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Crawford v. Fisher

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

December 15, 2016

CHARLES RAY CRAWFORD a/k/a CRAWFORD, CHUCK a/k/a CHARLES CRAWFORD
v.
MARSHALL L. FISHER, COMMISSIONER, MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; EARNEST LEE, SUPERINTENDENT, MISSISSIPPI STATE PENITENTIARY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; THE MISSISSIPPI STATE EXECUTIONER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; AND UNKNOWN EXECUTIONERS, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/29/2014

         CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF HINDS COUNTY HON. TOMIE T. GREEN JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JAMES W. CRAIG VANESSA JUDITH CARROLL WILSON DOUGLAS MINOR HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JAMES W. CRAIG VANESSA JUDITH CARROLL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: WILSON DOUGLAS MINOR HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III JASON L. DAVIS JAMES M. NORRIS.

          KITCHENS, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Charles Ray Crawford, a Mississippi death row inmate, filed a civil lawsuit, pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983, in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, alleging various federal constitutional claims relating to the anesthetic, a compounded version of pentobarbital not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to be utilized in his execution. The chancery court, following a hearing, transferred the case to the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County where the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) renewed its motion to dismiss. The circuit court granted the motion to dismiss, holding that the Section 1983 claims were the same as or similar to issues which were at the time pending in the Mississippi Supreme Court. For the reasons articulated below, we reverse the judgment and remand the case to the circuit court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In 1994, a jury convicted Charles Ray Crawford of capital murder, rape, burglary, and sexual battery, and he received a death sentence in the Circuit Court of Tippah County. Crawford v. State, 716 So.2d 1028 (Miss. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1021, 119 S.Ct. 550, 142 L.Ed.2d 458 (1998), reh'g denied, 525 U.S. 1021, 119 S.Ct. 1100, 143 L.Ed.2d 99 (1999). On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Crawford's conviction and death sentence. Id. at 1053.

         ¶3. Crawford sought a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, which was denied in 2008. Crawford v. Epps, 2012 WL 3777024, *4 (N.D. Miss. Aug. 29, 2012) (citing Crawford v. Epps, 228 WL 4419347 (N.D. Miss. Sept. 25, 2008)). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated judgment and remanded the case for further consideration. Crawford, 2012 WL 3777024, at *4 (citing Crawford v. Epps, 353 Fed.App'x 977, 994 (5th Cir. 2009)). On remand, the district court dismissed Crawford's petition for writ of habeas corpus with prejudice. Crawford, 2012 WL 3777024, at *11. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Crawford v. Epps, 531 Fed.App'x 511, 522 (5th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 1281, 188 L.Ed.2d 313 (2014).

         ¶4. The State's February 24, 2014, Motion to Reset Execution Date was denied by the Mississippi Supreme Court on March 31, 2014, because Crawford's direct appeal from his rape conviction remained pending. Crawford v. State, 2014-DP-01016-SCT (Miss. Mar. 31, 2014). This Court affirmed Crawford's rape conviction. Crawford v. State, 192 So.3d 905 (Miss. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 2527 (Mem.) (2016).

         ¶5. Crawford sought leave in the Mississippi Supreme Court to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief on February 25, 2014. This Court denied Crawford leave to proceed on August 4, 2016. See Crawford v. State, 2016 WL 4141748 (Miss. Aug. 4, 2016). Crawford's motion for rehearing was denied by this Court on November 10, 2016.

         ¶6. Crawford, along with Michelle Byrom, [1] filed the present Complaint for Equitable and Injunctive Relief in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County on March 28, 2014. The complaint was filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleged "violations and threatened violations of . . . rights to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and art. 3, sections 14, 24, and 28 of the Mississippi Constitution."

         ¶7. The MDOC filed a motion to dismiss under Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).The Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, after a hearing on June 12, 2014, acknowledged in an order entered on July 21, 2014, that Crawford had sought equitable and declaratory relief, but ruled that the "Complaint is actually based upon alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights and seeks a determination of the same." Accordingly, finding the claims to be "legal in substance, " the chancery court determined it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and transferred the case to the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County.

         ¶8. The MDOC renewed its motion to dismiss and the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County granted the MDOC's motion to dismiss on October 30, 2014, "as Plaintiff Charles Crawford currently has the same or similar issues under review before the Mississippi Supreme Court." Crawford appealed both the chancery court's order of transfer and the circuit court's order of dismissal on November 12, 2014.

         DISCUSSION

         1. The circuit court erred in finding that Crawford had the same or similar claims pending before this Court at the time the present Section 1983 lawsuit was filed.

         ¶9. The circuit court granted the MDOC's motion to dismiss because "Plaintiff Charles Crawford currently has the same or similar issues under review before the Mississippi Supreme Court." Crawford argues on appeal that no factual basis exists for the ruling because Crawford's motion for leave to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief did not include the method-of-execution claim challenging Mississippi's lethal injection protocol, which was advanced in the present Section 1983 civil suit. The MDOC's brief does not respond to Crawford's first assignment of error.

         ¶10. To consider Crawford's argument, this Court must look outside the record to Crawford's Motion for Leave to File Successive Petition For Post-Conviction Relief, filed in this Court on February 25, 2014. "This Court takes judicial notice of its files." In re Dunn, 166 So.3d 488, 492 n.6 (Miss. 2013). In his motion for leave to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief, Crawford presented no argument relating in any manner to the method-of-execution issue that is pled in his Section 1983 suit. The circuit court's order therefore is factually mistaken. "'When considering jurisdictional issues the Court sits in the same position as the trial court, "with all facts as set out in the pleadings or exhibits, and may reverse regardless of whether the error is manifest."'" Canadian Nat'l Ry. Co. v. Waltman, 94 So.3d 1111, 1115 (Miss. 2012) (quoting Knight v. Woodfield, 50 So.3d 995, 998 (Miss. 2011)).

         ¶11. Because the dismissal clearly was erroneous, we reverse. We remand for a consideration of the legal sufficiency of Crawford's complaint under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         2. Challenges to the constitutionality of the State's method of execution may be brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in state court.

         ¶12. The MDOC argues that the Uniform Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act (UPCCRA) provides Crawford's exclusive remedy: "[t]he purpose [of the UPCCRA] is to revise, streamline and clarify the rules and statutes pertaining to post-conviction collateral relief law and procedures, to resolve any conflicts therein and to provide the courts of this state with an exclusive and uniform procedure for the collater ...


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