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Gray v. Missouri Department of Corrections

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

June 28, 2019

CHRISTOPHER GRAY, Appellant,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COLE COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE DANIEL R. GREEN, JUDGE

          Before: Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          VICTOR C. HOWARD, JUDGE

         Christopher Gray appeals the judgment of the Cole County Circuit Court dismissing his petition. In two points on appeal, Gray claims the trial court erred when it found a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and when it found he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. We reverse and remand.

         Facts

         Gray is currently confined in a facility maintained by the Missouri Department of Corrections ("the Department"). On July 11, 2018, Gray filed a petition for declaratory judgment in the Cole County Circuit Court. He claimed he was entitled to six years of additional jail-time credit toward service of his sentences. The Department filed a motion to dismiss alleging that Gray had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing the petition and, thus, the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. The trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed Gray's petition This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         "This Court reviews the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss de novo." Foster v. State, 352 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Mo. banc 2011). "In reviewing the propriety of the trial court's dismissal of the petition, this Court considers the grounds raised in the defendant's motion to dismiss and does not consider matters outside the pleadings." Id. "In determining whether a motion to dismiss should have been granted, the appellate court reviews the petition in an almost academic manner, to determine if the facts alleged meet the elements of a recognized cause of action, or of a cause that might be adopted in that case." Id. (internal quotation omitted). "If the motion to dismiss can be sustained on any ground alleged in the motion, the trial court's ruling will be affirmed." Id. (internal quotation omitted).

         Point I

         In his first point on appeal, Gray claims the trial court erred in finding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. He argues that failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. We agree.

         Pursuant to section 506.384.1, "No civil action may be brought by an offender, except for a constitutional deprivation, until all administrative remedies are exhausted." After Gray filed his petition for declaratory judgment, the Department filed a motion to dismiss which cited Adams v. Schriro, 31 S.W.3d 461 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000), and alleged that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Gray had not exhausted all administrative remedies. The trial court dismissed the petition. Its judgment also cited Adams and stated: "Because Gray has not exhausted his administrative remedies, this Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the relief Gray seeks."

         Adams was decided prior to J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d 249, 254 (Mo. banc 2009), which rejected jurisdictional competency arguments. Accordingly, while section 506.384 identified statutory prerequisites to an offender filing a civil action against the Department, those statutory prerequisites do not impact a circuit court's subject matter jurisdiction.

         In Webb, the Missouri Supreme Court made clear that there are only two kinds of jurisdiction: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Id. at 252. The Court explained:

In evaluating the jurisdiction of circuit courts, there are cases that, in dicta, purport to recognize a third concept, "jurisdictional competence," which often is confused with subject matter jurisdiction.... [T]hese cases generally concern situations in which there is no question as to the court's authority to decide the general issue before it, but there is a question whether the issue or parties affected by the court's judgment are properly before it for resolution at that time.... [T]hese cases do not question the court's subject matter ...

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