State ex rel. L'Minggio v. Gamble, 01-0535.

Decision Date02 July 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-0535.,01-0535.
Citation263 Wis.2d 55,2003 WI 82,667 N.W.2d 1
PartiesSTATE of Wisconsin EX REL. Quintin D. L'MINGGIO, Petitioner-Appellant-Petitioner, v. Jane GAMBLE and Gerald Berge, Respondents-Respondents.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

For the petitioner-appellant-petitioner there were briefs by Colleen D. Ball, Sarah A. Huck, and Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Milwaukee, and oral argument by Colleen Ball.

For the respondents-respondents the cause was argued by Corey F. Finkelmeyer, assistant attorney general, with whom on the brief was James E. Doyle, attorney general.

¶ 1. WILLIAM A. BABLITCH, J.

Quintin L'Minggio (L'Minggio) petitioned this court for review of a court of appeals' decision that upheld a circuit court's dismissal of L'Minggio's challenge to a prison disciplinary hearing.1 The circuit court construed L'Minggio's petition for habeas corpus as a petition for certiorari and dismissed it as untimely under Wis. Stat. § 893.735(2) (1999-2000).2 The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of L'Minggio's action, but on the grounds that L'Minggio failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by Wis. Stat. § 801.02(7)(b) and Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.04 (Apr., 1998). ¶ 2. We conclude that L'Minggio's petition was properly construed as an action for certiorari rather than habeas corpus since a writ of certiorari provides L'Minggio with an adequate remedy in the law and has historically been used to challenge prison disciplinary decisions. We also conclude that L'Minggio exhausted his administrative remedies by satisfying the requirements under Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.04. Since the Department of Corrections (Department) failed to provide notice to L'Minggio of any further appeal rights when his inmate complaint was rejected, we conclude that the Department is estopped from claiming that L'Minggio failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in this case. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the matter to the circuit court for Dane County for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 3. On February 15, 2000, prison officials at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution issued L'Minggio a conduct report for allegedly participating in gang activity and planning to assault prison staff. On February 24, 2000, a prison adjustment committee found L'Minggio guilty of violating administrative rules against group resistance and conspiracy to commit battery. The adjustment committee stated that it relied upon the following factors in reaching its decision: (1) the person who prepared the report had been a reliable investigator in the past; (2) there were five notarized witness statements regarding L'Minggio's involvement in the alleged incident; and (3) L'Minggio's witnesses had no knowledge of the incident. The adjustment committee imposed eight days of adjustment segregation and three years of program segregation. ¶ 4. L'Minggio appealed the adjustment committee's decision to the program review committee, arguing that he was denied his due process rights to a fair and impartial hearing; that he did not have an impartial adjudicator; and that he was denied the opportunity to present and question witnesses on his behalf. The program review committee rejected L'Minggio's arguments and found him guilty of the charges, which resulted in transferring L'Minggio to the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Grant County for three years.

¶ 5. L'Minggio appealed the disciplinary determination to the warden, who affirmed the decision on March 6, 2000. After attempting to appeal the warden's decision to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections, L'Minggio filed an inmate complaint regarding the disciplinary proceeding on June 12, 2000. The next day, the Inmate Complaint Examiner (ICE) rejected L'Minggio's complaint as untimely because it was not filed within 14 days of the incident, as required under Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.09(3).3 L'Minggio claims that he received the ICE's rejection on June 21, 2000.

¶ 6. L'Minggio next attempted to seek judicial review by petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus in the Dane County Circuit Court. L'Minggio's petition was returned to him along with a letter dated August 3, 2000, explaining that certain documents were missing from his submission and that habeas corpus actions should be venued in the county of confinement.

¶ 7. On August 31, 2000, L'Minggio mailed another document labeled as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the circuit court in Grant County, the county where L'Minggio was incarcerated. Upon review, the Grant County Circuit Court, George S. Curry, Judge, construed L'Minggio's action as a petition for certiorari, rather than habeas corpus, and transferred the case to Dane County in accordance with the venue provision of Wis. Stat. § 801.50(3).4 The Dane County Circuit Court, Gerald C. Nichol, Judge, agreed that the action was properly construed as a petition for certiorari, but dismissed it as untimely under Wis. Stat. § 893.735(2).5 The Dane County Circuit Court determined that L'Minggio's cause of action accrued on March 23, 2000, which was the date L'Minggio received the warden's response to his administrative appeal; therefore, L'Minggio did not file his petition within the 45-day deadline required under § 893.735(2).

¶ 8. In an unpublished per curiam decision, the court of appeals affirmed the Dane County Circuit Court's dismissal of L'Minggio's action, but on different grounds. The court of appeals disagreed with the Dane County Circuit Court that the 45-day time limit for L'Minggio's certiorari action started to run with the warden's decision; however, the court of appeals concluded that L'Minggio was barred from seeking judicial review because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

¶ 9. In reviewing the dismissal of L'Minggio's challenge to his prison disciplinary hearing, we address the following issues: (1) whether L'Minggio exhausted his administrative remedies as required under Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.04 and (2) whether L'Minggio's petition was properly construed as an action for certiorari rather than habeas corpus.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

[1]

¶ 10. To determine whether L'Minggio's petition was properly construed as an action for certiorari instead of an action for habeas corpus poses a question of law that this court reviews de novo. State ex rel. Woods v. Morgan, 224 Wis. 2d 534, 537, 591 N.W.2d 922 (Ct. App. 1999).

[2]

¶ 11. The examination of whether L'Minggio exhausted his administrative remedies involves the interpretation and application of chapter 310 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. The interpretation of an administrative regulation is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. In re Marriage of Brown v. Brown, 177 Wis. 2d 512, 516, 503 N.W.2d 280 (Ct. App. 1993)

.

III. ANALYSIS
A. Exhaustion of Remedies

¶ 12. We first address whether L'Minggio exhausted his administrative remedies under chapter 310 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. The exhaustion of administrative remedies is required pursuant to Wisconsin's Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, Wis. Stat. § 801.02(7)(b), and Wis. Admin. Code. § DOC 310.04.6 Under § DOC 310.04, if an inmate wishes to challenge the procedures used by an adjustment committee or a hearing officer in a prison disciplinary action, he or she must appeal to the warden under § DOC 303.76 and file an inmate complaint under § DOC 310.08(3), in order to exhaust his or her administrative remedies. L'Minggio fulfilled the first requirement by appealing the adjustment committee's decision to the warden in accordance with § DOC 303.76. L'Minggio also satisfied the second requirement by filing an inmate complaint pursuant to § DOC 310.08(3); however, the ICE rejected his complaint as untimely.

¶ 13. The ICE rejection letter received by L'Minggio declared his complaint "rejected" because the complaint was not filed within 14 calendar days of the incident as required under Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.09(3). However, the rejection letter provided no information as to whether L'Minggio could appeal the ICE's rejection of his complaint or if there was a further step that L'Minggio would have to take in order to exhaust his administrative remedies.

¶ 14. In contrast, prior ICE decision letters received by L'Minggio regarding other complaints, which had been dismissed on the merits, explicitly provided notice that "[i]f you are adversely affected by the decision, you have 10 calendar days to appeal the decision to the Corrections Complaint Examiner. Form (DOC-405) for such an appeal may be obtained from the Institution Complaint Examiner." No such notice was provided in the ICE decision letter in this case, which rejected L'Minggio's complaint for untimeliness.

[3, 4]

¶ 15. The Department's failure to advise L'Minggio that he could appeal the ICE's rejection of his complaint estops the Department from claiming that L'Minggio failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Although L'Minggio's complaint was rejected by the ICE as untimely, L'Minggio was neither aware of nor informed that there were any further steps in the administrative process. Therefore, we hold that L'Minggio exhausted his administrative remedies by following the express directives under Wis. Admin. Code § DOC 310.04 by (1) appealing the adjustment committee's decision to the warden and (2) filing an inmate complaint.

B. Petition for Certiorari versus Habeas Corpus

[5, 6]

¶ 16. We next address whether L'Minggio's petition was properly construed as an action for certiorari rather than for a writ of habeas corpus. At the outset, we note that it is well-settled that pro se complaints are to be liberally construed to determine if the complaint states any facts that can give rise to a cause of action. bin-Rilla v. Israel, 113 Wis. 2d 514, 520, 335 N.W.2d 384 (1983). Therefore, a...

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