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Anderson v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 7, 2018

NATHANIEL ANDERSON
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY & CORRECTIONS

         ON APPEAL FROM THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NUMBER 649117, SECTION 23, PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE STATE OF LOUISIANA HONORABLE WILLIAM A. MORVANT, JUDGE

          Nathaniel Anderson Angola, Louisiana Petitioner-Appellant In Proper Person

          Terri Lynn Cannon Legal Programs Department Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola, Louisiana Counsel for Defendant-Appellee Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McDONALD AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          CHUTZ, J.

         Petitioner, Nathaniel Anderson, an inmate in the custody of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana appeals a district court judgment dismissing his petition for judicial review. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner filed a request for administrative remedy (ARP) (No. LSP-2016-0067) complaining that funds totaling $560.00 were withheld from his inmate banking account by prison officials from 2005 to 2015 without his permission or legal authorization. The funds consisted of sales receipts from petitioner's concession booth at the Angola Rodeo. Petitioner requested the return of the funds to his account with interest.

         Prison officials denied the ARP on the grounds that "all offenders [selling] hobbycraft [at the Rodeo] have a certain percentage taken out of what they sell[, ]" either 20% or 22.39%, depending upon whether the sale was for cash or credit (first step response). For cash sales, the 20% consisted of 4% for state taxes, 5% for parish taxes, and 11% for a commission. If a sale was on credit, an additional 2.39% was withheld for credit card fees. The ARP response further indicated the commission was "for the maintenance of the grounds, buildings and parking area at the Rodeo grounds." Petitioner appealed the decision and was denied relief by the Secretary of DPSC (second step response). He then filed a petition for judicial review in the 19th Judicial District Court reiterating his claim that DPSC illegally deducted or withheld funds from his inmate banking account without authorization.

         The matter was assigned to a commissioner[1], who screened the petition pursuant to La. R.S. 15:1178(B)[2] to determine whether it stated a cognizable claim or cause of action. Concluding the petition raised "a claim subject to judicial appellate review, " the commissioner ordered that service be made on DPSC pursuant to La. R.S. 15:1178(C).[3]

         DPSC filed an answer generally denying petitioner's claims, which made no reference to any legal authority or regulation supporting the amounts withheld by DPSC. Subsequently, the commissioner issued a report based "on the record alone." Despite earlier finding the petition stated a claim subject to judicial review, the commissioner recommended DPSC's decision be affirmed on the ground that petitioner failed to state a cognizable claim for relief because he failed to set forth a "substantial right violation." Alternatively, the commissioner recommended affirming DPSC's decision because it was neither arbitrary nor manifestly erroneous and was in accord with promulgated departmental regulations. The district court signed a judgment on April 19, 2017, dismissing the petition for judicial review, without prejudice, adopting the commissioner's report as its reasons.

         Petitioner filed a motion to set aside the judgment of dismissal. He alleged a due process violation occurred because he was not allowed ten days to traverse the commissioner's report prior to rendition of the judgment of dismissal. See La. R.S. 13:713(C)(3) (providing a party may file a traversal within ten days after transmittal of the commissioner's recommendations). At the same time, petitioner also filed a traversal of the commissioner's report.

         In response, the commissioner issued a supplemental report recommending the April 19 judgment be set aside since petitioner did not receive a copy of the commissioner's report and recommendations until after the judgment of dismissal was rendered. The commissioner also recommended that the district court enter a new judgment after consideration of the original recommendations and petitioner's traversal. In accordance with these recommendations, the district court signed an order on May 23, 2017, setting aside the April 19 judgment of dismissal and rendered a new ...


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