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Lewis Ransburgh Sr. v. State of Mississippi and Mississippi Parole Board
Case Number: 2019-CP-01282-COA
Judge: Latrice Westbrooks
Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Plaintiff's Attorney: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: DARRELL CLAYTON BAUGHN
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Jackson, MS - Criminal defense attorney represented Lewis Ransburgh with appealing from the Hinds CountyCircuit Court’s denial of his request for post-conviction relief (PCR) .
On July 23, 1991, Lewis Ransburgh was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in
prison. He was paroled on August 8, 2002.1 On September 18, 2007, Ransburgh’s parole
was revoked after he tested positive for cocaine on January 18, 2007; May 16, 2007; and July
16, 2007.2 Ransburgh alleges that the revocation was based on false-positive drug tests
caused by antibiotics.
¶3. Unhappy with the parole board’s decision, since 2007 Ransburgh has filed dozens of
motions seeking to have his revocation reversed, including multiple motions for postconviction relief. He has sought relief in various courts, including the United States District
Courts for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi and the Circuit Court of
Sunflower County. In 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court entered an order dismissing
Ransburgh’s fourth PCR motion filed before the Court. Order, Lewis Ransburgh Sr. v. State,
No. 2015-M-00421 (Miss. July 15, 2015). Most recently, he filed a PCR motion and a
request to proceed “In Forma Pauperis Petition for Writ of Mandamus” with the Circuit
Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County. In an order dated April 16, 2019, the
circuit judge denied Ransburgh’s “In Forma Pauperis Petition for Writ of Mandamus” and
noted that he “was in clear violation of his parole and [that it] was properly revoked.” His
PCR motion was dismissed with prejudice on August 2, 2019.
¶4. On appeal before this Court, Ransburgh alleges as error that the circuit court judge (1)
had inappropriate ex parte communications with the parole board or its lawyer; and (2) erred
in allegedly holding that there was sufficient evidence to revoke his parole without holding
2 The record before us includes only the briefs of the parties and the circuit court’s
order stating that his parole was properly revoked. These dates are included in the circuit
court’s order and were adopted by the Mississippi SupremeCourt in a 2019 order but cannot
otherwise be verified. See Order, In re Lewis Ransburgh Sr., No. 2018-M-01733 (Miss.
Apr. 17, 2019).
an evidentiary hearing, thereby violating his due process rights. The State adds a third issue
styled as “Whether Ransburgh’s PCR was a Valid PCR.” Included in the State’s argument
are four sub-issues: (1) successive-writ bar; (2) time-bar; (3) laches; and (4) failure of the
PCR motion to meet statutory requirements.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶5. “When reviewing a [circuit] court’s denial or dismissal of a PCR motion, we will only
disturb the [circuit] court’s decision if it is clearly erroneous; however, we review the
[circuit] court’s legal conclusions under a de novo standard of review.” Williams v. State,
228 So. 3d 844, 846 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Thinnes v. State, 196 So. 3d 204,
207-08 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016)).
A. Ex Parte Communications
¶6. Ransburgh alleges that the circuit court judge engaged in improper ex parte
communications “with the parole board or there [sic] lawyer. . . .” In support of his
argument, Ransburgh points to the circuit court’s April 16, 2019 order denying his petition
for writ of mandamus. There is no clear indication of what actions by the circuit court judge
allegedly constituted ex parte communications, but Ransburgh seems to take issue with the
circuit court’s consideration of the State’s response to his PCR motion. Black’s Law
Dictionary defines “ex parte communication” as “[a] communication between counsel . . .
and the court when opposing counsel . . . is not present.” Ex Parte Communication, Black’s
Law Dictionary 348 (11th ed. 2019). There is no indication that the State appeared for a
hearing at which Ransburgh was not present, nor does the record before us indicate that any
ex parte communications occurred. We hold that Ransburgh is not entitled to any relief on
appeal pertaining to his claim of ex parte communications.
B. Due Process and Lack of Evidentiary Hearing
¶7. Ransburgh also argues that his due process rights were violated because the circuit
court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing and allegedly relied on insufficient evidence in
making its ruling. Evidentiary hearings are not required in all circumstances. We have
previously held that it is proper for a circuit court to “dismiss a [PCR] motion . . . without an
evidentiary hearing where it plainly appears from the face of the motion, any annexed
exhibits and the prior proceedings in the case that the movant is not entitled to any relief.”
Pickle v. State, 115 So. 3d 896, 899 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (internal quotation marks
omitted); accord Miss. Code Ann. § 99-39-11(2) (Rev. 2015). Ransburgh submitted his PCR
motion to the circuit court and had the opportunity to include any evidence he deemed
relevant. In the order denying Ransburgh a writ of mandamus, the circuit court clearly stated
that it reviewed all pleadings and papers (including medical records) submitted to the court
prior to issuing that ruling and referenced the three dates on which Ransburgh tested positive
for cocaine. One of the parties must have already submitted these records for the court to
make this reference. In ruling on the PCR motion, the circuit court explicitly stated it
reviewed the motion, and ruled that Ransburgh was not entitled to post-conviction relief.
There are no “extraordinary circumstances” present that would necessitate an evidentiary
hearing. Cf. Chapman v. State, 167 So. 3d 1170, 1174 (¶12) (Miss. 2015). We therefore
decline to remand Ransburgh’s case for an evidentiary hearing.
C. Procedural Bar
¶8. Under the Uniform Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act, any order denying or
dismissing a PCR motion is a bar to a second or successive PCR motion. Miss. Code Ann.
§ 99-39-23(6) (Rev. 2015). Ransburgh has the burden to show why his PCR motion is not
barred as a successive motion. We note that “a mere assertion of a constitutional-right
violation does not automatically preclude the application of the procedural bars.” Stokes v.
State, 238 So. 3d 631, 634 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018). Neither Ransburgh’s briefing, his
exhibit, nor the record evinces the vague constitutional violations he alleges. Although
Ransburgh’s prior PCR motions are not in the record before us, this appears to be the fifth
PCR motion before either the Mississippi Supreme Court or this Court since the denial of his
initial PCR motion, and there have been numerous ill-founded motions dating back to 2007
in other venues as well.3 His motion is therefore successive. We have reviewed Ransburgh’s
submissions and find that none of the allegations raised involve fundamental rights that
would give rise to an exception to the procedural bar. Instead, Ransburgh relies on assertions
evidenced only by his “personal knowledge.” Absent supporting proof, his “[m]ere
assertions of constitutional-rights violations do not suffice to overcome the procedural bar.”
Williams v. State, 110 So. 3d 840, 843 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013).
¶9. Based on the foregoing discussion, Ransburgh’s motion is also barred as successive.
There is no need for us to address the remaining issues the Appellees briefed.
Outcome: We find no evidence of improper ex parte communication between the circuit court
judge and the State. The circuit court judge acted within the confines of Mississippi law and did not violate Ransburgh’s right to due process in ruling without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Based on the record before us, we find no clear error. Ransburgh has failed to demonstrate that any exception exists to the successive-writ bar set forth in Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-39-23(6). The circuit court properly denied Ransburgh’s request for post-conviction relief and dismissed the motion.