Murphy v. Nelson, 73848

Decision Date26 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 73848,73848
PartiesRodney MURPHY, Appellee, v. Michael NELSON, Warden, El Dorado Correctional Facility, Appellant.
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. An agency's interpretation of its own regulation will not be disturbed unless the interpretation is clearly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.

2. The question of what process is due in a given factual situation under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of law.

3. Appellate courts strive for a reasonable interpretation or construction of a statute or regulation which avoids an unreasonable or absurd result.

4. Decided cases are binding not only on those cases arising in the future but also on those pending when the case is decided.

5. The constitutional procedural due process analysis is a two-step procedure in which a court must first determine whether due process is involved and, if it is, the court must then determine the nature and extent of the process which is due.

6. When an interest involving life, liberty, or property is implicated, due process considerations apply. However, a protected due process right must encompass an interest recognized by the Constitution.

7. State-created liberty interests of prisoners will generally be limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the due process clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

8. Discipline by prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct falls within the expected parameters of the sentence imposed by a court of law.

9. Confinement of a prisoner in administrative segregation is not the type of significant deprivation by which the State of Kansas might create a liberty interest. The administrative regulations in Kansas governing segregation compel a holding, as a matter of law, that segregation does not represent a significant and atypical hardship on the prisoner in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

Linden G. Appel, Deputy Chief Counsel, Kansas Department of Corrections, argued the cause and was on the brief, for appellant.

Charles J. Cavenee, Legal Services for Prisoners, Inc., argued the cause and was on the brief, for appellee.

LARSON, Justice:

Michael Nelson, Warden, El Dorado Correctional Facility (respondent or Warden), appeals the trial court's rulings in this habeas corpus (K.S.A. 60-1501) proceeding that prison inmate Rodney Murphy must be immediately returned to the general prison population because he was being held in administrative segregation without legal authority and in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This case focuses on prisoners' rights in view of the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995), several recent cases from the Kansas Court of Appeals, and the Kansas Administrative Regulations applicable to prisoners.

Factual Background

On May 24, 1993, Murphy, then an inmate at the Lansing Correctional Facility, was placed in administrative segregation pursuant to K.A.R. 44-14-302(b), pending the results in an investigation of an inmate uprising 2 days earlier during which corrections officer Mark Avery was killed and another guard and prisoner severely injured. No presegregation hearing was held due to the "sensitive nature of investigation," as allowed by K.A.R. 44-14-303(c). The following day, Murphy appeared before the Administrative Segregation Review Board (ASRB or Board) which approved his segregation and furnished him with a copy of his initial segregation review that changed his status to "Other security risk" under K.A.R. 44-14-302(g).

The Board explained its decision in the following manner:

"Inmate was placed in segregation by shift supervisor after the inmate was alleged to be a participant in a disturbance on the maximum yard in which one officer was killed, one severely injured, and one inmate severely injured. The inmate's behavior constitutes a threat to the security and control of the institution. No pre-segregation placement hearing was conducted due to the serious nature of the emergency. The Board recommends that the inmate remain in segregation until the investigation of the incident is final and complete. The inmate stated that he had no knowledge of the incident."

Subsequent weekly and then monthly reviews of Murphy's segregation continued to recommend his segregation as the investigation into the incident continued and he became a suspect. After an October 4, 1993, incident in which Murphy attempted to disrupt the segregation unit, he was placed in a quiet cell and his status was changed pursuant to K.A.R. 44-14-307 to "Transfer to more restricted area." The following day, the ASRB recommended that Murphy be removed from the quiet cell, and his status was returned to "44-14-302(g) Other Security Risk." Murphy appeared before the Board personally on a number of occasions but, after November 30, 1993, refused to attend the review hearings.

The monthly review of January 4, 1994, contained the same language as the earlier reviews and, in addition, stated: "The inmate is a suspect in the death of Officer Avery and faces possible charges." On February 8, 1994, Murphy received a disciplinary report for possessing dangerous contraband. At no time did Murphy receive any official notice of who had accused him of participating in the Avery incident.

On March 4, 1994, Murphy filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to K.S.A. 60-1501, which is the subject of this appeal. In his petition he sought injunctive relief, alleging he was illegally restrained in administrative segregation without legal justification and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On April 18, 1994, a hearing was held on Murphy's petition. Evidence adduced established that Murphy was part of a large group of inmates who were treated similarly, although most had been transferred to El Dorado. No disciplinary proceedings had been initiated at this time in order to avoid jeopardizing the criminal cases. Some inmates who were initially segregated had been released to the general population because the evidence against them was not as strong as that against Murphy.

The evidence against Murphy was said to be one inmate willing to swear that Murphy was involved in the assault on the slain correction's officer. Murphy was not then charged criminally for his involvement. At the time of the hearing, prison officials stated they intended to keep Murphy in segregation until the criminal trials were finished in hopes that information gained there would either confirm or deny his involvement.

Major Douglas Friesz, a member of the ASRB, testified he and other Board members were aware of the evidence involving Murphy's alleged role in the April 1993 incident. Friesz testified Murphy had not been given details of the evidence implicating him in order to reduce the possibility of violence or retaliation against the inmate informant.

As a result of this hearing, the trial court remanded the matter to the Lansing warden, David R. McKune, to reconsider Murphy's segregation and determine if there was a less restrictive way to accomplish the prison's goals. The trial court further ordered that if McKune decided to continue administrative segregation, he must present a detailed explanation of the rationale for his decision to the court in camera.

Both sides then filed written arguments with the court concerning the propriety of Murphy's segregation under established regulations and procedures and the extent of Murphy's due process rights. McKune presented his in camera evidence, the content of which is not in the record on appeal.

On February 23, 1995, the trial court filed its memorandum decision in which it noted that at that time Murphy had been in administrative segregation for nearly a year and a half and no criminal or disciplinary changes had been filed against him even though 12 others had been charged in connection with the murder of the corrections officer.

The trial court first held that by placing Murphy in administrative segregation McKune acted beyond his authority. The court reasoned that the regulation on which McKune relied, K.A.R. 44-14-302(g), permits administrative segregation only while the inmate is engaging in behavior threatening to the security or control of the prison. The court stated that while there was evidence that one inmate claimed Murphy participated in Avery's murder, there was no evidence Murphy was presently engaging in threatening behavior requiring his continued segregation.

Second, the trial court held the decision of the ASRB violated Murphy's procedural due process rights because it was based on no evidence whatsoever. The court reasoned that by withholding from Murphy the name of his accuser during the investigation of his involvement with the murder, and by failing to provide him with the details of his accuser's statement, he was prevented from having any meaningful hearing, which violated due process of law. In addition, the trial court faulted the failure to provide the Board with necessary information so it could make a meaningful decision as to the justification or lawfulness of retaining Murphy in administrative segregation.

Finally, the trial court stated: "If due process attaches for disciplinary cases that can result in segregation for 45 days, then it must attach to circumstances like this where the inmate may be segregated indefinitely."

The trial court ordered Murphy's immediate release from administrative segregation and return to the general population. The trial court granted respondent's motion for a stay pending the...

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