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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Rodney Jones #244189 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Rodney Jones #244189

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter comes before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). Appellant Rodney Jones appeals the decision of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke twenty days of his "good-time" credit as punishment for the use of profane language and for failing to obey orders in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code §§ 2.05 and 2.13, respectively. Having reviewed the record, applicable law, and the briefs filed by the parties in this matter, I conclude that the decision of the Department must be reversed.


On May 19, 2000, Appellant was involved in a verbal confrontation with a DOC corrections officer, Officer Herrick. This incident was witnessed by another officer, Officer Lyons. As a result of that confrontation, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.05, Use of Obscene, Vulgar or Profane Language or Gestures, § 2.13, Refusing or Failing to Obey Orders, and § 2.12, Inciting/Creating a Disturbance. At the hearing of these charges, the DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) dismissed the charge for inciting or creating a disturbance under § 2.12, but found Appellant guilty of the remaining two charges. As punishment, the DHO placed Appellant on thirty days of cell restriction and revoked twenty days of Appellant's good-time credits.

Appellant appealed his disciplinary conviction to the Department, and then to this tribunal. On appeal, Appellant raises several meritless and irrelevant grounds of appeal, save one. He contends that he did not receive a written copy of the charges filed against him before he arrived at the disciplinary hearing. ANALYSIS

In Al-Shabazz, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that inmates may seek review of final decisions of the Department 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 Department 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 Department improperly revoked twenty days of his good-time credit as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing; accordingly, this tribunal has jurisdiction over this matter.

When reviewing the Department'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 Department has granted aggrieved inmates the process they are due when their constitutional rights are implicated. Id. at 369, 527 S.E.2d at 750; McNeil, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, at 5 ("[O]ur review is limited solely to the determination of whether the Department 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 Department'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, Appellant contends that the Department's decision to revoke his good-time credit was made in violation of his due process rights. Because inmates have a protected liberty interest in their earned statutory good-time credits under the Fourteenth Amendment, they are entitled to "minimum procedures appropriate under the circumstances and required by the Due Process clause to insure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974). Thus, where, as here, an inmate faces the revocation of good-time credits as punishment in a disciplinary hearing, prison officials must provide that inmate with certain procedural safeguards. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. (1) These procedural safeguards include:

(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.

Id. at 371, 527 S.E.2d at 751 (paraphrasing Wolff). Beyond these procedural requirements, the United States Supreme Court has held that the revocation of an inmate's good-time credits does not comport with Due Process unless "there [is] some evidence from which the conclusion of the [prison official] could be deduced." Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985). (2) Thus, if the Department affords the inmate a Wolff-type hearing and has at least some evidence in the record to support its decision, the Department's revocation of an inmate's good-time credits satisfies the requirements of due process.

In the disciplinary proceedings underlying the instant appeal, Appellant was not afforded all the process due him pursuant to Wolff and Al-Shabazz. At all stages of the proceedings in this matter, from the disciplinary hearing to this appeal before the ALJD, Appellant has alleged that he did not receive written notice of the charges against him prior to the hearing. (3) At the hearing, the DHO rejected Appellant's claim and found that Appellant had received notice of the charges in excess of 24 hours before the hearing. (Hr'g Tr. at 14.) However, this ruling is not supported by the evidence.

It is clear that the Department form notifying Appellant of the charges against him (i.e., DOC form 19-69) was initially delivered by Lieutenant Caesar to the wrong inmate, who acknowledged receipt of the form by signing it. This form contains a second notation from Officer Custodio indicating that the "inmate," presumably Appellant, refused to sign the form to acknowledge his receipt of a copy of the charges. Without receiving testimony or any other evidence from either Lieutenant Caesar or Officer Custodio, the DHO found that: "the charge paper was originally given to the wrong [inmate]; however, the copy was not torn off and given to him." (Hr'g Tr. at 4.) The DHO therefore concluded that Appellant had properly received a copy of the charges. This finding is without evidentiary support. There is no evidence in the record from which the DHO could have concluded that, contrary to normal procedure, the inmate who acknowledged receipt of the charges by signing the notice form did not receive a copy of that form. Therefore, there is no evidence in the record from which to conclude that Appellant properly received notice of the charges against him as required by Wolff.

Plainly there were errors made in the delivery of the notice of the charges to Appellant. (4) However, rather than investigate those errors to determine whether Appellant had been properly notified of the charges, the DHO simply concluded that Appellant had received written notice of the charges as required. This finding is not supported by the evidence and cannot be upheld. The Department has failed to establish that it provided Appellant with notice of the charges against him prior to his hearing and thus it is has failed to establish that it provided Appellant with the due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment before revoking his sentence-related credits as punishment in a disciplinary proceeding. Therefore,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Appellant's disciplinary conviction of June 6, 2000 is REVERSED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department restore to Appellant all good-time credits taken from or lost by Appellant as a result of that conviction.



Administrative Law Judge

June 19, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. However, this set of safeguards is necessarily a limited one. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 560 ("[I]t is immediately apparent that one cannot automatically apply procedural rules designed for free citizens in an open society . . . to the very different situation presented by a disciplinary proceeding in a state prison.").

2. This review "does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence," Hill, 472 U.S. at 455; rather, this standard only requires this tribunal to determine whether "there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the [prison official]." Id. at 455-56.

3. While Appellant does admit to receiving casual verbal notice of the charges from a DOC officer, such verbal notice does not satisfy the requirements of due process as set forth in Wolff. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 563-64.

4. Not only is the recipient of the form in question, but the date of the delivery of the form is also in doubt. The date of notification was originally listed on the form as "5/25/00," but was later written over to indicate a notification date of "5/24/00."

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