from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Lars
applicant in a postconviction-relief action appeals the
district court's decision to grant the State's motion
to dismiss. REVERSED AND REMANDED.
J. Bishop, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Nicholas E. Siefert and John
McCormally, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.
prisoner appeals the district court's dismissal of his
amended application for postconviction relief. The State
filed a motion to dismiss alleging the prisoner failed to
make a viable claim under the postconviction-relief act. The
district court agreed and found as a matter of law the
prisoner had not stated a claim for postconviction relief
under Iowa Code section 822.2(1)(a) (2013). Although
we agree with the district court's reasoning to some
extent, we conclude the prisoner should have been given the
opportunity to pursue his claim under section
822.2(1)(e). Therefore, we reverse the district
court's judgment and remand the case for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
April 23, 2013, Laverne Edward Belk filed his application for
postconviction relief. On September 3, Belk amended his
application for postconviction relief. Pursuant to Iowa Code
section 822.2(1)(a), he alleged that his sentence
violated the United States and Iowa Constitutions, namely the
Equal Protection Clause, prohibitions against cruel and
unusual punishment, the Due Process Clause, and the Ex Post
Facto Clause. Relevant to this appeal, the substance of
Belk's amended application alleged the Iowa Department of
Corrections (IDOC) violated his liberty interest in obtaining
parole because of the IDOC's failure to provide the sex
offender treatment program (SOTP) in a timely manner.
Belk argued it was the policy of the IDOC to delay his access
to SOTP until he was close to his tentative discharge date.
He further contended he is currently eligible for parole but
has no meaningful chance for parole unless the IDOC
recommends parole without the SOTP prerequisite. According to
Belk, his tentative discharge date is October 22, 2019, but
the IDOC will not offer him SOTP until sometime in 2017. Belk
argued the district court should require the IDOC to
recommend him for parole without the condition of completing
SOTP. He has requested SOTP to no avail prior to the filing
of both his initial and amended applications.
response to Belk's amended application, the State filed a
motion to dismiss. The substance of the motion is that an
application under chapter 822 is not the proper vehicle to
contest the denial of his parole by the Iowa Board of Parole
(IBOP). The State also filed a motion for summary judgment.
3, 2014, the district court denied the State's motion to
dismiss, finding Belk was not contesting the IBOP's
agency action in denying him parole. Rather, the district
court found Belk alleged the IDOC deprived him of his liberty
or property interest that is actionable under the
postconviction-relief act. The district court also denied the
State's motion for summary judgment.
case proceeded to trial on October 13, 2015. At the onset of
the trial, the State renewed its motion to dismiss and its
motion for summary judgment. The court reserved ruling on
these motions until it received the parties' posttrial
court entered its order on January 29, 2016. The court did
not reach the merits of the claim. Rather, it decided the
case by ruling on the State's renewed motion to dismiss.
The court ruled as a matter of law that Belk had not stated a
claim for postconviction relief under Iowa Code section
raises one issue on appeal. He claims the district court
erred in granting the State's motion to dismiss. He
contends the IDOC's policy of refusing to provide timely
SOTP substantially deprives him of his liberty interest, and
thus we should allow him to pursue a remedy through
Standard of Review.
postconviction proceeding is a civil action. Mabrier v.
State, 519 N.W.2d 84, 85 (Iowa 1994). We review civil
motions to dismiss for correction of errors at law. Rees
v. City of Shenandoah, 682 N.W.2d 77, 78 (Iowa 2004).
application for postconviction relief on its face shows no
right of recovery under any state of facts, the court should
grant a motion to dismiss. Iowa R. Civ. P.
1.421(1)(f); see Rees, 682 N.W.2d at 79.
Almost every case will survive a motion to dismiss under
notice pleading. Rees, 682 N.W.2d at 79. The
application does not have to allege ultimate facts supporting
each element of the cause of action, but it "must
contain factual allegations that give the [State] 'fair
notice' of the claim asserted so the [State] can
adequately respond to the application." Id. The
application meets the "fair notice" requirement
"if it informs the [State] of the [events] giving rise
to the claim and of the claim's general nature."
Id. We view the applicant's allegations "in
the light most favorable to the [applicant] with doubts
resolved in that party's favor." Geisler v. City
Council of Cedar Falls, 769 N.W.2d 162, 165 (Iowa 2009)
(quoting Haupt v. Miller, 514 N.W.2d 905, 911 (Iowa
application alleges the district court has convicted and
sentenced Belk for a public offense. The gravamen of his
complaint is that his sentence violates a liberty interest:
the IDOC's failure to provide him with SOTP in a timely
manner prolongs his incarceration because without the
completion of SOTP, he argues, the IDOC refuses to recommend
him for parole.
general doctrine, "[t]here is no constitutional or
inherent right to be conditionally released from prison prior
to the expiration of a valid sentence." State v.
Cronkhite, 613 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Iowa 2000); accord
State v. Wright, 309 N.W.2d 891, 894 (Iowa 1981)
(holding the defendant does not "have a constitutional
right to parole"); State v. Cole, 168 N.W.2d
37, 39-40 (Iowa 1969) (holding the granting of parole
"is a matter of grace, favor, or forbearance" and
"[i]t is not a matter of right"). The power to
grant parole, much like the power to grant probation, is
granted by statute-it is not a power the judiciary wields.
See Wright, 309 N.W.2d at 894.
prisoners do not have a constitutional right to parole, a
state may choose-but is under no duty-to establish a parole
system. Cronkhite, 613 N.W.2d at 667-68 (citing
Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 488, 100 S.Ct. 1254,
1261 (1980); Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal &
Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7, 99 S.Ct. 2100, 2104
(1979)); accord Heidelberg v. Ill. Prisoner Review
Bd., 163 F.3d 1025, 1026 (7th Cir. 1998) (per curiam).
"Under such a system, states have authority to shorten
prison terms based on good behavior." Id. at
668 (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557,
94 S.Ct. 2963, 2975 (1974)). "[O]nce a [state] scheme is
implemented[, ] prisoners are imbued with a liberty interest
to which the procedural protections of the Due Process Clause
attach." Id. (citing Vitek, 445
U.S. at 488-89, 100 S.Ct. at 1261).
the mere presence of a parole system does not automatically
mean a prisoner has a constitutionally protected liberty
interest in parole. Bd. of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S.
369, 373, 107 S.Ct. 2415, 2418 (1987). Rather, the
existence of a protected liberty interest in parole depends
on the state's parole statute. The following cases
illustrate this principle.
Greenholtz, the United States Supreme Court held the
Nebraska statute created an expectation of parole protected
by the Due Process Clause. Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at
12, 99 S.Ct. at 2106. The Nebraska statute provided,
Whenever the Board of Parole considers the release of a
committed offender who is eligible for release on parole, it
shall order his release unless it is of the opinion
that his release should be deferred because:
(a)There is a substantial risk that he will not conform to
the conditions of parole;
(b)His release would depreciate the seriousness of his crime
or promote ...