IN THE LEGISLATIVE CLAIMS COMMISSION OF THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA
DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION
Claimant appeared pro se.
Briana J. Marino, Assistant Attorney General, for the Respondent.
The Claimant filed this claim to recover the value of certain personal property that he alleged was lost or stolen while under the care of the Respondent. He further sought relief from the Respondent’s alleged garnishment of his prison trustee account for the payment of court costs and other related debts.
The Claimant and the Respondent, through its counsel, appeared for a hearing before the Legislative Claims Commission on November 22, 2019.
The Claimant was incarcerated at Huttonsville Correctional Center. At the hearing, he testified that when he returned to his cell after work at his prison job, he discovered that his personal property was missing. He further testified that he believed that the missing items were stolen from his cell. Some of the missing items were marked with his identification number while other items were not. He testified that the missing items were khaki pants, khaki shirts, t-shirts, and socks; all of these items were issued to him by the Respondent when he arrived at Huttonsville. The Claimant was charged for the replacement of the state-issued items of clothing in the amount of $264.00. He testified that he was provided with a property locker for his personal property which was kept in his cell. He also received two combination locks to secure the locker. The Claimant testified that on the date his property was lost or stolen, he was in his cell by himself as his cellmate had been taken to the hospital for surgery. The Claimant’s Notice of Claim also included a section asking that the Legislative Claims Commission enter an Order prohibiting the garnishment of his inmate trust account by the Respondent to pay for court costs and other related debts.
The Respondent denied the validity of the claim in its pleadings and at the hearing. The Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss the portion of the Claimant’s claim that asserted the Respondent was improperly garnishing the Claimant’s inmate trust account as that portion of the claim may be pursued in either state or federal court. The Respondent specifically argued that the allegations concerning garnishment are properly filed in circuit court as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus relating to conditions of his confinement and incarceration. The jurisdiction of the Legislative Claims Commission set forth in West Virginia Code §14-2-14 excludes jurisdiction for those claims and actions that may be maintained in the state or federal courts of the State of West Virginia. As to the remainder of the claim, the Respondent asserted that the West Virginia Prisoner Litigation Reform Act applied to bar the Claimant’s claim as to missing or stolen property inasmuch as the Claimant failed to file a grievance and otherwise comply with the provisions of the Act.
The first issue the Legislative Claims Commission must address is jurisdictional: whether the Claims Commission possesses the statutory authority to preside over the Claimant’s claim concerning garnishment and render a decision. West Virginia Code §14-2-14(5) sets forth the jurisdictional standards for the Legislative Claims Commission. This section specifically states:
[T]he jurisdiction of the commission shall not extend to any claim… (5) With respect to which a proceeding may be maintained against the state, by or on behalf of the claimant in the courts of the state.
The Claimant’s Notice of Claim contains allegations that the Respondent has been improperly garnishing his prisoner trustee account. This is an allegation related to the Claimant’s confinement and incarceration in the State’s penal system. As such, an action with these allegations may be maintained in either “the courts of the state” or in the federal court system. The Legislative Claims Commission is not the proper tribunal for these claims pursuant to West Virginia Code §14-2-14(5). Inasmuch as the circuit courts and magistrate courts of the State of West Virginia and the United States federal courts properly have jurisdiction over the claims alleged in the Claimant’s filing, the Legislative Claims Commission is without the requisite jurisdiction to entertain or otherwise preside over his claim. Monongalia Home Corporation dba Sundale Nursing Home v. Department of Health and Human Resources, Ct. Cl. 24 115 (2002).
Turning to the remaining portion of the Claimant’s claim regarding his lost or stolen property, the Claims Commission must examine the role of the West Virginia Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, found in West Virginia Code §25-1A-1 et. seq., These code sections set forth the policies and procedures to be followed by inmates who choose to file civil actions against a West Virginia penal institution. A prisoner is required to utilize the “ordinary administrative remedy” of the Respondent’s grievance system before filing a civil action for general concerns regarding ordinary aspects of prison life. This would include issues pertaining to lost or stolen personal property of an inmate. Specifically, West Virginia Code §25-1A-2(c) states:
An inmate may not bring a civil action regarding an ordinary administrative remedy until the procedures promulgated by the agency have been exhausted.
The Respondent’s grievance system is set forth in Policy Directive 335.00, titled “Inmate Grievance Procedures”. Pursuant to this policy, all inmates must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a civil action, or in this instance, a claim with the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission. All documents that demonstrate a prisoner’s compliance with the Respondent’s grievance system must be included as exhibits for all incarceration claims filed with the Legislative Claims Commission.
While the Claimant submitted some documents and exhibits in support of his claim, the submitted documents are related to his garnishment claim and not to his claim for his lost or stolen property. The submitted evidence does not establish that he complied with the provisions of the administrative remedy process of West Virginia Code §25-1A-1 et. seq., even though the Claimant was advised of the proper grievance procedure to follow prior to the filing of this Claim before the Legislative Claims Commission. Indeed, the Claimant filed no grievances regarding his lost or stolen personal property.
After duly considering the record, including the Notice of Claim, the allegations therein and the exhibits submitted in support of the allegations, the Legislative Claims Commission hereby finds that it does not have the requisite subject matter jurisdiction as set forth in West Virginia Code §14-2-14(5) to entertain or otherwise preside over the garnishment portion of the Claimant’s claim. The Claims Commission further finds that the West Virginia Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, West Virginia Code §25-1A-1 et. seq. controls the disposition of the remainder of this claim and the Claimant is required to exhaust all administrative remedies set forth therein before any claim can be filed before this tribunal. Because the Claimant failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing his claim, he is prohibited from proceeding with any claims before the Legislative Claims Commission.
Based on the foregoing, the Legislative Claims Commission is of the opinion to, and does hereby, deny the Claimant’s claim.