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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Mark Scheibler #217452 vs. DOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Mark Scheibler #217452

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 Mark Scheibler appeals the decision of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke ninety days of his “good-time” credit as punishment for knowingly making a false statement for the purpose of harming another person in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.20. 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.


This appeal arises out of a flap between a corrections officer and an inmate over a flap. On February 8, 2003, Corrections Officer C. Scott was collecting empty food trays from the inmates on the top tier of the A-wing of the Broad River Correctional Institution, when an incident, the facts of which are greatly disputed, occurred at the food service flap of Appellant’s cell. Appellant alleged that, while his tray was being collected, the food service flap was closed on his finger, injuring it slightly. Appellant further contended that, in describing the injury to Officer Scott and to his superior officer, Sergeant Tindal, he characterized the incident as an accident. Officer Scott, on the other hand, stated that he did not, at any time, close the cell’s flap on Appellant’s finger, and further alleged that, in describing the incident to Sergeant Tindal, Appellant accused him of intentionally and maliciously closing the flap on his finger. Both Appellant and Officer Scott agreed that, at the time of the alleged incident, Appellant’s left index finger was discolored and swollen, although they were unable to agree on whether there was blood on Appellant’s finger at the time. Footnote Because of the injury to Appellant’s finger, Appellant was taken for medical evaluation by Sergeant Tindal and was examined by a DOC nurse. However, based upon Officer Scott’s report stating that Appellant had falsely accused him of intentionally and maliciously causing the injury to his finger, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.20, Knowingly Making False Statements for the Purpose of Harming Another Person.

A hearing of this charge was held before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) on February 13, 2003, and February 25, 2003. At the close of the hearing, the DHO found Appellant guilty of the charge against him and revoked ninety days of his good-time credit as punishment for the offense. Appellant appealed his disciplinary conviction to the Department and then to this tribunal. On appeal, Appellant raises several procedural and substantive challenges to his disciplinary conviction, including his contention that the evidence presented at the hearing does not support his conviction.


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 by appealing those decisions to the ALJD pursuant to the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 376, 527 S.E.2d at 754. The Court further found that the Division’s jurisdiction to hear such matters is “typically” limited to cases where an inmate is disciplined and the punishment imposed affects the inmate’s state-created liberty interests and cases where an inmate believes the Department has erroneously calculated his sentence, sentence-related credits, or custody status. Id. at 369-370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. Subsequently, in Sullivan v. S.C. Dep’t of Corrections, 355 S.C. 437, 586 S.E.2d 124 (2003), the Court held that, under Al-Shabazz, the ALJD also has jurisdiction to hear cases where an inmate challenges a condition of his confinement that implicates a state-created liberty interest. Footnote Id. at 443, 586 S.E.2d at 127. In the case at hand, Appellant contends that the Department improperly revoked ninety 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; Sullivan, 355 S.C. at 443, 586 S.E.2d at 127. 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 other internal prison affairs 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. Footnote 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). Footnote 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 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 knowingly making a false statement in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.20, which is defined, in a relevant part, as “[t]he intentional making of untrue statements by any inmate who . . . makes a false statement to or against an employee or anyone.” In a disciplinary proceeding based upon on a charged violation of this section, as with any proceeding on a charge of making of a false statement, “words become crucial,” see United States v. Clifford, 426 F. Supp. 696, 703 (E.D.N.Y. 1976), because “the starting point for everything is the statement” alleged to be false. See id. at 703 n.4 (quoting United States v. Lambert, 501 F.2d 943, 948 (5th Cir. 1974)). In the case at hand, however, the Department has not clearly identified the statement by Appellant alleged to be false and has not plainly specified what it is about the statement that makes it false. For example, it is nowhere stated in the record whether Appellant’s allegedly false statement was a claim that his finger was injured in the flap (when it was actually injured by other means) or a claim that Officer Scott intentionally closed the flap on his finger (when, in fact, the closing of the flap was clearly accidental). That is, the Department never clarifies whether it is accusing Appellant of lying about the injury itself, or lying about how Officer Scott caused the injury, or both.

This difference is of no little consequence. Assuming he admits to making the statements, Appellant would defend himself, in the first instance, by proving that the injury to his finger did occur at the time in question; in the second, Appellant would defend himself by establishing that Officer Scott intentionally closed his finger in the flap. Without clarity as to the specific false statement complained of, Appellant would be unable to mount an adequate defense to the charge. Such may have been the case here. Given the confusion surrounding the nature of the charge, Appellant primarily defended himself by claiming that he never accused Officer Scott of intentionally closing the flap on his finger, not by proving that his finger was actually injured by the flap. The DHO, however, may well have found Appellant guilty solely for claiming that his finger was injured in the flap, regardless of whether he accused Officer Scott of closing the flap intentionally or not. Because of this basic uncertainty as to what false statement was made by Appellant, I cannot find that his disciplinary conviction for making a false statement is supported by sufficient evidence in the record to meet the requirements of due process.

In conclusion, 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. Therefore,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Appellant’s February 25, 2003 disciplinary conviction for violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.20 is REVERSED.

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



Administrative Law Judge

March 5, 2004

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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