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Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Kevin Sanders #219280 vs. SCDOC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Corrections

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Kevin Sanders #219280

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Corrections
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
01-ALJ-04-00977-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF CASE

This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the appeal of Kevin Sanders, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (DOC or Department). On March 8, 2001, Sanders was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs, after pleading not guilty to the charge. As a result of this conviction, the Appellant lost 120 days of "good-time" credit. Sanders filed a grievance with the Department and received the Department's final decision on July 3, 2001. On July 18, 2001, the Appellant filed this appeal with the Division.



BACKGROUND

On February 28, 2001, the Appellant was administered a drug test at Lieber Correction Institution by Lieutenant Cote. The test revealed that the Appellant probably had marijuana in his system. Therefore, Lieutenant Cote performed a confirmation test which tested positive for marijuana. After the incident, Lieutenant Cote completed an Incident Report. The Appellant was charged with violating SCDC Code § 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs. The Appellant received written notice of the charges on March 1, 2001.

The hearing was held on March 8, 2001, before a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO), who read a narrative of Lieutenant Cote's Incident Report into the Record. At the Appellant's request, he was provided a counsel substitute. Additionally, at the Appellant's request, Lieutenant Cote was present at the hearing via telephone. During the hearing, the DHO read a narrative of Lieutenant Cote's Incident Report into the Record and received testimony from the Appellant and Lieutenant Cote as evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found the Appellant guilty of violating SCDC Code § 1.10 and sanctioned him with the loss of 120 days of "good-time" credit. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record, which documented the DHO's findings based on the record.

The Appellant filed a grievance on March 19, 2001 appealing his conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10. On May 22, 2001, the Warden denied the Appellant's grievance. After he appealed the Warden's decision on June 4, 2001, the Department denied his grievance, stating that the evidence supported the conviction and that the sanction imposed was appropriate for the violation that the Appellant committed. This appeal followed. In his brief, the Appellant alleges that:

1. The DHO was not impartial;



2. The drug test was not conclusive and not administered in accordance with Department policy; and



3. The Warden violated due process because he failed to review this appeal within ninety (90) days and he failed to review procedural errors and the tape recording of the disciplinary hearing;



ANALYSIS

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 120 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 "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. (1) 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 the right to counsel substitute to assist 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.

Moreover, I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs. A Code 1.10 violation, in part, is: "Any inmate testing positive for any unauthorized drug, refusing to submit to a drug test, or failing to produce a specimen within three (3) hours as specified in SCDC Policy/Procedure GA-30.03." The record clearly supports the facts recited in the "Background" portion of this Order. Those facts establish substantial evidence that the Appellant was properly administered the drug test and, thereafter, tested positive for an "unauthorized drug."



ORDER

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

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.



_________________________________

Ralph K. Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge



July 22, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. The Appellant contends that his hearing officer was not impartial. However, I find that he failed to establish that claim.


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