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Willis v. Westley

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 17, 2019

MACKENZIE WILLIS APPELLANT
v.
LT. WESTLEY, LT. BROOKS AND WARDEN WENDELL BANKS APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/17/2018

          RANKIN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. WILLIAM E. CHAPMAN III TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MACKENZIE WILLIS (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: DARRELL CLAYTON BAUGHN

          BEFORE BARNES, C.J., GREENLEE AND LAWRENCE, JJ.

          BARNES, C.J.

         ¶1. MacKenzie Willis is an inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), serving concurrent sentences of fifteen years and twenty years for the unlawful touching of a child and statutory rape, respectively.[1] After the Rankin County Circuit Court denied his requested relief and dismissed his complaint related to an MDOC decision in its Administrative Remedy Program (ARP), Willis appealed the judgment. Finding no error, we affirm the court's dismissal.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On September 12, 2016, the MDOC issued a rules violation report (RVR) against Willis for possession of a contraband cell phone and battery. A disciplinary hearing was held, and the MDOC's hearing officer, Lieutenant Latisha Brooks, found Willis guilty of the violation and sentenced him to a loss of privileges for eighteen months. Willis appealed the decision through the ARP on October 12. MDOC Warden Wendell Banks denied the appeal, finding Willis had not submitted any new evidence or information and had received a fair and impartial hearing. Willis acknowledged the decision by signing a step-one response form on November 10.

         ¶3. On December 9, 2016, Willis filed a complaint for judicial review with the circuit court, alleging that his due-process rights had been violated.[2] The court dismissed his claim for lack of jurisdiction, and he filed an appeal with this Court. We reversed and remanded, finding the circuit court had subject-matter jurisdiction because Willis had exhausted his administrative remedies and had filed his complaint within the thirty-day period required under Mississippi Code Annotated sections 47-5-803 and 47-5-807 (Rev. 2015). Willis v. Westley, 243 So.3d 805, 809 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018).[3]

         ¶4. On August 7, 2018, Willis filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Court of Appeals, requesting "an expedient ruling" by the circuit court. This Court ordered the circuit court to respond to the petition within thirty days. The circuit court, in turn, ordered the MDOC to file a response to the merits of Willis's claims with the court. The MDOC moved to quash the summons and to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Willis had failed to provide the MDOC with service of process through the Attorney General's Office as required by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d)(5) and that the MDOC had not made a general appearance.

         ¶5. On September 17, 2018, the circuit court denied the requested relief and dismissed Willis's complaint, finding the MDOC's decision "was supported by substantial evidence, was not arbitrary or capricious, was within the scope and powers of the MDOC and did not violate the constitutional rights of the petitioner."[4] Appealing the circuit court's judgment, Willis claims that the RVR form was incomplete (i.e., that the RVR did not contain the location of the incident) and that his right to due process was violated.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6. We "will not disturb an administrative agency's decision on appeal 'unless the decision was unsupported by substantial evidence, was arbitrary or capricious, was beyond the agency's scope or powers or violated the constitutional or statutory rights of the aggrieved party.'" Fields v. Ladner, 226 So.3d 599, 601 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Siggers v. Epps, 962 So.2d 78, 80 (¶4) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007)). "There is a rebuttable presumption [that] favors the agency's decision, and the challenging party has the burden of proving the contrary." Goul v. Miss. Dep't of Corr., 210 So.3d 560, 562 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Ross v. ...


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