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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Leonard Brown, #184972 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Leonard Brown, #184972

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division (Division) pursuant to the appeal of Leonard Brown, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (Department) since February 25, 1992. On August 9, 1999, Inmate Brown was convicted of Refusing or Failing to Obey Orders after he refused to return to his dorm when instructed to do so by one of the Department's corrections officers. As a result of his conviction, Inmate Brown received a reprimand. As a result of the reprimand, Inmate Brown failed to earn twenty days of "good-time" credit. Inmate Brown filed a grievance with the Department on August 23, 1999, and received a final decision from the Department on November 5, 1999. On December 3, 1999, Inmate Brown attempted to file an action seeking review of the Department's final decision in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County. (1) On March 23, 2000, Inmate Brown filed this appeal with the Division. I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On August 4, 1999, a Department corrections officer, Pearline Doctor, observed Inmate Brown approach the Education Building of Allendale Correctional Institution (Facility) at approximately 10:05 a.m. At that time, Officer Doctor requested that Inmate Brown present his pass to enter the building. When Inmate Brown failed to produce a pass, Officer Doctor instructed Inmate Brown to return to his dorm. Officer Doctor repeated her directive, and Inmate Brown again refused. Inmate Brown states that, despite his requests, Officer Doctor refused to issue him a pass so that he could return to his dorm without receiving a write up for "Out of Place." After the incident, Officer Doctor completed a Disciplinary Offense Report, charging Inmate Brown with Refusing or Failing to Obey Orders. The Report was then forwarded to the assistant warden, who determined that a "minor" hearing regarding the incident would be held. Inmate Brown received written notice of the charge four days before his hearing, which was held on August 9, 1999, before a Minor Hearing Officer ("MHO"). At the hearing, the MHO permitted Inmate Brown to make a statement and to present written statements of his witnesses. Inmate Brown was not permitted to cross-examine Officer Doctor or to present any witnesses. Once the hearing was concluded, the MHO completed a Minor Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record, indicating that Inmate Brown was found guilty of Refusing or Failure to Obey Orders, for which he received a reprimand as a sanction. Consequently, Inmate Brown failed to earn twenty days' "good-time" credit for the month of August 1999.


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.

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.


The Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of procedural due process applies only to the deprivation of a life, liberty, or property interest. Board of Regents of State College v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 2705 (1972). The statutory right to sentence-related credits is a protected liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974); Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. at 369-370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. An inmate facing the loss of sentence-related credits is entitled to minimal due process to ensure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated. Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. at 370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. 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).

However, an inmate has no liberty interest in sentence-related credits that have not yet been earned. See Luken v. Scott, 71 F.3d 192 (5th Cir. 1995) (mere opportunity to earn good-time credits does not constitute a constitutionally cognizable liberty interest sufficient to trigger the protection of the Due Process Clause), citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S. Ct. 2293 (1995) (where state's action does not "inevitably affect the duration of [the inmate's] sentence," no constitutionally cognizable liberty interest exists). In the absence of such an interest, an inmate facing a "minor disciplinary proceeding," one in which he does not face the potential loss of sentence-related credits, is not entitled to an Al-Shabazz-type hearing. See Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 372, 527 S.E.2d at 751, citing Wolff, 418 U.S. at 571 ("We do not suggest, however, that the procedures required by today's decision for the deprivation of good-time credits would also be required for the imposition of lesser penalties.").

A parole-eligible inmate in the custody of the Department who has not been subjected to punishment for misbehavior and has otherwise followed the rules of the Department "is entitled to a deduction from the term of his sentence . . . computed at the rate of twenty days for each month served." S.C. Code Ann. § 24-13-210(A) (Supp. 1995). Such an inmate is not entitled to any deduction for good behavior until he has completed that month's service. See id.; 1978 S.C. Op. Atty. Gen. 172 ("the effect of the language of the statute . . . is to require that the deductions be made for the time spent in actual incarceration with good behavior"). Therefore, an inmate who violates a Department rule will fail to earn twenty days' "good-time" credit for the month in which the rule violation occurred.

In the instant case, Inmate Brown refused to return to his dorm after being directed to do so by a corrections officer, a violation of the Facility's rules. As a result of his infraction, Inmate Brown failed to earn twenty days' credit toward his sentence for the month of September 1999.

I find that Inmate Brown has no liberty interest in good-time credit he failed to earn as a result of his rule violation in August 1999. As such, Inmate Brown is not entitled to an Al-Shabazz-type hearing, in which he is represented by counsel substitute if necessary, and in which he has the opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses. Therefore, because Inmate Brown was not entitled to any hearing regarding a Facility rules violation resulting in his inability to earn good-time credit, the Minor Disciplinary Hearing provided by the Department was more than sufficient. That the Department routinely affords inmates charged with Facility rules violations and other minor infractions some process does not indicate that any process is required, much less the process described in Al-Shabazz when a life, liberty, or property interest is at stake. Accordingly, the Department's final decision is affirmed.


IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Appellant's appeal is denied, and the Final Decision of the Department is hereby AFFIRMED.




Administrative Law Judge

P.O. Box 11667

Columbia, South Carolina 29211-1667

October 30, 2000

Columbia, South Carolina

1. Although Inmate Brown took all necessary steps to file his action with the Richland County Court of Common Pleas, the Clerk of Court did not assign a docket number to his action pending the Supreme Court's rehearing of Al-Shabazz v. State, infra. Inmate Brown's pleadings were returned to him by the Clerk's office following the Supreme Court's February 14, 2000 decision. By Order dated August 2, 2000, I acknowledged that Inmate Brown "took all possible steps" to file his appeal with the circuit court, and, as such, the Division had jurisdiction pursuant to Al-Shabazz v. State to hear Inmate Brown's appeal.

Brown Bldg.






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