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Pryer v. Gardner

Supreme Court of Mississippi

May 17, 2018

TIMOTHY GENE PRYER
v.
THOMAS GARDNER, III

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/30/2017

          ITAWAMBA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. T. K. MOFFETT TRIAL JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: TIMOTHY GENE PRYER (PRO SE) JUSTIN L. MATHENY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: TIMOTHY GENE PRYER (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JUSTIN L. MATHENY

          BEFORE KITCHENS, P.J., BEAM AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          KITCHENS, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶1. A prisoner, Timothy Gene Pryer, filed an action in chancery court against the Itawamba County Sheriff's Department and the Itawamba County Circuit Clerk. Pryer claimed that the defendants wrongfully had denied him access to public records under the Mississippi Public Records Act, entitling him to civil damages. See Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-15 (Rev. 2010). More than three years after filing the complaint, Pryer filed a motion for leave to amend it to add a Public Records Act claim against Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner, III. Pryer alleged that, in deeming his public records request a motion for post-conviction relief, and then denying it, Judge Gardner had violated the Public Records Act, entitling Pryer to civil damages. The Chancery Court of Itawamba County granted Judge Gardner's motion to dismiss, and Pryer appeals. Because Pryer's claim against Judge Gardner is barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity, we affirm the dismissal of his amended complaint.

         FACTS

         ¶2. This cause of action arises from a request Pryer filed in the Circuit Court of Itawamba County for "the Order givin[g] Carol Gates the Office of Judge de facto or pro tempore and the order givin[g] Carol Gates authority to appoint indigent counsel for December 2, 2004 [hearing] and the names of the 40 plus souls and their addresses according to the record." Pryer v. State, 139 So.3d 713, 713-14 (Miss. 2014). According to Pryer's allegations in a subsequent Motion to Show Cause, the circuit court entered an order on June 6, 2011, that denied his request and construed it as a motion for post-conviction relief.[1] Id. at 714. In his show cause motion, Pryer alleged that, in the absence of the circuit judge, the Circuit Clerk of Itawamba County, Carol Gates, presided over arraignments and appointed counsel for some or all of the "forty (40) plus souls." Id. Pryer filed a petition for mandamus in this Court, requesting that we compel the circuit court to rule on his Motion to Show Cause. Id. We granted the petition; and, on February 1, 2012, the circuit court entered an order that denied the motion. Pryer v. State, 139 So.3d 719, 720 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013). Although the record now before the Court does not contain that order, the Court of Appeals quoted from it as follows:

This cause comes before this [c]ourt on [Pryer's] pro se [m]otion to [s]how [c]ause. [Pryer] requests this [c]ourt to order the Itawamba County Circuit Clerk to forward [Pryer] a free copy of the documents not contained within the [c]ircuit [c]lerk's file. This motion contains the exact same requests as the previously filed motions. In addition, the [m]otion to [s]how [c]ause contains completely unfounded and slanderous allegations against several court offices. The [m]otion to [s]how [c]ause has no legal merit and shall be DENIED.

Id. at 721.

         ¶3. Pryer appealed from the order of February 1, 2012, and this Court assigned his appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. Id. at 721. The Court of Appeals found that "we have no reason to believe that any such documents do exist, " and deemed Pryer's filings a "fishing expedition." Pryer, 139 So.3d at 721. This Court granted Pryer's petition for certiorari. Pryer, 139 So.3d at 713. On certiorari, Pryer complained that, because he had filed a public records request, the circuit court had lacked jurisdiction to treat the request as a motion for post-conviction relief. Id. at 714. This Court found that Pryer had filed a motion to show cause in circuit court rather than following the statutory procedure set forth by the Public Records Act, which provides for the institution of a suit in chancery court by "any person denied the right granted by Section 25-61-5 to inspect or copy public records." Id. at 715-16 (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-13(1)(a) (Rev. 2010)). We held that the circuit court had jurisdiction to rule on Pryer's motion and that nothing in the circuit court's order indicated that it had treated Pryer's motion as one for post-conviction relief. Id. at 716.We found that the Court of Appeals had been incorrect to assume that the circuit court had considered the motion as a motion for post-conviction relief; but we agreed with the Court of Appeals' finding that there was no reason to believe the documents Pryer sought actually existed. Id. Therefore, we affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals that affirmed the Circuit Court of Itawamba County's denial of the public records request. Id. In our decision, we did recognize that

If Pryer so desires, he may, pursuant to the statute, institute a suit in the Chancery Court of Itawamba County. Nothing in the Court of Appeals decision or in the order of the circuit court prevents his doing so, and this Court's ruling today does not impede Pryer's ...

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