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Miller v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

December 3, 2019

JOHN O. MILLER, Plaintiff and Appellant,

          Submitted on Briefs: October 9, 2019

          District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. BDV 2017-619 Honorable Michael F. McMahon, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: John O. Miller, Self-Represented, Deer Lodge, Montana

          For Appellees: Kyle P. Chenoweth, Assistant Attorney General, Agency Legal Services Bureau, Helena, Montana


         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 This is the second appeal John O. Miller has brought involving an October 30, 2015 hearing before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole (Board).[1] Miller filed two civil complaints, one in the First Judicial District on August 8, 2017-the case before us now-and another in the Third Judicial District, Powell County, on November 28, 2017. He alleged before the Powell County District Court that the Board "breached its statutory duties by negligently committing errors during his parole hearing and by then unnecessarily delaying reconsideration of parole." Miller v. State, No. DA 18-0310, 2018 MT 240N, ¶ 3, 2018 Mont. LEXIS 324. We affirmed the court's May 22, 2018 dismissal of Miller's complaint, concluding that "Miller had presented no evidence that the Board members exceeded the course and scope of their duties, the Board did not violate Mont. Admin. R. 20.25.501 when it ruled upon Miller's request for reconsideration, and providing Miller with a rehearing did not violate § 46-23-201(5), MCA." Miller, ¶ 7.

         ¶3 Miller's complaint in the First Judicial District alleged that the Board, its members, and staff violated his rights under the Montana Constitution to due process and to examine public agency records and documents when the Board allegedly failed to provide Miller a copy of his parole packet prior to the October 30, 2015 hearing. Miller also claimed that the Board violated a newly enacted law that required it to video-record parole hearings. Section 46-23-110(1)(b), MCA (2015). Miller alleged that the Defendants' actions were taken willfully and in wanton disregard of Miller's constitutional and statutory rights.

         ¶4 On February 4, 2019, the District Court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Miller's complaint with prejudice, noting that this Court affirmed the Powell County District Court's holding that "Defendants have quasi-judicial immunity from Plaintiffs claims for damages" and ruling that "Miller has already litigated the alleged October [30], 2015 parole hearing failures."

         ¶5 Miller argues on appeal that the District Court improperly barred his complaint. He contends that his claims were not raised or decided in the Powell County case, which involved only whether the new Board chair could set another re-appearance date for Miller earlier than an October 2019 date set by his original hearing panel and after the administrative appeals process had been fully exhausted. The State agrees that principles of res judicata and claim preclusion do not bar Miller's claims but argues that all Defendants are protected by quasi-judicial and statutory immunity and that Miller has failed to raise a viable claim regarding access to his parole file.

         ¶6 Miller's appeal presents one dispositive issue: can he state a civil claim for damages or declaratory relief for the Board's alleged failures to timely provide him with his parole file or video-record his hearing, when the Board granted him a video-recorded rehearing, provided his parole file in advance, and denied his request for parole? We conclude that the answer is no and affirm the dismissal of Miller's complaint.

         ¶7 Miller was convicted in 1991 on his plea of guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide. He was sentenced to concurrent life terms and declared ineligible for parole for twenty-four years. The sentencing court directed that Miller undergo a further psychological evaluation before being released on parole to determine whether, "in the professional opinion of a qualified person, [Miller] is safe to be released into the general society and the protection of society does not require [Miller's] further incarceration." In July 2015, prior to his first parole consideration, Miller spent about half an hour reviewing his parole file, except for documents determined to have privilege, privacy, or penological interests that precluded their release. Miller's first hearing before the Board was October 30, 2015. He had sent the Board a request for his parole file several days before the hearing but did not receive the file prior to the hearing. The Board was unable to secure staff to conduct audio-video recording but made a complete audio recording of the hearing. It denied Miller parole, citing the seriousness of his offenses and Miller's failure to obtain the required psychological evaluation.

         ¶8 Though he raised no concerns during the October 2015 hearing, Miller sent a "kite" (inmate correspondence) to the Board in early December requesting reconsideration of his hearing. Among other reasons, Miller objected that his October 30, 2015 hearing was not video-recorded and that he had not been afforded an opportunity to view his "Parole Book/Packet" prior to the hearing. The Board's executive director, Timothy Allred, advised the Board of Miller's request, explaining that staff had worked diligently but unsuccessfully to secure video capability before the hearing and that it had been unable to process Miller's request for his parole file prior to the hearing due to the need for Board staff to review the parole packet in advance and redact any information protected from disclosure. The Board denied Miller's request for reconsideration on December 29, 2015.

         ¶9 Miller again contacted the Board on September 18, 2017, requesting a rehearing. On November 16, 2017, the Board granted Miller a rehearing and scheduled it for February 2018. Board staff supplied Miller with his parole packet in January 2018, and Miller appeared before the Board on February 28 for the hearing. The hearing was ...

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