FROM FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE THOMAS D. WINGATE,
JUDGE ACTION NO. 18-CI-00423
FOR APPELLANT: Ronald Hopkins, Pro Se LaGrange, Kentucky.
FOR APPELLEE: Kristin Wehking Department of Corrections
BEFORE: CLAYTON, CHIEF JUDGE; ACREE AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.
Hopkins, pro se, brings this appeal from a June 7,
2018, Order of the Franklin Circuit Court dismissing his
Petition for a Declaration of Rights regarding the Department
of Corrections' Policies and Procedures (CPP) governing
inmates' finances. We affirm.
is an inmate at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange.
According to Hopkins, in 2016, an inmate account supervisor
helped him open an account at a bank in Lexington, Kentucky,
in which he eventually deposited over $6, 200, by way of
transfers from his institutional account at the prison.
Effective October 1, 2016, the Department of Corrections
amended CPP 15.7 to prohibit an inmate from sending money
outside the institution and limited an inmate from having
access to more than $1, 000 in their institutional account
(with any amounts over that cap to be frozen).
2017, Hopkins sent Warden Aaron Smith a letter asking to send
money from his institutional account to his bank in
Lexington, claiming he was at the $1, 000 maximum in his
institutional account. Smith responded simply,
"Unfortunately, I will not be able to grant your
request." Record on appeal at 28. Hopkins then filed a
grievance, writing on the grievance form that he "was
told that I can't send the money from my inmate account
that is at the $1000.00 limit too [sic] my bank in
Lexington[, ] Ky." Record on appeal at 20. In the
"action requested" section of the grievance form
Hopkins wrote that he "would like to be able to send my
money off my books/account to my bank in Lexington[, ]
grievance was summarily denied at the informal resolution
stage due to the prohibition in CPP 15.7 on inmates sending
money outside the institution. Hopkins then requested relief
from the grievance committee, but a majority of that body
affirmed, though one member of the committee dissented.
Warden Smith then denied Hopkins' request for relief in
February 2018. Hopkins then sought review by the Commissioner
of the Department of Corrections, but the record does not
contain any ruling by the Commissioner. Hopkins filed his
Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the Franklin Circuit
Court on May 4, 2018.
petition named Warden Smith and James Erwin,
then-Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, as
respondents. In lieu of filing an answer, on June 4, 2018,
Smith and Erwin filed a joint motion to dismiss/motion for
summary judgment arguing, as they do before this Court, that
the petition was without merit because CPP 15.7 related to
"institutional safety, including, but not limited to[, ]
preventing inmates from using external unmonitored accounts
to hire others to engage in activities that incarceration
prevents them from doing-engaging in illicit activities,
harassing victims, etc." Record on appeal at 45. Three
days later, the trial court issued an order granting the
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted pursuant to Kentucky Rules of Civil
Procedure (CR) 12.02(f). Hopkins then filed a motion to alter,
amend, or vacate, urging the court to reconsider due to the
allegedly draconian impact of the policies at issue. By order
entered June 27, 2018, the trial court denied Hopkins'
motion to alter, amend, or vacate. This appeal follows.
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under CR
12.02(f) is a question of law and is therefore subject to
de novo review. Campbell v. Ballard, 559
S.W.3d 869, 870 (Ky. App. 2018) (citing Carruthers v.
Edwards, 395 S.W.3d 488, 491 (Ky. App. 2012)). The
pleadings must be liberally construed in a light most
favorable to petitioner, and the allegations contained in the
complaint are taken as true. Id. at 870-71.
generally give "deference and flexibility" to
prison officials "in the fine-tuning of the ordinary
incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner,
515 U.S. 472, 482-83 (1995) (citations omitted). Thus, though
"prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the
prison gate," incarceration inherently limits a
prisoner's rights. Id. at 485 (citations
omitted). To set forth an actionable violation of a liberty
interest protected by the Due Process Clause, a prisoner must
show that the challenged institutional action "imposes
[an] atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in
relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life."
Id. at 484. In short, "a highly deferential
standard of judicial review is constitutionally appropriate
with respect to both the factfinding that underlies prison
disciplinary decisions and the construction of prison
regulations." Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d
353, 357 (Ky. App. 1997).
primary argument, as we have gleaned from his pro se
brief, is that CPP 15.7 violates his rights by limiting his
control over, and access to, his monetary funds. The parties
have not cited, nor have we independently located, any
precedent addressing the propriety of the challenged portions
of CPP 15.7.Hopkins' argument to the contrary
notwithstanding, the validity and interpretation of the
relevant policies present questions of law, not issues of
disputed facts. For purposes of our review, we accept
Hopkins' contentions that he has an outside bank account
in which he cannot deposit funds and is only able to access
$1, 000 in his institutional account.
to Hopkins' belief, CPP 15.7 does not confiscate his
funds. The money in his outside bank account remains his, as
do the funds in his inmate account. Even if we accept, solely
for the sake of argument, that Hopkins has a property
interest in his prison account and his outside account, his
money is not being taken. Instead, CPP 15.7 temporarily
restricts his access to some of his funds and "there is
a difference between the inmate's ownership rights in the