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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Rodney T. Arnold, #139133 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Rodney T. Arnold, #139133

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division ("Division") pursuant to the appeal of Rodney T. Arnold, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections ("Department") since January 13, 1988. On February 2, 2000, Inmate Arnold filed two grievances with the Department. In his first grievance, Inmate Arnold complained that employees of Tyger River Correctional Facility ("Facility") wrongly returned correspondence containing three business cards that was addressed to him. In a second grievance, Inmate Arnold alleged that he had observed Department employees reading inmate correspondence in violation of Department policy and the First Amendment. On February 29, 2000, the Department denied both of Inmate Arnold's grievances. On March 27, 2000, Inmate Arnold filed this appeal with the Division.


On December 29, 1999, the Facility's mailroom supervisor informed Inmate Arnold that certain correspondence addressed to Inmate Arnold had been rejected because it contained three business cards. In addition, Inmate Arnold alleges he observed mailroom employees reading, rather than scanning, inmate mail on several occasions, including December 29, 1999.

Department policy provides for the inspection of every piece of inmate mail to detect contraband. Policy/Procedure 10.08 states that

all general and certified (provided it is not legal/privileged) correspondence will be opened and inspected by mailroom employees for unauthorized property items/contraband prior to delivery to the inmate. Legal and privileged mail must be opened and inspected in the presence of the inmate.

Department Policy/Procedure 10.08(2)(b).

Department policy also permits the reading or scanning of non-privileged, non-legal mail if it is believed to contain material that could interfere with safety. That policy states that

an inmate's incoming general (and certified, provided it is not legal or privileged) correspondence may only be read/scanned when the Warden or designee has reason to believe that the correspondence may contain material that interferes with legitimate penological objectives, i.e., the safety, security, or order of the institution or others.

Policy/Procedure 10.08(c).

Finally, inmates are prohibited from receiving any type of identification card. Department policy states that

[i]nmates will be prohibited from receiving any pre-paid phone cards and/or any type of identification card or original birth/marriage certificate (their own or anyone elses (sic)) and/or other materials that could be used to create false identities.

Policy/Procedure 10.08(2)(a)(g).

The Department considers a business card a type of identification card.


The Division'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). In Al- Shabazz, the Supreme Court created a new avenue by which inmates could seek review of final decisions of the Department of Corrections in "non-collateral" matters, i.e., matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence, by appealing those decisions to the Division and ultimately to the circuit court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act. 338 S.C. at 373, 376, 527 S.E.2d at 752, 754. In its appellate capacity, the Division is primarily concerned with ensuring that the appellants receive all procedural process they are due. While due process is "flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands," Stono River Envtl. Protection Ass'n v. S.C. Dept. Of Health and Envtl. Control, 305 S.C. 90, 94, 406 S.E.2d 30, 341 (1991), certain elements must be satisfied in order for procedural due process requirements to be met, 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, 338 S.C. 371, 527 S.E.2d at 751, citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974).

As in all cases subject to appellate review by the Division, the standard of 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 unless the agency's determination is affected by error of law or is clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence in the whole record. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 1999); Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756; Lark v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 276 S.C. 130, 276 S.E.2d 304 (1981). Moreover, to afford "meaningful judicial review," the Administrative Law Judge must "adequately explain" his decision by "documenting the findings of fact" and basing his decision on "reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record." Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756.


Prisoners may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). That prisoners retain due process rights "in no way implies that these rights are not subject to restrictions imposed by the nature of the regime to which they have been lawfully committed." Id. at 556. As such, a prison regulation that impinges on an inmate's constitutional rights is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and the inmate has alternative methods of exercising those rights. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-90 (1987).

In this case, Inmate Arnold does not allege that the Department's policies regarding the handling of mail infringe on his First Amendment rights. (1) Rather, Inmate Arnold alleges that Department employees violated his rights when they failed to follow Department policy by reading inmate mail and by rejecting the correspondence containing the business cards.

Regarding the reading of inmate mail, I find that this Division has no jurisdiction to hear Inmate Arnold's claim because Inmate Arnold has failed to allege an actual injury. "No person may invoke the judicial power to determine the validity of executive or legislative action unless he has sustained, or is in immediate danger of sustaining, prejudice therefrom." Baird v. Charleston County, 333 S.C. 519, 511 S.E.2d 69, 75 (1999). Inmate Arnold makes no allegation that his mail has been read by Department employees in derogation of his First Amendment rights. Therefore, I find that Inmate Arnold has presented no actual controversy.

With respect to the business cards, I find that there is substantial evidence that the Department properly rejected the correspondence in accordance with Department policy. Department policy dictates that identification cards, as well as "other materials that could be used to create false identities," are unauthorized Policy/Procedure 10.08(2)(a)(g). Although Inmate Arnold argues otherwise, a business card clearly could be altered in such a way as to create a false identity. Therefore, the Department properly applied its own policies and procedures when it rejected the correspondence containing the business cards.

Inmate Arnold's appeal is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Inmate Arnold's appeal is dismissed.




Administrative Law Judge

May 16, 2001

Columbia, South Carolina

1. To the contrary, Inmate Arnold admits in his Notice of Appeal that the policies, rules, and regulations promulgated by the Department are "reasonable." See Attachment to Notice of Appeal, p.1.

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