Smith v. O'Dea

Citation939 S.W.2d 353
Decision Date07 February 1997
Docket NumberNo. 95-CA-2555-MR,95-CA-2555-MR
PartiesJack SMITH, Appellant, v. Michael O'DEA, Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Kentucky

Jack Smith, West Liberty, pro se.

Boyce A. Crocker, Department of Corrections, Frankfort, for Appellee.




Jack Smith, an inmate at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC), appeals, pro se, from two orders of Morgan Circuit Court, one dismissing his petition for a declaration of rights and another denying his motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law. The orders were entered August 1, 1995, and September 13, 1995, respectively. Smith petitioned for a declaration of rights pursuant to KRS 418.040 and moved for findings and conclusions pursuant to CR 52.01. He claims to have been arbitrarily subjected to prison disciplinary sanctions in violation of his rights under the due process provisions of both the United States and Kentucky Constitutions. We affirm.

In December, 1994, Smith's daughters Christina and Kindra came to EKCC to visit Smith. They were accompanied by Christina's children and one of her friends. In the course of a pre-admission search, prison personnel discovered two small bags of marijuana concealed in the clothing of one of the children. Solely on the basis of these facts, Smith was charged with having violated institutional rules against complicity in the attempted introduction of contraband to the prison. At his hearing before the adjustment committee, Smith denied having solicited the marijuana or even knowing of his daughters' plan to visit. Nevertheless, the adjustment committee found him guilty as charged. He was assigned to a period of disciplinary segregation and lost some of his good behavior credit. Smith appealed to the warden and tendered affidavits from Christina and others corroborating his denials. The warden ordered further review, but ultimately affirmed the committee's decision.

Smith then sought judicial review. Arguing that the committee had before it insufficient evidence of his involvement in the alleged smuggling attempt, he claimed that the decision to sanction him was arbitrary, a violation of both his federal and Kentucky constitutional rights to procedural due process. The circuit court summarily denied Smith's petition 1 and this timely appeal followed.

The general formula Kentucky courts at all levels employ to determine whether summary judgment is proper is to ask whether there are genuine issues of material fact, and, if not, whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Whenever it is reasonable to do so, ambiguities in the record must be construed in favor of the non-moving party. CR 56 and Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc., Ky., 807 S.W.2d 476 (1991). Like other general provisions of the law, this one is to be applied with sensitivity to particular circumstances. Appellant's petition arises in a context that colors somewhat the application of the general summary judgment standard.

A petition for declaratory judgment pursuant to KRS 418.040 has become the vehicle, whenever Habeas Corpus proceedings are inappropriate, whereby inmates may seek review of their disputes with the Corrections Department. Polsgrove v. Kentucky Bureau of Corrections, Ky., 559 S.W.2d 736 (1977); Graham v. O'Dea, Ky.App., 876 S.W.2d 621 (1994). While technically original actions, these inmate petitions share many of the aspects of appeals. They invoke the circuit court's authority to act as a court of review. The court seeks not to form its own judgment, but, with due deference, to ensure that the agency's judgment comports with the legal restrictions applicable to it. American Beauty Homes Corp. v. Louisville & Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Comm'n., Ky., 379 S.W.2d 450 (1964).

" 'The focal point for [this] judicial review should be the administrative record already in existence, not some new record made initially in the reviewing court.' " Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 743, 105 S.Ct. 1598, 1607, 84 L.Ed.2d 643 (1985) (quoting Camp v. Pitts, 411 U.S. 138, 93 S.Ct. 1241, 36 L.Ed.2d 106 (1973)). These petitions thus present circumstances in which the need for independent judicial factfinding is greatly reduced. The circuit court's fact-finding capacity is required only if the administrative record does not permit meaningful review. Even then, "the proper course, except in rare circumstances, is to remand to the agency for additional investigation or explanation." Florida Power, supra, 470 U.S. at 744, 105 S.Ct. at 1607; see also American Beauty Homes, supra (constitutional provisions for the separation of powers restrict the court's authority to rely upon its own rather than the agency's factual determinations).

Where, as here, principles of administrative law and appellate procedure bear upon the court's decision, the usual summary judgment analysis must be qualified. The problem is to reconcile the requirement under the general summary judgment standard to view as favorably to the non-moving party as is reasonably possible the facts and any inferences drawn therefrom, with a reviewing court's duty to acknowledge an agency's discretionary authority, its expertise, and its superior access to evidence. In these circumstances we believe summary judgment for the Corrections Department is proper if and only if the inmate's petition and any supporting materials, construed in light of the entire agency record (including, if submitted, administrators' affidavits describing the context of their acts or decisions), does not raise specific, genuine issues of material fact sufficient to overcome the presumption of agency propriety, and the Department is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court must be sensitive to the possibility of prison abuses and not dismiss legitimate petitions merely because of unskilled presentations. Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235 (5th Cir.1989). However, it must also be free to respond expeditiously to meritless petitions. By requiring inmates to plead with a fairly high degree of factual specificity and by reading their allegations in light of the full agency record, courts will be better able to perform both aspects of this task.

Applying this standard, we agree with the circuit court that Smith's allegations raise no issue of material fact and do not entitle him to the relief he seeks.

First, we disagree with Smith's claim that the court erred by failing to enter independent findings of fact. Its reliance on the agency's record was not only proper but required in its role as reviewer of the administrative decision. Florida Power, supra; American Beauty Homes, supra. Also, under CR 56.01, which provides for summary judgments in declaratory judgment actions, legal conclusions need not accompany summary affirmations of administrative adjudications. Wilson v. Southward Inv. Co. # 1, Ky.App., 675 S.W.2d 10 (1984).

We also reject Smith's substantive claim. He argues, first, that the circuit court is apt to have employed an incorrect standard of review. Federal courts review prison disciplinary committees' findings of fact by asking whether "some evidence" appearing in the record supports the finding. The United States Supreme Court has held that this minimal judicial scrutiny comports with federal due process provisions. Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 105 S.Ct. 2768, 86 L.Ed.2d 356 (1985). Smith contends that the "some evidence" standard of review, which is the standard the Commonwealth recommended to the circuit court, is inappropriate under Section 2 of the Kentucky Constitution. Relying on Commonwealth Transportation Cabinet v. Cornell, Ky.App., 796 S.W.2d 591 (1990), he argues that Section 2, which prohibits arbitrary state action, requires our courts to apply a "substantial evidence" standard of review to all administrative findings of fact, including those of prison disciplinary tribunals. He insists that this is a stricter standard than that approved in the federal courts and argues that had it been applied in his case the decision to punish him would not have been upheld.

Smith also maintains that even if the "some evidence" standard of review applies, the circuit court erred, for no reliable evidence supports the adjustment committee's finding. Aside from his relationship to his visitors, he argues, there was no evidence showing that he knew of, much less encouraged, an attempt to smuggle marijuana into the prison. He insists that punishing him for his relationships or for having visitors is tantamount to punishing him for the wrongdoing of another. We disagree with both of these arguments.

Without question the operation of prisons is one of the most difficult as well as one of the most important of the state's administrative functions. Prisons are a vital part of the government's effort to preserve social order and domestic tranquility. They provide this fundamental benefit, however, only at the cost of becoming places where the risk of disorder and violence is greatly heightened. The United States Supreme Court has recognized the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
206 cases
  • Com. Nat. Res. & Envir. Prot. v. Kentec
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky
    • December 22, 2005 a due process provision whereby Kentucky citizens may be assured of fundamentally fair and unbiased procedures. Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d 353 (Ky.App.1997). As noted in Pritchett v. Marshall, 375 S.W.2d 253 (Ky.1963), the state is enjoined against arbitrariness by Section 2 of the Kentu......
  • Raithatha v. Univ. of Pikeville
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Kentucky
    • October 13, 2017 generally understood to be construed consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. See Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d 353 (Ky. App. 1997). Thus—like the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 1983—Section II of the Kentucky Constitution has no application. The Unive......
  • Gentry v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • October 12, 2012
    ...893, 899 (Ky. 1985). This section ensures citizens of this Commonwealth "shall be free of arbitrary state action." Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d 353, 357 (Ky. App. 1997). Kentucky courts have interpreted Section 2's broad provisions as the state-level assurance - comparable to the 14th Amendme......
  • Thomas v. Haney
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • July 8, 2011
    ...of rights arising out of a prison disciplinary proceeding should be treated as a motion for summary judgment. See Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d 353, 355 n.1 (Ky. App. 1997). "The standard of review on appeal of a summary judgment is whether the trial court correctly found that there were no ge......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

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