Court rules on prison disciplinary action case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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A divided Indiana Supreme Court issued a ruling on a prison discipline suit Tuesday, with one of the dissenting justices writing that the majority decision removes judicial review and violates both federal and state constitutions.

In Aaron Israel v. Indiana Department of Correction, 46S03-0706-CV-253, justices came down 3-2 on dismissing a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Authoring Justice Frank Sullivan was joined by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Robert Rucker. Dissenting justices were Ted Boehm and Brent Dickson.

"The majority today expands its view of the sweep of (Indiana Code section 4-21.5-2-5(6)) to eliminate court jurisdiction of any claim tangentially related to prisoner discipline," Justice Boehm wrote, noting a 2005 decision in Blanck v. Indiana DOC that effectively eliminated judicial review on inmate disciplinary actions. "This is contrary to precedent and, I submit, cannot be correct."

Justice Boehm goes on to write that as interpreted by the majority, the statute violates both state and federal constitutions in that it goes against the openness of courts to all people.

"Even if the State's interest in avoiding mass inmate litigation over DOC disciplinary actions is compelling, the majority's reading of the statute insulates even illegal discipline from judicial review and denies access to the courts to assert conventional claims such as Israel's breach of contract," he wrote. "If read this broadly, the statute is not narrowly tailored to vindicate the state's interest."

While Justice Rucker agreed with the majority here, he wrote in a paragraph concurrence that he thinks Blanck was wrongly decided - a reason why he wrote separately.

"But Blanck and the authority on which it rests, is now settled law, namely: the enforcement of prison disciplinary sanctions are not subject to judicial review," he wrote.

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