South Carolina              
Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Leroy Matthews #255817 vs. SCDOC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Corrections

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Leroy Matthews #255817

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Corrections
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
04-ALJ-04-00248-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF CASE

This matter is before the Administrative Law Court (ALC or Court) Footnote pursuant to the appeal of Leroy Matthews, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (Department). Matthews was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.09, Sexual Misconduct. As a result of his conviction, Matthews lost thirty (30) days of “good-time” credit. Matthews filed a grievance with the Department and received the Department’s final decision on or about June 9, 2004. On June 10, 2004, Matthews filed this appeal.

BACKGROUND

On December 18, 2003, Deborah Parish, an employee of the Department, observed the Appellant stroking his penis in a medical waiting room of Evans Correctional Institute. After the incident, the Appellant was charged with violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.09, Sexual Misconduct. The Appellant received written notice of the charges on December 22, 2003.

On December 30, 2003, a Major Disciplinary Hearing was held before a Department Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) concerning the Sexual Misconduct charge. The Appellant denoted on the Department’s Disciplinary Report form that he did wish that his accuser, Deborah Parish, be present at the hearing. Additionally, although the Appellant did not request a counsel substitute, he was nevertheless provided one. At the beginning of the hearing, the DHO found that the Appellant refused to attend the hearing and therefore entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf and proceeded with the hearing. During the hearing, the DHO also read a narrative of Ms. Parish’s report into the Record as evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found the Appellant guilty of Sexual Misconduct and sanctioned him with the loss of thirty (30) days of good-time credit. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record which documented her findings.

The Appellant filed a grievance appealing his conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.09. After reviewing his allegation, the Warden denied the Appellant’s grievance. He appealed the Warden’s decision asking that the Department reverse his loss of “good-time” credits. The Department denied his 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.

The Appellant argued in his Notice of Appeal that pursuant to SCDC Policy OP 22.14, Form 1969 was not signed. Footnote Additionally, in his Appeal Brief, the Appellant alleges that he did not refuse to attend his disciplinary hearing.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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. Footnote

When reviewing the Department’s decisions in inmate grievance matters, the Court sits in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz 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)(6) (Supp. 2002). 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 S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6); See also Marietta Garage, Inc. v. South Carolina Dept. of Public Safety, 337 S.C. 133, 522 S.E.2d 605 (1999); South Carolina Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation v. Girgis, 332 S.C. 162, 503 S.E.2d 490 (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. South Carolina Coastal Council, 319 S.C. 348, 461 S.E.2d 388 (1995).

Additionally, in Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 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, the Appellant alleges that the Department should not have revoked his thirty (30) 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. Al-Shabazz at 751, citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974).

DISCUSSION

Due Process

The Appellant argues that he did not refuse to attend his disciplinary hearing. SCDC policy OP-22.14 provides that inmates generally have the right to be present at their disciplinary hearing. However, “[i]f an inmate refuses to appear at the hearing . . . , the hearing may be conducted in the inmate’s absence. In those instances, “[t]he Hearing Officer must provide written reasons in the record for the accused inmate’s absence during any portion of the hearing.” Here, the Record establishes that the Appellant received written notice of the charges against him in excess of twenty-four (24) hours prior to a hearing that was held before an impartial Disciplinary Hearing Officer. The Record also contains an incident report signed by Officer McRae stating that he went to the Appellant’s cell and informed him to report to “multi purpose” for his disciplinary hearing. Nevertheless, the Appellant refused to get out of his bed. Based upon that evidence, the DHO determined that the Appellant waived his right to attend the hearing. The Record also reflects that Appellant’s counsel substitute informed the Appellant of his rights under the Department’s disciplinary procedures prior to the hearing.

Therefore, I find that the Appellant was given the opportunity to offer evidence and call witnesses. However, rather than appear at the hearing and present his defense, the Appellant choose not to appear at the hearing. In addition, although not constitutionally required, the Appellant was afforded a counsel substitute who assisted him in his defense even in his absence. Accordingly, the Appellant failed to establish that the DHO’s decision to proceed with the hearing in his absence was arbitrary or capricious or that he was denied due process.

Substantial Evidence

I also find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.09, Sexual Misconduct. A Code 2.09 violation is: “(1) Engaging in sexual acts or intimate physical contact of a sexual nature alone or with others; or (2) indecent and/or unnecessary exposure of private body parts; or (3) soliciting sexual acts from others.” Here, the Record clearly supports the facts recited in the “Background” portion of this Order. Those facts establish sufficient evidence that the Appellant was engaging in sexual misconduct in public. Consequently, the Record establishes substantial evidence that the Appellant violated SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.09.

ORDER

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

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

_________________________________

Ralph K. Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge

December 21, 2004

Columbia, South Carolina


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