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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

David George Laporte, #247701 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

David George Laporte, #247701

South Carolina Department of Corrections



Grievance No. ACI-0774-98
I. Introduction

David George Laporte (Laporte) #247701 brings this appeal challenging a decision by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) which convicted Laporte of escape, attempted escape, or aiding and abetting escape. Jurisdiction is invoked in the instant case since this matter is a major disciplinary hearing in which Laporte was punished by the loss of good time credits, a created liberty interest. Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742, 750 (2000); McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001). After a review of the record and the arguments, the DOC decision is AFFIRMED.

II. Scope of Review

In this review, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) acts "in an appellate capacity" and is "restricted to reviewing the decision below." Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742, 754 (2000). The review must apply the criteria of S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2000). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(B) (Supp. 2000) (where an ALJ is directed to conduct a review "in the same manner prescribed in [§ 1-23-380](A)."). Section 1-23-380(A)(6) establishes the following:

The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are:

(a) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;

(b) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(c) made upon unlawful procedure;

(d) affected by other error of law;

(e) clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(f) arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

In this case, while expressed in six headings, Laporte presents essentially two positions. He first argues that the DOC decision is made upon unlawful procedure in three particulars. He argues his rights to due process were violated since he was not provided with a disciplinary rule book, he was not provided an impartial hearing officer, and DOC did not follow its own rules in that the wrong individual at DOC classified the infraction as major and DOC failed to follow its own rules as to evidence and the location of the incident. Second, Laporte argues substantial evidence does not support the decision.

III. Analysis

A. Unlawful Procedure

Laporte argues the hearing was carried out under unlawful procedure since DOC failed to follow lawful procedures.

1. Procedural Due Process.

Laporte argues procedural due process was not followed. Due process for an inmate subjected to the loss of good time credits requires the following procedures:

(1) that advance written notice of the charge be given to the inmate at least twenty-four hours before the hearing; (2) that factfinders must prepare a written statement of the evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action; (3) that the inmate should be allowed to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, provided there is no undue hazard to institutional safety or correctional goals; (4) that counsel substitute (a fellow inmate or a prison employee) should be allowed to help illiterate inmates or in complex cases an inmate cannot handle alone; and (5) that the persons hearing the matter, who may be prison officials or employees, must be impartial. Wolff, 418 U.S. 563-72, 94 S.Ct. 2978-82, 41 L.Ed.2d at 954-60.

Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742, 751 (2000)

In the instant case Laporte does not suggest that any of the above rights were denied. Rather, he argues due process is not met unless a disciplinary rule book is furnished. I cannot agree.

Here, even if a rule book had not been furnished, such is not a violation of due process. Laporte was convicted on escape or attempting to escape. Such a prohibition is obvious. The failure to provide a rule book in this case is of no due process consequence given the plainly prohibited nature of escape in an inmate setting.

2. Impartial Hearing Body

The use of prison officials to hold inmate hearings does not present an inherent showing of a lack of an impartial hearing and the use of prison officials to conduct those hearing is not a violation of due process. Allen v. Cuomo, 100 F.3d 253, 259 (2d Cir. 1996) (no due process violation when prison officials serve as impartial decision-makers at disciplinary hearings). Certainly, an impartial hearing board is required. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 539, 572 n.20. However, due process is violated only if the officer is substantially involved with the investigation. Diercks v. Durham, 959 F.2d 710, 713 (8th Cir. 1992) (due process violation when complainant was a member of the board hearing the case); Pedraza v. Meyer, 919 F.2d 317, 320 (5th Cir. 1990) (no due process violation when disciplinary board official's only involvement in filing of complaint was receipt of incident report and intercepted letters); Mitchell v. Maynard, 80 F.3d 1433, 1446 (10th Cir. 1996) (no due process violation because officer did not witness inmate's participation in riot, was not present during riot, and did not prepare offense report).

Here, the hearing officer had done no investigating before the hearing. Rather, the hearing officer reached a conclusion based on the evidence and testimony received during the hearing. Further, the new material presented at the hearing resulted from Laporte's suggestion to the hearing officer that additional "doodling" would be found in his possession which would explain that he was not planning an escape. Given Laporte's defense, the hearing officer, accompanied by Laporte's counsel substitute, examined the additional drawings. Thus, the hearing officer did not act in a prosecutorial role but rather received evidence at the hearing consistent with Laporte's defense and in the presence of Laporte's counsel substitute. Accordingly, the hearing was impartial.

3. Following DOC's Own Rules

Laporte asserts that DOC failed to follow its own rules governing the grievance process. Here, the specific allegation is that DOC failed to have a proper individual classify the inmate's violation and DOC failed to properly follow its rules in the incident report in relation to evidence listed and identifying the location of the incident.

The classification of the incident is not a basis for a new trial. Rather, identifying who made the classification to treat the incident as a major violation is not a meaningful factor in the outcome of the dispute. Instead, the significant consideration is that Laporte's actions constituted escape or attempted escape. Laporte was afforded a hearing in which the charges were fully addressed.

The same is true as to the alleged failure to follow rules relevant to the incident report in relation to evidence listed and identifying the location of the incident Again, the significant consideration is that Laporte received a hearing on the charges and Laporte was afforded a fair opportunity to confront the allegations against him. Thus, the failure to adhere to the policy matters here under review do not warrant a reversal or a new trial.

B. Substantial Evidence

Laporte argues the DOC decision must be reversed since the decision is not supported by the evidence. I cannot agree.

In examining a DOC determination for the presence of evidentiary support, an ALJ must review the matter in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742. In that capacity, an ALJ reviewing factual disputes between DOC and the inmate "will not substitute [the ALJ's] judgment for that of the [DOC Hearing Officer] as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact." S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2000).

Thus, once the facts are established by the Hearing Officer, the ALJ will not re-weigh the evidence in an attempt to come to an independent conclusion on the factual dispute. Rather, the ALJ will rely upon the Hearing Officers factual determinations unless such those determinations are "clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23- 380(A)(6)(e) (Supp. 2000). In determining if substantial evidence supports the Hearing Officer's factual determinations, the ALJ does not look for "a mere scintilla of evidence nor evidence viewed blindly from one side, but [rather looks for ] evidence which, when considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that the agency reached." Palmetto Alliance, Inc. v. South Carolina Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 282 S.C. 430, 432, 319 S.E.2d 695, 696 (1984). Accordingly, if such evidence is present, substantial evidence is present and the factual determinations will not be overturned.

Here, substantial evidence supports the factual determinations made below. The violation was premised on information from a confidential source that Laporte was planning an escape. Further, a shake down of Laporte's cell produced a drawing depicting what could reasonably have been plans for an escape. These determinations would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that Laporte committed the act here in dispute. Thus, substantial evidence supports the DOC decision.

IV. Conclusion

The guilty verdict entered by DOC against David George Laporte is AFFIRMED.




Administrative Law Judge

Dated: April 18, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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