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Givens v. Maine Department of Corrections

Superior Court of Maine, Penobscot

November 20, 2019

REUBEN GIVENS, Petitioner,
v.
MAINE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S 80C APPEAL OF FINAL AGENCY ACTION

          Ann Murray, Justice

         Before the court is Petitioner Reuben Givens' petition for review of final agency action brought pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 80C. Mr. Givens5 petition challenges the decision of the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections (D, O.C.) denying his grievance appeal1.[1] A hearing was held on October 16, 2019, during which the court heard arguments from both parties. For the reasons below, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision and denies Mr. Givens' petition.

         I. Background

         In 2012, Mr. Givens was formally charged by the District Attorney's office of Atlanta, Georgia with a rape offense. Although it appeared that probable cause existed for the offense, the Georgia District Attorney declined to prosecute the case. Mr. Givens is currently incarcerated at the Maine State Prison for a non-sex related crime and is housed in a medium security facility. At the time of the grievance at issue in this case, the Maine D.O.C. had a policy which stated that adult prisoners who ate formally charged but not convicted of a sex offense may not be considered for transfer to a minimum-security facility unless the prisoner has completed the intensive phase of a D.O.C. residential sex offender treatment program. State of Me. D.O.C. Policy No. 23.1 (G)(7) (2017).[2] Mr. Givens contends that under this policy he was (1) wrongfully labelled as a sex-offender by the D.O.C.; (2) effectively forced to complete a sex-offender treatment program In order to earn "good time credits" and be considered for transfer to a minimum security facility; (3) suffered harm from being labelled as a sex-offender on account of stigma associated with the label; and (4) wrongfully denied transfer to a minirnum security facility after he completed the treatment program.

         Mr. Givens began participating in the sex-offender program in 2017 and completed the program sometime in March, 2018. On March 13, 2018, Mr. Givens filed a petition for judicial review under M. R. Civ. P. 80C challenging the D.O.C policy which required him to participate in the sex offender treatment program before he could be considered for transfer to a minimum-security facility. Mr. Givens5 petition asserted that the D.O.C.'s policy violated his constitutional rights because it effectively compelled him to attend the sex-offender treatment program in order to earn certain "good-time" credits and obtain transfer to a minimum-security facility. He further asserted that the D.O.C, wrongfully labelled him as a sex-offender, as he was never convicted of a sex-offense, and that by labelling him as a sex-offender die D.O.C. caused him to be targeted for abuse by other prisoners and otherwise subjected him to stigma.

         This court's order on July 27, 2018 remanded Mr. Givens' original petition to the D.O.C. for further proceedings through the D.O.C.'s administrative grievance process. Thereafter, Mr. Givens filed a grievance on August 8, 2018 with the D.O.C.'s grievance review officer. This is the grievance currently at issue in Mr. Givens' 80C petition before the court.

         Mr. Givens grieved that the D.O.C. had wrongfully classified him as a sex-offender and placed him in sex offender programming. He wrote that his life has been put at risk because of this improper label and that he was told by D.O.C. staff that if he did not do the treatment program he would the lose "good-time" credits he had accumulated for the length of the program. He also grieved that since completing the program he was still being denied work release even though he currently had a minimum-security classification. He further asserted that labelling him as a sex-offender when he has not been convicted of a sex offense is a violation of his constitutional right to a fair trial and compelling him to attend with a threat of loss of "good-time" earned in the program is a violation of his due process rights.

         Eventually, the grievance reached the Commissioner of the Department, the highest level of administrative review in the D.O.C. grievance process. As part of his grievance appeal, Mr. Givens submitted a letter to the Commissioner stating that: 1) although he had completed the sex offender program he was still not being allowed placement within a minimum-security facility; 2) he is not a sex offender; and 3) he has been harmed because of classification as a sex-offender and participation in the program.

         The Commissioner denied Mr. Givens' grievance on April 26, 2019. The Commissioner stated that the reason for D.O.C. policy 23.1 (G)(7) (2017) was public safety. The Commissioner explained that minimum security housing is unfenced and thus allows greater opportunity for prisoners to escape into the community and commit crimes. The Commissioner further commented that sex offenders tend to be repeat offenders and it is not uncommon for sex-offense crimes to go undetected. Thus, when there is an indication that a prisoner is a sex-offender, such as in Mr. Givens' situation where a formal charge was brought against him, the D.O.C. requires completion of a sex offender treatment program to reduce the risk of reoffending "before placing the prisoner in a situation where there is a greater opportunity to reoffend," The Commissioner further explained that the D.O.C.'s policy regarding work release and sex offenders is similarly based on public safety and that the D.O.C. "is unwilling to take a chance with public safety by having an untreated sex offender out on work release." Lastly, the Commissioner explained that although Mr. Givens had completed the sex offender treatment program he was no longer classified as minimum custody, a prerequisite for any prisoner to be considered for transfer to a minimum-security prison and for work release privileges. The Commissioner then noted that Mr. Givens was classified as medium custody by the D.O.C.'s Assistant Director of Classification because of two disciplinary violations.[3] The D.O.C. responds to Mr. Givens' petition by arguing that Policy 23.1(G)(7) is based on public safety concerns and legitimate penological interests. Contrary to Mr. Givens' assertion, the D.O.C. argues that it did not compel his participation in the sex-offender treatment program as he was able to refuse to participate in the program and would not have been deprived of "good-time" credit that he had already earned outside of the program if he refused. The D.O.C. merely afforded him the opportunity to earn additional "good-time" credits by participating in the program. The D.O.C. further argues that it has significant discretion and ultimate authority on where to house a prisoner and whether to transfer a prisoner to another facility and that Mr. Givens' custody status was only one-factor relevant to its determination on whether to house him in a medium security or minimum-security facility. Lastly, the D.O.C. notes that participation in a work-release program is a privilege and that it is within the D.O.C.'s discretion to require a prisoner who has been formally charged with a sex offense to participate in a sex offender treatment program before being considered for such a privilege.

         Mr. Givens argues that the D.O.C. has classified him as a sex offender by relying on charges for which he was never convicted and that this classification deprives him of a liberty interest protected by the due process clause. He contends that the classification constitutes a deprivation of liberty because it affects his ability to earn "good-time" credits by subjecting prisoners to a mandatory intrusive therapy program. He states that prisoners who are classified as sex offenders and required to participate in the program will not earn "good-time" credits for the length of the six-month program unless they participate because these prisoners necessarily receive monthly 'poor performance reports' due to non-participation in the program. Mr. Givens argues that this loss of "good-time" renders the program mandatory. In addition, he contends that prisoners who are classified as sex-offenders ate batted from minimum custody facilities and work-release privileges unless they complete the program. Mr. Givens further argues that D.O.C. policy 23.1(G)(7) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Fifth Amendment.

         At the October 16, 2019 hearing, Mr. Givens told the court that his life has been put at risk because of his classification as a sex-offender and participation in the sex-offender program. He also stated that his family life has been harmed because of his classification as a sex-offender and his participation in the sex-offender program. He stated that members of his family ate now refusing to communicate with him and believe that he is a sex-offender. Mr. Givens told the court that his family learned of his participation in the sex-offender program after he disclosed the information to them himself. The D.O.C. responded by stating it has a confidentiality policy that protects the information of prisoners in the program and that the D.O.C. did not disclose information about Mr. Givens' participation in the sex-offender program to members of his family.

         II. Standard of Review

         When called on to review a final agency action under M. R. Civ. P. 80C, die court reviews die administrative agency's decision for errors of law, abuse of discretion, or findings mat are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Somerset Cty. v. Dep't of Corr., 2016 ME 33, ¶ 14, 133 A.3d 1006; Dyer v. Superintendent of Ins., 2013 ME 61, ¶ 14, 69 A.3d 416 (the court defers to an agency's findings if supported by substantial evidence in the record even if the record contains inconsistent or contrary evidence.) "Substantial evidence" is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support die resultant conclusion." Lewiston Daily Sun v. Me. Unemployment Ins. Comm'n, 1999 ME 90, ¶ 7, 733 A.2d 344. The court examines the entire record to determine whether die agency could fairly and reasonably find the fact as it did. Dyer, 2013 ME 61, ¶ 14, 69 A.3d 416.

         The court reviews issues of law de novo but "an agency's interpretation of its own internal rules will be given considerable deference and will not be set aside unless die rule plainly compels a contrary result, or die rule interpretation is contrary to the governing statute." Friends of the Boundary Mountains v. Land Use Regulation Comm'n,2012 ME 53, ¶ 6, 40 A.3d 947. The party seeking to vacate die agency's decision bears die burden of persuasion and die agency's decision will only be ...


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