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Searcy v. Idaho State Board of Correction

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 22, 2016

BARRY SEARCY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IDAHO STATE BOARD OF CORRECTION, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, CAROLYN MELINE, JIM TIBBS, JAY NIELSEN, ROBIN SANDY, ANNA JANE DRESSEN, BRENT REINKE, PAM SONNEN, TONY MEATTE, SUSAN FUJINAGA, THEO LOWE, and SHIRLEY AUDENS, in their official capacities and as State employees, Defendants-Respondents, and DOES 1 through 10, fictitiously named persons, Defendants.

         2016 Opinion No. 81

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Thomas F. Neville, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

          Barry Searcy, Boise, pro se appellant.

          Brassey Crawford, PLLC, Boise, for respondents.

          ON THE BRIEFS

          HORTON, Justice.

         This is case involves a claim that prison inmates are unlawfully charged certain fees. The district court granted summary judgment, dismissing the claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted Searcy's petition for review and likewise affirm the district court's decision.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Searcy is an inmate in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC). On May 18, 2011, he filed a civil complaint, naming as defendants the Idaho State Board of Correction, IDOC, and various individual defendants in their official capacities (collectively "the Board"). Searcy's complaint alleged that the Board illegally charges inmates fees for: (1) commissary goods; (2) telephone calls; (3) photocopying; (4) medical service co-pays; and (5) hobby supplies.[1] The Legislature had not provided express statutory authorization for any of these fees at the time that Searcy brought this action. Instead, the fees were imposed based upon IDOC policy or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

         Searcy's complaint contained three counts. Count I alleged that raising revenue through the disputed fees exceeded the Board's rulemaking authority under Idaho Code section 20-212 and caused a wrongful forfeiture of property in violation of Idaho Code section 18-314. That count also alleged that the Board's action invaded the province of the Legislature in violation of "the provisions of Idaho Constitution, Article II, Section 1; Article VII, Sections 2, 5 and/or 16; Article X, Section 1." Count II alleged a violation of the Idaho Tort Claims Act. Count III alleged a civil conspiracy by the State to commit tortious acts and violate Idaho's Constitution and statutes. On October 20, 2011, Searcy moved for partial summary judgment. On March 6, 2012, the Board moved for summary judgment on all of Searcy's claims.

         On June 13, 2012, the district court issued a decision denying Searcy's motion for summary judgment in part, granting the Board's motion for summary judgment in part, and setting a schedule for additional briefing. In that decision, the district court granted the Board's motion for summary judgment dismissing Counts II and III of Searcy's complaint. With regard to Count I, the district court denied Searcy's motion and granted the Board's motion, dismissing Searcy's claims regarding: (1) telephone and commissary fees, reasoning they were authorized by Idaho Code section 67-3611; (2) the hobby supply fee as it related to Searcy's claim under Article X, Section 1 and Article VII, Sections 2 and 16 of the Idaho Constitution; and (3) Searcy's forfeiture claim under Idaho Code section 18-314. This narrowed the issues in the case to the portions of Count I dealing with Searcy's claims under Article II, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution regarding hobby supply, medical co-pay, and photocopy fees; and (2) medical co-pay and photocopy fees under Article X, Section 1 and Article VII, Sections 2 and 16 of the Idaho Constitution.

         The parties filed additional briefing and Searcy sought reconsideration of the district court's grant of partial summary judgment in the Board's favor. On May 16, 2013, the district court issued a decision denying Searcy's motion to reconsider, denying Searcy's motion for partial summary judgment, and granting the Board's motion for summary judgment. The district court took judicial notice that the Board had promulgated Idaho Administrative Procedure Act (IDAPA) rules following its June 13, 2012, decision, which addressed the hobby supply, photocopy, and medical co-pay fees. The district court reasoned that this remedial action, subjecting the rules to legislative oversight, meant the Board did not violate the separation of powers under Article II, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution. The district court also determined that the remedial action rendered any claim that the fees should have been promulgated under Idaho Code section 20-212 moot. As to Searcy's Idaho Constitution, Article VII, Sections 2 and 16 claims, the district court determined the medical co-pay and photocopy fees were not unconstitutional taxes. On Searcy's Idaho Constitution, Article X, Section 1 claim, the district court determined that the Board's remedial action meant they did not exceed the authority granted to them under the Idaho Constitution.

         Searcy appealed, and his claims "solely challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment as to Count I" were heard by the Court of Appeals. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed. Searcy petitioned for review, which this Court granted.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "When a case comes before this Court on a petition for review from a Court of Appeals decision, serious consideration is given to the views of the Court of Appeals, but this Court reviews the decision of the lower court directly." Kelly v. State, 149 Idaho 517, 521, 236 P.3d 1277, 1281 (2010). "When this Court reviews a district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment, it employs the same standard properly employed by the district court when originally ruling on the motion." Chandler v. Hayden, 147 Idaho 765, 768, 215 P.3d 485, 488 (2009). "Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the only remaining questions are questions of law." Id. We may affirm a grant of summary judgment on alternative grounds that were presented to but not relied upon by the district court. Commercial Ventures, Inc. v. Rex M. & Lynn Lea Family Trust, 145 Idaho 208, 217–18, 177 P.3d 955, 964– 65 (2008).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Searcy argues that the fees are unconstitutional taxes; IDOC acted outside its constitutional authority because funds used to support the penal system can only be raised through taxation; and IDOC violated the separation of powers, in part, because it did not follow the correct rulemaking process. We address these issues in turn.

         A. The fees at issue are not unconstitutional taxes.

         The district court found that each of the disputed fees in this case were "user fees."[2] In his petition for review, Searcy contends the district court erred because the commissary, telephone, medical co-pay, and photocopy fees cannot be upheld as valid regulatory fees.

         Taxation is a power that has been granted to the Legislature. Article VII, Section 2 of the Idaho Constitution provides:

The legislature shall provide such revenue as may be needful, by levying a tax by valuation, so that every person or corporation shall pay a tax in proportion to the value of his, her, or its property, except as in this article hereinafter otherwise provided. The legislature may also impose a license tax, both upon natural persons and upon corporations, other than municipal, doing business in this state; also a per capita tax: provided, the legislature may exempt a limited amount of improvements upon land from taxation.

         Additionally, the Idaho Constitution provides: "The legislature shall pass all laws necessary to carry out the provisions of this article." Idaho Const. art. VII, § 16.

         Because the Board concedes it does not have the power to tax, the issue on appeal is whether the fees are valid fees or unconstitutional taxes. We have explained the distinction as follows: "In a general sense a fee is a charge for a direct public service rendered to the particular consumer, while a tax is a forced contribution by the public at large to meet public needs." Brewster v. City of Pocatello, 115 Idaho 502, 505, 768 P.2d 765, 768 (1988); see also Potts Const. Co. v. N. Kootenai Water Dist., 141 Idaho 678, 681, 116 P.3d 8, 11 (2005). "[T]axes are solely for the purpose of raising revenue" whereas fees are charged for services that are rendered. BHA Investments, Inc. v. State, 138 Idaho 348, 353, 63 P.3d 474, 479 (2003). The amount of a fee "must bear a reasonable relation to the thing to be accomplished." Foster's, Inc., v. Boise City, 63 Idaho 201, 219, 118 P.2d 721, 728 (1941).

         IDOC collects fees on commissary services under SOP 114.03.03.014 and Policy 406. These fees are up to twenty-five percent of the price of commissary goods. Due to the elective nature of buying commissary goods, commissary fees are permissible because they are a charge for a direct service rendered to the particular inmate. The fee on commissary goods cannot be said to be a tax because it is not a forced contribution by inmates at large to meet general inmate needs. ...


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