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Hopkins v. Maine Department of Corrections

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

July 12, 2019

RYAN HOPKINS, Petitioner
v.
MAINE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          William R. Stokes, Justice.

         INTRODUCTION

         The matter before the court is an appeal by Ryan Hopkins, an inmate at the Maine State Prison (MSP), from a disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the imposition of sanctions against him for the offenses of Influencing Staff and False Statement as defined under the Prisoner Discipline Policy. This appeal has been brought in accordance with 5 M.R.S. §§ 11001-11008 (Administrative Procedure Act) and M.R. Civ. P. 8OC.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the Certified Record (C.R.). On November 13, 2018, Ryan Hopkins (Petitioner) approached Lori DesSureault (DesSureault), a caseworker at MSP, in the caseworker office. (C.R. 2.) He requested her help to bring two soda bottles containing creatine[1] into MSP. (C.R. 2.) He told

         DesSureault that he knew the supplier and that he would make it worth her while. (C.R. 2.) DesSureault declined to help the Petitioner and told him that it was inappropriate for him to ask her such a question. (C.R. 2.) Petitioner was disappointed and frustrated and said that he knew DesSureault had "done things for other inmates." (C.R. 2.) DesSureault said she had not, and she would not. (C.R. 2.) Petitioner then left the office. (C.R. 2.) DesSureault spoke with the Petitioner again that afternoon, in hopes of clarifying the matter. (C.R. 2.) The Petitioner acted as if the prior conversation did not happen, was confrontational throughout the short discussion, and said that he has eyes and ears everywhere, and has seen DesSureault bring in clothes for other inmates. (C.R. 2.) DesSureault authored the Disciplinary Incident Report on November 15, 2018. (C.R. 2.)

         As a result of the above exchange, the Petitioner was charged with Influencing Staff, a class A violation, and False Statement, a class B violation. The Prisoner Discipline Policy defines Influencing Staff as "[p]romising, offering, or giving to any Department staff any monetary or other benefit for the purpose of influencing staff in the performance of official duties." 20.1 Procedure E. False Statement is defined as "[m]aking or soliciting a false statement, whether verbal or written." Proc. E.

         In the Investigation, the Petitioner wrote that he never asked DesSureault to bring anything in, and that her statement was false. (C.R. 3.) The Petitioner was notified on November 20, 2018, of a disciplinary hearing to occur on December 4, 2018. (C.R. 1.) The Petitioner listed Warden Liberty, Makala, [2] and a fellow inmate as witnesses who he wished to call at the hearing. (C.R. 1.) On December 4, 2018, the hearing occurred, and the Petitioner maintained the same version of events that he provided in the Investigation. (C.R. 6.) The Petitioner testified on behalf of himself and submitted a written statement (Statement). (C.R. 6.) The Statement detailed an entirely different version of the event from that provided by DesSureault, and provided his reasons for calling each witness. (C.R. 6.) He explained that he called Warden Liberty because he had asked him to investigate his contacts and communications to show that he did not know any supplier well, and never had phone conversations or written communications regarding soda bottles or creatine. (Statement 4.) He wished to call Makala because she was present a week prior to the November 13, 2018 incident, at a time when DesSureault allegedly accused him of "doing wrong, but not getting caught." (Statement 4.) The Petitioner would have offered this to show that DesSureault had made prior false accusations against him. (Statement 4.) The inmate the Petitioner wished to call was also present when DesSureault made the alleged false statement to the Petitioner, and presumably would have testified to the same. (Statement 4.)

         The Hearing Officer (HO) explained that Warden Liberty, Makala, and the inmate listed on the notification of disciplinary hearing form were not called as witnesses because none of them were present on November 13, 2018, when the incident took place. (C.R. 6.) He further stated that "[e]ach of the witnesses are considered as corrector [sic] witnesses and is against policy." (C.R. 6.) The HO found the Petitioner guilty of both violations based on DesSureault's Report. (C.R. 7.) The Petitioner received fifty days in segregation and the loss of fifty days of good time as discipline. (C.R. 8.) On December 18, 2018, the Petitioner administratively appealed the HO's finding of guilt, arguing that (1) an appropriate investigation was not conducted; (2) the HO improperly denied his request for witnesses at the hearing; and (3) there was insufficient evidence supporting the HO's finding of guilt. (C.R. 10.) Warden Liberty affirmed the HO's decision on December 28, 2018, and notification of the same was provided to the Petitioner on January 18, 2019. (C.R. 21.) This timely M.R. Civ. P. 80C appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         The Law Court has frequently reaffirmed the principle that judicial review of administrative agency decisions is "deferential and limited." Passadumkeag Mountain Friends v. Bd. of Envtl. Prot, 2014 ME 116, ¶ 12, 102 A.3d 1181 (quoting Friends of Lincoln Lakes v. Bd. of Envtl. Prot, 2010 ME 18, ¶ 12, 989 A.2d 1128). The court is not permitted to overturn an agency's decision "unless it: violates the Constitution or statutes; exceeds the agency's authority; is procedurally unlawful; is arbitrary or capricious; constitutes an abuse of discretion; is affected by bias or error of law; or is unsupported by the evidence in the record." Kroger v. Dept. of Envtl. Prot, 2005 ME 50, ¶ 7, 870 A.2d 566. The party seeking to vacate a state agency decision has the burden of persuasion on appeal. Anderson v. Maine Public Employees Retirement System, 2009 ME 134, ¶ 3, 985 A.2d 501. In particular, a party seeking to overturn an agency's decision bears the burden of showing that "no competent evidence" supports it. Stein v. Me. Crim. Justice Academy, 2014 ME 82, ¶ 11, 95 A.3d 612.

         On January 18, 2019, the Petitioner filed his Petition for Judicial Review of Final Agency Action. In his subsequent briefing he argues that the Respondent unreasonably restricted or withheld his right to call witnesses by not calling DesSureault on its own and denying his other witnesses, denied him a fair and impartial hearing as a result of its unreasonable restriction of his witnesses, and that substantial evidence did not support the HO's decision. The Respondent rebuts each of the Petitioner's arguments.

         I. The Witness Issues

         The Petitioner claims that DesSureault should have been called as a witness because she is the MSP employee who accused him of the violations and he had a right to confront his accuser. He also maintains that his right to call the three other witnesses he listed on his notification of disciplinary report was unreasonably restricted in violation of Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC) Prisoner Policy 20.1(B)(13) and 34-A M.R.S. § 3032(6)(D), which states ...


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