Sunday, April 20, 2014

SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Keith Gilliard #254162 vs. SCDOC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Corrections

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Keith Gilliard #254162

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Corrections
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
00-ALJ-04-01180-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER
GRIEVANCE NO. ACI 0969-00

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

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 Keith Gilliard appeals the decision of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke sixty days of his "good-time" credit and to reprimand him as punishment for striking a DOC employee in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03. 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 affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On September 18, 2000, Lieutenant Douglas Lambright observed Appellant repeatedly kicking his cell door. Lieutenant Lambright gave Appellant several orders to stop kicking the door, but Appellant continued to kick his cell door. In response to Appellant's noncompliance with his orders, Lieutenant Lambright sprayed Appellant with mace. Appellant then threw a white Styrofoam cup containing an unknown liquid at Lieutenant Lambright; the cup and its contents struck the officer on his lower right arm. Accordingly, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03, Striking an Employee with/without a Weapon. (1)

A hearing of the charge was held before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) on September 25, 2000. At the close of the hearing, the DHO found Appellant guilty of the charge and revoked sixty days of his good-time credit and reprimanded him as punishment for the offense. Appellant appealed his conviction to the Department, and then to this tribunal. On appeal, Appellant contends that his disciplinary conviction is not supported by the evidence and that the Department failed to follow proper procedure in obtaining the conviction.

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 sixty 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. (2) 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). (3) 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 afforded all the process due him pursuant to Wolff and Al-Shabazz. The record indicates that Appellant received written notice of the charges against him in excess of twenty-four hours prior to a hearing that was held before an impartial Disciplinary Hearing Officer. At the hearing, Appellant was given the opportunity, through a counsel substitute, to offer evidence, call witnesses, and confront his accuser. The record reflects that Appellant was found guilty of violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03, Striking an Employee with/without a Weapon, based on the report and testimony of Lieutenant Lambright, and a written statement to that effect was prepared by the hearing officer. After his conviction, Appellant filed a grievance and received a prompt response from his warden, which Appellant then appealed to the Department. In its denial of his appeal, the Department informed appellant of his right to appeal the Department's final decision under the APA. Further, there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the decision reached by the Department.

The Department provided Appellant with the due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment before revoking his sentence-related credits as punishment in a disciplinary proceeding. Accordingly, the Department's decision to deny Appellant's grievance is affirmed.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Department's denial of Appellant's grievance is AFFIRMED.

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.





JOHN D. GEATHERS

Administrative Law Judge



April 11, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. Appellant was also charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.13, Refusing or Failing to Obey Orders. However, this charge was dropped at the disciplinary hearing as a lesser included offense of the primary charge. (Hr'g Tr. at 16.)

2. 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.").

3. 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.