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Hanley v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 30, 2016


          Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hickman County, No. 15-CV-5637 Joseph Woodruff, Judge

         An inmate was found guilty of possession of a deadly weapon when two knives were found in the door of his cell. After exhausting his administrative remedies, the inmate petitioned for a common law writ of certiorari asserting several issues relating to violations of due process and the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures. The trial court granted his petition, denied his discovery request, and dismissed the writ of certiorari. The inmate now appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Bryan R. Hanley, Only, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Madeline Bertasi Brough, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, Turney Center Disciplinary Board, D. Epley, Johnny Qualls, Louanne Dickson, Debra Johnson, Derrick D. Schofield.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., joined. Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., filed a dissenting opinion.




         On August 4, 2015, Corporal Robert Story ("Corporal Story") and Officer Clint Zyla ("Officer Zyla") found two homemade knives in the door of cell 230 of Unit 2A located at the Turney Center Industrial Complex ("TCIX" or "the prison").[1] The prison is a division of the Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC"). On the same day, Petitioner/Appellant Bryan Hanley ("Mr. Hanley"), an inmate of the prison and resident of the cell at issue since 2012, was served with a disciplinary write-up for the offense of possession of a deadly weapon.[2] The incident report describes the offense as follows:


         Mr. Hanley's disciplinary hearing was held on August 12, 2015, before the Respondent/Appellee Turney Center Disciplinary Board ("disciplinary board"). A disciplinary hearing report included in the record indicates that Mr. Hanley agreed to waive the right to have the reporting official, Corporal Story, present, that the case had been previously continued at Mr. Hanley's request, that Mr. Hanley was assisted by an inmate advisor, and that the "inmate or inmate advisor had adequate time to prepare defense." Further, the hearing report indicated that Mr. Hanley called one witness: Duane Brooks. According to the hearing report, Mr. Hanley asserted that he had not been the subject of a disciplinary action in twenty-one years and that the knives belonged to a previous occupant of his cell. The disciplinary board found Mr. Hanley guilty of the charged offense based on "report" and "evidence presented of [two] knives found in the door of [Mr.] Hanley's cell." The disciplinary board imposed a $5.00 fine, a twelve month package restriction, ten days of punitive segregation to serve beyond the time already served while awaiting the hearing, and a three month reduction in prisoner sentence reduction credits.

         On August 16, 2015, Mr. Hanley filed an appeal to the Warden, arguing that the knives found inside his cell door were not his. Mr. Hanley contended the following: (1) that "numerous staff members [spoke] on [his] behalf and his character"; (2) that he had never been the subject of a disciplinary action in his twenty-one years of incarceration; (3) that the cell doors were not inspected prior to his occupation; (4) that the only cell searched was his, based on a confidential informant who could have been the one responsible; and (5) that inmate Brooks testified that he "heard the [knives] found in the door belonged to the previous occupants of the cell." On August 20, 2015, the Warden affirmed the ruling of the disciplinary board, finding that "[n]o violations of disciplinary procedures were cited or ascertained, " "[i]nmate has been assigned to the cell for multiple number [of] years, " and "[t]he knives wer[e] relativ[e]ly new."

         On August 27, 2015, Mr. Hanley filed an appeal to the Commissioner of TDOC, arguing that "Section I(J)(7)"[3] of TCIX Policy 506.06 requires all vacant cells to be searched prior to its occupation by a new inmate. Mr. Hanley asserted that during Mr. Snow's hearing on the same issue, Corporal Story admitted that this policy is not typically carried out. Mr. Hanley further asserted that the knives were not "new"; rather, one was slightly rusted and the other was made of stainless steel which "would never rust in a h[u]ndred years." According to Mr. Hanley, the stainless steel knife was made out of the "old dust mop frames" which had been removed from the prison before he moved into cell 230. Finally, Mr. Hanley contended that he did not possess a special tool to access the inside of the door but that a previous occupant of the cell, who was a maintenance worker, did have access to such a tool. On September 17, 2015, the Commissioner affirmed the ruling of the Warden, concluding that Mr. Hanley failed to support his allegations that the Warden reached an incorrect decision. The Commissioner further found no due process violations in the disciplinary proceedings.

         On November 16, 2015, Mr. Hanley filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Hickman County Chancery Court, naming the disciplinary board, the Warden of the prison, the Commissioner of TDOC, and numerous other individuals in their official capacities. In his petition, Mr. Hanley alleged several issues relating to the disciplinary board's decision, including violations of due process and deviations from the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures ("UDP"). On January 13, 2016, the disciplinary board filed a notice that it did not oppose the petition. The trial court granted Mr. Hanley's petition for a writ of certiorari on January 19, 2016, and ordered the record of the disciplinary proceedings be transmitted to the trial court. The notice of the filing of the certified disciplinary record was filed on February 19, 2016. TDOC subsequently filed a brief on March 21, 2016.[4] On April 4, Mr. Hanley filed a response brief and a specific request for production of documents. On May 12, 2016, the disciplinary board filed a response opposing Mr. Hanley's specific request for production of documents. On May 18, 2016, the trial court denied Mr. Hanley's discovery request because the requests were "either not permissible, not possible, or not needed." On the same day, the trial court entered a memorandum and order dismissing Mr. Hanley's common law writ of certiorari, finding that the disciplinary board "did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or exceed its jurisdiction" and that no due process rights were violated.


         As we perceive it, Mr. Hanley essentially makes several arguments under the umbrella of five broad issues, [5] which we have restated as follows:

1. Whether the trial court addressed all of the issues raised by Mr. Hanley, which implicates this Court's subject matter jurisdiction.
2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by denying his discovery requests.
3. Whether material evidence supports the disciplinary board's decision.
4. Whether his due process rights were violated. 5. Whether the disciplinary board acted arbitrarily and illegally in failing to follow the UDP.

         Standard of Review

         The issues in this case involve the review of a decision by a prison disciplinary board. As explained by the Tennessee Supreme Court:

The common-law writ of certiorari serves as the proper procedural vehicle through which prisoners may seek review of decisions by prison disciplinary boards, parole eligibility review boards, and other similar administrative tribunals. See Rhoden v. State Dep't of Corr., 984 S.W.2d 955, 956 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998) (citing Bishop v. Conley, 894 S.W.2d 294 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994)). By granting the writ, the reviewing court orders the lower tribunal to file its record so that the court can determine whether the petitioner is entitled to relief.

Willis v. Tenn. Dept. of Corr., 113 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Tenn. 2003). The Tennessee Supreme Court reaffirmed the long-standing principal that the standard of review in a writ of certiorari case is extremely limited:

The judicial review available under a common-law writ of certiorari is limited to determining whether the entity whose decision is being reviewed (1) exceeded its jurisdiction, (2) followed an unlawful procedure, (3) acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or (4) acted without material evidence to support its decision. Harding Acad. v. Metro[.] Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 222 S.W.3d at 363; see also Stewart v. Schofield, 368 S.W.3d 457, 463 (Tenn. 2012). We have explicitly approved the use of the common-law writ of certiorari to provide judicial relief from (1) fundamentally illegal rulings, (2) proceedings inconsistent with essential legal requirements, (3) proceedings that effectively deny parties their day in court, (4) decisions that are beyond the decision-maker's authority, and (5) decisions that involve plain and palpable abuses of discretion. State v. Lane, 254 S.W.3d at 355 (quoting Willis v. Tenn[.] Dep't of Corr., 113 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Tenn. 2003)). However, we have also held that:
the common law[]writ [of certiorari] . . . may not be resorted to for the correction of technical or formal errors, not affecting jurisdiction or power, or for the correction of defects that are not radical, amounting to an illegality that is fundamental, as distinguished from an irregularity.
State ex rel. McMorrow v. Hunt, 137 Tenn. 243, 249, 192 S.W. 931, 933 (1917).
A common-law writ of certiorari proceeding does not empower the courts to redetermine the facts found by the entity whose decision is being reviewed. Tenn[.] Waste Movers, Inc. v. Loudon Cnty., 160 S.W.3d 517, 520 n.2 (Tenn. 2005); Cooper v. Williamson Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 746 S.W.2d 176, 179 (Tenn. 1987). Accordingly, we have repeatedly cautioned that a common-law writ of certiorari does not authorize a reviewing court to evaluate the intrinsic correctness of a governmental entity's decision. See, e.g., Stewart v. Schofield, 368 S.W.3d at 465; Arnold v. Tenn[.] Bd. of Paroles, 956 S.W.2d 478, 480 (Tenn. 1997). Similarly, we have noted that reviewing courts may not reweigh the evidence or substitute their judgment for the judgment of the entity whose decision is being reviewed. See, e.g., State v. Lane, 254 S.W.3d at 355 (quoting Robinson v. Clement, 65 S.W.3d at 635); Harding Acad. v. Metro[.] Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 222 S.W.3d at 363.

Heyne v. Nashville Bd. of Pub. Educ., 380 S.W.3d 715, 729 (Tenn. 2012). "In certiorari proceedings, judicial review is generally limited to the record developed by the tribunal below." Jeffries v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr., 108 S.W.3d 862, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002). As succinctly stated by this Court:

At the risk of oversimplification, one may say that it is not the correctness of the decision that is subject to judicial review, but the manner in which the decision is reached. If the agency or board has reached its decision in a constitutional or lawful ...

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