Pickens v. Management & Training Corporation et al
ORDER denying 35 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves on 11/17/2017. (cr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CAUSE NO. 3:16-cv-00913-CWR-FKB
MANAGEMENT & TRAINING CORP.,
In 2014, James Pickens, an inmate at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, allegedly
sustained serious injuries during a riot. Walnut Grove was operated at the time by Management &
Training Corporation, an independent contractor hired by the Mississippi Department of
Corrections.1 In 2016, Pickens was released from Walnut Grove on earned-release supervision.
Pickens filed this suit after his release, bringing federal law and state law claims against MTC
regarding his injuries. MTC has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Pickens’ claims were
not properly exhausted. For the reasons discussed below, MTC’s motion must be DENIED.
MTC argues that (1) Pickens’ federal law claims were not exhausted as required by the
Prison Litigation Reform Act and (2) Pickens’ state law claims were not exhausted as required by
Miss. Code Ann. §§ 47-5-801 et. seq. Pickens does not contend that he exhausted his claims under
either statute. Rather, he argues that his claims are not subject to those statutes’ exhaustion
requirements to begin with. Each statute will be addressed in turn.
MTC’s contract with MDOC states that MTC was an “independent contractor” who retained “the sole right to
manage, control, operate and direct the performance of the details of its duties.” Management & Operations
Agreement, Contract No. 78708, Oct. 25, 2012, available at transparency.ms.gov.
A. Does The PLRA Apply To Pickens’ Federal Law Claims?
The PLRA bans the filing of any unexhausted federal claim relating to prison conditions
by a particular class of people, namely, “prisoner[s]” who are “confined” in “any jail, prison, or
other correctional facility.”2 Thus, a person’s status at the time he files his lawsuit determines
whether the PLRA’s ban applies to his claims. While neither the Supreme Court nor the Fifth
Circuit has explicitly affirmed this finding, “[e]very circuit court to consider this issue” has.3 And
the Fifth Circuit has indicated that it would likely follow in these courts’ footsteps, as it has refused
to apply other parts of the PLRA to persons not “confined” when they filed their claims in court.4
This Court, then, will focus on Pickens’ status at the time his lawsuit was filed. That status
was this: living in his grandmother’s house on earned-release supervision.5 Thus, the PLRA applies
to Pickens’ claims only if two statements are true: (1) a person on earned-release supervision is a
“prisoner,” and (2) Pickens’ grandmother’s house is a “correctional facility” in which Pickens was
“confined.” As discussed below, neither statement is true.
1. Is a Person on Earned-Release Supervision a “Prisoner”?
The PLRA defines “prisoner” as “any person incarcerated or detained in any facility” for
an actual or alleged violation of criminal law.6 The statute does not define “prisoner” as “a person
labelled as such by the state.” In determining whether a person on earned-release supervision is a
42 U.S.C. §1997e(a).
See Caddell v. Livingston, No. 4:14-CV-3323, 2015 WL 1247003, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 17, 2015) (citing Lesene
v. Doe, 712 F.3d 584 (D.C. Cir. 2013); Talamantes v. Leyva, 575 F.3d 1021 (9th Cir. 2009); Cofield v. Bowser, 247
F. App’x 412 (4th Cir. 2007); Norton v. The City of Marietta, OK, 432 F.3d 1145 (10th Cir. 2005); Nerness v.
Johnson, 401 F.3d 874 (8th Cir. 2005); Ahmed v. Dragovich, 297 F.3d 201 (3rd Cir. 2002); Greig v. Goord, 169
F.3d 165 (2nd Cir. 1999)); see also Witzke v. Femal, 376 F.3d 744 (7th Cir. 2004); Bell v. Zuercher, No. 10-72ART, 2011 WL 5191800, at *2 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 31, 2011) (“[T]he PLRA does not apply to former prisoners, even
though the claim may have arisen while the Plaintiff was previously incarcerated.”) (citation omitted).
Janes v. Hernandez, 215 F.3d 541, 543 (5th Cir. 2000) (“Because [the plaintiff] was not a prisoner when this
complaint was filed, the fee limits of the [PLRA] did not apply.”).
This information appears on Pickens’ certificate of earned-release supervision, located at Docket No. 37-1.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h).
“prisoner,” then, this Court must peer past labels to examine the restrictions placed on a person’s
It is true that state law establishes that people on earned-release supervision “retain inmate
status.”7 But “inmate status” appears to merely indicate that a person remains “under the
jurisdiction of [MDOC].”8 In this sense, people on earned-release supervision are no different than
people on parole, who also remain “under the supervision of [MDOC].”9
This similarity is unsurprising, as earned-supervised release is functionally identical to
parole. The statute creating the former makes clear that a “period of earned-release supervision
shall be conducted in the same manner as a period of supervised parole.”10 The only substantive
difference between earned-supervise release and parole are the programs’ pre-release eligibility
requirements, not their post-release restrictions on liberty.11 The programs are so similar that the
Mississippi Supreme Court has occasionally referred to one as the other.12
This equivalence is important. Persons on parole have been “released from incarceration
to the general public,” and are therefore not prisoners under the PLRA.13 As persons on earnedrelease supervision are released to the general public in the same way, they are also not prisoners
under the PLRA. The statue will accordingly not apply to claims filed by persons, like Pickens,
who are on earned-release supervision.
Miss. Code. Ann. § 47-5-138.
Miss. Code. Ann. § 47-7-33.
Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-138; see also Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-27 (establishing that violations of the conditions of
earned-release supervision are to be treated identically to violations of the conditions of parole).
See Puckett v. Abels, 684 So. 2d 671, 678 (Miss. 1996) (describing supervised release programs).
See, e.g., id. (noting that earned-release supervision functions to “den[y] the opportunity for parole, prior to
serving eighty-five percent (85%) of [a] sentence”).
Jackson v. Johnson, 475 F.3d 261, 265 (5th Cir. 2007).
2. Was Pickens’ Grandmother’s House a “Correctional Facility”?
The PLRA does not define the phrase “confined in . . . [any] correctional facility.” The
Fifth Circuit has not defined the term either. However, the Fifth Circuit has indicated that a private
residence where a person on earned-supervised release resides is not a “correctional facility.” In
holding that the PLRA’s definition of “prisoner” includes people detained in a halfway house –
which Pickens’ grandmother’s home certainly is not14 – the Fifth Circuit emphasized that detention
in such a house occurs “prior [to] being released to parole or mandatory supervision.”15 Pickens’
grandmother’s home is a private residence where Pickens resided after being released to earnedrelease supervision. Such a residence is not a “correctional facility” in which Pickens was
“confined,” and the PLRA will therefore not apply to Pickens’ claims.
B. Does the State Exhaustion Requirement Apply to Pickens’ State Law Claims?
With the federal exhaustion requirement disposed of, this Court turns to the state
exhaustion requirement, Miss. Code Ann. §§ 47-5-801 et. seq. (“the Act”). The Act bars courts
from hearing the unexhausted claims of an “offender” which fall “under the purview of [MDOC’s]
administrative review procedure.”16 That purview is limited to “any cause of action such offenders
may claim to have against the State of Mississippi, the Department of Corrections or its officials
or employees.”17 As demonstrated below, a proper reading of the statute leads to one conclusion:
There is no evidence in the record that Pickens’ grandmother’s home is a halfway house. MTC has not made any
argument to the contrary. Neither the Mississippi Code nor MDOC regulations appear to define “halfway home.”
Dictionary definitions, however, establish that the term does not apply to a private residence like Pickens’
grandmother’s home. See, e.g., BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 828 (10th ed.) (defining halfway house as “a transitional
housing facility designed to rehabilitate people who have recently left a prison or medical care facility, or who
otherwise need help in adjusting to unsupervised living”) (emphasis added).
Jackson, 475 F.3d at 267 (emphasis added). This comports with the definition of “correctional facility” adopted
by the Fourth and Seventh Circuits, which focuses on the constraints on the person’s liberty at a given location,
rather than that location’s formal title. See Witzke, 376 F.3d at 753; Alexander S. v. Boyd, 113 F.3d 1373, 1383 (4th
Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-803.
Id. § 47-5-802.
only those claims against actual officials or employees of the Department of Corrections need be
exhausted before they are allowed to proceed.
Pickens does not dispute that he was an “offender” whose claims were unexhausted at the
time he filed this suit.18 What Pickens argues is that his claims need not have been exhausted; they
do not fall “under the purview” of MDOC’s administrative review procedure because an
independent contractor like MTC is not among MDOC’s “officials or employees.”
This question raises a novel, but uncomplicated issue of state law. Neither the Mississippi
Supreme Court nor the Fifth Circuit has determined whether independent prison contractors are
MDOC “officials or employees.”19 In many cases, federal courts are poorly equipped to make such
a determination of state law, and should decline supplemental jurisdiction over claims that require
that kind of adjudication.20 This is not one of those cases. This Court is well-suited to interpret a
small, unambiguous portion of a state statute.21 This Court will retain jurisdiction over Pickens’
state law claims to do so.
See Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-138 (providing that persons placed under earned-release supervision “shall retain
inmate status and remain under the jurisdiction of the department”).
See also Evans v. Mgmt. & Training Corp., No. 3:15-cv-770-DPJ-FKB, 2017 WL 78803, at *3 (S.D. Miss. Jan. 6,
2017) (“As for relevant case law [the Court has not] found any binding authority analyzing whether [Miss. Code
Ann. § 47-5-803] applies to officials and employees of a private prison.”).
Enochs v. Lampasas Cty., 641 F.3d 155, 160 (5th Cir. 2011).
This Court must weigh both common law and statutory factors in deciding if it is appropriate to decline
supplemental jurisdiction over Pickens’ state-law claims. Id. at 159. The relevant common law factors are “the
values of judicial economy, convenience, fairness, and comity.” Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350
(1988) (cited in Enochs, 641 F.3d at 159). Dismissing Pickens’ claims and forcing them to be refiled in state court
would undermine the first three values. The final value, comity, is not seriously threatened because Pickens’ claims
raise novel issues of state law that are simple, not “difficult.” Parker & Parsley Petroleum Co. v. Dresser Indus.,
972 F.2d 580, 589 (5th Cir. 1992). The common law factors, on balance, do not weigh in favor of declining
jurisdiction. The same can be said of the four statutory factors listed at 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Pickens’ federal law
claims have not been dismissed, nor do they substantially predominate over his state claims. Furthermore, there are
no exceptional circumstances on the record. True, Pickens’ claims raise a novel question of state law. But, as noted
above, the issue’s novelty is outweighed by its simplicity. The statutory factors, like the common law factors, weigh
against declining supplemental jurisdiction.
The Act does not qualify the term “officials or employees,” nor does it refer to private
contractors or prisons. The Mississippi Supreme Court counsels that, when confronted with such
a self-evident statute, there is no reason to resort to statutory construction.22 The Act
straightforwardly does not apply to independent contractors, who are not state officials or
To the extent one needs to construe a statute by drilling through it, this Court must examine
a statute’s “plain language in context with its design, object and policy.”23 That language is
conclusive so long as it is “unambiguous and does not lead to an absurd result.”24 “There is no
safer or better settled canon of interpretation than [this:] where language is clear and unambiguous
it must be held to mean what it plainly expresses.”25 What matters are words the legislature has
actually written, not the words it may have intended to write.26
This Court will therefore “assume the legislature knew the plain and ordinary meanings of
the words it chose to include” in the Act.27 The legislature chose those words in 1989,28 and their
ordinary meanings can be ascertained by examining the then-current edition of Black’s Law
Dictionary.29 That text defined official as “officer,” and noted that “[i]n determining whether one
is an ‘officer’ or ‘employee,’ important tests [include] whether it is created by an appointment or
election, or merely by a contract of employment.”30 The definition of employee, meanwhile,
See Lawson v. Honeywell, Int’l, Inc., 75 So.3d 1024, 1027 (“If the words of a statute are clear and unambiguous,
the Court applies the plain meaning of the statute and refrains from using principles of statutory construction.”).
Sealed Appellee 1 v. Sealed Appellant 1, 767 F.3d 418, 421 (5th Cir. 2013) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Swarts v. Siegel, 117 F. 13, 13 (8th Cir. 1902).
See Lawson, 75 So.3d at 1027 (“The Court must not broaden or restrict a legislative act.”).
Norman J. Singer, Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction § 46:1 (7th ed. 2017).
1989 Miss. Laws Ch. 563.
Thompson v. Goetzmann, 337 F.3d 489, 498 n.20 (5th Cir. 2003) (establishing that contemporary dictionaries are
a “principal source for ascertaining the ordinary meaning of statutory language”). Notably, Mississippi courts
“frequently loo[k] to dictionaries to ascertain the meaning of a word in its common or popular sense.” Lawson, 75
So.3d at 1028 (Miss. 2011)
See BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 977-78 (5th ed. 1979).
excluded workers who retained the “right to control and direct . . . the material details of how the
work is to be performed.”31 These definitions echo the test long used in Mississippi to distinguish
independent contractors from employees, which asks whether a worker has “the right to control .
. . the details of the work.”32 Thus, official and employee did not apply to independent contractors
at the time the legislature wrote those words into the Act.
This conclusion is supported by the history of Mississippi’s penal statutes. Mississippi first
authorized private prisons in 1992.33 It is unlikely that legislators in 1989 thought the Act applied
to a class of workers which had yet to exist. Furthermore, since 1992, the legislature has regularly
distinguished private prison contractors from state employees and officials. The legislature has
barred private prison contractors from using the liability shield within the Mississippi Tort Claims
Act, which covers only “officer[s], employee[s], or servant[s] of the State of Mississippi or
political subdivision[s] of the state.”34 The legislature has also required inmates at private prisons
to file complaints regarding the conditions of their imprisonment “against the contractor and not
the State of Mississippi.”35 Finally, the legislature has forced contractors to hold the state
“harmless” in suits brought by inmates.36 Given this consistency in acknowledging the difference
between private prison contractors and the state,37 it is telling that the words agents or contractors
have not been grafted onto the Act in the quarter century since its passage.
Id. at 471.
See Boyd v. Crosby Lumber & Mfg. Co., 250 Miss. 433, 440 (1964).
1992 Miss. Laws Ch. 537.
Mississippi authorized the construction of private prisons in 1994 Miss. Laws 1st Ex. Sess. Ch. 26, which
established that the sovereign immunity provisions under Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11–46–1 et. seq. “shall not apply” to
prison contractors. See also Leavitt v. Carter, 178 So. 3d 334, 338–39 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (finding that “the
immunity conferred under the MTCA does not apply to private prisons operated under a contract with the State”).
Miss. Code Ann. § 47-5-1219.
Accord In re: Otis Abron, No. 2004-0241, 2004 WL 1638739 (Miss. AG Op. June 21, 2004) (explaining that,
while direct employment by MDOC can implicate the separation of powers doctrine, employment at a private prison
cannot implicate the separation of powers doctrine because private prisons are “private commercial companies”).
This unremarkable interpretation is in line with how another court has interpreted a
similarly drafted statute. Like the Act, Maryland’s state exhaustion requirement only bars claims
brought against “official[s] or employee[s].”38 That state’s highest court has held that statute does
not apply to an independent contractor because they are “not . . . an official or employee.”39 That
holding was rooted in the same grounds apparent in this case, namely, that (1) the ordinary
meanings of official or employee do not apply to private contractors, (2) the relevant statute was
“devoid of any reference to private contractors,” and (3) there was “no mention” in the legislative
history of “curtailing prisoner [litigation] against private contractors.”40 There is every reason to
believe that the Mississippi Supreme Court would apply a similar analysis and reach the same
In sum, the Act clearly does not apply to private contractors. When properly construed, the
Act’s plain language excludes independent contractors from the term “officials or employees.” As
MTC is an independent contractor, claims filed against it by people like Pickens are not “under
the purview” of Mississippi’s administrative review procedure, and need not be exhausted.
For these reasons, MTC’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
SO ORDERED, this the 17th day of November, 2017.
s/ Carlton W. Reeves
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-1001
Adamson v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 359 Md. 238, 269 (2000).
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