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Taylor v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


April 6, 2010

RAHEEM TAYLOR #687763C, 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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION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 March 15, 2010

Before Judges Rodríguez and Yannotti.

Raheem Taylor (Taylor) is an inmate in the State's correctional system. He appeals from a final determination of the Department of Corrections (DOC), imposing disciplinary sanctions upon him for committing certain acts prohibited under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). We affirm.

The following facts are pertinent to our decision. On December 22, 2008, the DOC completed an investigation of a plan by inmate Kareem McCray (McCray) to have an individual named Hannah Marshal (Marshal) introduce drugs into Riverfront State Prison (RSP) during a visit. The investigation revealed that Marshal said that she was expecting money from certain inmates. She sent McCray a $100 receipt from Taylor. Taylor was charged with prohibited act *.754, specifically, giving or accepting from a member of another inmate's family, money or anything of value. The charge was investigated, determined to have merit and referred for a hearing.

The hearing officer found that Taylor committed the prohibited act. The hearing officer imposed the following sanctions: fifteen days of detention with credit for time served, the loss of sixty days of commutation time and ninety days in administrative segregation. Taylor filed an administrative appeal, and on January 8, 2009, the administrator at RSP upheld the hearing officer's decision.

In addition, on December 22, 2008, a senior correction officer conducted a search of Taylor's cell. The correction officer found a blue latex glove, with three fingers missing, in Taylor's storage bin. During a subsequent inventory of Taylor's cell, another correction officer found a white envelope containing a green leafy substance, which was believed to be marijuana. A rolled cigarette paper containing suspected marijuana also was found between the sheets on Taylor's bed. Tests confirmed that the substances were marijuana.

Taylor was charged with prohibited act *.203, specifically, possession or introduction of any prohibited substance not prescribed by the medical or dental staff. The charge was investigated, found to have merit and referred for a hearing. The hearing officer found Taylor guilty of the charge. The following sanctions were imposed: fifteen days of detention, with credit for time served; the loss of 200 days of commutation time, 200 days in administrative segregation; and 200 days of urine monitoring. Taylor filed an administrative appeal. On January 8, 2009, the administrator at RSP upheld the hearing officer's decision.

Also, on December 22, 2008, Taylor was ordered to void a urine sample. The sample was tested and, on December 24, 2008, was determined to be positive for THC, a substance found in marijuana. The DOC lab provided the report to RSP on December 30, 2008. Taylor was charged with prohibited act *.204, use of a prohibited substances not prescribed by the medical or dental staff. The charge was investigated, determined to have merit, and referred for a hearing.

The hearing officer found that Taylor had committed the prohibited act and imposed the following sanctions: fifteen days of detention, with credit for time served; the loss of 180 days of commutation time; and 180 days of administrative segregation. Taylor filed an administrative appeal. On January 8, 2009, the administrator at RSP affirmed the hearing officer's decision.

In this appeal, Taylor argues that: 1) the DOC's failure to strictly adhere to the time constraints in its regulations was without justification and violated principles of due process; 2) the hearing procedures were fatally defective because they did not comply with the administrative code or federal and state due process requirements; 3) the hearing lacked fairness and impartiality due to the alleged adversarial demeanor of the hearing officer; 4) the adjudication of the charge involving the possession of contraband violated due process and notions of fairness; and 5) there was insufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt on the charge of using a prohibited substances because the DOC failed to establish a valid chain of custody for the urine sample.

The standard of review in an appeal from a final decision of an administrative agency is well established. "In light of the executive function of administrative agencies, judicial capacity to review administrative actions is severely limited." George Harms Constr. Co. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994) (citing Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. N.J. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983)). When reviewing a final decision of an agency, we consider whether: 1) the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution; 2) the action violated express or implied legislative policies; 3) there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support the agency's findings; and 4) the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion unsupported by relevant factors. Ibid. (citing Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963); In re Larsen, 17 N.J. Super. 564, 570 (App. Div. 1952)).

We are satisfied from our review of the record that there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the NJDOC's determination that Taylor committed the three prohibited acts. We are additionally satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to support the hearing officer's finding that Taylor sent Marshal $100, as part of the plan by inmate McCray to introduce drugs into the prison. We are further satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to support the hearing officer's determinations that Taylor wrongfully possessed and used marijuana, which is a prohibited substance.

Taylor argues that the DOC failed to serve the disciplinary report charging him with the use of a prohibited substance within the time required by N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.2, which states in pertinent part that the report of a disciplinary infraction "shall be served upon the inmate within 48 hours after the violation unless there are exceptional circumstances." As stated previously, Taylor was ordered to void the urine specimen on December 22, 2008.

Taylor says that the DOC received a report on December 24, 2008, confirming that the urine had tested positive for THC. He asserts that the disciplinary report should have been served no later than December 26, 2008. However, the record shows that the DOC did not receive the report from its lab until December 30, 2008. The report was served the following day.

Taylor additionally argues that the DOC failed to schedule the hearing on two of the charges within the time required by N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.8(c), which states that in the absence of exceptional circumstances, an inmate who is placed in pre-hearing detention shall be afforded a hearing on a disciplinary charge within three calendar days of his placement. The hearings on the *.203 and *.754 charges were not conducted within three calendar days of Taylor's placement in pre-hearing detention; however, as the hearing officer explained, the delay in scheduling the hearing for those charges was warranted because of the holidays and the lack of staff.

We have considered all of Taylor's other contentions and find them to be of insufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

Affirmed.

20100406

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