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Harmon v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

February 7, 2019

DEXTER J. HARMON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND DIVISION [NO. 60CV-16-1301] HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER CHARLES PIAZZA, JUDGE

          Dexter J. Harmon, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Bourgon B. Reynolds, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         This matter comes to this court after remand. Appellant Dexter J. Harmon filed a pro se appeal from an order entered by the circuit court that granted the State's petition for reimbursement for costs of care out of funds received by Harmon in connection with a settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Helena-West Helena and Phillips County. The circuit court granted the State's petition pursuant to the State Prison Inmate Care and Custody Reimbursement Act ("reimbursement act") codified at Arkansas Code Annotated sections 12-29-501 to -507 (Repl. 2016), and Harmon appealed. Harmon v. State, 2017 Ark. 224, 521 S.W.3d 128.

         We remanded and directed the circuit court to enter findings that were statutorily mandated before disbursing funds to the State pursuant to the reimbursement act. Id. Specifically, the circuit court was directed to enter findings on the following matters: whether Harmon's elderly father had an enforceable right to support and maintenance under the statute; whether restitution is owed by Harmon in connection with his criminal conviction; and whether costs and attorney's fees related to Harmon's § 1983 action against the City of Helena-West Helena and Phillips County are owed. Id.

         In compliance with the order of remand, the circuit court conducted two hearings before issuing its findings. During the course of those hearings, Harmon reasserted claims that he had failed to preserve in the previous appeal, and he asserted a new claim based on his own financial needs. The circuit court entered the following findings: that Harmon did not owe any restitution in connection with his criminal conviction; that Harmon did not owe any costs or attorney's fees related to the § 1983 lawsuit; that Harmon's father had an enforceable right to support in the sum of $500 under Arkansas Code Annotated section 12-29-504(c)(2)(A); that Harmon was entitled to certain funds for his own support in the amount of $500 under section 12-29-504(c)(2)(A); and that Harmon was entitled to have certain liens and obligations owed to the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) paid before the State was reimbursed. With respect to Harmon's remaining arguments, the circuit court found that they were barred from further review.

         On appeal, Harmon does not dispute the circuit court's findings regarding restitution and attorney's fees but argues that the State confiscated his settlement funds without a pre-deprivation hearing in violation of due process; that confiscation of his settlement funds constituted conversion and unjust enrichment; that the State's entitlement to reimbursement is preempted by federal law; and that his father was entitled to a sum greater than $500 in satisfaction of his moral obligation to financially support him.

         For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the circuit court's findings that neither restitution nor attorney's fees were owed by Harmon and that Harmon's previous claims are not subject to further review. The circuit court's findings with respect to the amounts of money owed to Harmon as well as Harmon's entitlement to an offset for liens and obligations were inconsistent with this court's remand order and are reversed. Finally, the circuit court's finding that Harmon's father had a legally enforceable right to support was not contested by the State on appeal and is, therefore, affirmed.

         Due Process, Unjust Enrichment, and Preemption

         As stated, Harmon reasserted below and reiterates on appeal the same arguments raised in his first appeal in which we found that those issues were not preserved because he had failed to obtain rulings necessary for appellate review. Harmon, 2017 Ark. 224, 521 S.W.3d 128. Under the law-of-the-case doctrine, the decision of an appellate court establishes the law of the case for the trial court upon remand and for the appellate court itself upon subsequent review. Green v. George's Farms, Inc., 2011 Ark. 70, 378 S.W.3d 715. The doctrine is not inflexible and does not absolutely preclude correction of error, but it prevents an issue raised in a prior appeal from being raised in a subsequent appeal unless the evidence materially varies between the two appeals. Camargo v. State, 337 Ark. 105, 987 S.W.2d 680 (1999). The doctrine also prevents consideration of an argument that could have been raised at the first appeal and is not made until a subsequent appeal. Green, 2011 Ark. 70, 378 S.W.3d 715.

         This court held in the first appeal that Harmon had failed to preserve arguments that the State had violated his right to due process, that the State had converted his funds and would be unjustly enriched, and that Arkansas's reimbursement act was preempted by federal law. Harmon, 2017 Ark. 224, 521 S.W.3d 128. There was no evidence introduced at the two subsequent hearings that materially varied from the evidence presented during the original proceedings and the matters are therefore concluded. The circuit court did not err when it concluded that these arguments were barred from further judicial review.

         Harmon's Entitlement to Support and Maintenance

         In our previous opinion, we remanded this matter to the circuit court to make findings of fact with respect to three specific issues. Id. Where a remand limits the issues for determination, the court on remand is precluded from considering other issues, or new matters, affecting the cause. Dolphin v. Wilson, 335 Ark. 113, 119, 983 S.W.2d 113, 116 (1998). Thus, when a case is remanded for a specific act, the entire case is not reopened, but rather the lower tribunal is only authorized to carry out the appellate court's mandate, and the trial court is generally powerless to undertake any proceedings beyond those specified. Id. at 119, 983 S.W.2d at 115-16. New proof or new defenses cannot be raised after remand when they are inconsistent with this court's first opinion and mandate. Dolphin, 335 Ark. at 119, 983 S.W.2d at 115-16. If an appellate court remands with ...


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