Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, No. M2015–00722–SC–R11–CV

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtRoger A. Page, J.
Citation514 S.W.3d 707
Parties Reginald Dion HUGHES v. TENNESSEE BOARD OF PROBATION AND PAROLE
Decision Date02 June 2016
Docket NumberNo. M2015–00722–SC–R11–CV

514 S.W.3d 707

Reginald Dion HUGHES
v.
TENNESSEE BOARD OF PROBATION AND PAROLE

No. M2015–00722–SC–R11–CV

Supreme Court of Tennessee, AT NASHVILLE.

June 2, 2016 Session,1 Heard at Lipscomb University


David H. Veile,2 Franklin, Tennessee, for the petitioner, Reginald D. Hughes.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Pamela S. Lorch, Senior Counsel; Michael C. Polovich, Assistant Attorney General (on appeal); Lee Pope, Assistant Attorney General (in chancery court), for the appellee, Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole.

Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Holly Kirby, J., joined. Cornelia A. Clark and Sharon G. Lee, JJ., filed separate dissenting opinions.

OPINION

Roger A. Page, J.

The petition for writ of certiorari of Reginald Dion Hughes ("petitioner") to the chancery court from the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole's denial of parole was dismissed pursuant Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 following the discovery that petitioner still owed $258.58 from prior cases. Petitioner appealed the chancery court's decision, but the Court of Appeals also dismissed the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. Prob. and Parole , No. M2015-00722-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 1, 2015) (order dismissing appeal), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 2, 2016). Petitioner then requested permission to appeal to this court, alleging that section 41-21-812 was unconstitutional. We granted petitioner's request to review this case and to determine "[w]hether Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812(a) is constitutional as applied to this case." After reviewing the record, the parties' arguments, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and dismiss petitioner's appeal.

I. Facts and Procedural History

In 1987, petitioner was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and received a thirty-year sentence on each count, to be served consecutively, for an effective sentence of sixty years. His convictions and sentences were upheld on direct appeal. State v. Hughes , No. 96, 1988 WL 132698, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 14, 1988). Petitioner later unsuccessfully sought post-conviction relief. Hughes v. State , No. 02C01-9201-CR-00005, 1992 WL 368651, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 16, 1992). Petitioner first became eligible for parole on June 20, 2003, but the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole denied parole after a hearing. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Parole , No. W2005-00838-COA-R3-CV, 2005 WL 3479632, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2005). He again became eligible for parole on August 22, 2005, but the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole denied parole after a hearing. Petitioner also filed three petitions for writ of habeas corpus, all of which were denied. Hughes v. Barbee , No. W2012-01767-CCA-R3-HC, 2013 WL 3818108, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 19, 2013) ; Hughes v. Parker , No. W2007-02022-CCA-R3-HC, 2008 WL 1722454, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 14, 2008) ; Hughes v. Mills , No. W2003-02486-CCA-R3-HC, 2004 WL 547010, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 19, 2004).

The current appeal arose from the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole's third denial of parole. In 2011, petitioner again became eligible for parole, but he was denied parole after a hearing on August

514 S.W.3d 711

18, 2011. Petitioner appealed the denial to the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole but was denied relief. He then filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in the Lauderdale County Chancery Court, which was later transferred to the Davidson County Chancery Court. On January 20, 2015, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812,3 asserting that petitioner's claim should be dismissed because he had "outstanding unpaid costs from prior lawsuits." The State, relying on an affidavit from the Clerk and Master of the Lauderdale County Chancery Court, asserted that petitioner owed court costs of $49.50 from a prior divorce case in which he was the plaintiff and $209.35 from his prior case against the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole. The chancery court granted the State's motion on March 16, 2015, because petitioner had a total of $258.85 in unpaid court costs from the two prior lawsuits.4 Petitioner appealed the chancery court's decision, but the Court of Appeals also dismissed the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. Prob. & Parole , No. M2015-00722-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 1, 2015) (order dismissing appeal), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 2, 2016). We now consider petitioner's appeal.

II. Analysis

Petitioner raises one core argument under several provisions of the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution, all of which address his right of access to the courts. Petitioner asserts that the trial court's application of Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 and dismissal of his case due to an outstanding fee of $258.85 violated his right of access to the courts pursuant to the Due Process and Equal Protection provisions of the

514 S.W.3d 712

United States Constitution5 and the Equal Protection, Due Process, and Open Courts provisions of the Tennessee Constitution.6 Petitioner specifically asserts an as-applied constitutional challenge. "In contrast to a facial challenge, which involves the constitutionality of the statute as written, '[a]n 'as applied' challenge to the constitutionality of a statute is evaluated considering how it operates in practice against the particular litigant and under the facts of the instant case, not hypothetical facts in other situations.' " State v. Crank , 468 S.W.3d 15, 24 n.5 (Tenn. 2015) (quoting City of Memphis v. Hargett , 414 S.W.3d 88, 107 (Tenn. 2013) ). Therefore, our analysis is limited to how the application of Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 affects the petitioner specifically.

When analyzing the constitutionality of a statute, we review the issue de novo with no presumption of correctness to the lower court's legal conclusions. Waters v. Farr , 291 S.W.3d 873, 882 (Tenn. 2009) (citing Colonial Pipeline Co. v. Morgan , 263 S.W.3d 827, 836 (Tenn. 2008) ). We are "charged with upholding the constitutionality of statutes where possible," State v. Pickett , 211 S.W.3d 696, 700 (Tenn. 2007), and we always "begin with the presumption that an act of the General Assembly is constitutional," Gallaher v. Elam , 104 S.W.3d 455, 459 (Tenn. 2003) (citing State v. Robinson, 29 S.W.3d 476, 479 (Tenn. 2000) ; Riggs v. Burson, 941 S.W.2d 44, 51 (Tenn. 1997) ). "In a civil case heard without a jury, the trial court's findings of fact are reviewed de novo, accompanied by a presumption of correctness, unless the evidence preponderates otherwise." Hood v. Jenkins , 432 S.W.3d 814, 822 (Tenn. 2013) (citations omitted).

Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 states:

(a) Except as provided by subsection (b), on notice of assessment of any fees, taxes, costs and expenses under this
514 S.W.3d 713
part, a clerk of a court may not accept for filing another claim by the same inmate until prior fees, taxes, costs and other expenses are paid in full.

(b) A court may allow an inmate who has not paid any costs or expenses assessed against the inmate to file a claim for injunctive relief seeking to enjoin an act or failure to act that creates a substantial threat of irreparable injury or serious physical harm to the inmate.

This section only applies to "a claim brought by an inmate in general sessions or a trial level court of record in which an affidavit of inability to pay costs is filed with the claim by the inmate."7 Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-802. A claim is defined as "any lawsuit or appeal filed by an inmate except a petition for post-conviction relief." Id. § 41-21-801(1). An inmate is defined as "a person housed in a facility operated by the department, housed in a county jail or housed in a correctional facility operated by a private corporation pursuant to a contract with the state or local government." Id. § 41-21-801(4).

The Sixth Circuit has recently addressed the constitutionality of section 41-21-812 in Clifton v. Carpenter , 775 F.3d 760, 762 (6th Cir. 2014), and concluded that the statute was unconstitutional as applied in that case. Id. at 768. In Clifton , the petitioner was a parolee whose parole was revoked by the parole board. Id. at 762. When the petitioner attempted to appeal this decision to the chancery court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the clerk's offices refused to file the petition because he owed $1,449.15 in prior court costs. Id. Recognizing that the petitioner had a liberty interest at stake in the revocation of parole and asserting that "[a]ccess to the courts cannot be contingent on wealth," the Sixth Circuit found section 41-21-812 unconstitutional as applied. Id. at 767-68. While informative, Clifton is not determinative of the case at bar.8 As the court in Clifton recognized, the petitioner in that case had a liberty interest at stake in the revocation of his parole. However, in...

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23 practice notes
  • Crouch Ry. Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC, No. M2017-02540-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • October 6, 2020
    ...context of this case, we are bound only by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. See Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 713 n.8 (Tenn. 2017) ; State v. Carruthers, 35 S.W.3d 516, 561 n.45 (Tenn. 2000).The principle that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteent......
  • State ex rel Groesse v. Sumner, No. W2016-01953-COA-R3-JV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • January 18, 2019
    ...[455,] 463 [ (Tenn. 2003) ] (citing Riggs [v. Burson ], 941 S.W.2d [44,] 51 [ (Tenn. 1997) ] ). Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. & Parole , 514 S.W.3d 707, 715 (Tenn. 2017).As to the distinction between procedural and substantive due process, our Supreme Court has elucidated:Due process under t......
  • Fisher v. Hargett, No. M2020-00831-SC-RDM-CV
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • August 5, 2020
    ...of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. See Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d) (2020); Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 712 (Tenn. 2017). In this appeal, however, all evidence was documentary. There was no live testimony; instead, there were only declarations......
  • State v. Decosimo, No. E2017-00696-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • August 23, 2018
    ...appeal—whether a statute is constitutional—is a question of law to which de novo review applies. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 712 (Tenn. 2017). We afford no deference to the legal conclusions of the courts below. Creech v. Addington, 281 S.W.3d 363, 372 (Tenn. 20......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Crouch Ry. Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC, No. M2017-02540-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • October 6, 2020
    ...context of this case, we are bound only by the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. See Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 713 n.8 (Tenn. 2017) ; State v. Carruthers, 35 S.W.3d 516, 561 n.45 (Tenn. 2000).The principle that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteent......
  • State ex rel Groesse v. Sumner, No. W2016-01953-COA-R3-JV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • January 18, 2019
    ...[455,] 463 [ (Tenn. 2003) ] (citing Riggs [v. Burson ], 941 S.W.2d [44,] 51 [ (Tenn. 1997) ] ). Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. & Parole , 514 S.W.3d 707, 715 (Tenn. 2017).As to the distinction between procedural and substantive due process, our Supreme Court has elucidated:Due process under t......
  • Fisher v. Hargett, No. M2020-00831-SC-RDM-CV
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • August 5, 2020
    ...of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. See Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d) (2020); Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 712 (Tenn. 2017). In this appeal, however, all evidence was documentary. There was no live testimony; instead, there were only declarations......
  • State v. Decosimo, No. E2017-00696-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • August 23, 2018
    ...appeal—whether a statute is constitutional—is a question of law to which de novo review applies. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, 514 S.W.3d 707, 712 (Tenn. 2017). We afford no deference to the legal conclusions of the courts below. Creech v. Addington, 281 S.W.3d 363, 372 (Tenn. 20......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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