Thomas v. Denney, WD 77388

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtAppeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County
Citation453 S.W.3d 325
PartiesDamon Thomas, Appellant, v. Larry Denney, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberWD 77388
Decision Date27 January 2015

453 S.W.3d 325

Damon Thomas, Appellant,
v.
Larry Denney, et al., Respondents.

WD 77388

Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

OPINION FILED: December 16, 2014
Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Denied January 27, 2015


Affirmed.


[453 S.W.3d 327]

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri, The Honorable Daniel Richard Green, Judge

Karon Ramsey, Kansas City, MO: Counsel for Appellant.

James Emanuel, Jefferson City, MO: Counsel for Respondents.

[453 S.W.3d 328]

Before Division Four: Alok Ahuja, C.J. Presiding, James Edward Welsh, J., and Tracey Mason–White, Sp. J. James Edward Welsh, Judge

Damon Thomas appeals the circuit court's judgment dismissing his petition against the Missouri Department of Corrections and certain of its employees. We affirm.


On February 10, 2012, Defendant Brooke issued Thomas a conduct violation. It alleged that a year-long investigation had found that Thomas had conspired with other inmates, family members, and outside civilian personnel “to attempt to introduce contraband believed to be narcotics into the institution” and had “arranged financial transactions between family members and other offenders to assist in funding illegal activities.” Following a hearing before the prison's adjustment board, Thomas was found guilty of possession/use of an intoxicating substance “by engaging in a scheme or plan to introduce a controlled substance into the facility.” Thomas was thereafter placed in administrative segregation and his visits were restricted. He was in administrative segregation when he filed his lawsuit.2

In his “Second Amended Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief,” Thomas sought judicial review, pursuant to section 536.150 RSMo 3 of Missouri's Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), of his confinement in administrative segregation. He alleged that the decision was “unconstitutional, unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, [and] involve [d] an abuse of discretion.” See § 536.150.1. Thomas also alleged that the defendants had subjected him “to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Specifically, he claimed that, “throughout the time [he] was held in segregation, he was housed in filthy conditions, denied showers and denied the minimum three (3) hour[s] out of cell per week.” Among other things, Thomas sought a declaration “that the Findings and Discipline imposed upon [him] as a result of these proceedings is null and void and [that it] be dismissed and expunged from [his] record.”

Defendants moved to dismiss Thomas's second amended petition on five grounds. The first ground, improper service of process on the Department and Prudden, was moot before the circuit court ruled on the

[453 S.W.3d 329]

motion due to subsequent service on them. The second ground claimed that confinement in administrative segregation is not subject to judicial review under section 536.150, because the decision lies solely within the discretion of Department officials and because the decision is not final. The final three grounds addressed the Eighth Amendment claim.4 The Respondents argued that Thomas failed to exhaust administrative remedies, that he failed to allege personal involvement of these specific defendants, and that his requested remedy failed to redress the alleged harm.

On February 10, 2014, the circuit court dismissed the petition for “the reasons set out in the motion to dismiss and reply suggestions thereto.”

Standard of Review

This Court reviews the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. Phelps v. City of Kansas City, 371 S.W.3d 909, 912 (Mo.App.2012). “[T]he pleading is granted its broadest intendment, all facts alleged are treated as true, and it is construed favorably to the plaintiff to determine whether the averments invoke substantive principles of law which entitle the plaintiff to relief.” Farm Bureau Town & Country Ins. Co. of Mo. v. Angoff, 909 S.W.2d 348, 351 (Mo. banc 1995). “If the motion to dismiss should have been sustained on any meritorious ground alleged in the motion, the ruling of the trial court will be affirmed.” Id.

Discussion

Thomas's five points on appeal correspond to the five grounds set forth in the motion to dismiss. The first point is moot and need not be discussed. 5 In Point II, Thomas asserts that the circuit court erred in dismissing his claim for judicial review of his placement in administrative segregation, arguing (1) that section 536.150 of the APA mandates review of the decision despite the discretion afforded to prison officials under Chapter 217, and (2) that the decision to retain an inmate in administrative segregation for ninety days following a review hearing is final and subject to judicial review.

The APA is set forth in Chapter 536 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri. Section 536.150 provides a system for de novo judicial review of noncontested cases. A hearing for review of an inmate's placement in administrative segregation is specifically designated not a contested case pursuant to the provisions of chapter 536.” § 217.375.4. Subsection. 1 of section 536.150 provides:

When any administrative officer or body ... shall have rendered a decision which is not subject to administrative review, determining the legal rights, duties or privileges of any person, ... and there is no other provision for judicial inquiry into or review of such decision, such

[453 S.W.3d 330]

decision may be reviewed by suit for injunction, certiorari, mandamus, prohibition or other appropriate action....

§ 536.150.1. That subsection also prohibits courts from infringing on the discretion of administrative decision makers, however, in its proviso that

the [reviewing] court shall not substitute its discretion for discretion legally vested in such administrative officer or body, and in cases where the granting or withholding of a privilege is committed by law to the sole discretion of such administrative officer or body, such discretion lawfully exercised shall not be disturbed.

Id.(emphasis added).

The discretion to establish and enforce prison disciplinary policies is vested solely in the Director of the Department of Corrections and the Chief Administrative Officer of each correctional facility. “The legislature has granted prison administrators the authority to promulgate rules, establish disciplinary procedures, and to provide a grievance process for contesting disciplinary measures.” Cooper v. State, 818 S.W.2d 653, 655 (Mo.App.1991) (citing §§ 217.175 and 217.370). Section 217.370 states: “The director shall establish rules and regulations pertaining to offender disciplinary procedure and shall establish an offender grievance procedure. The chief administrative officer of each correctional center shall observe these rules and procedures at all times.” § 217.370. In addition, section 217.175 provides that “[t]he division directors shall make such rules, regulations and orders as are proper and necessary for the management of the correctional centers and programs under their control.”

The reason for such discretion is succinctly explained in Ivy v. Moore, 31 F.3d 634, 635 (8th Cir.1994): “The nature of prison disciplinary proceedings compels the courts to give wide latitude to prison officials in the manner in which they conduct these proceedings for they take place in a closed, tightly controlled environment peopled by those who have chosen to violate the criminal law and who have been lawfully incarcerated for doing so.” (Internal citations and quotation marks omitted.) In Cooper v. Gammon, this Court noted that our Supreme Court has “cautioned that the department of corrections [is] under the responsibility of the...

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