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State v. Runnels

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

February 26, 2019

STATE OF MISSISSIPPI AND DELORIS ROY APPELLANTS
v.
BRIAN RUNNELS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/21/2016

          TRIAL JUDGE: HON. CAROL L. WHITE-RICHARD COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: SUNFLOWER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: ANTHONY LOUIS SCHMIDT JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: BRIAN RUNNELS (PRO SE)

         EN BANC.

          BARNES, C.J.

         ¶1. Brian Runnels was housed in the Mississippi State Penitentiary serving a sixteen-year sentence for armed robbery, a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter, and a one-year sentence for possession of contraband in prison.[1] On September 8, 2015, Runnels filed a grievance through the Mississippi Department of Corrections' (MDOC) Administrative Remedy Program (ARP). The basis for his grievance was the issuance of two Rule Violation Reports (RVRs), for which he was found guilty by the MDOC hearing officer. RVR No. 01615668 alleged Runnels blocked the cell door of a prisoner who was being assaulted by other prisoners, and RVR No. 01615822 claimed Runnels went into an unauthorized area of the prison. His punishment was a re-classification and loss of privileges. The MDOC denied his request to have the RVRs expunged.

         ¶2. Under Mississippi Code Annotated section 45-5-807 (Rev. 2015), Runnels filed a complaint with the Sunflower County Circuit Court on December 9, 2015, seeking judicial review. He asserted that the MDOC failed to conduct any investigation or record the hearing, and he requested that the court expunge his RVRs from the files. The circuit court affirmed the MDOC's decision.

         ¶3. Runnels filed a motion to vacate the judgment under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing no evidence had been presented to support the RVRs' findings. A hearing was held on August 17, 2016, wherein the State argued that Runnels was "trying to relitigate th[e] matter" and had not "presented any new evidence or anything that would fall for grounds for relief under Rule 60[.]" On September 21, 2016, the circuit court ordered the two RVRs (01615668 and 01615822) be expunged from Runnels's prison record because the MDOC had failed to show "where any officer identified Runnels as a perpetrator of the acts alleged in the RVRs."[2] The court determined:

In light of the factors to be considered under M.R.C.P. 60(b)(6), this [c]ourt finds that Petitioner Runnels is not attempting to use this motion as a substitute appeal and that he timely filed said motion (approximately a month after entry of judgment). This [c]ourt previously concluded that MDOC's decision finding Petitioner guilty of both RVRs was based on substantial evidence and was not arbitrary and capricious. After conducting a hearing into this matter, this [c]ourt has concluded that its previous ruling was wrong. Respondent failed to present anything during the hearing held by this [c]ourt to demonstrate that any evidence was actually presented during Petitioner's disciplinary hearings upon which the hearing officer's decision could be based. This [c]ourt finds that in order to fully achieve justice, its order entered on March 21, 2016 should be vacated pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) of M.R.C.P.

         The State appeals, claiming that the MDOC's decision was supported by substantial evidence and that the circuit court abused its discretion in granting Runnels relief under Rule 60(b).[3] The State alternatively argues Runnels's due-process rights were not violated because the punishment was merely re-classification and loss of privileges.

         ¶4. Because Runnels has been released on parole since the filing of this appeal, we find that these issues are moot and dismiss the appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5. In reviewing a circuit court's decision regarding an agency's action, we apply the same standard of review as the circuit court, which is to determine "whether the administrative agency's order '(1) was unsupported by substantial evidence, (2) was arbitrary or capricious, (3) was beyond the power of the administrative agency to make, or (4) violated some statutory or constitutional right of the aggrieved party.'" Clincy v. Atwood, 65 So.3d 327, 331 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Clay v. Epps, 19 So.3d 743, 745 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008)). "A rebuttable presumption exists that favors the decision of the agency, and the challenging party bears the burden of proving the contrary." Id. (citing Clay, 19 So.3d at 746 (ΒΆ7)). Our review ...


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