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Liberty Interest Necessary to Trigger Arkansas Judicial Review

Liberty Interest Necessary to Trigger Arkansas Judicial Review


by Mark Wilson


The Arkansas Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a prisoner’s state judicial review action because he failed to assert a constitutional violation.

Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) prisoner James Chadwick Renfro said he had entered into an agreement with prison officials that allowed him to make and send greeting cards as a hobby craft. However, the ADC subsequently implemented an administrative directive that changed the rules governing that privilege. Prison officials then relied on the new directive to impose and uphold a disciplinary action against Renfro for what he claimed would have been allowable conduct under the original agreement. He also argued the disciplinary action violated applicable ADC rules.

Renfro brought a state judicial review and declaratory judgment suit challenging the dismissal of his disciplinary grievance, the application of the new administrative directive and prison policies which allegedly violated ADC officials’ contractual obligations.

The circuit court denied relief, concluding that Renfro’s suit “was barred under the Arkansas Administrative Review Act, codified as Arkansas Code Annotated sections 25-15-201 to -217 ... because the Act specifically exempts inmate actions and [Renfro] failed to state facts regarding the alleged violation sufficient to create a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”

Conducting a de novo review, the Arkansas Supreme Court noted that in Clinton v. Bonds, 306 Ark. 554, 816 S.W.2d 169 (Ark. 1991), it had held the Act “unconstitutional to the extent that it deprived inmates of review of constitutional questions.” Thus, when a prisoner “challenges a disciplinary proceeding and the ADC officials’ implementation of ADC rules, the petitioner must raise a constitutional question sufficient to raise a liberty interest merely to fall within the classification of claims subject to judicial review.”

Although Renfro argued “that he lost his craft tools and supplies, income, and certain privileges,” the Court held that none of his claims was “sufficient to assert a deprivation of a liberty interest.”

The Supreme Court concluded that Renfro had “failed to sustain a claim under section 25-15-212 to support a judicial review of the ADC’s decision,” and the dismissal of his suit was therefore affirmed. See: Renfro v. Smith, 2013 Ark. 40 (Ark. 2013).


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Related legal case

Renfro v. Smith