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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Robert Mathis vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Robert Mathis

South Carolina Department of Corrections



Grievance No. 1943-99

I. Introduction

In this appeal, Robert Mathis (Mathis) alleges the Department of Corrections (DOC) illegally terminated his employment and improperly failed to notify him of the procedure for challenging the decision. DOC argues that Mathis was not terminated but instead was laterally transferred to another area. In addition, DOC argues that notice of the procedure for challenging a decision was given to Mathis. After reviewing all of the arguments in this case, the decision of DOC must be upheld. (1)

II. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

For final decisions made by DOC after February 14, 2000, an inmate may seek appellate review as authorized by Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). The review is conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who sits "in an appellate capacity" and who is "restricted to reviewing the decision below." Id. . More particularly, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 1999) the ALJ "shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact" and the ALJ must apply the review criteria listed in that section. See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(B) (Supp. 1999) (where an ALJ is directed to conduct a review "in the same manner prescribed in [§ 1-23-380](A).").

Here, Mathis seeks to invoke the review criteria of § 1-23-380(A)(6)(a) since Mathis asserts his due process rights under the United States Constitution have been prejudiced.

III. Issues For Decision

More particularly, Mathis presents an appeal grounded in two separate grievance procedures with both grievances asserting that DOC violated his constitutional rights. First, grievance 1557-99 asserts DOC denied him substantive due process by terminating him from private sector prison employment. Second, grievance 1943-99 asserts DOC denied him procedural due process when the Inmate Grievance Coordinator (IGC) neglected to notify Mathis that a failure to attach the Step 1 form to the Step 2 form would result in a default which would end any further review of grievance 1557-99.

III. Analysis

A. Jurisdiction Over Employment Issue

The employment termination issue of grievance 1557-99 cannot be addressed since the issue is outside the ALJ's authority.

The authority granted to an ALJ to hear an appeal from a final decision of DOC is limited to those decisions issued by DOC after February 14, 2000. See Al-Shabazz v. State, supra. Thus, the foundational question is whether the employment termination issue resulted from a final decision issued by DOC after February 14, 2000.

A final decision is one in which the agency "has rendered its last word on the matter." See Harrison v. PPG Industries, Inc., 446 U.S. 578, 586 (1980). At least two factors lead to the conclusion that on December 15, 1999 DOC had rendered its last word on the employment termination matter.

First, on December 15, 1999, DOC issued a decision on its Step 2 Grievance Form stating that Mathis had failed to properly follow the grievance procedures and that such a failure "terminated" the grievance. Such language establishes a clear indication of a final decision.

Second, the instructions on the back of the form unequivocally identify the decision as final. The instructions state that "[t]he decision rendered by the responsible official exhausts the appeal process of the SCDC Inmate Grievance Procedure."

Thus, to challenge the employment termination, Mathis should have utilized the judicial process in existence on that date. He may not now pursue the administrative process created by Al-Shabazz v. State, supra, since that procedure is available only for final decisions issued after February 14, 2000.

B. Lack of Notice As To Procedure

The second issue raised by Mathis is expressed in grievance 1943-99. In that grievance Mathis raises a procedural due process challenge. He alleges he was unaware that his employment termination case would be dismissed if the Step 1 form was not attached to the Step 2 form. He then argues that the failure to notify him of the potential result is a violation of procedural due process. While this issue is properly before the ALJ (final decision of DOC on this grievance issued on April 4, 2000), no violation of procedural due process has been shown.

The first step in examining a procedural due process matter is deciding whether a deprivation of a constitutionally protected interest in life, liberty or property has occurred. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 126 (1990). Indeed, the first step is critical since one demanding process cannot seek process simply as an end in itself, but rather one must show that the process demanded has the purpose of protecting "a substantive interest to which the individual has a legitimate claim of entitlement." Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 251 (1983). Here, Mathis seeks to show he has a legitimate claim of entitlement to a specific prison job with that entitlement based upon the assertion that he has a liberty interest in retaining a specific prison job. I cannot agree.

A normal part of prison life includes alterations, terminations, and the varying of job assignments among inmates. Accordingly, no liberty interest is impacted. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995) (an inmate's liberty interest is impacted if the prison "restraint . . . imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life."); Rienholtz v. Campbell, 64 F.Supp.2d 721 (W.D.Tenn. 1999) ("[A]llegations that plaintiff was terminated from his prison law library position, . . . and terminated from his commissary clerical job do not amount to an allegation of an 'atypical and significant hardship . . . in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life' and thus do not allege the deprivation of any liberty interest."). Accordingly, Mathis has no liberty interest in a specific job and thus the process by which that job was loss cannot give rise to a valid procedural due process challenge.

IV. Conclusion

The appeal of Robert Mathis' grievance alleging that DOC wrongfully terminated his employment cannot be addressed since a decision on that issue is not within the authority of the ALJ. The appeal of the grievance that DOC violated Mathis' procedural due process rights by failing to notify him of the consequences of not following correct procedure is denied. Accordingly, this case is ended.




Administrative Law Judge

Dated: September 25, 2000

Columbia, South Carolina

1. Mathis filed his Brief of Appellant, but DOC has not filed a Brief of Respondent. Instead, DOC filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that the ALJD lacks jurisdiction to hear this matter. Mathis filed a response to the Motion to Dismiss. After a review of the Brief of Appellant, the Motion to Dismiss, and the Response to Motion to Dismiss, I have concluded this case is sufficiently briefed for decision. Therefore, I have chosen not to directly address the positions advanced by DOC in its Motion to Dismiss. Instead, I have chosen to address the jurisdictional issue presented by the timing of the filing of Mathis' grievance and the due process issue presented by an alleged lack of notice.

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