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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Kalvin Brown #173109 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Kalvin Brown #173109

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 Kalvin Brown appeals the decision of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke 100 days of his "good-time" credit and to suspend his canteen privileges for 45 days as punishment for attempting to assist in the corruption of a Department employee in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.21. 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 December 6, 2001, Appellant engaged in a conversation with Corrections Officer Lisa Culton at an Officer's Desk in the Turbeville Correctional Institution. According to Officer Culton's incident report, Appellant asked her if she "needed anything like soda [or] chips or did [she] need to make some extra money." Appellant contends the discussion was simply a friendly conversation regarding Officer Culton's employment status and job satisfaction. As a result of this conversation, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.21, Assisting the Corruption of or Entering Into an Improper Relationship with an Employee.

A hearing of the charge was held before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) on December 14, 2001. At that hearing, the DHO found Appellant guilty of the charge against him, and, as punishment for the offense, the DHO suspended Appellant's canteen privileges for 45 days and revoked 100 days of his good-time credit. However, because the taped record of that hearing was inadvertently erased, a rehearing of the charge was held by a DHO on January 31, 2002. At the close of the second hearing, the DHO again found Appellant guilty of the charge and revoked 100 days of Appellant's good-time credit and suspended his canteen privileges for 45 days as punishment for the offense. Appellant appealed his disciplinary conviction to the Department and then to this tribunal. On appeal, Appellant contends that the Department's rehearing of his case violated his due process rights and his constitutional protection against double jeopardy. More significantly, Appellant also argues that his conviction is not sufficiently supported by the evidence in the record.


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 100 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 Al-Shabazz. While the hearing conducted by the DHO did meet the basic procedural requirements of Wolff, the conclusions reached by the DHO are not sufficiently supported by the evidence in the record to satisfy the "some evidence" standard of Hill. The DHO found Appellant guilty of violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.21, Assisting in the Corruption of or Entering into an Improper Relationship with an Employee, which is defined as "[t]he act of any inmate who willfully gives, offers or promises anything of value with the intent to influence any official act or action within the official responsibility of any employee; [or] the act of any inmate who enters into an improper relationship with an employee." The only evidence relied upon by the DHO in reaching that conclusion is Officer Culton's written statement that Appellant asked her if she needed soda or chips and asked her if she would like to make more money. The written report of these cryptic and ambiguous questions, standing alone, did not provide the DHO with sufficient evidence to conclude that Appellant was offering Officer Culton things of value with the intent to influence her official actions. Without further evidence, particularly testimony from Officer Culton, the DHO could not have determined whether these comments were innocuous inquiries into the officer's job satisfaction or improper attempts to influence the officer's performance of her official duties. Therefore, the DHO's decision to find Appellant guilty based solely on Officer Culton's report is not sufficiently supported by the evidence in the record and must be overturned.

In sum, the Department did not provide Appellant with the due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment before revoking his sentence-related credits as punishment in a disciplinary proceeding.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Appellant's January 31, 2002 disciplinary conviction for violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.21 is REVERSED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department must restore to Appellant all good-time credits taken from or not earned by Appellant as a result of that disciplinary conviction.



Administrative Law Judge

November 21, 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.

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