APPELLANT, PRO SE
: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES:
JERRY MONTGOMERY STEVE CARTER
Michigan City, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
ZACHARY J. STOCK
Deputy Attorney General
JERRY MONTGOMERY, ) ) Appellant- Plaintiff, ) ) vs. ) No. 49A04-0301-CV-28 ) INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION; ) EVELYN RIDLEY-TURNER, Commissioner, ) Indiana Department of Correction; INDIANA ) STATE PRISON; STATE PERSONNEL ) ADVISORY BOARD; and INDIANA CIVIL ) RIGHTS COMMISSION, ) ) Appellees-Defendants. )
OPINION FOR PUBLICATION
2. Whether the trial court erred by denying Montgomery's motion for a default judgment.
Courts generally have the power to review actions taken by state agencies pursuant
to the Administrative Orders and Procedures Act ("AOPA"); however, Indiana Code § 4-21.5-2-5(6)
exempts "[a]n agency action related to an offender within the jurisdiction of the
department of correction."
See footnote The State, and the trial court, equated the inapplicability
of the AOPA with an inability for the judiciary to review actions taken
by the DOC, including those under Indiana Code § 11-11-3-6. Such is
not the case.
In Ratliff v. Cohn, 693 N.E.2d 530, 547-48 (Ind. 1998), our supreme court addressed the statutory AOPA exemption and specifically determined that the statute does not support a determination that the judiciary lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over constitutional questions raised by a confined person regarding DOC actions. The Ratliff court stated:
There is nothing in this statute [regarding the AOPA exemption] to support the [DOC's] broad statement that courts lack the power of judicial review over alleged violations of an inmate's right to medical treatment under the Eighth Amendment and an inmate's constitutionally protected interests in conditions of reasonable care and safety under the Fourteenth Amendment. The grounds urged by the [DOC] in support of [the] challenge to the trial court's jurisdiction are insufficient to undermine the Marion Superior Court's general subject-matter jurisdiction.
We find no lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The trial court's dismissal cannot be affirmed upon such a claim.
Id. at 548 (citation omitted).
We are guided by the principles set out in Ratliff. The statute exempting certain DOC actions from the AOPA does not divest the judiciary of subject-matter jurisdiction over alleged violations of constitutional rights, or as in this case, statutory and constitutional rights. The trial court erred by determining that it was without subject-matter jurisdiction in the present matter.
Also, we note that "[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system." Golitko v. Indiana Dept. of Correction, 712 N.E.2 13, 17 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) (determining that the legislature did not create a statutory entitlement for inmates to obtain direct access to their medical records). "Those considerations include deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security." Id. The State chose not to argue this matter on the merits. Having no evidence before us, we are constrained to review the narrow issue of whether the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Thus, while recognizing that Montgomery's less than artful claims under the statute might evoke a negative visceral response, and given the DOC's ability to restrict privileges and rights, that Montgomery might not be entitled to relief under the statute, we must remand the matter to the trial court for further action inasmuch as the trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction in this case.
2. Default Judgment
Montgomery urges that a default judgment should have been entered against the State due to its failure to file a responsive pleading. We disagree for several reasons.
Chief among the reasons that Montgomery is not entitled to a default judgment is that the trial court is vested with broad discretion to accept even delinquent pleadings and deny requests for default judgments in order to advance the policy favoring resolution of causes on the merits. Cf. Dreyer & Reinbold v. Autoxchange.com, Inc., 771 N.E.2d 764, 769 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). Here, the State sought and was granted extensions to file an answer in the cause. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to enter a default judgment for Montgomery.
Therefore, the trial court's judgment dismissing the State Personnel Advisory Board and the Indiana Civil Right Commission is summarily affirmed, and the trial court's failure to enter default judgment for Montgomery is affirmed. However, the trial court's determination that it was without jurisdiction is reversed, and the matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
BAKER, J., concurs.
SULLIVAN, J., concurs with separate opinion.
SULLIVAN, Judge, concurring
I agree that the trial court erroneously concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Montgomerys claim.
I further agree that Montgomery was not entitled to a default judgment against the State for failure to file a responsive pleading. I part company, however, from the majority opinion with respect to the rationale stated for the holding. The majority rests its decision upon the proposition that the trial court had granted extensions to file an answer in the cause. Slip op. at 6. The majoritys statement is certainly an accurate statement but it does not, in itself, provide a resolution of the issue.
The extension of time granted to file an answer terminated on October 16, 2002. On that date the State did not file a responsive answer but instead filed its motion to dismiss. This state of affairs, however, does not entitle Montgomery to a reversal of the trial courts implicit denial of a default judgment.
The motion for default judgment was not filed until November 1, 2002. At that time, the States motion to dismiss had been pending for 15 days and awaited ruling by the trial court. At no time had Montgomery moved to strike the States motion to dismiss as being not in conformity with the pleading specifically authorized by the extension of time. The trial court was therefore entitled to consider and rule, albeit erroneously, upon the motion to dismiss.
Upon this basis I am able to concur in the decision of the majority and in the remand for further proceedings.