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Heilman v. Courtney

Supreme Court of Minnesota

April 24, 2019

Donald G. Heilman Appellant,
v.
Patrick C. Courtney, as Program Manager for Minnesota Department of Corrections, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          A. L. Brown, Capitol City Law Group, LLC, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Janine Kimble, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          William Ward, Minnesota State Public Defender, Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Board of Public Defense.

          Mahesha P. Subbaraman, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Appellate Practice Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The issue of when a felon's conditional-release term began under Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d) (2018), was sufficiently raised below and was properly before the court of appeals.

         2. A felon who participated in the Challenge Incarceration Program, Minn. Stat. §§ 244.17-.173 (2018), was "released from prison" for purposes of his conditional-release term under Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d), when he entered phase II of the Program.

          OPINION

          ANDERSON, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Donald Heilman, a participant in the Challenge Incarceration Program administered by the Department of Corrections (Department), contends that he was "released from prison" within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d) (2018), when he entered phase II of that program. Heilman asserts that, under the correct statutory analysis, the State failed to calculate his conditional-release term correctly and revoked his conditional release improperly after it had already ended.[1] The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to the State on Heilman's ensuing false-imprisonment and negligence claims, and the court of appeals affirmed. Heilman v. Courtney, 906 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Minn.App. 2017). We reverse and remand to the court of appeals.

         FACTS

         On September 13, 2004, Heilman was sentenced to a stayed 51-month prison sentence for a conviction of first-degree driving while impaired (DWI). See Minn. Stat. § 169A.24 (2018). The district court also imposed a 5-year conditional-release term as required by law. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d) ("[W]hen the court commits a person to the custody of the commissioner of corrections [for first-degree DWI], it shall provide that after the person has been released from prison the commissioner shall place the person on conditional release for five years."). Following a probation revocation hearing, Heilman's prison sentence was executed on May 22, 2007.

         In December 2007, Heilman entered the Department's Challenge Incarceration Program (Program). See Minn. Stat. §§ 244.17-.173 (2018). The Program consists of three statutory phases. See Minn. Stat. § 244.172 (laying out phases). Phase I, commonly called "boot camp," restricts participants to confinement "at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Willow River/Moose Lake or the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Togo[.]" Id., subd. 1. While confined, phase I participants receive "[i]ntensive instruction in military drill and ceremony, military bearing, customs, and courtesy." Minn. Dep't of Corr., Policies, Directives and Instructions Manual, Policy 204.060, at (C)(4) (Nov. 7, 2017) [opinion attachment]. They also participate in chemical-dependency-treatment programs and work programs. Minn. Stat. § 244.172, subd. 1.

         Heilman finished phase I boot camp in July 2008 and entered phase II of the Program, which allowed him to live at his home. Though at his home, Heilman remained subject to "intensive supervision and surveillance." Minn. Stat. § 244.172, subd. 2. The Department characterizes a phase II participant as committed to "house arrest." Minn. Dep't of Corr., Policies, Directives and Instructions Manual, Division Directive 204.061, at (J)(4) (July 26, 2016) [opinion attachment]. The phase II participant is subject to random drug testing. Minn. Stat. § 244.172, subd. 2. Department agents "must have reasonable access to the offender's residence on an ongoing basis." Division Directive 204.061, at (J)(2). "Access may occur any time of the day or night." Id. A phase II participant has limited social time. See id. at (J)(4) (allowing more social time as progress is made through phases II and III). The Department sets a curfew, limits visitors, and must preapprove social activities, including religious worship. Id. at (J)(4)-(6). Much of the participant's phase II time must be spent engaging in "constructive activity." See id. at (J)(7) ("All offenders must spend a minimum of 40 hours weekly in pre-approved constructive activity which includes employment, employment-seeking, education, treatment, Sentencing to Service, or community service work.").

         Heilman moved to North Branch as he entered phase II. During the subsequent 18 months, Heilman secured work with several employers. He progressed from phase II to phase III in January 2009. Had Heilman successfully completed phase III, he would have been "placed on supervised release for the remainder of the sentence." See Minn. Stat. § 244.172, subd. 3. But, in April 2009, the Department returned him to phase II because he failed to remain sober. A few months later, Heilman again failed to remain sober. The Department then revoked his conditional release and ordered his return to custody.

         On December 27, 2010, the Department released Heilman. By this date, Heilman had served two-thirds of his original 51-month sentence, the statutorily required minimum "term of imprisonment." See Minn. Stat. § 244.101, subd. 1 (2018). The parties stipulated that Heilman began his supervised release on this date.

         On March 12, 2014, Heilman was arrested for failing to complete inpatient chemical dependency treatment. On March 25, the Department held a hearing and revoked Heilman's release for 180 days from the date of arrest, but the Department then released Heilman on May 14. Why the Department released Heilman 50 days after this hearing, and 63 days after his arrest, is not clear from the record.

         In July 2016, Heilman filed a complaint against Courtney, the Department's program manager, asserting claims against the State for negligence and false imprisonment. His complaint alleged the following:

• "By law, the conditional release period began after the plaintiff was released from prison."
• "Plaintiff was released from prison on July 9, 2008, to the Challenge Incarceration Program (also know[n] as 'Boot Camp.')."
• "Release to the boot camp program triggers the start of the conditional release period."
• "Five years from July 2008 is July 2013."
• "The plaintiff s conditional release period therefore expired sometime in July of 2013."
• "In the plaintiff's case, he was imprisoned until May of 2014-nearly a year beyond his lawful sentence."

         Heilman asserts, consequently, that he had served his conditional-release term, and his incarceration for approximately 60 days in March, April, and May 2014 was not authorized by law.

         The district court granted the State's motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Heilman's claims with prejudice, concluding that Heilman failed to establish that the State intentionally caused his confinement beyond his release date or owed him a duty. Additionally, the district court held that Heilman's confinement was legally justifiable, which is a defense to a claim of false imprisonment, and that Heilman's common-law claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (holding that actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that necessarily invalidate the existence or duration of a sentence are not cognizable).

         Heilman appealed the dismissal of his negligence and false-imprisonment claims. Concluding that Heilman's conditional release was properly revoked, the court of appeals affirmed. Heilman, 906 N.W.2d at 526. The court first reclassified the district court's order as a grant of summary judgment because the parties relied on documents outside the pleadings. See id. at 524. The court then turned to Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d), and in particular the meaning of "released from prison." The court analogized the Challenge Incarceration Program to work release, another program administered by the Department. Heilman, 906 N.W.2d at 525; see Minn. Stat. § 241.26 (2018). It "rejected the idea that simply leaving the confines of a correctional facility constitutes a 'release from prison,' and concluded that the physical location of the inmate is not determinative." Heilman, 906 N.W.2d at 525 (citing State ex rel. Huseby v. Roy, 903 N.W.2d 633, 636-38 (Minn.App. 2017), petition for rev. dismissed as moot (Minn. Dec. 27, 2017)). The court relied on its own precedent that held that" 'both conditional release and supervised release are mandated to begin at the same time, i.e., the offender's release from prison.'" Id. (quoting Maiers v. Roy, 847 N.W.2d 524, 530 (Minn.App. 2014), rev. denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 2014)). Based on the parties' stipulation that Heilman's supervised release began in December 2010, the court concluded that his "conditional-release term also commenced in December 2010[.]" Id. Then, because "appellant's conditional-release term did not expire until December 2015, and appellant's reincarceration between March and May of 2014 was lawful," it affirmed. Id. at 526.

         Heilman petitioned for review, which we granted.

         ANALYSIS

         We are presented with two issues. First, did the court of appeals err when it affirmed the legality of Heilman's 2014 incarceration by interpreting Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d)? Second, does a Challenge Incarceration Program participant begin a conditional-release term under Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d), when entering phase II of the Program?

         I.

         We first address whether the court of appeals erred by interpreting Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d), "sua sponte." Heilman claims that the court of appeals "sua sponte engaged in statutory interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d) to dispose of the case, even though the interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.276, subd. 1(d) was not at issue below."[2] In assigning error, he cites Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. 1988), and State v. Morse, 878 N.W.2d 499 (Minn. 2016). The State agrees that the court of appeals' statutory interpretation was undertaken sua sponte, because the court did not address the reasoning of the district court. But ...


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