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Mississippi Supreme Court Applies Pro Se Leniency in Reversing Dismissal of Prisoner’s Lawsuit Challenging Prison Disciplinary Action

by Matt Clarke

On April 29, 2021, the Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the dismissal of a Mississippi Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoner’s pro se lawsuit challenging a prison disciplinary action. In doing so, the court applied pro se leniency and accepted service of the petition for judicial review (PJR) on the prison as notice to the parties of intent to seek judicial review.

DOC prisoner Larry Chapin Hesler, II received a Rule Violation Report for an alleged altercation with another prisoner. He filed a complaint through the DOC’s Administrative Remedies Program (ARP) and received a final decision from the warden. He then filed a PJR in the circuit court.

Noting that Hesler had signed the warden’s ARP decision on April 17, 2019, but the PJR was not filed until June 4, 2019, the court found it lack jurisdiction to consider the petition because it had not been filed within the 30-day time limit set forth in Miss. Code § 47-5-107. Hesler appealed.

The court of appeals held that the petition was timely as it had been mailed by Hesler within the 30-day limit and a prisoner’s document is considered filed when the prisoner mails it, not when the circuit clerk receives it. However, the court also found that there was nothing in the record to show that Hesler provided notice to the parties of his intent to seek judicial review as required by Uniform Civil Rule of Circuit and County Court 5.04. Therefore, the court held that the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction and should dismiss the PJR. Hesler filed a petition for review.

The Mississippi Supreme Court granted review. The court noted that service of process is not required when a prisoner files a PJR, but the prisoner is required to give notice of the intent to seek judicial review to all parties. The court noted that a “Certificate of Service” was attached to Hesler’s PJR. It stated that a copy of the PJR had been mailed to the Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility on May 14, 2019. The record also contained a document entitled “Mississippi Department of Corrections Mail Transaction History Legal Timeframe 05/01/2019 between 05/31/2019” showing Hesler mailed a document entitled “MOT JUD REVIEW” to “ACRCF, CORINTH, MS” on May 14, 2019, well within the 30-day limit.

The court acknowledged that Hesler had failed to give notice to the DOC or attorney general, but noted that he was proceeding pro se and should be granted “some degree of leniency.” Because he made a good faith effort by giving notice to the prison, the decisions of the court of appeals and the circuit court were reversed and the case remanded to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with the opinion. See: Hesler v. Alcorn Cty. Corr. Facility, 315 So.3d 1040 (Miss. 2021). 

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Related legal case

Hesler v. Alcorn Cty. Corr. Facility