunflower Circuit Court. After reviewing Drankus's ARP request and MDOC's response, the circuit court held that " Miss. Code Ann. § 47–7–3.1 is plain and unambiguous in stating that, ‘the department shall develop a case plan for all parole eligible inmates to guide an inmate's rehabilitation while in the department's custody and to reduce the likelihood of recidivism after release.’ " Acknowledging Drankus's reference to newly enacted Mississippi Code Section 47–7–18(1)(a), the circuit court agreed with Drankus's argument that the Legislature intended to create a statutory scheme which must be read collectively in order to understand its intent to address parole eligibility and that MDOC's failure to give Drankus a case plan would thwart the Legislature's intent. Accordingly, the circuit court ordered that Drankus, "whom [MDOC] admits in its response is a parole eligible inmate, is entitled to a case plan pursuant to the statutory mandate."


¶ 7. MDOC contends Drankus is ineligible to receive a parole case plan pursuant to the provisions of Section 47–7–3.1 and that the language contained in Section 47–7–3.1 requires the issuance of parole case plans to apply prospectively rather retrospectively. Specifically, MDOC points to Section 47–7–3.1(2), which states "Within ninety (90) days of admission, the department shall complete a case plan on all inmates ....," and Section 47–7–3.1(4), which states, "The department shall ensure that the case plan is achievable prior to the inmate's parole eligibility date." MDOC contends that it would be impossible for MDOC to comply with the statute as drafted if it were applied retroactively to offenders such as Drankus, who were convicted and sentenced prior to July 1, 2014, the date Section 47–7–3.1 went into effect.

¶ 8. MDOC further contends the circuit court failed to consider the interaction and language present in Mississippi Code Section 47–7–18, which MDOC refers to as the "presumptive parole statute,"3 which also went into effect on July 1, 2014. MDOC says it is clear Drankus is ineligible for "presumptive parole," because his parole-eligibility date is more than eighteen years in the past, occurring on July 11, 1997.

¶ 9. An agency's interpretation of its governing statutes is a question of law, subject to de novo review, but with deference to the agency's interpretation. Diamond Grove Ctr., LLC v. Miss. State Dep't of Health , 98 So.3d 1068, 1071 (Miss. 2012). Unless an agency's interpretation of a statute "is repugnant to the plain meaning thereof, [the courts are] to defer to the agency's interpretation." Id. (quoting Queen City Nursing Ctr., Inc. v. Miss. State Dep't of Health , 80 So.3d 73, 84 (Miss. 2011) ). "This does not mean we ‘yield judgment or opinion’ to an agency's statutory interpretation, as [t]he ultimate authority and responsibility to interpret the law, including statutes, rests with this Court.’ " Id. "Rather, when determining the most reasonable and appropriate interpretation of a statute, the agency's interpretation is an important factor that usually warrants strong consideration." Id. "[C]ourts will not, however, give deference to an agency's statutory interpretation if it is so plainly erroneous or so inconsistent with either the underlying regulation or statute as to be arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to the unambiguous language or best reading of a statute." Dialysis Sols., LLC v. Miss. State Dep't of Health , 31 So.3d 1204, 1211 (Miss. 2010).

¶ 10. Here, we find MDOC's interpretation of Section 47–7–3.1 to be reasonable and not inconsistent with the language of the statute and ascertainable legislative intent. As MDOC points out, Section 47–7–3.1 contains operative mandates which indicate that the section's parole-case-plan directive was intended to apply prospectively. Subsection (2) says MDOC shall complete a case plan for all inmates within ninety days of an inmate's admission. Miss. Code Ann. § 47–7–3.1(2). And paragraph (a) in subsection (3) says a caseworker shall notify the inmate of his parole eligibility date within ninety days of the inmate's admission. Miss. Code Ann. § 47–7–3.1(3)(a). None of these provisions can be met in Drankus's case, since he was admitted into MDOC's custody in 1987.

¶ 11. Also indicative that this section was, as MDOC interprets, intended to apply prospectively, is subsection (4)'s mandate that MDOC "shall ensure that the case plan is achievable prior to [an] inmate's parole eligibility date ." Miss. Code Ann. § 47–7–3.1(4) (emphasis added). Though we do not have the numbers before us, we know there are numerous inmates like Drankus whose initial parole-eligibility dates passed prior to the 2014 amendments to the probation and parole chapter. Some of these inmates, like Drankus, have been granted parole and subsequently have had their parole revoked, and they may or may not have been granted another "potential" opportunity for parole in the future, given former Mississippi Code Section 47–7–27.4

¶ 12. Nothing in the 2014 amendments addresses such circumstances. And this leaves us guessing at the Legislature's intent.

¶ 13. The longstanding rule in Mississippi is that "statutes will be construed to have a prospective operation only, unless a contrary contention is manifested by the clearest and most positive expression." Hudson v. Moon , 732 So.2d 927, 930–31 (Miss. 1999) (citing Anderson v. Jackson Mun. Airport Auth. , 419 So.2d 1010, 1026 (Miss. 1982) ). "A statute will not be construed to be retroactive unless the words admit of no other construction or meaning, and there is a plain declaration in the act that it is." Id. at 931 ; see also Gray v. Morgan , 236 Miss. 245, 110 So.2d 346 (1959) ("where the intention of the legislature to make the statute retroactive is not stated in express terms, or clearly, explicitly, positively, unequivocally, unmistakably, and unambiguously shown by necessary implication or terms which permit no other meaning to be annexed to them, preclude all question in regard thereto, and leave no reasonable doubt thereof").

¶ 14. That rule applies here, as MDOC elucidated. Because Section 47–7–3.1 does not clearly and unequivocally express an intention for retroactive applicability, we cannot say that Section 47–7–3.1 applies to Drankus.


¶ 15. For these reasons, we reverse the circuit court's order requiring that Drankus be issued a case plan under Section 47–7–3.1 and affirm MDOC's ARP decision that Drankus is not entitled to a case plan.




§ 47–7–3.1. Case plan for parole eligible inmates
(1) In consultation with the Parole Board, the department shall develop a case plan for all parole eligible inmates to guide an inmate's rehabilitation while in the department's custody and to reduce the likelihood of recidivism after

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