CHARLES M. MARTIN
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
Argued: March 6, 2018
James Burke, Esq., and Alec Youngblood, Stud. Atty. (orally),
Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, Portland, for appellant Charles
T. Mills, Attorney General, and James E. Fortin, Asst. Atty.
Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for
appellee State of Maine
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and
This case calls for us to consider whether in Maine, pursuant
to the "prisoner mailbox rule," a pro se
prisoner's civil petition for review of a decision by the
Department of Corrections should be deemed "filed"
on the date it is delivered to prison officials to be
forwarded to the clerk of court rather than the date it is
received by the clerk of court. We conclude that in
circumstances where, as here, (1) a prisoner is forced to
rely on the Department of Corrections to ensure that his Rule
80C petition-challenging the Department's administrative
action against him-is filed; (2) that prisoner places the
petition into the "control" of the Department; and
(3) the Department fails to timely deliver his petition to
the clerk of court, the open courts provision and due process
clause of the Maine Constitution require that the prisoner
mailbox rule apply and the petition be deemed timely filed.
Accordingly, we vacate the judgment.
The following facts are undisputed. See Ewing v. Me.
Dist. Court, 2009 ME 16, ¶ 3 & n.2, 964 A.2d
644. On May 16, 2016, Charles M. Martin, a prisoner
incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, signed a petition
pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 11002 (2017) for judicial review
of a Department decision finding that he had committed a
disciplinary infraction. Two days later, on May 18, 2016, he
submitted that petition to prison authorities for forwarding
to the Superior Court. However, the clerk of court did not
receive the petition until May 26, 2016.
After accepting service of the petition, the State moved to
dismiss it for failure to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted. See M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). According to
the State, because Martin's petition did not specify
"any date related to the action being challenged,"
he failed to "make the factual allegations
necessary" to show that he filed the petition within the
thirty-day period prescribed by 5 M.R.S. § 11002(3).
Martin responded with a motion to amend the petition, a
supporting affidavit, and a proposed amended petition
specifying that he was notified of the Department decision on
April 25, 2016. The Superior Court (Knox County, Stokes,
J.) granted that motion.
Consequently, the State filed a second motion to dismiss,
arguing that because the clerk of court received Martin's
petition on May 26, 2016- thirty-one days after Martin was
notified of the Department's decision and therefore one
day outside the thirty-day statutory window-the Superior
Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. See M.R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Martin opposed the State's motion to
dismiss, submitting an affidavit averring that he signed the
petition on May 16, 2016, and that he gave the petition to a
unit sergeant to mail on May 18, 2016. Citing the United
States Supreme Court's decision in Houston v.
Lack, 487 U.S. 266 (1988), Martin urged the Superior
Court to apply the "prisoner mailbox rule," whereby
the court would consider his petition filed on the date he
deposited it with prison officials for forwarding to the
clerk of court, May 18, rather than when it was received by
the clerk of court, May 26.
The court granted the State's motion to dismiss,
concluding that the thirty-day time limit pursuant to section
11002(3) is "jurisdictional and mandatory" and that
"Maine has not yet adopted the so-called federal mailbox
rule." Martin then filed a M.R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion for
relief from judgment, which the court denied. This appeal
followed. See 5 M.R.S. § 11008(1) (2017); M.R.
App. P. 2(b)(3) (Tower 2016).
Citing Houston v. Lack, Martin argues that the
court's failure to apply the prisoner mailbox rule
violated his constitutional right to meaningful access to the
judicial process because he "had no opportunity to
bypass the prison personnel and ensure that his petition was
mailed in a more reliable fashion." According to Martin,
his "only option, beyond breaking out of jail to hand
deliver the package himself, was to give his mail to the
prison authorities, the representatives of the very agency
against whom he was seeking an appeal." In response, the
State contends that Martin was not denied access to the
courts because even accounting for the jail's delay in
delivering his petition for review to the court, he was still
provided the "ample time" of 23 days to prepare his
petition and ensure that it was timely received.
We review de novo a court's denial of a motion pursuant
to M.R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4) to set aside a judgment because of a
constitutional violation. See Reliable Copy ...