Holt v. Howard
ORDER granting 30 and 44 Motions for Summary Judgment. The back and forth between Holt and his appointed counsel about a possible class action and counsel's possible withdrawal, 51 & 54 , is mooted by the Court's decision on the merits. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 7/29/2014. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Public Information Officer,
LiHle Rock Police Department,
in her official capacity only and
STATE OF ARKANSAS
1. Background. Before Arkansas Act 168 of 2011, prisoners without a
lawyer-such as plaintiff Gregory Holt-had access to all public records
except those of the Departments of Correction and Community Correction.
ARK. CODE ANN.§ 25-19-105(a)(1)(B). The Act rewrote this provision. It now
access to inspect and copy public records shall be denied to:
(i) A person who at the time of the request has pleaded guilty to or been
found guilty of a felony and is incarcerated in a correctional facility; and
(ii) The representative of a person u·nder subdivision (a)(1)(B)(i) of this
section unless the representative is the person's attorney who is
requesting information that is subject to disclosure under this section.
Holt challenges the constitutionality of this amendment to the Arkansas
Freedom of Information Act. He couldn't afford a lawyer in his postconviction proceedings. He requested documents from Michelle Howard, the
public information officer at the Little Rock Police Department. He says those
documents would help him prove he's actually innocent of the crimes he's in
prison for. Howard denied Holt's request, citing the amended statute. Holt
sues, arguing that the amendment violates his right to equal protection. Both
Howard and the State of Arkansas seek summary judgment. Many of the
facts are undisputed; the Court considers the record in the light most
favorable to Holt. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir.
2. Standing. Early on, the Court dismissed Holt's access-to-courts
claim because he alleged no actual injury, but allowed his equal-protection
claim to proceed. NQ 19 at 2. The case has proceeded. Howard and the State
again challenge Holt's standing. NQ 39 at 2; NQ 46 at 2-6. They argue two
things: Holt has suffered no injury fairly traceable to the amended statute; and
this Court can no longer redress Holt's alleged injuries because his federal
habeas petition has been dismissed. Holt v. Hobbs, 5:12-cv-453-BSM, NQ 70
(E.D. Ark. 12 May 2014). Holt responds he still has open avenues of relief- he
can still use the records in Howard's possession to seek a pardon,
commutation, executive clemency, leniency in his sentence, and state postconviction remedies. NQ 38 at 3-4; NQ 58 at 3-4.
Holt's federal habeas case may be done, but he still has a personal stake
in this case. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 2341-42 (2014).
Holt "need not show that a favorable decision [by this Court] will relieve his
every injury." 281 Care Committee v. Arneson, 638 F.3d 621,631 (8th Cir. 2011).
The amended statute continues to prohibit Holt from getting access to public
information, especially post-conviction investigation information about an
important state's witness. NQ 2 at 8; Holt v. State, 2011 Ark. 391, 384 S.W.3d
498 (2011). Because Holt wants to continue arguing his innocence, and to
continue seeking release in any way the law allows, he's shown a likelihood
of future injury. NQ 38 at 3-4; NQ 58 at 3-4; Arkansas Right to Life State Political
Action Committee v. Butler, 146 F.3d 558,560 (8th Cir. 1998). This Court could
end the information embargo by granting Holt the injunction he requests. He
thus has no standing problem.
3. Equal Protection. The parties agree that the merits question is
whether the amended statute's distinction between prisoners with lawyers
and those without rationally relates to a legitimate state interest. Chance
Mgmt., Inc. v. State of S.D., 97 F.3d 1107,1114 (8th Cir. 1996).
The State and Howard offer several reasons for the distinction. The
State says government agencies are unequipped to handle the hundreds of
FOIA requests prisoners have filed and are likely to file. NQ 32 at 11. It says
that prisoners' unfettered access to public records threatens the security of
prisons and challenges government agencies. NQ 32 at 11-12. Prisoners have
used the FOIA in the past to get information about prison floor plans, shift
rosters, and the location of security cameras, among other things; they've also
used the statute to harass and coerce fellow inmates. Ibid. Howard adds that
prisoners' access to public records could lead to harassment of the public,
specifically ex-partners and witnesses. NQ 46 at 9-10. The amended statute
makes counsel the filter, preventing all this from happening. NQ 46 at 10.
Holt argues none of these are legitimate reasons for preventing access
to prisoners without lawyers. NQ 38 at 5-6. He points out that, if the concern
is prisoners will send too many FOIA requests, or requests that could lead to
bad consequences, then the statute could be more narrowly tailored. NQ 38 at
5; NQ 53 at 5. As it stands now, prisoners without counsel cannot send any
FOIA request to any government agency. NQ 38 at 5. Holt's right. Narrow
tailoring, though, is a creature of strict scrutiny, not rational basis review.
U.S. v. ]ohnson,495 F.3d 951,963 (8th Cir. 2007). The General Assembly could
have used scissors rather than a sword.
But this doesn't offend the
Constitution because the State and Howard have offered reasons for the nonrepresented-prisoner exception, and Holt hasn't shown that these reasons are
either empty or irrational. Chance Mgmt., 97 F.3d at 1114-15.
Holt also argues that, because the State and Howard have not provided
evidence of legislative intent, he can only assume that the real reason the
General Assembly created the distinction was to deny indigent prisoners
access to public records. NQ 53 at 5-6. Rational basis review, however, doesn't
require proof of what actually motivated the state legislature, only that some
rational basis exists for the amendment. Knapp v. Hanson, 183 F.3d 786, 789
(8th Cir. 1999). The State and Howard have provided several possible reasons
for the FOIA exception. The filtering role of counsel supports the distinction
between represented and unrepresented prisoners. Holt, therefore, has failed
to show that the statute violates his right to equal protection. Carter v.
Arkansas, 392 F.3d 965, 968 (8th Cir. 2004).
A word about the access-to-courts claim. The parties argue this claim
as though it came back into the case in the amended complaint filed by Holt's
appointed counsel. The Court's not sure about that. But assuming it was reasserted, the access-to-courts claim fails on a similar analysis. Lefkowitz v. CitiEquity Group, Inc., 146 F.3d 609, 612 (8th Cir. 1998). As a party, moreover,
Holt has access to records filed with the court in all his cases. Arkansas
Administrative Order 19, Section II(B)(4).
And Holt has litigated the
underlying issues at length, albeit unsuccessfully, in state and federal court.
Motions for summary judgment, NQ 30 & 44, granted. The back-andforth between Holt and his appointed counsel about a possible class action
and counsel's possible withdrawal, NQ 51 & 54, is mooted by the Court's
decision on the merits.
D.P. Marshall Jr. fl
United States District Judge
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