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Harper v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

March 12, 2015

HENRY HARPER
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS

On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court, In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana. Trial Court No. C628151. Honorable William A. Morvant, Judge Presiding.

Henry Harper, Angola, LA, Plaintiff-Appellant, In Proper Person.

William L. Kline, Baton Rouge, LA, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee, Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ. McClendon, J. Concurs and Assigns reasons.

OPINION

Page 1079

[2014 1320 La.App. 1 Cir. 2] HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

Henry Harper, an inmate in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC), appeals a judgment of the district court that dismissed his petition for judicial review, without service and without prejudice, on the basis that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Based on our review of the record, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

On May 13, 2013, Mr. Harper filed a request for relief under Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) LSP-2013-1269 at Louisiana State Penitentiary, where he is housed. The record does not contain a copy of the initial grievance filed by Mr. Harper, but a copy of DPSC's June 14, 2013 response denying Mr. Harper's first-step ARP request, indicates that he was seeking a re-calculation of good time credit on his sentence. Because Mr. Harper was not satisfied with DPSC's denial of his request, he indicated on the required ARP form that he desired to proceed to step two of the process on June 18, 2013.

Before Mr. Harper received a second-step response from DPSC, however, he filed a petition for judicial review on February 7, 2014, in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, seeking review of DPSC's denial of his ARP request. Since Mr. Harper did not attach a copy of DPSC's final decision to his petition, he was ordered on March 31, 2014, to comply with required district court rules in order to show proof of exhaustion of administrative remedies. Mr. Harper apparently failed to comply with the order, because on March 28, 2014, the commissioner for the district court issued a screening report to the district court judge recommending that Mr. Harper's petition be dismissed without prejudice or service, for lack of subject [2014 1320 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] matter jurisdiction based on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by La. R.S. 15:1172(C) and La. R.S. 15:1176.[1]

Page 1080

Prior to the rendition of the district court's judgment, Mr. Harper filed a traversal to the commissioner's recommendation on June 12, 2014, to which he attached a copy of the ARP first-step response form where he had indicated his desire to proceed to step two of the ARP process after DPSC denied his first-step request. In his traversal, Mr. Harper contended that DPSC failed to respond to his ARP second step in a timely manner, and therefore, he had the right to seek judicial review of the denial of his ARP request pursuant to La. R.S. 15:1177. Despite the traversal, the district court issued a judgment on June 19, 2014, in accordance with the commissioner's recommendation, dismissing Mr. Harper's petition without prejudice. Mr. Harper appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition because he followed the required ARP process and DPSC's failure to timely respond to his second step as required by law should not be used to prevent him from obtaining judicial review of DPSC's action.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

Procedures set out in the Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure (CARP) provide the exclusive remedy available to inmates alleging an error in computations of good time, among other grievances, with appellate review first at the district court and then the court of appeal.[2] La. R.S. 15:1171(B); [2014 1320 La.App. 1 Cir. 4] La. R.S. 15:1177(A)(10); Branch v. Louisiana Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections, 2012-0749 (La.App. 1st Cir. 12/21/12), 111 So.3d 1059 n.1; Williams v. Creed, 2007-0614 (La.App. 1st Cir. 12/21/07), 978 So.2d 419, 422, writ denied, 2008-0433 (La. 10/2/09), 18 So.3d 111. The district court is precluded from entertaining an inmate's ARP complaint until he has exhausted the remedies provided to him by the ARP process. La. R.S. 15:1172(B) and (C); Blackwell v. Louisiana Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections, 96-0954 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2/14/97), 690 So.2d 137, 140-41, writ denied, 97-1158 (La. 9/5/97), 700 So.2d 507. If suit is filed prior to exhaustion of administrative remedies, the district court lacks jurisdiction over the matter, and the suit shall be ...


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