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Banks v. Jones

Supreme Court of Florida

December 21, 2017

ROBERT E. BANKS, Petitioner,
v.
JULIE L. JONES, etc., Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

         Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions First District - Case No. 1D15-330 (Bradford County)

          Michael Ufferman of Michael Ufferman Law Firm, P.A., Tallahassee, Florida, for Petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Denise M. Harle, Deputy Solicitor General, and Daniel A. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent.

          QUINCE, J.

         This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Banks v. Jones, 197 So.3d 1152 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016). The district court certified that its decision is in direct conflict with the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Holland v. State, 791 So.2d 1256 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001), on the issue of whether a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is the proper vehicle by which to seek release from close management. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

         FACTS

         Robert E. Banks was serving a thirty-year sentence for a robbery conviction. Banks, 197 So.3d at 1156. After receiving a disciplinary report for a spitting incident, the Department of Corrections adjudicated Banks guilty for violating department rules, placed him in disciplinary confinement, and revoked 364 days of gain time in addition to issuing a referral reassigning him to the "Close Management I" housing classification. Id.

         Banks first challenged the referral with the Department, which upheld the decision. Banks then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court. Id. The Eighth Circuit denied relief, stating that Banks failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to relief. Id. at 1157. Banks filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the First District, which ordered the Department to show cause why the writ should not be granted. Subsequently, the First District determined to hear the case en banc to determine whether it should recede from its prior precedent. Id.

         Reviewing Banks' claim, the First District stated: "Most pertinent to our decision here is the initial question of whether prisoners in Florida have a protected liberty interest in remaining in the general population, thus necessitating a determination of whether a decision removing a prisoner from the general population for reassignment to Close Management implicates due process requirements." Id. at 1159 (citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995)). The First District reasoned that "[i]f a liberty interest is not at stake, judicial review . . . would be more appropriately considered as an appeal of an administrative decision rather than a claim that a person is being illegally detained." Id. Although the First District recognized that the Sandin Court "left open the possibility that states could create liberty interests which triggered due process protections, "[1] the court nevertheless reasoned that "Sandin clearly announced that any prison regulation which did not impose an atypical hardship on state prisoners would not implicate due process protections." Id. at 1160 (citing Sandin, 515 U.S. at 481). So reasoning, the First District announced its decision to "recede from prior decisions . . . allow[ing] Close Management decisions to be challenged by writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 1162. Relying on our decision in Bush v. State, 945 So.2d 1207, 1210 (Fla. 2006), the First District reasoned that because prisoners challenging their assignment to close management were not seeking immediate release, the appropriate vehicle for their claims is a petition for a writ of mandamus. Banks, 197 So.3d at 1163. Therefore, the First District determined: "[B]ecause habeas corpus review of such claims does not accord the proper deference due the Executive Branch . . . we recede from prior decisions of this court which hold that challenges to Close Management housing assignments may be asserted by petition for writ of habeas corpus." Banks, 197 So.3d at 1155 (citing Magwood v. Tucker, 98 So.3d 725 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Kendrick v. McNeil, 6 So.3d 657 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009); Thompson v. Dugger, 509 So.2d 391, 392 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987)).

         The First District certified conflict with Holland.[2] Banks sought review in this Court, which we granted.

         MOOTNESS

         The Department argues that because Banks has been released from close management and transferred to a facility that does not house prisoners in close management quarters, the case is moot and this Court should exercise its discretion and discharge jurisdiction. While the Department is correct that Banks, himself, does not have a current controversy, the First District's decision is broader than Banks' dispute. Because the First District receded from over three decades of precedent and circuit courts who would ordinarily review the habeas petitions are bound by its decision, our determination of the certified conflict is necessary for guidance to our trial and appellate courts. Therefore, we decline the State's offer to discharge jurisdiction. See, e.g., Pino v. Bank of New York, 76 So.3d 927, 927-28 (Fla. 2011) (discussing a certified question of great public importance and stating that the question "transcends the individual parties to this action because it has the potential to impact [the courts] throughout this state and is one on which Florida's trial courts and litigants need guidance."); Williams v. State, 957 So.2d 600, 601 (Fla. 2007) (retaining jurisdiction in a certified conflict case despite mootness); State v. Matthews, 891 So.2d 479, 483 (Fla. 2004) (retaining discretionary certified conflict jurisdiction despite Matthews' release from prison because "the question before this Court is of great public importance and is likely to recur") (citing Holly v. Auld, 450 So.2d 217, 218 n.1 (Fla. 1984)); Enterprise Leasing Co. v. Jones, 789 So.2d 964, 965 (Fla. 2001) ("Although the issue presented in this appeal may be moot as it relates to these parties, the mootness doctrine does not destroy our jurisdiction when the question before us is of great public importance or is likely to recur.") (citing Gregory v. Rice, 727 So.2d 251, 252 n.1 (Fla. 1999)); N.W. v. State, 767 So.2d 446, 447 n.2 (Fla. 2000) (retaining discretionary certified conflict jurisdiction after the appellant's community control expired because "this case presents a controversy capable of repetition, yet evading review [and] should be considered on its merits." (citing Kight v. Dugger, 574 So.2d 1066 (Fla. 1990)).

         DISCUSSION

         The issue before this Court is whether an inmate may petition for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge his or her placement in Close Management I (CMI) or whether said inmate must file a petition for a writ of mandamus. Because we find that an inmate may have a limited liberty interest in being housed with the general population as compared to CMI depending on the duration of reassignment, we hold that a petition for a writ of habeas corpus remains the correct mechanism by which to challenge a reassignment. We therefore quash the decision of the First District to the extent it holds otherwise and adopt the reasoning of Judge Wolf's concurring in part and dissenting in part opinion.

         The United States Supreme Court's 1983 decision in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983), upon which the First District previously relied, concerned a prisoner's complaint that the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by confining him to administrative segregation within the prison after he assaulted two guards. Id. at 462-63. The Hewitt Court indicated:

While no State may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, " it is well settled that only a limited range of interests fall within this provision. Liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment may arise from two sources-the Due Process Clause itself and the laws of the States.

Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 466 (citing Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-227 (1976)). The Court then opined, "While there is little question on the record before us that [Hewitt's] confinement added to the restraints on this freedom, we think his argument seeks to draw from the Due Process Clause more than it can ...


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