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Ellis v. Dep't of Corrections


September 29, 2008


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

Per curiam.


Submitted September 22, 2008

Before Judges Sabatino and Simonelli.

Jahmi Ellis, an inmate currently at the New Jersey State Prison, appeals a final agency decision of the Department of Corrections, disciplining him for fighting with another inmate, a violation of *.004 under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1. We affirm.

On August 5, 2007, a senior corrections officer at Riverfront State Prison, where Ellis was then housed, spotted him lying at the bottom of stairs in the facility. Ellis was face down and bleeding. He had a deep gash through his eyebrow and a lacerated finger, both of which required sutures. An ensuing investigation revealed that Ellis had been fighting at that location with another inmate named Rush. The fight was observed by two unidentified inmates who are confidential informants. The fight was also corroborated by blood found on both inmates' clothing.

Ellis was served with disciplinary charges citing him for fighting, and he requested a hearing. The hearing was conducted over several days by two successive hearing officers. In both instances, Ellis was assisted by a counsel-substitute.

Ellis initially denied that he had been fighting, contending that he had simply lost his footing accidentally on the stairs. After the first hearing officer received Ellis's testimony, the second hearing officer considered the rest of the proofs and found Ellis guilty. Ellis appealed the finding of guilt. The Department then moved to have this court remand the matter for further hearings because the second hearing officer had not seen Ellis testify. We granted the remand motion, and the case returned to the Department.

On remand, Ellis, again with the assistance of a counsel-substitute, changed his plea to guilty. Following that revised plea, the Department reinstated the guilty finding. It imposed various sanctions, including fifteen days of detention, 180 days of administrative segregation, and 180 days of forfeited commutation time.*fn1

Despite his eventual guilty plea, Ellis now appeals his finding of guilt and the associated sanctions. Among other things, he argues that he was wrongfully denied confrontation of the two confidential informants who had seen the fight. He also complains that he was not permitted to examine the nurse who had treated his injuries, alleging that she would have stated that the wounds were consistent with an accidental fall. Ellis further maintains that the guilty finding was against the weight of the evidence.

We reject all of Ellis's contentions. We do so for two main reasons. First, Ellis pleaded guilty at the remand proceeding. The record contains no indication that his plea was conditional. Consequently, his appeal is moot. See State v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 130 N.J. 585 (1992) (issues on appeal mooted by defendant's plea of guilt); see also Zirger v. General Acc. Ins. Co., 144 N.J. 327, 330 (1996) (in order to conserve judicial resources, appellate courts routinely decline to consider issues that have been rendered moot).

Second, the issues now raised by Ellis on appeal were not raised before the Department at the remand hearing. We discern no reason to delve into those issues for the first time here. See Nieder v. Royal Indemn. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973); Monek v. Borough of S. River, 354 N.J. Super. 442, 456 (App. Div. 2002).


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