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Griffin v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections


May 17, 2010


On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.


Submitted May 3, 2010

Before Judges Lisa and Coburn.

Appellant, Stanley Griffin, a New Jersey State Prison inmate, appeals from a final decision of the Department of Corrections entered on June 30, 2009 adjudicating him guilty of committing prohibited acts *.002, assaulting any person, and *.004, fighting with another person, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). Appellant received combined sanctions of fifteen days detention, 180 days administrative segregation, and ninety days loss of commutation time. Appellant argues that the decision should be reversed because it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and because he was denied his due process rights. We reject these arguments and affirm.

It is undisputed that on June 20, 2009, appellant engaged in a physical altercation with inmate Mair. A third inmate, Branch, joined in, kicking Mair while he was on the floor. The circumstances leading up to the physical altercation are also undisputed. Appellant was walking in the dining hall with his tray of food. Mair removed an item from appellant's tray. The two men argued, after which the fight began. The dispute revolves primarily around who was the initiator of the physical altercation. According to appellant, he admonished Mair for taking his food and warned him not to do it again and then began to walk away, after which Mair struck the first blow; appellant then retaliated using only the amount of force necessary to protect himself. Videotapes of the incident revealed, however, that when the men argued, appellant struck Mair, after which appellant began to walk away; Mair then struck appellant, and the two men fought, finally falling to the floor, after which Branch joined in as we have previously described.

Appellant pled guilty to both charges. He offered as an explanation that he was only defending himself. The hearing officer, based upon his review of the incident reports and the videotape, rejected appellant's argument. In his final decision, the Assistant Administrator found that, after reviewing the documents submitted, the evidence established "that the Appellant struck the initial blow and therefore supports the cause for the charges." The Assistant Administrator accordingly upheld the decision of the hearing officer.

We will not interfere with an agency's decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). We have reviewed the record and we are satisfied that the reports and testimony relied upon by the hearing officer and the administrator provided the required "substantial" evidence to support the disciplinary violations against appellant. See R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D); McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 195 (1995); N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a).

Contrary to appellant's argument, the hearing officer and Assistant Administrator took into account the factors set forth in DeCamp v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 386 N.J. Super. 631 (App. Div. 2006), and in N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.13(f), in evaluating appellant's claim of self-defense. Their application of those factors was supported by the record evidence, and their rejection of appellant's self-defense claim was reasonable.

We are further satisfied from our review of the record that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted in accordance with all applicable due process requirements. See Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). Appellant argues that he was denied due process because the decision was not supported by substantial evidence, the hearing officer and Assistant Administrator ignored evidence favorable to appellant, and, as a result, the decision was arbitrary and capricious. This argument is nothing more than a restatement of appellant's primary argument that the decision was not supported by credible evidence in the record. For the reasons we have stated, the decision was amply supported by the record, as a result of which the decision is reasonable, and not arbitrary and capricious.



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