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DeLoge v. DeSoto County Sheriff's Department

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 14, 2017

STEVEN A. DELOGE APPELLANT
v.
DESOTO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, SHERIFF BILL RASCO, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND LENT RICE, DIRECTOR OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/25/2015

         DESOTO COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. MITCHELL M. LUNDY JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: STEVEN A. DELOGE (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: ROBERT E. QUIMBY.

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., ISHEE AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. Steven DeLoge appeals the decision of the DeSoto County Chancery Court to grant the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department's (DCSD) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. DeLoge is currently serving six consecutive life sentences in Wyoming for the sexual abuse of a minor. In February 1999, DeLoge resided with Katherine Lowery in Olive Branch, Mississippi. Lowery disappeared around that date and was last known to reside in Olive Branch. DeLoge departed from Mississippi with Lowery's children. He was arrested in November 1999 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for sexually abusing Lowery's eight-year-old daughter, to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve six life sentences. Following his guilty plea, evidence that had been collected by Wyoming officials and the FBI was forwarded to DCSD to assist in its investigation of the disappearance of Lowery, in which DeLoge was a suspect. The investigation into Lowery's disappearance is ongoing.

         ¶3. In 2013, DeLoge submitted a public-records request under the Mississippi Public Records Act (the Act) to DCSD, seeking records to indicate the physical location, itemized inventory, chain of custody, current condition, and status of all property and evidence obtained or transferred to DCSD from Wyoming. DCSD responded to the public-records request with an inventory sheet provided to it by the FBI and informed DeLoge that the items were in DCSD's evidence-storage room. DCSD further advised DeLoge that under the Act, they were not subject to production of the documents and items because the missing-person investigation of Lowery was still in active status.

         ¶4. DeLoge filed a public-opinion request with the Mississippi Ethics Commission pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-61-13(1)(b) (Rev. 2010), inquiring whether DCSD's denial of the production request was compliant with the Act. In October 2013, the Mississippi Ethics Commission found that the records sought by DeLoge were investigative reports under Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-61-3(f) (Rev. 2010) and thus exempted from production under Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-61-12 (Rev. 2010).

         ¶5. DeLoge then filed a complaint against DCSD in the DeSoto County Chancery Court, arguing DCSD improperly denied his request for information, requesting declaratory and injunctive relief, and seeking a de novo review of the Ethics Commission's opinion. DCSD moved to dismiss DeLoge's complaint pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that DeLoge failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted because the documents sought by DeLoge fall within an exemption of the Act, as they are investigative in nature and directly related to an open criminal investigation.

         ¶6. On May 4, 2015, the chancery court heard arguments from DCSD and DeLoge on the motion to dismiss. DeLoge was present by telephone. DCSD argued that all of the documents and property were investigative in nature and exempt from production under the Act. DeLoge argued that the documents and items in DCSD's possession were not investigative in nature. He instead argued that the documents and items were exculpatory in nature, and that their production was necessary to pursue his appeal in Wyoming. On May 5, 2015, the chancery court granted DeLoge's motion for an in camera review to determine whether the disputed documents and items were investigative and thus exempt under the Act. The review was conducted on June 29, 2015.

         ¶7. The chancery court issued its final ruling on August 24, 2015. The court gave a report of the in camera inspection and noted that all of the documents in the possession of DCSD had been reviewed for their relevance and necessity in the open investigation of a missing person. A complete transcript of the review was made and included as part of the certified record on appeal. The chancery court stated that upon review, it could not make the determination that the documents and items were not relevant-as DeLoge argued-to the missing-person investigation in DeSoto ...


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