Hall v. Coupe

Decision Date25 May 2016
Docket NumberC.A. No. 10307-VCS
PartiesRe: Hall, et al. v. Coupe, et al.
CourtCourt of Chancery of Delaware


Via File&ServeXpress and First Class Mail

Mr. Salih Hall

464 Bethune Drive

Wilmington, DE 19801

Stuart B. Drowos, Esquire

Roopa Sabesan, Esquire

Department of Justice

820 N. French Street, 6th Floor

Wilmington, DE 19801

Mr. Kevin Howard

James T. Vaughn correctional center

1181 Paddock Road

Smyrna, DE 19977

Dear Mr. Hall, Mr. Howard, and Counsel:

Plaintiffs are a current and a former inmate of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (the "JTVCC"), a Delaware correctional facility. They have initiated this action as a means to challenge the constitutionality of a Delaware statute that denies inmates access to certain Department of Correction policies and procedures.

Defendants are Robert M. Coupe, the Commissioner of the Department of Correction, Perry Phelps, Chief of the Bureau of Prisons and David Pierce, Warden of the JTVCC (collectively "Defendants"). They have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint on the grounds that it does not plead facts that invoke this Court's jurisdiction and does not state a claim upon which this Court may grant the requested relief. The motion is granted on both grounds.

A. The Statute at Issue

Delaware has adopted a comprehensive statutory scheme to address the use and dissemination of information relating to sentencing and incarceration of individuals convicted of crimes in this State.1 The statutory provisions at issue here are 11 Del. C. § 4322(c) & (d) ("Sections 4322(c) & (d)"), which expresslyprohibit the Department of Correction ("DOC") from providing certain DOC policies and procedures to any inmate.2

B. Procedural Posture

In their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Sections 4322(c) & (d) are unconstitutional on two grounds: (1) the provisions violate art. II, § 1 of the Delaware Constitution (the "non-delegation doctrine")3 "by making the exercise of the [DOC's] authority unaccountable,"4 and (2) the provisions violate art. II, § 16of the Delaware Constitution (the "Single-Subject Provision") because the statute in which they appear purports to "embrace more than one subject."5 They ask the Court to declare that all DOC "policies, procedures, administrative regulations and operational policies . . . [must] be properly promulgated to the inmate population, and the general public."6 They also seek injunctive relief that would prohibit the DOC from engaging in any operations or procedures inconsistent with the requested declaratory relief.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint on the ground that Plaintiffs have not alleged an injury sufficient to invoke this Court's jurisdiction. Alternatively, they argue that the Complaint fails to state an actionable claim for relief. Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and filed a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. After the parties completed briefing on these motions, Plaintiff Howard filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint. In this opinion, the Court addresses all pending motions.

A. Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) Standard of Review

When considering a motion to dismiss under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(1), the Court's first task, when appropriate, is to assess whether the fundamental predicates to subject matter jurisdiction exist, including the plaintiff's standing to pursue the claims.7 The Court then turns its focus to the "nature of the wrong alleged" to determine whether Chancery's limited jurisdiction has been invoked.8 The plaintiff "bears the burden of establishing this Court's jurisdiction," and when determining whether that burden has been met, the Court may consider the pleadings and matters "extrinsic to the pleadings."9

When considering whether a plaintiff's pleading states a viable claim for relief under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will accept as true all well-pled factual allegations and draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.10The Court will not, however, accept conclusory allegations "unsupported by specific facts" or draw unreasonable inferences from the Complaint.11 Dismissal is appropriate only where the Court determines "with reasonable certainty that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts susceptible of proof."12

The Court will view pleadings filed by pro se litigants with forgiving eyes. Even so, proceeding pro se will not relieve Plaintiffs of their obligation to "allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief"13 or "to present and support cogent arguments warranting the relief sought."14

B. The Complaint Fails to Allege an Injury-in-Fact Sufficient to Confer Standing

To invoke this Court's jurisdiction, the Plaintiff must establish the elements of standing: (1) an injury-in-fact, (2) a causal connection between the injury andthe allegedly wrongful conduct, and (3) that a decision favoring the plaintiff is likely to redress the injury.15 When pleading an injury-in-fact, "general allegations . . . are sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss because it is 'presume[d] that general allegations embrace those specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.'"16 Such "general allegations," however, must support a reasonable inference of some "concrete and actual invasion of a legally protected interest[]."17

Standing is a threshold jurisdictional requirement.18 Before the Court may consider the merits of Plaintiffs' claim that Sections 4322(c) & (d) are unconstitutional, therefore, it first must determine whether Plaintiffs have pledfacts from which it may reasonably be inferred that they have standing to bring their claims.19

Plaintiffs do not allege that they have been denied access to any DOC policy or procedure during their term of confinement.20 Rather, the sole allegation of harm in the Complaint is that DOC's authority to deny inmates access to DOC policies and procedures, whether exercised or not, "deprives both the inmate population and the general population of the procedural protections and safeguards required to assure no abuse of authority is carried out with the taxpayers [sic] dollars."21 According to Plaintiffs, the denial of access to DOC policies andprocedures violates the requirement in 11 Del. C. § 6517 ("Section 6517") that the Commissioner of the DOC "[p]romulgat[e] rules and regulations to carry out the Commissioner's duties and operate the [DOC]." This violation, Plaintiffs contend, constitutes a violation of the non-delegation doctrine embodied within Delaware's Constitution.22

Plaintiffs read too much into Section 6517. As Plaintiffs correctly observe, Section 6517 generally states that the "duties and responsibilities" of the Commissioner of the DOC include "promulgating rules and regulations." But this general assignment of rulemaking responsibility is a far cry from a statutory mandate that the Commissioner must provide inmates access to the DOC internal "policies and procedures" identified in Sections 4322(c) & (d). The two statutes, by their express terms, concern two different founts of information. Section 6517 addresses DOC "rules and regulations" regarding the core functions of the Commissioner and the DOC23; Sections 4322(c) & (d), on the other hand, addressDOC institutional "policies and procedures."24 Nothing in these statutes suggests that the Commissioner's duty to promulgate certain "rules and regulations" can be contorted into a statutory mandate that the DOC turnover its internal operating "policies and procedures" to inmates incarcerated within DOC facilities.25 This reading of Sections 4322(c) & (d) is entirely consistent with Delaware's Administrative Procedures Act in which the General Assembly expressly authorizes State agencies to "[d]ecline to make available [to the public] documents and other materials which [r]elate solely to the agency's internal procedural or personnel practices."26

Moreover, it is difficult to discern how a statute that prevents the DOC from providing inmates access to policies and procedures that offer them no substantive rights—such as policies regarding security classifications, housing or internal DOC programs—could possibly form the basis of a legally cognizable injury to any inmate or to the public at large.27 At best, the policies and procedures the Plaintiffs seek access to would be informational. Once possessed they could do nothing constructive with them.

Because the Complaint does not allege a legally protected interest affected by, or an injury-in-fact caused by, Sections 4322(c) & (d), Plaintiffs have notsatisfied their burden of establishing standing.28 Defendants' Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) must be granted.

C. Sections 4322(c) & (d) Withstand Constitutional Scrutiny

Even if the Court were to excuse Plaintiffs' failure to demonstrate standing, which it cannot do,29 the end result would not change. It is clear from the face of the Complaint that Plaintiffs' constitutional challenges lack any merit. To recount, Plaintiffs' constitutional arguments are twofold: First, they assert that the enactment of Sections 4322(c) & (d) "undermine[s] their constitutional and administrative law rights" because "all state agencies created by the legislature"30 must exercise their authority by "[p]romulgating rules and regulations,"31 yet Sections 4322(c) & (d) authorize the DOC to refrain from "promulgating" suchinformation to the inmate population in violation of the non-delegation doctrine. Second, they argue that Sections 4322(c) & (d) violate the Single-Subject Provision of Delaware's Constitution because "there is no natural and logical connection between investigative [presentence] reports or records [(also mentioned in Section 4322)], and the DOC" policies and procedures mentioned in Sections 4322(c) & (d).32 Both challenges fail as a matter of law.

1. DOC Is Not Constitutionally Obliged to Promulgate Internal Policies and Procedures


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT