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Howard v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 30, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs September 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hickman County No. 16-CV-5773 Joseph A. Woodruff, Judge

         Eric Bernard Howard, an inmate at the Turney Center Industrial Complex, was charged with the disciplinary offense of defiance. The conduct at issue occurred at the institution's medical clinic. Howard became angry, used profanity, and physically struck clinic property. After a hearing, he was found guilty by "alternate disciplinary officer" Rachel McCauley. Howard filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari with the trial court, alleging that he was denied due process at his hearing. He further asserted that the governing Uniform Disciplinary Procedures of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) were not followed. He says this resulted in substantial prejudice to him. The trial court found no due process violation, and ruled that any deviation from the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures was minimal and did not result in substantial prejudice. The trial court dismissed the petition. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

         Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Eric Bernard Howard, Only, Tennessee, appellant, pro se.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III Attorney General and Reporter, Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General, and Charlotte Davis, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Turney Center Disciplinary Board, Rachel McCauley, Kevin Genovese, and Derrick Schofield.

          Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.




         TDOC's disciplinary report alleges that "on the evening of March 24, 2016 inmate Eric Howard . . . became disruptive with medical staff to the point where he was using profanity and he was banging on stationary property inside the clinic." He was charged with defiance. Howard was given a copy of the disciplinary report on March 31, 2016. A hearing before the alternative hearing officer, respondent Cpl. Rachel McCauley, took place on April 1, 2016. Two persons testified: Howard, and Internal Affairs officer Sgt. Dustin Mackin, who presented evidence deemed confidential by TDOC - evidence that TDOC says supported the charge and conviction. Cpl. McCauley found him guilty of defiance. The discipline imposed on Howard was five days in punitive segregation, a nine-month package restriction, and a four dollar fine.

         He appealed to the warden, and then to the TDOC commissioner, both of whom upheld his conviction. Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Howard filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in the trial court. He alleged that (1) Cpl. McCauley was not authorized to hear his case under the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures; (2) his hearing was held 21.5 hours after he was notified of the charge, contrary to the Procedures' requirement of a minimum 24 hours; and (3) the confidential information was not properly presented under the Procedures. The State did not oppose the petition, and the trial court granted it. Respondents moved for judgment on the record. The trial court found that the hearing officer was authorized to hear the case, the 21.5 hour notice was a minor deviation from the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures that did not substantially prejudice Howard, and that the confidential evidence was properly presented at the hearing. The court granted the motion and dismissed the petition. Howard timely filed a notice of appeal.


         The issue presented on appeal is whether the alleged procedural defects at Howard's hearing constitute deviations from the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures that resulted in a violation of his constitutional due process rights or substantial prejudice to him.


         As this Court has recently observed:

The common-law writ of certiorari is the procedural vehicle prisoners may use to obtain a review of decisions by prison disciplinary boards, parole eligibility review boards, and other similar administrative tribunals. Willis v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr., 113 S.W.3d 706, 712 (Tenn. 2003); see Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-8-101 (providing that the writ may be granted where an inferior tribunal, board, or officer exercising judicial functions exceeds jurisdiction or acts illegally and no other plain, speedy, or adequate remedy is available); Davison v. Carr, 659 S.W.2d 361, 363 (Tenn. 1983) ("Common law certiorari is available where the court reviews an administrative decision in which that agency is acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity."). . . .
A reviewing court is not permitted to "(1) inquire into the intrinsic correctness of the lower tribunal's decision, (2) reweigh the evidence, or (3) substitute [its] judgment for that of the lower tribunal" when considering a petition for a common law writ of certiorari. Keen, 2008 WL 539059 at *2 (citations omitted); see also Heyne v. Metro. Nashville Bd. of Pub. Educ., 380 S.W.3d 715, 729 (Tenn. 2012); Willis, 113 S.W.3d at 712. Rather, the scope of review is limited to determining "whether the disciplinary board exceeded its jurisdiction or acted illegally, fraudulently, or arbitrarily." Willis, 113 S.W.3d at 712 (citing Turner v. Tenn. Bd. of Paroles, 993 S.W.2d 78, 80 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999)); South v. Tenn. Bd. of Paroles, 946 S.W.2d 310, 311 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996)). This involves a question of law, not of fact. Harding Acad. v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., No. M2004-02118-COA-R3-CV, 2006 WL 627193, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 25, 2006). " 'The scope of review by the appellate courts is no broader or more comprehensive than that of the trial court with respect to evidence presented before the Board.' " Id. (quoting Watts v. Civ. Serv. Bd. for Columbia, 606 S.W.2d 274, 277 (Tenn. 1980)).
A common law writ of certiorari can be used to correct "(1) fundamentally illegal rulings; (2) proceedings inconsistent with essential legal requirements; (3) proceedings that effectively deny a party his or her day in court; (4) decisions beyond the lower tribunal's authority; and (5) plain and palpable abuses of discretion." Willis, 113 S.W.3d at 712 . . . In other words, a trial court's review is focused on the manner in which the lower tribunal's decision was reached rather than its intrinsic correctness. Garrard v. Tenn. Dep't of Corr., No. M2013-01525-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 1887298, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2014) (citing Powell v. Parole Eligibility Rev. Bd., 879 S.W.2d 871, 873 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994)); Keen, 2008 WL 539059, at *2 (citing Hall v. McLesky, 83 S.W.3d 752, ...

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