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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Douglas Pettit, #163470 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Douglas Pettit, #163470

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the appeal of Douglas Pettit, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (DOC or Department). The Appellant was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.04, Possession of Contraband. As a result of his conviction, the Appellant

lost thirty (30) days of "good-time" credit. Pettit filed a grievance with the Department and received the Department's final decision on or about March 16, 2001. On March 29, 2001, the Appellant filed this appeal with the Division.


On January 8,2001, an Officer for the Clinton County Jail inventoried the Appellant's belongings and discovered that the Appellant was in possession of a cell phone and $100.00 in violation of DOC policy. After the incident, Richard Lindler completed an Incident Report and submitted it to his supervisor. The Appellant was charged with violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.04, Possession of Contraband. The Appellant received written notice of the charges on January 12, 2001. On January 17, 2001, the Appellant was brought before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) to face the Possession of Contraband charge in a Major Disciplinary Hearing. During the hearing, the Appellant, was represented by counsel substitute. The DHO read a narrative of Richard Lindler's Incident Report into the Record at the hearing as evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found that the Appellant was guilty of Possession of Contraband and sanctioned him with the loss of thirty (30) days of "good time" credit. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record, which documented the DHO's findings.

The Appellant filed a grievance on January 27, 2001, appealing his conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.04. In that grievance, he alleged that there was no evidence to support the charge of Possession of Contraband because he there was virtually no compliance with SCDC policy at the Clinton County Jail and the charging official knew he had been recently been paid.

After reviewing his case, the Warden of the Appellant's facility denied the Appellant's grievance. He appealed the Warden's decision on March 11, 2001, asking that the Department reverse his loss of "good time" credits. The Department denied his grievance, stating that the evidence supported the conviction and that the sanction imposed was appropriate for the violation the Appellant committed. This appeal followed. In his Appellant's Brief, the Appellant alleges that he was denied due process, in part, because he did not receive a hearing within the proper time period. The Appellant also contends that he did not know that a cell phone was contraband, that inmates are allowed to possess U.S. currency in community-based programs and that the cell phone actually belonged to his wife.


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 McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001) the Division issued an En Banc Order interpreting the breadth of its jurisdiction pursuant to Al-Shabazz. That decision holds that the Division's appellate jurisdiction in inmate appeals is limited to two types of cases: (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.

In this case, the Appellant alleges that the Department excessively revoked thirty (30) days of good time. Inmates have a protected liberty interest in their earned statutory good-time credits under the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, when, as here, the Department revokes an inmate's good-time credits as punishment in a "major disciplinary hearings" involving "more serious rule violations," prison officials must provide that inmate with "minimal due process." Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. Consequently, specific administrative procedures must be followed before depriving an inmate of statutorily granted earned credit, 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, 527 S.E.2d at 751, citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974).

In Al-Shabazz, the Court held that inmates may seek review before this Division to ensure that the Department's revocation of good-time credits as punishment in a "major disciplinary hearing" involving "more serious rule violations" comports with "minimal due process." The ALJD 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. When reviewing the Department's decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Id. Consequently, the review in these inmate grievance cases is limited to the record presented. Furthermore, an Administrative Law Judge may not substitute his judgment for that of an agency unless the agency's determination is arbitrary, 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) (1986 & Supp. 2001); Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756. "'Substantial evidence' is not a mere scintilla of evidence nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that the administrative agency reached or must have reached in order to justify its action." Lark v. Bi-Lo, 276 S.C. 130, 135, 276 S.E.2d 304, 306 (1981). Furthermore, the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Grant v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 319 S.C. 348, 461 S.E.2d 388 (1995).

Additionally, in Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that "the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board." Moreover, in Al-Shabazz, the Court underscored that since prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, that the Courts and therefore this Division adhere to a "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).

I find that the Appellant was afforded all process due him pursuant to Al-Shabazz. The Record indicates that the Appellant received written notice of the charges against him in excess of twenty-four (24) hours prior to a hearing that was held before an impartial Disciplinary Hearing Officer. At the hearing, the Appellant was given the opportunity to offer evidence, call witnesses, and confront his accuser. In addition, although not constitutionally required, the Appellant was afforded a counsel substitute who to assisted him in his defense. After the DHO determined that the Appellant was guilty of the charged offense, he prepared a written report detailing the evidence he relied upon and the penalty assessed in finding the Appellant guilty of the disciplinary infraction. Finally, the Appellant was permitted to appeal the DHO's decision through the inmate grievance process.

Additionally, due process does not require that an inmate charged with a rules violation receive a hearing within four (4) days. Rather, due process requires that such an inmate receive a hearing with notice of the charges and the opportunity to put up a defense. See Al-Shabazz, supra. Therefore, there is no due process violation if the Department does not follow each and every prison rule or procedure unless the rule or procedure is constitutionally required. Consequently, due process does not require that inmates receive disciplinary hearings within four (4) or seven (7) days of being charged with prison rules violations. Accordingly, I cannot find that a hearing held within five (5) days of when the Appellant received notice of the charges violates due process.

Moreover, I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.04, Possession of Contraband. A Code 2.04 violation is: "The possession of any unauthorized property, including money. . . ." Furthermore, S.C. Code Ann. § 24-3-951 (Supp. 2000) set forth that: ". . .United States currency or money, as it relates to use within the state prison system, is declared contraband and shall be not be utilized as a medium of exchange for barter or financial transaction between prisoners or prison officials and prisoners within the state prison system, except prisoners on work release or in other community based programs. Inmates must not possess United States currency. All financial disbursements to prisoners or mediums of exchange between prisoners and between the prison system and prisoners shall be transacted with a system of credits." The record reflects that the Appellant possessed at least $100.00 and a cell phone. He does not argue that either are contraband. Rather, he contends that he was unaware of the policy. Furthermore, there is no evidence from the record or briefs that the Clinton County Jail is a "community-based program" as referenced in Section 24-3-951. Contra S.C. Code § 24-23-30 (Supp. 2000).


IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the appeal of the Appellant is DISMISSED and the Final Decision of the Department is AFFIRMED;



Ralph K. Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge

July 22, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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