Schmidt v. Crusoe

Decision Date01 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. SC00-2512.,SC00-2512.
Citation878 So.2d 361
PartiesDaniel Kevin SCHMIDT, Petitioner, v. John E. CRUSOE, etc., Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Susan L. Kelsey and Stephen F. Hanlon of Holland & Knight, LLP, Tallahassee, FL; Robin L. Rosenberg of Holland & Knight, LLP, St. Petersburg, FL; and Wendell T. Locke of Holland & Knight, LLP, Fort Lauderdale, FL, for Petitioner.

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, and Robert C. Brannan, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Respondent.


Daniel Kevin Schmidt petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(8), Fla. Const. For the reasons set out below, we grant the petition and hold that an inmate's petition for writ of mandamus challenging a loss of gain time is a collateral criminal proceeding and not a civil lawsuit as contemplated by the Prisoner Indigency Statute.


Schmidt is serving a criminal sentence and was disciplined for allegedly having lied to prison staff. As punishment, the Department of Corrections forfeited a portion of the gain time that Schmidt had already earned as a reduction to his sentence. Schmidt filed a mandamus petition in the circuit court contesting the forfeiture. The circuit court sought a filing fee or an affidavit of indigency and a printout of Schmidt's inmate account pursuant to the Prisoner Indigency Statute. See § 57.085, Fla. Stat. (2002). Schmidt responded that he was not subject to these requirements because his petition was not a civil lawsuit, but rather was a "collateral criminal proceeding" exempted under the statute. See § 57.085(10), Fla. Stat. (2002). When the circuit court rejected this contention, Schmidt sought review by a petition for writ of prohibition in the First District Court of Appeal. The district court also invoked the statute and advised Schmidt that his case would be dismissed if compliance or a filing fee was not forthcoming. Schmidt then filed a petition in this Court, and we stayed proceedings pending consideration of the merits of his petition and the responses thereto.

I. Jurisdiction

At the time Schmidt filed his petition here, this Court was about to issue Geffken v. Strickler, 778 So.2d 975 (Fla.2001), which held that a writ petition that contests a conviction or sentence is a collateral criminal proceeding and is therefore exempt from the Prisoner Indigency Statute. Schmidt alleged that the First District was about to dismiss his case because he had failed to comply with the Prisoner Indigency Statute. Since it was at least debatable that a writ petition contesting the forfeiture of gain time which results in a longer period of incarceration should also be considered a collateral criminal proceeding and thus exempt from the statute, this Court stayed the pending case in the First District Court of Appeal, requested responses, and held oral argument.

This Court has used its extraordinary writ jurisdiction to address indigency determinations by the district courts in quite a few cases over the years. See, e.g., Geffken v. Strickler, 778 So.2d 975 (Fla.2001)

. In most cases, the petition filed in this Court was a petition for writ of mandamus and the petitioner's case had already been dismissed in the district court. In Caldwell v. Estate of McDowell, 507 So.2d 607 (Fla.1987), for example, this Court held that the petitioner had a clear legal right to be deemed insolvent and thus the district court had a duty to reinstate the appeal it had dismissed for failure to pay the filing fee. Later mandamus cases from this Court have also required district courts to reinstate actions dismissed for failure to pay filing fees. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Moore, 786 So.2d 521 (Fla.2001) (instructing district court to reinstate appeal it had dismissed when inmate appellant failed to comply with the copy requirement of the Prisoner Indigency Statute);1

Quigley v. Butterworth, 708

So.2d 270 (Fla.1998) (instructing district court that had dismissed appeal due to trial court's denial of indigency to consider action in the district court as an appeal of the trial court's denial of indigency); McFadden v. Fourth District Court of Appeal, 682 So.2d 1068 (Fla.1996) (instructing district court to reinstate appeal it had dismissed when inmate appellant failed to either pay a filing fee or obtain an order of indigency from the trial court).

In this Court's prior mandamus cases concerning filing fees, the district court had already dismissed the petitioner's case and this Court used its mandamus jurisdiction to direct the district court to reinstate the case. This case differs somewhat because we stayed Schmidt's case in the district court before it was able to dismiss it for failure to comply with the Prisoner Indigency Statute. Thus, even though there is no need to direct the district court to reinstate Schmidt's case, we must determine whether to direct the district court to consider Schmidt's indigency without requiring him to comply with the Prisoner Indigency Statute. If the Prisoner Indigency Statute does not apply in this case, Schmidt has a clear legal right and the district court has a clear legal duty to determine his indigency without requiring compliance with the statute. The Prisoner Indigency Statute is still relatively new and questions as to what types of cases it covers continue to arise. The fact that we may need to examine and interpret the statute in order to determine whether there is such a right does not make the right any more or less "clear."

II. The Merits

The Prisoner Indigency Statute, section 57.085, Florida Statutes (2002), was enacted as part of an act which created or amended several statutory provisions for the purpose of reducing unnecessary or frivolous prisoner filings. See ch. 96-106, Laws of Fla.2 Before the enactment of the Prisoner Indigency Statute, indigent prisoners, like all other indigent persons, could file civil lawsuits without the payment of a filing fee and other court costs. However, section 57.085, Florida Statutes (2002), the Prisoner Indigency Statute, now provides that while an indigent inmate may still initiate a civil lawsuit without first paying a filing fee, a lien may be placed on the inmate's account, and if any money is deposited in the account, a portion of the filing fee is deducted each month until the filing fee is paid in full. The statute specifically excludes "criminal" and "collateral criminal proceedings," see § 57.085(10), Fla. Stat. (2002), from its reach.

Here, Schmidt asserts that regardless of the particular denomination of the petition he filed in the trial court contesting the forfeiture of earned gain time and the calculation of his sentence by the Department of Corrections, it is akin to a traditional habeas corpus action or a motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 or 3.800, which have long been deemed hybrid criminal-civil actions and clearly meet the Prisoner Indigency Statute's and this Court's definition of a "collateral criminal proceeding."3

Florida's Prisoner Indigency Statute was fashioned, at least in part, on the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA). See Pub.L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 (1996) (codified in part at 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (2000)). Similar to Florida's act, the PLRA's requirement that prisoners pay at least a partial filing fee applies only to civil lawsuits. As a result, the federal circuits have been grappling for years with virtually the same issue now presented to this Court-that is, whether the filing fee provisions of the federal version of the Prisoner Indigency Statute (the PLRA) should be applied to writ petitions which seek relief traditionally available under habeas corpus or other collateral or postconviction proceedings.4 Acknowledging the hybrid civil-criminal character of such actions, the federal courts have looked to the legislative history of the PLRA to determine whether Congress meant to restrict inmates from filing such actions, and have found that Congress was principally interested in discouraging civil damage suits involving frivolous challenges to prison conditions. See, e.g., United States v. Simmonds, 111 F.3d 737, 743 (10th Cir.1997)

(referencing Senator Dole's statement in regard to limiting such prison condition suits involving a challenge to the amount of storage space and the infamous "creamy peanut butter" versus "chunky peanut butter" controversy).

The federal decisions have found no indication in the text of the PLRA or its legislative history to indicate that Congress expected its filing fee payment requirements to apply to traditional hybrid civil-criminal, habeas-type actions in which inmates assert an entitlement to gain time and an accelerated release from prison but were not contesting their conditions of confinement. In Santana v. United States, 98 F.3d 752 (3rd Cir.1996), the Third Circuit explained:

The PLRA applies to prisoners who bring a "civil action" or who appeal a judgment in a "civil action or proceeding."
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), (b). But the PLRA neither defines "civil action" for purposes of in forma pauperis litigants nor expressly excludes habeas corpus proceedings from its scope.
We do not believe, however, that the meaning of the phrase "civil action" as used in the PLRA is plain. First, habeas corpus cases are, in effect, hybrid actions whose nature is not adequately captured by the phrase "civil action" ....
... Congress enacted the PLRA primarily to curtail claims brought by prisoners under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Federal Torts Claims Act, most of which concern prison conditions and many of which are routinely dismissed as legally frivolous. See H.R. CONF. REP. NO. 104-378, 104th Cong., 2d Sess. (1996) (The PLRA "limits the remedies for prison condition lawsuits."); 141 CONG. REC. S14418 (daily ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Sen. Hatch) (The PLRA will limit

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