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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Paul Ackerman, #264634 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Paul Ackerman, #264634

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Court (ALC or Court) pursuant to the appeal of Paul Ackerman, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (Department or DOC). Ackerman was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 903 (Use/Possession of Unauthorized Drugs). As a result of his conviction, Ackerman lost ninety (90) days of “good-time” credit. He filed a grievance with the Department and the Department issued a final decision on May 25, 2007. Following the Department’s denial of that grievance, Ackerman filed this appeal with the ALC.


On March 23, 2007, Sgt. D. Monroe gave Appellant a drug test for reasonable suspicion. The test was positive for THC. As a result, Appellant was charged with violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 903 (Use/Possession of Unauthorized Drugs).

On April 17, 2007, a Major Disciplinary Hearing was held before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO). Appellant was represented by Counsel Substitute. During the hearing, the DHO read a narrative of the Incident Report into the Record and received testimony from the Appellant and Sgt. Monroe. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found the Appellant guilty of the charge and sanctioned him to the loss of ninety (90) days good time. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record which documented the DHO’s findings.

Appellant Ackerman filed a grievance with the Department appealing his conviction of the charge. After reviewing his contentions, the Warden denied Appellant’s grievance. The Appellant then appealed the Warden’s decision and the Department subsequently denied that grievance stating that the evidence supported the conviction and that the sanction imposed was appropriate for the violation that the Appellant committed. This appeal followed. In his appeal brief, Appellant alleges that he made a deal with Investigator Shuggart to drop the drug charge if he could provide information on other inmates.


The Court’s jurisdiction to hear this matter is derived entirely from the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). The Court’s appellate jurisdiction in inmate appeals is limited to state created liberty interests typically involving: (1) cases in which an inmate contends that prison officials have erroneously calculated his sentence, sentence-related credits, or custody status; and (2) cases in which an inmate has received punishment in a major disciplinary hearing as a result of a serious rule violation. Id.[1]

As set forth above, when reviewing the Department’s decisions in inmate grievance matters, the Court sits in an appellate capacity. Id. at 756. Consequently, the review in these inmate grievance cases is limited to the Record presented. An Administrative Law Judge may not substitute his judgment for that of an agency “as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact.” S.C. Code Ann. § 1‑23‑380(A)(5) (Supp. 2005). Furthermore, an Administrative Law Judge may not reverse or modify an agency’s decision unless substantial rights of the Appellant have been prejudiced because the decision is clearly erroneous in view of the substantial evidence on the whole Record, arbitrary or affected by an error of law. See Section 1-23-380(A)(5); see also Marietta Garage, Inc. v. S.C. Dept. of Public Safety, 337 S.C. 133, 522 S.E.2d 605 (Ct. App. 1999); S.C. Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Reg. v. Girgis, 332 S.C. 162, 503 S.E.2d 490 (Ct. App. 1998). “ ‘Substantial evidence’ is not a mere scintilla of evidence nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the Record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that the administrative agency reached or must have reached in order to justify its action.” Lark v. Bi‑Lo, 276 S.C. 130, 135, 276 S.E.2d 304, 306 (1981). Accordingly, the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency’s finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Grant v. S.C. Coastal Council, 319 S.C. 348, 461 S.E.2d 388 (1995).

Additionally, in Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-456, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Moreover, in Al-Shabazz, the Court underscored that since prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, the Courts and therefore this tribunal adhere to a “hands off” approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz at 757; see also Pruitt v. State, 274 S.C. 565, 266 S.E.2d 779 (1980) (stating the traditional “hands off” approach of South Carolina courts regarding internal prison discipline and policy).

In this case, Appellant Ackerman alleges that the Department should not have revoked his ninety (90) days of accrued good time. Inmates have a protected liberty interest in their earned statutory good-time credits under the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, when, as here, the Department revokes an inmate’s good-time credits as punishment in a “major disciplinary hearing” involving “more serious rule violations,” prison officials must provide that inmate with “minimal due process.” Al-Shabazz at 750. Consequently, specific administrative procedures must be followed before depriving an inmate of statutorily granted earned credit, including adequate advance notice of the charges, adequate opportunity for a hearing in which the inmate can present witnesses and documentary evidence, and an impartial hearing officer who prepares a written statement of all the evidence presented and the reasons for his decision. Id. at 751 (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974)).


The Record clearly supports the facts recited in the “Background” portion of this Order. In evaluating the evidence presented at the hearing, “[t]he fact finder is imbued with broad discretion in determining credibility or believability of witnesses.” Small v. Pioneer Machinery, Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 465, 494 S.E.2d 835, 843 (Ct. App. 1997). Moreover, in Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56, 457 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the revocation of good time must be supported by “some evidence in the record.” However, “[a]scertaining whether this standard is satisfied does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence. Instead, the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Id. at 455. Thus, if reasonable minds could arrive at the DHO’s conclusion based upon the evidence presented, the Department’s decision must be upheld regardless of the derivation of the evidence. See also Smith v. Samu, 54 F.3d 788 (10th Cir. 1995).

I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 903, Use/Possession of Unauthorized Drugs. A Code 903 violation is:

The actual or constructive possession of any item which was not issued to the inmate officially or which cannot be purchased by him or her in the prison canteen, or which has not been authorized by the Agency Director or Warden. Drugs of any description, (except those prescribed by an authorized physician and within authorized amounts), e.g., barbiturates, narcotics, medicines, marijuana, and poisons, as well as all drug paraphernalia, such as needles, syringes, etc.

When viewed in light of the DHO’s discretion, the Record sufficiently establishes substantial evidence that the Appellant tested positive for THC. Accordingly, I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 903 (Use/Possession of Unauthorized Drugs).


IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the appeal of the Appellant is DISMISSED and the Final Decision of the Department is AFFIRMED;



Ralph King Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge

October 11, 2007

Columbia, South Carolina

[1] In Sullivan, the Supreme Court also found that other conditions of confinement could potentially implicate a state created liberty interest. However, those interests are “generally limited to freedom from restraint which. . . imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Sullivan v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections 355 S.C. 437, 586 S.E.2d 124 (2003) (quoting Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995)). See also Slezak v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections , 361 S.C. 327, 605 S.E.2d 506 (2004).


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