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Rogers v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


September 12, 2008

MARTIN L. ROGERS, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 2, 2008

Before Judges Messano and Chambers.

Appellant Martin L. Rogers, an inmate at the East Jersey State Prison, appeals the administrative determination that he improperly wedged his body into the exit gate at the dining hall, thereby committing a prohibited act in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) *.154.

On July 25, 2007, Rogers' body became temporarily wedged in the exit gate of the mess hall at the prison. Rogers explains in this appeal that as he went to exit the mess hall, he observed the gate to be half ajar which was not unusual. As he entered the exit, he was struck several times without warning by the door until he was able to free himself. His account is confirmed by the statements of two other inmates who observed the incident.

Officer Maretz, who observed the incident and was apparently manning the gate, provides a different account, stating in his report that "while operating the exit cage door (IDR) the gate was jammed. While looking down I did observe I/M [Inmate] Rogers purposely wedge his body between the gate and the door jam[b] in [an] attempt to gain access. After which he remained for several moments before stepping through." The officer's report also states that three loud banging noises alert the inmates to the fact that the gate is being closed.

Rogers was charged with committing the prohibited act of "tampering with or blocking any locking device." N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) *.154. At the hearing on August 1, 2007, Rogers pled guilty to the charge. Based on the plea as well as the other evidence in the record, including Maretz's report, and after considering the statements of Rogers' two witnesses, the hearing officer found Rogers guilty of the charge. Rogers was given credit for time served as the sanction. Because Rogers was handcuffed at the time, he was unable to sign the adjudicatory report. On appeal to the Administrator, the finding of guilt and the sanction were affirmed.

In this appeal of the Administrator's decision, Rogers raises the following two issues:

LEGAL ARGUMENT, POINT I

APPELLANT WAS DENIED DUE PROCESS OF LAW WHEN HEARING OFFICER FAILED TO MEET APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR DOCUMENTARY/VIDEO EVIDENCE (partially raised below).

LEGAL ARGUMENT, POINT II

THE EVIDENCE ADDUCED COUPLED WITH THE WITNESSES' STATEMENTS ARE INSUFFICIENT TO WARRANT GUILT OF TAMPERING WITH OR BLOCKING ANY LOCKING DEVICE UNDER N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1 #154 (partially raised below).

The hearing officer's findings in an inmate's disciplinary hearing must be based on "substantial evidence that the inmate has committed a prohibited act." N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a). "An appellate court ordinarily will reverse the decision of an administrative agency only when the agency's decision is 'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). We are required to give a "careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings." Williams v. Dep't of Corr., 330 N.J. Super. 197, 204 (App. Div. 2000).

The record indicates that the hearing officer was presented with conflicting statements about what happened. Rogers presented statements of two witnesses exonerating him, while Maretz's statement provided proof that the prohibited act had occurred. Against this conflicting evidence, Rogers pled guilty. On appeal he contends that he did so in order to receive the favorable sanction of time served. Despite the contrary statements by Rogers' witnesses, Maretz's statement, coupled with Rogers' admission, constitutes substantial evidence to support the finding of guilt.

We reject Rogers' contention that the hearing officer failed to honor his request for a videotape of the incident, since there is no record that he requested the production of the videotape for the hearing, nor did he raise this issue on his appeal to the administrator. Absent a matter of great public interest or a question of the court's jurisdiction, a matter not raised below may not be presented on appeal. Nieder v. Royal Indem. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973). The additional points raised by Rogers are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

Affirmed.

20080912

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