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Diaz v. Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 15, 2010

JOEL DIAZ, APPELLANT,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 3, 2010

Before Judge Kestin and Newman.

Joel Diaz, while an inmate at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, was charged with a disciplinary infraction under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1*.005, threatening another with bodily harm or with an offense against his or her person or property. Following a hearing, Diaz was found to have committed the infraction charged. The sanction imposed was fifteen days of detention, with credit for time served; 365 days of administrative segregation; loss of 365 days of commutation credit; and loss of thirty days of recreation time. The findings and sanction were upheld on internal administrative appeal. On appeal to this court, Diaz raises the following arguments:

POINT I.

THE DECISION BELOW MUST BE REVERSED SINCE THE FINDING OF GUILT WAS NOT BASED UPON SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE IN THE RECORD AND APPELLANT'S PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED.

POINT II.

THE FINDING OF GUILT MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE HEARING OFFICER FAILED TO DOCUMENT APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR A POLYGRAPH EXAMINATION AND THE REASONS FOR DENYING THE REQUEST.

The factual issues stemmed from an instance in which Diaz was observed wearing name-brand sneakers that were not authorized footwear and was ordered back to his cell to remove the footwear. When the officer who had issued the directive visited Diaz's area to confiscate the footwear, he was, according to the charges, confronted with vituperative remarks and threatened with harm. Diaz denied that any threats had been made; alleging, instead, that the officer involved had treated him disrespectfully.

In the disciplinary proceeding, the hearing officer received statements from several corrections officers and inmates. The statements from the corrections officers and their responses to Diaz's confrontation questions provided factual support for the charges. The statements from inmates supported Diaz's version of the events.

In reviewing an administrative determination, we are governed by the substantial evidence rule. "Substantial evidence" has been defined as "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." In re Application of Hackensack Water Co., 41 N.J. Super. 408, 418 (1956)(relied upon in In re Public Service Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961)). We are to affirm where the findings of fact and the conclusions that flow from them are supported by substantial evidence. See generally, In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 655-58 (1999); Clowes v. Terminix Int'l., Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 587 (1988); see also Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 222-24 (1995); McDonald v. Pinchak 139 N.J. 188, 201 (1995).

We are also governed by the concept of deference to the expertise of the agency involved, see County of Morris v. Skokowski, 86 N.J. 419, 424 (1981), with due regard for its special perspectives and its "expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field." See Greenwood v. State Police Training Ctr., 127 N.J. 500, 513 (1992).

Our review of the record in the light of the arguments advanced by the parties discloses that, in this disciplinary proceeding, Diaz was afforded all the process he was due. See Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 528-30 (1975); see also McDonald supra, 139 N.J. at 193-96; Jacobs, supra, 139 N.J. at 217-22. The hearing officer's findings and conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Although the record is lacking in support for Diaz's contention that he requested a polygraph examination and that the request was denied, we discern no abuse of discretion on the part of the hearing officer in denying such a request if it was made. See N.J.A.C. 10A:3-7.1 and 10A:4-11.4(d); Ramirez v. Department of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 24 (App, Div. 2005).

Affirmed.

20100715

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