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Petition Challenging Disciplinary Hearing Not Mooted After Prison Rescinds Sanction

by Lonnie Burton

On April 22, 2016, the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed a ruling by the Leavenworth County District Court dismissing a habeas petition filed by a prisoner challenging the findings and sanctions imposed at a prison disciplinary proceeding. The district court had held that because prison officials rescinded the sanctions after the petition was filed, it was moot.

The case began in December 2014 when Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF) guard R. Maddox charged prisoner Vaccaro Stano with a disciplinary report for being intoxicated. Following a disciplinary hearing a month later, Stano was found guilty and the hearing officer imposed sanctions that included a $10 fine and 60-day restriction of privileges. The 60-day restriction was suspended, and the LCF warden and Secretary of Corrections denied Stano’s appeals and affirmed the findings and sanctions.

Stano filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to K.S.A. 2015 Supp. 60-1501, alleging that the disciplinary hearing was not held in a timely manner, evidence and witnesses were withheld, and there was insufficient evidence to support the guilty finding.

Twelve days after the habeas petition was filed, the district court ordered LCF to produce Stano for an evidentiary hearing. LCF then rescinded the $10 fine and filed a motion to dismiss the petition, arguing it was now moot. The district court agreed, holding that Stano no longer had a liberty interest at stake since the fine had been rescinded.

Stano appealed and the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed. “It is apparent that LCF rescinded the fine precisely to moot the case,” the Court wrote. Noting that prison officials had not expunged Stano’s disciplinary conviction, “LCF’s act of rescinding the fine only after litigation was commenced and only after the district court had ordered that Stano’s presence in court fails to ... give us a reasonable expectation that such an occurrence would not recur,” the appellate court held.

The Court of Appeals further found that allowing the rescission of a fine in such circumstances to moot a case after it had been filed would give “every correctional facility in the state an incentive to impose a fine in a disciplinary case, safe in the knowledge that any court action brought by an inmate to challenge such fine could be mooted.”

The Court termed that outcome “intolerable,” in that prison authorities must be convinced of the “appropriateness of imposing a fine on an inmate before doing so, and such facility should not be allowed to retreat simply because the prisoner files a lawsuit.”

The district court’s order of dismissal was therefore reversed and remanded for a determination of whether Stano’s due process rights had been violated. See: Stano v. Pryor, 52 Kan.App.2d 679, 372 P.3d 427 (Kan. Ct. App. 2016). 

Related legal case

Stano v. Pryor