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Royal v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

March 28, 2008


On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted March 4, 2008

Before Judges Parrillo and Gilroy.

This is a prison disciplinary appeal. Gregory Royal, an inmate currently confined at South Woods State Prison, appeals a Department of Corrections (DOC) determination, after administrative proceedings, finding that he committed prohibited act .303 -- failure to perform work as instructed by a staff member -- which was downgraded from *.255, encouraging others to refuse to work, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a), and imposing discipline on him.

On appeal, Royal claims that the investigation into the charge of .303 was inadequate and the evidence thereof lacking. We have considered each of these issues in light of the record, the applicable law, and the appropriate appellate standards. We are satisfied that the final agency decision should be affirmed.

The original *.255 charge arose out of observations of Royal's work behavior on January 11, 2007, by shift personnel and also statements made the night before in the clothing shop by another inmate about a work stoppage. At the January 16, 2007 administrative hearing, the hearing officer concurred with counsel substitute that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the *.255 (encouraging others to refuse to work) charge, but that the documentary proofs supported the lesser charge of not working as instructed. Consequently, the *.255 charge was downgraded to .303. Counsel substitute waived the twenty-four hour notice requirement, and after Royal pled not guilty, requested leniency on Royal's behalf and that the hearing officer make a judgment based on the evidence at hand.

That evidence consisted of the observations of the ITI Needle Trades supervisor of the prison clothing shop where Royal worked, who noticed that on January 11, 2007, Royal was slowing the production on the line, that is, not working at a pace reasonable for the job. Previously, in November 2006, ITI Dorothy Pierce had informed her supervisor that Royal was spending a lot of time out of his seat conversing with inmates. In addition, on January 11, 2007, the date of the incident in question, production was down by half from the day before: from 312 pieces to 144 pieces. Although Royal now attributes the decline in productivity to the fact that he had to leave work for medical reasons on January 11, 2007, during the investigation, Royal simply claimed that he had a dentist appointment that day. At no time did he indicate to the hearing officer during the hearing that he had not been feeling well on January 11, 2007, and this was the reason for a possible slow pace in production. Moreover, at the hearing, Royal offered no eyewitnesses and declined to confront or cross-examine adverse witnesses. At no time during the hearing did he request an additional investigation into the downgraded .303 charge. Instead, as noted, his counsel requested leniency.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer found:

I/M [Inmate] pleads N/G [not guilty] to orig[inal] (255) [charge]. DHO concurs with [the] lack of suff[icient] evid[ence] to substantiate this offense; & for argument to render a prompt decision (due process). DHO finds that staff's concern is genuine (but not proven) and they act w/o [without] prejudice toward I/M [inmate] Royal. I/M [inmate] was not working as instructed (303), or failed to work at the pace reasonable for his job.

Upon the adjudication of guilt, Royal was sanctioned credit for time served, having spent five days in pre-hearing detention. On administrative appeal, the finding of guilt and the resulting sanction were upheld. This appeal follows.

Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We will not upset the determination of an administrative agency absent a showing it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; that it lacked fair support in the evidence; or that it violated legislative policies. In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). Further, decisions of administrative agencies carry with them a presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S.Ct. 400, 66 L.Ed. 2d 245 (1980). We may not vacate an agency's determination because of doubts as to its wisdom or because the record may support more than one result. See generally De Vitis v. N.J. Racing Comm'n, 202 N.J. Super. 484, 489-90 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 102 N.J. 337 (1985).

Furthermore, it is not our function to substitute our independent judgment for that of an administrative body, . . . where there may exist a mere difference of opinion concerning the evidential persuasiveness of the relevant proofs. As a reviewing court, we will not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, draw inferences and conclusions from the evidence, or resolve conflicts therein. [Id. at 489-90 (citations omitted).]

We find no basis to disturb the result below, as we are satisfied that both the hearing officer's decision and the DOC's ultimate determination are grounded on substantial credible evidence, see Henry, supra, 81 N.J. at 579-80, and resulted from an administrative adjudication that comported with procedural due process. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556, ...

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