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Strattman v. LeBlanc

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 27, 2019

DAX STRATTMAN
v.
JAMES M. LeBLANC, SECRETARY LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS

          On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket No. C667309, Sec. 25 Honorable Wilson Fields, Judge Presiding

          Dax Strattman, D. O.C. # 375671 Elaine Hunt Correction Center St. Gabriel, Louisiana Plaintiff/Appellant In Proper Person

          Jonathan R. Vining Elizabeth B. Desselle Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendant/ Appellee James M. LeBlanc, Secretary Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

          BEFORE: McCLENDON, WELCH, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.

          MCCLENDON, J.

         Petitioner, an inmate in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (Department), appeals a judgment of the district court that dismissed his petition for judicial review with prejudice. Petitioner raised the same arguments in a related writ application, which has been assigned to this appellate panel. For the following reasons, we affirm the district court's judgment, and accordingly, deny the writ application.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Petitioner herein, Dax Strattman, pled guilty to the crime of extortion, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:66, on April 25, 2016. The offense was committed on or between April 1 and April 29 of 2015. Strattman was sentenced to imprisonment at hard labor for a term of ten years. At that time, LSA-R.S. H;2(B)(25) classified extortion as a crime of violence. As a violent offender, Strattman was eligible under LSA-R.S. 15:571.3(B)(2) to earn dimunition of his sentence, known as "good time, " at a rate of three days for every seventeen days in actual custody.

         Relevant to the matter at hand, Act 281 of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session ("Act 281") repealed LSA-R.S. 14:2(B)(25), removing extortion from the list of violent crimes set forth in LSA-R.S. 14:2(B). See 2017 La. Acts, No. 281, § 3 (eff. Aug. 1, 2017). Act 281 was silent with respect to retroactive application. Also bearing on this matter, Act 280 of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session ("Act 280"), amending LSA-R.S. 15:571.3(B), amended the good time rate for non-violent crimes to thirteen days for every seven days in actual custody and provided that this change is applicable to nonviolent offenders convicted on or after January 1, 1992. See 2017 La. Acts, No. 280, §§ 3-4 (eff. Nov. 1, 2017).

         On August 7, 2017, Strattman filed a request for relief, assigned ARP No. HDQ-2017-2091, under the Louisiana Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure Act (CARP), LSA-R.S. 15:1171, et seq. Strattman sought relief pursuant to Act 281, arguing that the repeal of LSA-R.S. 14:2(B)(25) operates retroactively, such that he is no longer a violent offender subject to the good time calculation of three days for every seventeen days. Rather, Strattman argued that he is now eligible to benefit from the good time calculation applicable to non-violent offenders as set forth in LSA-R.S. 15:571.3(B)(1)(a) and (b)(ii). The Department denied Strattman relief.

         On March 16, 2018, Strattman filed a petition for judicial review in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court ("19th JDC"). The 19th JDC Commissioner ("Commissioner") issued a recommendation that the Department's decision be affirmed.[1] After considering the entire record and Strattman's traversal, the district court executed a September 17, 2018 judgment in which it adopted the Commissioner's report as reasons, affirmed the Department's decision to deny relief in ARP No. HDQ-2017-2091, and dismissed the suit with prejudice. Strattman filed a notice of intent to seek writs on October 17, 2018, and filed a motion and order for appeal on December 20, 2018.[2] The writ application, which was assigned No. 2018 CW 1501, was referred to the panel to which the appeal was assigned on February 15, 2019. As Strattman raises the same arguments in the writ and appeal, we consider and address those arguments in tandem herein.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Enacted in 1985, CARP authorized the DPSC to adopt and implement an administrative remedy procedure for receiving, hearing, and disposing of any and all inmate complaints and grievances. LSA-R.S. 15:1171-72; Gilmer v. Louisiana Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corn, 2015-0134 (La.App. 1 Or. 9/18/15), 181 So.3d 746, 748. As provided in CARP, an offender aggrieved by an adverse decision rendered pursuant to any administrative remedy procedure can institute proceedings for judicial review by filing a petition for judicial review in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court. LSA-R.S. 15:1177(A). On review of the agency's decision, the district court functions as an appellate court. Its review shall be confined to the record and shall be limited to the issues presented in the petition for review and the administrative remedy request filed at the agency level. LSA-R.S. 15:1177(A)(5). The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings or order that additional evidence be taken. LSA-R.S. 15:1177(A)(8). The court may reverse or modify the administrative decision only if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are: (1) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions, (2) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency, (3) made upon unlawful procedure, (4) affected by other error of law, (5) arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion, or (6) manifestly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record. LSA-R.S. 15:1177(A)(9); Edwards v. Bunch, 2007-1421 (La.App. 1 Or. 3/26/08), 985 So.2d 149, 152.

         On review of the district court's judgment in a suit for judicial review under LSA-R.S. 15:1177, no deference is owed by the court of appeal to the factual findings or legal conclusions of the district court, just as no deference is owed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to factual ...


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