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Sanabria v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections


March 24, 2010


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

Per curiam.


Submitted January 20, 2010

Before Judges Fuentes and Gilroy.

Appellant Hector Sanabria, an inmate currently incarcerated at a State correctional facility located in Trenton, appeals from the decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) denying his request to reinstate the visiting privileges of Luz Rodriguez*fn1, a woman who appellant characterizes as his "companion." We affirm.

After the appeal was filed, we granted the DOC's motion and remanded this matter for the DOC to consider less restrictive measures in lieu of an outright ban of Rodriguez's visiting privileges. By letter dated April 13, 2009, Michelle Ricci, the Administrator of the New Jersey State Prison, informed the DOC that she had reviewed the record as directed by us and upheld the sanction to permanently ban Rodriguez from visiting appellant.

The matter is now before us again. Appellant argues that the sanction is unwarranted because: (1) the DOC did not present substantial evidence that his visitor posed a security threat to the orderly operation of the correctional facility; (2) the decision to ban Rodriguez was arbitrary and capricious; (3) the DOC did not present any evidence showing that Rodriguez was a community volunteer at the Trenton facility at the time she interacted with him; and (4) despite being investigated by the Special Investigations Division (SID) for smuggling contraband into the prison, Rodriguez has not been charged or formally accused of committing any crime.

In response, the DOC argues that the permanent ban was proper because Rodriguez had established a "personal relationship" with appellant before becoming "a community volunteer" at the facility. Specifically, in her letter responding to our remand order, Administrator Ricci asserts that Rodriguez "attended religious functions, as well as volunteered for various functions as a representative for the Hispanic Americans for Progress (HAP), with the sole intent of visiting inmate Sanabria."

The DOC has also produced for our review the records of the SID investigator, which document the evidence that was gathered concerning the smuggling of contraband into the prison and the role Rodriguez played in facilitating the flow of information between inmates and sources outside the prison. We are satisfied that the record provides substantial evidence of Rodriguez's involvement in these clandestine activities.

Our role in reviewing decisions of administrative agencies is restricted to the following four inquiries:

(1) whether the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution; (2) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies; (3) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and (4) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors. [George Harms Constr. Co., Inc. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994).]

Accordingly, "[o]ur function is to determine whether the administrative action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable." Burris v. Police Dep't, W. Orange, 338 N.J. Super. 493, 496 (App. Div. 2001).

N.J.A.C. 10A:18-6.3 confers upon the administrator of a prison the authority to control who visits inmates. Subsection (c) authorizes the administrator to ban "[p]ersons determined, by substantial evidence, to have a harmful influence upon the inmate or to constitute a threat to the security of the correctional facility... from visiting an inmate[.]" The record before us, when considered in its totality, shows that the action taken by Administrator Ricci in banning Rodriguez from visiting appellant was well within the authority conferred to her by N.J.A.C. 10A:18-6.3(c). We discern no basis to conclude that the action taken was arbitrary or capricious.


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