On August 13th, 2019, the Michigan Court of Appeals released its opinion in Jackson v Dep’t of Corrections, ___ Mich App ___ (2019)(Docket No. 342822) holding that a prisoner was entitled to have the Michigan Department of Correction’s determination regarding his Class II misconduct sanction reviewed by the circuit court.
Gary Jackson is an inmate at the Ojibway Correctional Facility who was accused of an unauthorized transfer of funds to his prisoner account from another prisoner in 2017. A MDOC administrative hearing officer found him guilty of Class II misconduct and sanctioned him with loss of privileges for 15 days and confiscation of $250.00 from his prisoner account. He appealed the ruling to the deputy warden, alleging that his right to procedural due process was violated and, as a result, his property was confiscated. The deputy warden denied his appeal. Mr. Jackson then appealed to the circuit court, once again asserting that his constitutional right to due process was violated and that the violation deprived him of property. The trial judge ruled that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over his claim because the 15-day loss of privileges did not amount to a loss of good time or disciplinary credits, which are judicially reviewable issues. Relying on an unpublished Court of Appeals opinion, the judge determined that it may only review appeals from Class I misconduct determinations, not appeals from Class II and Class III cases. The trial judge did not make any determination whether the circumstances of this case or the claimed loss of property gave rise to a constitutional right to review those issues. Accordingly, his appeal was refused. Mr. Jackson then appealed this decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The Michigan Department of Corrections classifies the following prisoner offenses into classes of misconduct from the most serious (Class I) to the least serious (Class III).
CLASS I MISCONDUCTS
- Includes committing, attempting to commit, accomplice to commit or conspiracy to commit any of the following violations (MDOC 03.03.105A (4/9/12)):
- Assault and battery (injury not necessary, includes throwing urine or feces on another person)
- Assault resulting in serious injury
- Escape or failure to return within authorized while on public work crew.
- Failure to disperse from area where a disturbance is occurring
- Commission of any felony
- Inciting a riot or strike
- Possessing dangerous contraband or a weapon (e.g. explosive acid, toilet bowl cleaner, screwdriver, hammer and even a road map of Michigan)
- Consensual or non-consensual sexual acts
- Smuggling unauthorized items in or out of the correctional facility
- Possession, use, selling or providing alcohol or other controlled substances
- Threatening behavior
- Class I Misconducts are punishable by one or more of the following sanctions (MDOC 03.03.105D (4/9/12)):
- Detention (punative segregation) up to 30 days for each violation or 60 days for all violations arising from a single incident
- Toplock (confined to quarters) up to 7 days per violation but not combined with detention.
- Loss of privileges up to 30 days for each violation or 60 days for all violations arising from a single incident
CLASS II MISCONDUCTS
- Includes committing, attempting to commit, accomplice to commit or conspiracy to commit any of the following violations (MDOC 03.03.105B (4/9/12)):
- Bribing an MDOC employee
- Creating a disturbance
- Destruction or misuse of property
- Disobeying a direct order from staff
- Gambling or possession of gambling paraphernalia
- Insolence (words or actions that harass, degrade or cause alarm in MDOC employees)
- Interfering with the administration of rules
- Being “Out of Place” (in location without proper authority to be there but not escape)
- Possession of forged documents
- Possession of money
- Possession of stolen property
- Unauthorized occupation of another prisoner’s cell or room
- Class II Misconducts are punishable by one or more of the following sanctions (MDOC 03.03.105D (4/9/12)):
- Toplock (confined to quarters) up to 5 days for all violations in single incident.
- Loss of privileges up to 30 days for all violations arising from a single incident.
- Assignment of extra duty, not to exceed 40 hours for all violations arising from single incident
CLASS III MISCONDUCTS
- Includes committing, attempting to commit, accomplice to commit or conspiracy to commit any of the following violations (MDOC 03.03.105C (4/9/12)):
- Abuse of privileges
- Possession of non-dangerous contraband
- Excessive noise
- Creating a health, safety or fire hazard by dirty cell or lack of personal hygiene
- Lying to MDOC employees
- Temporarily out of place/bounds
- Unauthorized communications (e.g. love letters to another prisoner)
- Violation of posted rules of housing units
- Class III Misconducts are punishable by one or more of the following sanctions (MDOC 03.03.105D (4/9/12)):
- Toplock (confined to quarters) up to 5 days for all violations in single incident.
- Loss of privileges up to 15 days for all violations arising from a single incident.
- Assignment of extra duty, not to exceed 20 hours for all violations arising from single incident
The Michigan Constitution and state statutes explicitly provide the right for judicial review as it relates to a prisoner misconduct hearing. MCL 600.631 provides “[a]n appeal shall lie from any order, decision, or opinion of any state board, commission, or agency, authorized under the laws of this state to promulgate rules from which an appeal or other judicial review has not otherwise been provided for by law, to the circuit court of the county of which the appellant is a resident or to the circuit court of Ingham county, which court shall have and exercise jurisdiction with respect thereto as in nonjury cases.”
However, a prisoner does not have an entitlement to judicial review where “constitutional rights” are not implicated. In Martin v Stine, 214 Mich App 403; 542 NW2d 884 (1995), a prisoner’s cell was searched and his property “was confiscated because he possessed merchandise in excess of the amount he was allowed to accumulate pursuant to the department’s policy directive regarding prisoner personal property control.” As a result of this rule violation, that prisoner received a five-day loss of privileges and his merchandise was sent to his home at his expense. The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that this prisoner was not entitled to judicial review of his Class III misconduct because charges “that would not result in a loss of good time or disciplinary credits, or placement in punitive segregation, are specifically excluded from those matters in which a prisoner is entitled to a hearing…”. Id at 408-409. Under the circumstances of that case, his constitutional rights were not implicated because the misconduct charge did not “affect private rights or licenses”. Id at 414. Since the only sanctions that could merit judicial review were available under Class I misconducts, then the Court of Appeals heavily implied that appeals from Class II or Class III misconducts were not entitled to a hearing because constitutional rights would not be triggered.
However, the Michigan Department of Corrections did seize $250.00 of Mr. Jackson’s property and put it into their own fund. The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to prisoners, and “[t]hey may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Wolff v McDonnell, 418 US 539, 556; 94 S Ct 2963; 41 L Ed 2d 935 (1974). This confiscation is not a listed sanction under the MDOC’s Class II misconduct policy. Unlike Mr. Martin’s case where the property was returned to his home, Mr. Jackson’s property was actually converted by MDOC for its own use. In Wojnicz v Dep’t of Corrections, 32 Mich App 121; 188 NW2d 251 (1971), the Michigan Court of Appeals recognized a prisoner’s right to funds in his prisoner account and held that the confiscation of funds from that account without notice and hearing deprived the prisoner of due process of law. In Mr. Jackson’s case, even though he was not found guilty of a Class I misconduct, the MDOC sanction still resulted in permanently depriving him of his property. The circuit court erred in declining to take jurisdiction over the appeal simply because it was not a Class I misconduct case without taking a closer look to see if any of the prisoner’s constitutional rights were implicated due to the MDOC’s punishment. As a result, Mr. Jackson’s case is remanded back to the circuit court to be granted a hearing on his due process violation claims.
It is worth noting that this decision is not a judgment of whether or not Mr. Jackson’s due process rights were actually violated when the Michigan Department of Corrections confiscated his property, but rather an acknowledgment that Mr. Jackson was entitled under the circumstances to have his day in court.