Utley v. Tennessee Dept. of Correction

Decision Date01 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. M1999-01412-COA-R3-CV.,M1999-01412-COA-R3-CV.
Citation118 S.W.3d 705
CourtTennessee Court of Appeals

Jeff Utley, Henning, Tennessee, pro se.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; and Abigail Turner, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, Tennessee Department of Correction and Donal Campbell.


WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WILLIAM B. CAIN and PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, JJ., joined.

This appeal involves a dispute between a prisoner and the Department of Correction regarding his punishment for two unrelated disciplinary offenses. On both occasions, the Department extended the prisoner's release eligibility date in accordance with versions of Tenn. Dep't Corr. Policy Index No. 502.02 issued after he committed the crimes for which he was incarcerated. The prisoner filed a complaint in the Chancery Court for Davidson County asserting that the Department's application of the later version of the policy to him violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. The trial court granted the Department's Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion, and the prisoner has appealed. We have determined that the prisoner's complaint fails to state a colorable ex post facto claim under either the federal or state constitution. Accordingly, we affirm the dismissal of the prisoner's complaint.


In 1986, Jeffery A. Utley was involved in an armed robbery that resulted in a death. On March 23, 1987, he was sentenced by the Criminal Court for Davidson County to two concurrent twenty-year sentences for second degree murder and armed robbery.

When Mr. Utley committed his crimes in 1986, persons convicted as Range I offenders became eligible to be considered for parole after serving thirty percent of the actual sentence imposed by the court. Tenn.Code Ann. § 40-35-501(c) (1982) (repealed 1989).1 However, the eligibility date established by Tenn.Code Ann. § 40-35-501(c) was contingent on a prisoner's disciplinary record while incarcerated. Tenn.Code Ann. § 40-35-501(h) stated that "[t]he release eligibility date provided in this section shall be the earliest date a defendant convicted of a felony shall be eligible for release status; such date shall be conditioned on the defendant's good behavior while in prison." Tenn.Code Ann. § 40-35-501(h) also provided that

For a violation of any of the rules of the department of correction or the institution in which the defendant is incarcerated or while on any release program other than parole, the commissioner of correction or his designee may defer the release eligibility date so as to increase the total amount of time a defendant must serve before becoming eligible for release status. This release may, in the discretion of the commissioner, be in any amount of time not to exceed the full sentence originally imposed by the court and shall be imposed pursuant to regulations promulgated by the commissioner of correction and which give notice of the length of discretionary increases that may be imposed for a violation of each of the rules of the department or institution.2

The policies regarding the penalties for prison disciplinary offenses that were in effect in January 1986 when Mr. Utley committed his crimes had been issued by the Commissioner of Correction on January 1, 1982. They provided that "[t]he most severe punishments which can be imposed for the commission of a disciplinary offense are the loss of sentence credits and the imposition of punitive segregation."3 Tenn. Dep't Corr. Policy Index No. 502.02(V) (1982).

Mr. Utley escaped from the Department's custody on October 22, 1989. He was soon recaptured and was criminally prosecuted and convicted for escape. On May 24, 1990, he received another one-year sentence to be served consecutively to his 1987 sentences. In addition, the Department charged him with the disciplinary infraction of escape. Pursuant to a revised version of Policy No. 502.02 that had been issued on February 15, 1989, the Department extended his parole eligibility date from thirty to fifty percent of his effective sentence for his 1987 convictions.4

Mr. Utley objected to the Department's decision to base his punishment on the 1989 version of Policy No. 502.02 because he believed it provided for a harsher punishment than the policy that had been in effect when he committed his crimes. Accordingly, he filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee asserting that the Department's application of the policy to him violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution.5 In April 1996, a United States Magistrate Judge filed a report and recommendation concluding that the application of the 1989 version of Policy No. 502.02 to Mr. Utley violated U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1 and recommending that Mr. Utley "be awarded injunctive relief to reinstate his eligibility date as provided in his original sentence." Utley v. Rees, No. 3:92-979, slip op. at 10 (M.D.Tenn. Apr. 29 1996). For reasons not readily ascertained, the United States District Court rejected the magistrate judge's report and granted the Commissioner of Correction's motion to dismiss.

In March 1997, while Utley v. Rees was pending on appeal, Mr. Utley and another prisoner got into a scuffle with four correction officers that resulted in physical injury. As a result, he was charged with the disciplinary offense of assault. Mr. Utley was placed in involuntary administrative segregation and was later transferred to Brushy Mountain State Prison.6 On April 22, 1997, the Department, now relying on the 1996 version of Policy 502.02, extended Mr. Utley's parole eligibility date from fifty percent to eighty percent of the effective sentence for his 1987 convictions.7

In September 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Utley's complaint in Utley v. Rees, but on different grounds than those relied on by the District Court. The United States Court of Appeals held that Mr. Utley should have filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and, therefore, that his complaint should be dismissed because he had failed to demonstrate that he had exhausted his remedies in state court. Utley v. Rees, 124 F.3d 201, 1997 WL 584248 (Table, 6th Cir.1997).

In August 1998, Mr. Utley filed this suit in the Chancery Court for Davidson County alleging that the application of the 1989 version of Policy No. 502.02 to him violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. His initial complaint dealt with his 1990 escape offense; however, in April 1999, the trial court permitted him to file an amended complaint that included a challenge to the extension of his release eligibility date stemming from the 1997 assault offense pursuant to the 1996 version of Policy No. 502.02. The Department responded with its customary, non-specific Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion.8 On July 27, 1999, the trial court granted the Department's motion and dismissed Mr. Utley's complaint after concluding that "since policy no. 502.02 was in effect prior to Plaintiff's escape in 1990, there was no ex post facto violation."9 Mr. Utley has appealed that decision.


A motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's pleading. Givens v. Mullikin, 75 S.W.3d 383, 406 (Tenn.2002); Trau-Med of Am., Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 71 S.W.3d 691, 696 (Tenn.2002). The motion requires the court to review the complaint alone, Mitchell v. Campbell, 88 S.W.3d 561, 564 (Tenn.Ct.App.2002), and to look to the complaint's substance rather than its form. Kaylor v. Bradley, 912 S.W.2d 728, 731 (Tenn.Ct.App.1995). Dismissal under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) is warranted only when the alleged facts will not entitle the plaintiff to relief, Crews v. Buckman Labs. Int'l, Inc., 78 S.W.3d 852, 857 (Tenn.2002) or when the complaint is totally lacking in clarity and specificity. Dobbs v. Guenther, 846 S.W.2d 270, 273 (Tenn.Ct.App.1992).

A Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion admits the truth of all the relevant and material factual allegations in the complaint but asserts that no cause of action arises from these facts. Davis v. The Tennessean, 83 S.W.3d 125, 127 (Tenn.Ct.App.2001); Pendleton v. Mills, 73 S.W.3d at 120. Accordingly, courts reviewing a complaint being tested by a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion must construe the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff by taking all factual allegations in the complaint as true, Stein v. Davidson Hotel Co., 945 S.W.2d 714, 716 (Tenn.1997), and by giving the plaintiff the benefit of all the inferences that can be reasonably drawn from the pleaded facts. ROBERT BANKS, JR. & JUNE F. ENTMAN, TENNESSEE CIVIL PROCEDURE § 5-6(g), at 254 (1999). We must likewise review the trial court's legal conclusions regarding the adequacy of the complaint without a presumption of correctness. Bell ex rel. Snyder v. Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A., 986 S.W.2d 550, 554 (Tenn.1999); Stein v. Davidson Hotel Co., 945 S.W.2d at 716.


We begin our discussion with a review of two basic and potentially competing principles that frame our analysis of Mr. Utley's constitutional claim. The first principle is that maintaining institutional order and discipline in prison is an essential, compelling governmental interest. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 546, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1878, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979); Kikumura v. Hurley, 242 F.3d 950, 962 (10th Cir.2001); Harris v. Chapman, 97 F.3d 499, 504 (11th Cir.1996). The administration of a prison is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2980, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974), and the day-to-day operation of...

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    ...Supreme Court has construed the state provision to have a broader reach than its federal counterpart, Utley v. Tenn. Dep't of Correction, 118 S.W.3d 705, 715 (Tenn.Ct,App.2003), when a party raises a challenge under both state and federal Ex Post Facto Clauses, the Tennessee appellate court......
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