JAMES M. MORRIS
TENNESSEE BOARD OF PROBATION & PAROLE
Assigned on Briefs May 1, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 16-1018-I
Claudia Bonnyman, Chancellor
appeal involves a petition for writ of certiorari filed in
chancery court by a prisoner after he was denied parole. The
chancery court concluded that the petition was timely filed
but found that the issues presented were moot and lacked
substantive merit. The prisoner appeals. For the following
reasons, we affirm the trial court's order of dismissal
on other grounds.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
M. Morris, Mountain City, Tennessee, Pro Se.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Pamela
S. Lorch, Senior Assistant Attorney General, for the
appellee, Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole.
D. McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Richard H. Dinkins, and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.
D. MCGEE, JUDGE
Facts & Procedural History
M. Morris is an inmate currently incarcerated at Northeast
Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tennessee. In 1988, he
pled guilty to the offenses of second degree murder and
robbery armed with a deadly weapon. Morris was sentenced to
thirty-five years for the offense of second degree murder and
fifteen years for the offense of robbery armed with a deadly
weapon, to be served consecutively, for an effective sentence
of fifty years.
the course of his incarceration, Morris has been denied
parole on numerous occasions. He had another parole hearing
on June 2, 2016. On June 7, 2016, the Board of Probation and
Parole provided Morris with a document entitled
"Offender Hearing Decision Notification" officially
notifying him of its decision to decline parole based on the
seriousness of his offense. His next parole review date was
set for December 2017. The notification informed Morris of
his appeal rights and stated,
In order to be considered for an appellate review, a written
request must be received within forty-five (45) days from the
date this decision is signed. The request must be mailed to:
Board of Parole, Attn: Appeals Unit, 404 James Robertson
Parkway, Suite 1300 Nashville, TN[.]
signed the notification on June 7, 2016.
forty-five day period for appeal ended on July 22, 2016.
Morris submitted a "Request for Appeal Hearing" to
the Board, but it was not received by the July 22 deadline.
On July 28, 2016, the Board sent Morris a letter stating that
it had received his request for an appeal but that it was
deemed null and void because it was not received by the Board
within forty-five days after he signed the notification.
Accordingly, the Board informed Morris that the time period
for an administrative appeal had lapsed, and he had no
further appeal recourse through the Board.
September 16, 2016, Morris filed a petition for writ of
certiorari in the chancery court of Davidson County, seeking
review of the Board's decision from the June 2016
hearing. Morris argued that his administrative appeal to the
Board was timely because, according to Morris, he delivered
his administrative appeal to the prison post office on July
19, 2016, three days prior to the expiration of the
forty-five day appeal period. Morris argued that his
administrative appeal should have been deemed timely pursuant
to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 5.06 and/or Tennessee
Rule of Appellate Procedure 20(g), commonly known as the
prison mailbox rule. Morris also argued that the Board
committed two procedural errors in the conduct of his parole
hearing. First, he argued that the Board erred in allowing
family members of the victim of his crimes to attend the
parole hearing "by satellite." Additionally, Morris
argued that the Board acted illegally by finalizing its
parole hearing decision based on the concurrence of three
members of the Board. Morris argued that four votes were
required pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section
40-28-105(d). Morris asked the chancery court to review the
record of the parole hearing and to order the Board to
conduct another parole hearing in accordance with the
governing policies and law. Morris attached numerous
documents to his petition.
December 20, 2017, while the petition was still pending,
Morris filed a motion for stay in the chancery court. His
motion stated that the Board had held another parole hearing
on or about November 28, 2017, and the Board had again denied
him parole. Morris asserted that he intended to appeal the
decision of the Board within forty-five days and was in the
process of preparing his administrative appeal. He asked the
chancery court to stay its decision pending the outcome of
the administrative appeal process before the Board with
respect to his most recent hearing.
October 11, 2018, the chancery court entered a memorandum
opinion and final order dismissing the petition filed by
Morris. The chancery court concluded that the entire case
should be dismissed as moot because the remedy sought by
Morris - another parole hearing - had already taken place.
Thus, the chancery court reasoned that Morris had already
received the remedy he sought, and the court could no longer
grant him a remedy. Despite this finding regarding mootness,
the chancery court went on to address the substantive merit
of the arguments presented by Morris and make alternative
rulings regarding each of those grounds. The trial court
concluded that the Board erred in deeming his administrative
appeal as untimely. The trial court found that the appeal was
"timely filed" on the date when it was submitted to
the prison mailroom. Regarding the merits, the trial court
found that the Board acted properly by allowing the
victim's family to attend the parole hearing via
videoconference because victims' families are given the
right to participate by statute. Finally, the chancery court
found that the Board properly used the three-vote rule to
decide whether Morris should be paroled based on the type of
sentence that Morris was serving at the time. Morris timely
filed a notice of appeal to this Court.