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Tennessee: Fine Imposed on Prisoner for Refusing Drug Test Reversed

In this strongly-worded opinion decrying the state attorney general's
litigation practices, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that a
prisoner's petition challenging the imposition of a fine for refusing to
take a drug test stated a claim.

On October 4, 2000, officials at the Southeast Regional Correctional
Facility asked prisoner Gregory Hedges and his cellmate, Thomas Carter, to
submit to a urinalysis. The next day officials requested another sample
from both men because, according to the laboratory, the previous specimens
appeared to have been tampered with. While providing the second sample,
Carter was caught filling the urinalysis container with urine from a glove
taped to his leg. After Carter was caught, Hedges refused to provide
another sample. A pat search revealed a bottle of urine taped to Hedges'
leg. Both men were charged with refusing a drug screen and attempting to
alter a drug screen.

Following a hearing by the disciplinary board in which he was found
guilty, Hedges was sentenced to 20 days in segregation and fined $4 for
the disciplinary conviction and $25 for refusing to provide a urine sample.
Upon exhausting his administrative remedies, Hedges filed a pro se
petition for common-law writ of certiorari in the Circuit Court for
Davidson County, claiming that the Department of Corrections (DOC) "had
acted arbitrarily by failing to follow its drug testing procedures and by
fining him twenty-five dollars for refusing to take a drug test when he
had only been convicted of attempting to alter a drug test." Represented
by the attorney general, the DOC chose not to provide a record of the
disciplinary proceedings, instead filing "its customary conclusory
Tenn.R.Civ.P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss," which the trial court granted.
Hedges appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding:
1) "The sole purpose of [a] Tenn.R.Civ.P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss is
to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not the strength of the
petitioner's evidence."

2) Because the DOC failed to provide a record of the disciplinary
proceedings, Hedges' version of events must be viewed as true.

3) The DOC did not violate its published drug testing policy when it
requested a second sample from Hedges.

4) Hedges stated a claim on which relief could be granted. The Court held
in Jeffries v. Tennessee Department of Corrections, 108 S.W.3d 862 (Tenn.
Ct. App. 2002), that (a) Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293,
132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995) did not "apply to a prisoner's due process claims
predicated on the loss of a property interest," and (b) Tennessee
prisoners have a property interest in their prison trust fund accounts
which is protected by the due process clause. Thus, viewing Hedges' claim
that he was not convicted of refusing to take a drug test as true, the
appellate court held, "Without a basis for imposing the fine, the
Department acted arbitrarily and capriciously and violated Mr. Hedges' due
process rights when it ordered him to pay the fine."

Even so, the appeals court noted that nothing in the opinion prevented the
DOC "from convening a hearing with regard to the charge of refusing to
take a drug screening test," and if it chose to do so, "Mr. Hedges'
factual statements in his petition ... can be viewed as admissions." This
case was not published in S.W.3d. See: Hedges v. Tennessee Department of
Corrections, No. M2002-00140-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).

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Related legal case

Hedges v. Tennessee Department of Corrections