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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Robert B. Chavis, #280538 vs. DOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Robert B. Chavis, #280538

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter comes before the Administrative Law Judge Division (“ALJD”) pursuant to the appeal of Robert B. Chavis, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (“DOC”). Chavis appeals the decision of the DOC finding him guilty of violating DOC Disciplinary Policy 1.04, Threatening to Inflict Harm on an Employee and/or Member of the Public, which resulted in a loss of thirty days of good-time credit. Having reviewed the record, I find it to be insufficient for this tribunal to make an intelligent review of Chavis’s claims, and therefore order that this matter be remanded to the DOC for further proceedings.


On September 5, 2002, Chavis allegedly prevented an officer from shutting a door to the cafeteria by putting his foot in the door, then, after backing away, pushed the door open, hitting the officer in the back of the leg with it. Accordingly, Chavis was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Policy 1.03, Striking an Employee With or Without a Weapon. At the hearing of that charge, a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) reduced the charge to violating DOC Disciplinary Policy 1.04, Threatening to Inflict Harm on an Employee and/or Member of the Public. The DHO found Chavis guilty of the charge and punished him by revoking thirty days of his good-time credit. Chavis appealed his conviction to the DOC, and then to this tribunal.


In Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that inmates may seek review of final decisions of the DOC in certain “non-collateral” or administrative matters (i.e., those matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence) by appealing those decisions to the ALJD pursuant to the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 376, 527 S.E.2d at 754. In McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, a majority of the judges of the ALJD, sitting en banc, held that this tribunal’s jurisdiction to hear inmate appeals under Al-Shabazz is limited to: (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 the DOC has taken an inmate’s created liberty interest as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing. McNeil v. S.C. Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, Slip Op. at 4-5 (S.C. Admin. Law Judge. Div. Sept. 5, 2001) (en banc). In the case at hand, Appellant contends that the DOC improperly revoked thirty days of his good-time credits as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing; accordingly, this tribunal has jurisdiction over this matter.

When reviewing the DOC’s decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. Consequently, this tribunal’s review of inmate appeals is confined to the record presented, id., and its inquiry into these matters is primarily concerned with ensuring that the DOC has granted aggrieved inmates the process they are due when their constitutional rights are implicated. Id. at 369, 527 S.E.2dat 750; McNeil, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, at 5 (“[O]ur review is limited solely to the determination of whether the [DOC] granted ‘minimal due process’ in reaching [its] decisions . . . .”). Further, recognizing that prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, this tribunal will adhere to the traditional “hands off” approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 382, 527 S.E.2d 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). However, notwithstanding this deferential standard of review, this tribunal must conduct meaningful review of the DOC’s actions to ensure that inmate grievances are addressed in a fair, reasonable, and efficient manner. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 383, 527 S.E.2d at 757.

In the present case, this tribunal is unable to conduct a meaningful review of the DOC’s actions. While normally the “grievance procedure [the DOC] has established is sufficient to give an inmate a method to raise the matter to prison officials and create a reviewable record,” id. at 375, 527 S.E.2d at 753, this record must at least contain “all pleadings, evidence received or considered, . . . the [DOC’s] final order,” and, if the grievance involves a major disciplinary hearing, “pertinent portions of the tape recording of the hearing or a properly transcribed record of the hearing.” Id. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. If the record in an inmate grievance matter does not contain these requisite elements, this tribunal cannot conduct an intelligent review of the DOC’s denial of the inmate’s grievance, nor reach any resolution of the appeal before it. See, e.g., D&D Leasing Co. v. Gentry, 298 S.C. 342, 380 S.E.2d 823 (1989) (stating that an appellate court cannot address an issue where the supporting record is incomplete); Vespazianni v. McAlister, 307 S.C. 411, 415 S.E.2d 427 (Ct. App. 1992) (same); see also State v. Barbee, 280 S.C. 328, 313 S.E.2d 76 (Ct. App. 1985) (holding that it was error for a circuit court to hear an appeal from magistrate’s court in the absence of a record filed by the magistrate).

In the case at hand, Chavis was convicted of threatening to inflict harm on an employee at a major disciplinary hearing. The DOC, however, has failed to present this tribunal with a properly transcribed record of that hearing. Footnote Significant portions of the testimony offered and statements made at Chavis’s disciplinary hearing could not be transcribed, apparently due to the poor quality of the tape recording of the hearing. In particular, the hearing transcript is insufficient to enable this tribunal to discern whether or not Chavis requested to call Sgt. Smith as a witness and whether or not he contested the fact that Sgt. Smith was not called as a witness. Footnote Because the record is insufficient for an appellate tribunal to make an intelligent review, this case must be remanded to the DOC to conduct a hearing and make further findings and rulings in order to establish a reviewable record. See David E. Shipley, South Carolina Administrative Law 7-57 (2d ed. 1989); see also Snider v. S.C. Dep’t of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, No.98-ALJ-11-0394-AP (S.C. Admin. Law Judge Div. Nov. 13, 1998) (remanding case to agency for a new contested case hearing where tape recording of prior hearing was destroyed before a transcript could be made for the record).

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this case is REMANDED to the DOC to conduct, within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order, a hearing and make a transcribed record of the hearing sufficient for appellate review by this tribunal. In the alternative, the DOC may grant Appellant the relief requested in his grievance in lieu of conducting a new hearing.



C. Dukes Scott

Administrative Law Judge

May 29, 2003

Columbia, South Carolina.

Brown Bldg.






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