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Ali-X v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


April 16, 2009

KASEEM ALI-X, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 3, 2009

Before Judges Wefing and LeWinn.

Kaseem Ali-X is an inmate in the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. He appeals from a final agency decision finding him guilty of disciplinary charge *.202, possession or introduction of a weapon, such as a sharpened instrument, knife or tool. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.

Ali-X was assigned to East Jersey State Prison. On January 20, 2008, a search was conducted of his cell which led to the discovery of two sharpened metal objects. Both were found in a yellow envelope that was stored in a plastic tub marked, "AliX." A disciplinary charge was promptly filed.

Counsel substitute was assigned to represent Ali-X, and the disciplinary hearing was adjourned twice at the request of his counsel substitute. It was adjourned a third time to permit Ali-X to file a request for a polygraph examination. His request was denied. At the hearing, Ali-X contended that the sharpened objects were not his but, rather, belonged to his cellmate. He called his cellmate to appear at the disciplinary hearing, but when he did appear, the cellmate did not acknowledge any responsibility for the items. The disciplinary charge was upheld, and sanctions were imposed, which included 15 days in disciplinary detention, 240 days in administrative segregation and 240 days loss of commutation time.

On appeal, Ali-X raises the following issues for our consideration:

POINT I.

THE HEARING OFFICER'S DECISION FINDING APPELLANT GUILTY OF VIOLATING PRISON RULES WAS ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS AND NOT BASED UPON SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE EVIDENCE PURSUANT TO N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a).

POINT II.

THE ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCY FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE MINIMAL REQUIREMENTS OF DUE PROCESS OF LAW, IN THAT THEY FAILED TO GIVE A REASONABLE FACTUAL BASIS FOR UPHOLDING THE HEARING OFFICER'S DECISION AS SET FORTH IN BLACKWELL V. DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS, 348 N.J. Super. 117 (APP. DIV. 2002).

We note, first, the limited scope of our review in a matter such as this. A final agency decision should not be disturbed on appeal unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Karins v. City of Atlantic City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1988). An appellate court should undertake a "careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings." Riverside Gen. Hosp. v. N.J. Hosp. Rate Setting Comm'n, 98 N.J. 458, 468 (1985). The agency's findings should be affirmed if they "could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole . . . with due regard also to the agency's expertise." Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (quotations omitted). Viewed within that framework, we are satisfied that the decision of the Department of Corrections must be affirmed.

That the items were found in a plastic tub bearing appellant's name would support an inference that they belonged to appellant. The hearing officer was free to accept that inference or to accept appellant's testimony that the items did not belong to him. We cannot second-guess the determination of the hearing officer on that issue. In addition, each inmate is responsible for the contents of the cell he occupies. N.J.A.C. 10A:4-3.1(b)(5) states in part that "[e]ach inmate, regardless of housing assignment shall be responsible for contraband found within the confines of that living area."

Finally, we reject Ali-X's contention that the hearing officer did not provide a reasonable factual basis for his decision. He noted those factors which led him to the conclusion that the disciplinary charge had been established. Blackwell v. Dep't of Corrections, 348 N.J. Super. 117 (App. Div. 2002), upon which Ali-X relies, is distinguishable. In that case, the hearing officer gave no reasons for reaching the conclusion that the inmate had deliberately disobeyed an order as opposed to accepting the inmate's assertion that he simply had not heard it.

The order under review is affirmed.

20090416

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