Holt v. Howard

Decision Date27 November 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–3064.,14–3064.
Citation806 F.3d 1129
PartiesGregory Houston HOLT, Plaintiff–Appellant v. Michelle HOWARD, Public Information Officer, Little Rock Police Department, in her Official Capacity Only; State of Arkansas, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Andrew P. Selman, Law Student at University of Virginia, Appellate Litigation Clinic, argued, Charlottesville, VA, Kaitlyn A Tongalson, Law Student, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, (Stephen Louis Braga, I, Charlottesville, VA, on the brief), for PlaintiffAppellant.

David A. Curran, I, AAG, David Clifford Sward, argued, Little Rock, AR, (Colin Jorgensen, AAG, Little Rock, AR, on the brief), for DefendantsAppellees.


MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Gregory Holt, an incarcerated felon, brought this case against the state of Arkansas and Michelle Howard, an employee of the Little Rock Police Department, alleging that the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Howard had denied Holt's pro se request for documents about an individual he had assaulted because the Act only permits an incarcerated felon to request information of public record through an attorney. The district court1concluded that the Act was constitutional and granted summary judgment to the defendants. Holt appeals, and we affirm.

In 2009 Holt assaulted C.T., and the state charged him with aggravated residential burglary and first degree domestic battery. Holt was tried in Pulaski County Circuit Court, C.T. testified against him, and the jury convicted him of two felonies on June 3, 2010. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the burglary conviction and received a concurrent forty years sentence on the domestic battery conviction. Holt has unsuccessfully challenged his convictions and sentences in both state and federal courts.

On June 28, 2012 Holt sent a letter to Howard, the public information officer in the Little Rock Police Department. In his letter Holt requested [p]ursuant to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act records “pertaining to [C.T.] since June 3, 2010 as well as any records pertaining to [C.T.'s presumptive Little Rock address] since June 3, 2010.” Howard denied Holt's request on July 12, 2012. In her denial letter Howard cited a restriction in the statute which prevents pro se incarcerated felons from accessing documents under the Act. The relevant statutory provision states that:

access to inspect and copy public records shall be denied to: (i) A person who at the time of the request has pleaded guilty to or been found guilty of a felony and is incarcerated in a correctional facility; and (ii) The representative of a person under subdivision (a)(1)(B)(i) of this section unless the representative is the person's attorney who is requesting information that is subject to disclosure under this section.

Ark.Code Ann. § 25–19–105(a)(1)(B).

Holt filed this action against Howard and the state of Arkansas alleging that the Act's exclusion of pro se incarcerated felons denies equal protection of the law to this category of persons and denies them access to legitimate legal documents they may need for post conviction appeals. With respect to his equal protection claim, Holt alleges that the Act is unconstitutional because it has no rational basis and only seeks to prohibit indigent prisoners from post conviction redress. In respect to his due process claim, Holt alleges that as a result of the denial of his records request he “was unable to access and therefore present what he believed was new evidence.” Although the court had ordered the parties to complete discovery by January 24, 2014, Holt did not request discovery from either defendant by that date.

The state and Howard filed motions for summary judgment which the district court granted. The court determined that Holt had standing to pursue his claims, but concluded that the challenged provision was constitutional under the equal protection and due process clauses. Holt subsequently filed three pro se post judgment motions for relief. He argued that the court should provide him with the opportunity to take additional discovery and offer evidence to refute the defendants' proffered rational bases for the Act. The court denied all three motions. Holt appeals the underlying summary judgment order and the orders denying his motions for relief.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record.” Minn. ex rel. N. Pac. Ctr., Inc. v. BNSF Ry. Co.,686 F.3d 567, 571 (8th Cir.2012). Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine dispute exists “as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). We “may affirm the judgment on any basis supported by the record.” Hohn v. BNSF Ry. Co.,707 F.3d 995, 1000 (8th Cir.2013).

Holt contends that permitting only those incarcerated felons who have counsel to access information under the Act violates the equal protection clause. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The Supreme Court has however long held that a classification that does not involve fundamental rights or suspect classes does not violate the equal protection clause “if there is a rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose.” Heller v. Doe,509 U.S. 312, 319–20, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993). Rational basis review does not require proof of the legislature's actual motivation, but only that some rational basis exists for the law. See City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr.,473 U.S. 432, 448, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985). Because the statute's classification is presumed constitutional, Holt has the burden of negating every conceivable basis which might support it. See Heller,509 U.S. at 320, 113 S.Ct. 2637.

The district court did not err in granting summary judgment because the Act's limitation on those who many benefit from the law is rationally related to at least two legitimate government purposes. First, the Act's classification is rationally related to the prevention of unlawful use of the statute because attorneys are prohibited from assisting clients in criminal or fraudulent enterprises. Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(d)states that [a] lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Rule 1.2(d)applies to the full scope of attorney representation, including requesting records on behalf of clients. The ethical rules thus prohibit an attorney from helping a client request records for the purpose of harassing or threatening a witness or victim. Concern about inmates harassing others through record requests is not a vague undifferentiated fear, contrary to Holt's contention. The safety of others is a “factor[ ] which [is] properly cognizable” by a legislative body when determining the limits of a state public records law. See City of Cleburne,473 U.S. at 448, 105 S.Ct. 3249.

The Act's classification is also rationally related to conserving government resources. Requiring...

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