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Arriola v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

June 15, 2018

ANTONIO ARRIOLA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          GREGORY F. VAN TATENHOVE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter originated in Kentucky state court and was removed to this Court upon the amendment of the complaint and added federal claims. Before it was removed, the Franklin County Circuit Court Judge issued an Order requiring the Kentucky Department of Corrections to conduct an audit of their educational records. Rather than comply with that Order, Defendants have filed several motions requesting this Court modify the Circuit Court Order and allow the Defendants to amend their Class Action Notice. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions are DENIED.

         I

         After five years of litigation, this matter was removed from Franklin Circuit Court to this Court on December 6, 2017. Plaintiffs are a certified class of current and former inmates in the care and custody of Defendants Commonwealth of Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC), and Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet (the Cabinet), all three collectively referred to as the “Institutional Defendants.” In addition, Plaintiffs have named, individually, Defendant J. Michael Brown, former Secretary of the Cabinet; Defendant John Tilley, current Secretary of the Cabinet; Defendant LaDonna Thompson, former Commissioner of the KDOC; Defendant Rodney Ballard, current Commissioner of the KDOC; Defendant James Erwin, Deputy Commissioner of Adult Institutions; and Defendant Chris E. Cropp is employed in KDOC's Education Branch. [R. 6 at 3-4.] Defendants Brown, Thompson, Erwin, and Cropp are collectively referred to as the “individual KDOC Defendants.”

         Kentucky law states, (1) Any person convicted and sentenced to a state penal institution

         (a) Shall receive a credit on his or her sentence for:

1. Prior confinement as specified in KRS 532.120;
2. Successfully receiving a High School Equivalency Diploma or a high school diploma, a two (2) or four (4) year college degree, a two (2) year or four (4) year degree in applied sciences, a completed technical education program, or an online or correspondence education program, each as provided and defined by the department, or a civics education program that requires passing a final exam, in the amount of ninety (90) days per diploma, degree, or technical education program completed; and
3. Successfully completing a drug treatment program or other evidence-based program approved by the department, in the amount of not more than ninety (90) days for each program completed . . .

KRS § 197.045(1). The provisions of § 197.045(1)(a)(2) apply retroactively to July 15, 2011. § 197.045(6). Plaintiffs claim the Defendants did not attribute proper sentence credit for Plaintiffs' completion of educational and behavioral programs, as mandated in § 197.045. According to Plaintiffs' complaint, the mismanagement of these sentence credits not only violates Kentucky law, but also violates Plaintiffs' rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Sections Two and Three of the Kentucky Constitution. [R. 6 at 7.]

         This matter was initially filed on September 11, 2012, in Franklin Circuit Court in Franklin County, Kentucky. [R. 14-1 at 1.] After years of discovery and failed mediation attempts, Judge Phillip J. Shepherd of Franklin Circuit Court certified Plaintiffs' class action on June 3, 2015. Id. at 2. Judge Shepherd concluded that the inmates were entitled to Educational Good Time (EGT) credit earned since July 15, 2011, and denial of such credit was a deprivation of their due process rights under the Kentucky Constitution and the United States Constitution. Id. Additionally, Judge Shepherd found that KDOC's administration of the EGT program was arbitrary and capricious, and granted declaratory and injunctive relief to the Plaintiff class. Id. at 3. However, he reserved ruling on the appropriate remedies. Id. Plaintiffs requested an independent audit of Defendants' records, but Judge Shepherd held that request in abeyance while parties participated in mediation under Hon. C. Cleveland Gambill. Id.

         Defendants then agreed to produce a list of class members who had participated in EGT courses, including information such as which courses the inmates took, when they took these courses, whether KDOC awarded credit after course completion, and how much EGT credit was awarded (the List). Id. Judge Gambill oversaw discovery, and, although Defendants produced numerous documents, no List was ever disclosed. Id. at 4-5. Judge Shepherd held hearings to discuss discovery and a potential independent audit on May 8, 2017, and July 17, 2017. Id. at 5.

         According to findings by Judge Shepherd on November 7, 2017, Defendants issued a Request for Information (RFI) to find independent parties interested in conducting an audit of their correctional educational records and to determine the estimated duration and cost of this proposed audit. Id. at 8. However, the RFI was coded for “education and training consulting, ” rather than for audits. Id. The only entity that responded to the RFI had been alerted by Plaintiffs' counsel, as the inaccurate commodity code failed to trigger a notification. Id. at 9. Defendants also conducted a BETA test at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in an attempt to estimate the number of inmates who had not received appropriate EGT credits. Id. at 10-11. Judge Shepherd found this test an inaccurate indicator, however, due to the limited nature of the test and the difficulties inmates faced in finding and copying their EGT documentation. Id. at 11; 17.

         Because keeping accurate accounts was the responsibility of the Defendants, and because the Defendants had not been able to provide the requested List, Judge Shepherd directed Defendants to facilitate an independent audit to produce “a comprehensive list of all class members who have taken correctional education and behavioral programming courses since 2007.” Id. at 19. This list would indicate which inmates took which courses, when inmates took such courses, whether KDOC awarded sentence credits to appropriate class members for completing these courses, and how much credit was awarded to each inmate. Id. Furthermore, Judge Shepherd required Defendants to provide individual notice of the class action to all class members. Id. Furthermore, Judge Shepherd prohibited Defendants from communication with class members ...


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