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Mullings v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


August 19, 2010

AMEIKA MULLINGS, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted August 10, 2010

Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.

Appellant Ameika Mullings is a State prisoner previously housed at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.*fn1 She appeals the imposition of disciplinary sanctions upon her by the Department of Corrections ("the Department") under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) for committing prohibited act .256, "refusing to obey an order of any staff member." See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a).

Appellant argues that she was illegally entrapped by corrections officers into disobeying the order. She also contends that the finding of guilt is not supported by substantial credible evidence, and that the Department's imposition of discipline upon her is arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.

According to the proofs adduced at appellant's disciplinary hearing, the relevant events occurred on October 24, 2008. On that morning, appellant sought to attend a program in a classroom located in another area of the prison. Appellant left her housing wing and went down to what is described as the "grill gate" area, but she was not allowed through the gate. At about 9:25 a.m., Senior Corrections Officer ("SCO") Keeya Lucas encountered appellant. She directly ordered appellant to wait in her housing wing until she was called. According to SCO Lucas and other corrections officers who were present, appellant refused to comply with the order. Instead, she began cursing and shouting at the officers.

After enduring about four minutes of appellant's invectives, SCO Lucas ordered her to return to her room. Appellant initially complied with this second order and went back to her room. However, when SCO Lucas let another inmate off her wing, appellant ran out of her room and towards the gate. Again SCO Lucas directed her to return to the housing wing. Appellant refused to do so, and instead opened the door to the office of the sergeant on duty. The sergeant told appellant to leave the office and go back to her wing, and appellant finally capitulated.

Later that morning, appellant was served with disciplinary charges, alleging that she had violated provision .256. Appellant pled not guilty. At her ensuing hearing, appellant declined the assistance of a counsel substitute. She told the hearing officer that she had received permission to come off her wing, and that she was being wrongfully accused of being disobedient. Appellant also requested and received a witness statement from another prisoner who was present during the events, and the ability to confront SCO Lucas.

After considering the evidence and assessing appellant's credibility, the hearing officer found her guilty of a .256 infraction. The hearing officer recommended sanctions of fifteen days of detention, sixty days loss of commutation time, and ninety days of administrative segregation. Appellant filed an internal administrative appeal. After hearing that appeal, the assistant superintendent issued a final agency decision on December 3, 2008, upholding the guilty finding but suspending the sanction of administrative segregation for sixty days. This appeal ensued.

Our scope of review is limited. We generally will not disturb the Department's administrative decision to impose disciplinary sanctions upon an inmate, unless the inmate demonstrates that the decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or that the record lacks substantial, credible evidence to support that decision. Figueroa v. N.J. Dept. of Corr., ___ N.J. Super. ____, _____ (App. Div. 2010) (slip op. at 5-6); Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 222 (1995). Appellant fails to make such a demonstration.

We specifically reject appellant's contention that she was entrapped into violating the direct orders of SCO Lucas. She maintains that she was supposed to attend the educational program elsewhere in the prison, and that she would have been subject to punishment if she was absent from that program. Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, that appellant had authorization to attend the class, such authorization would not justify appellant defying SCO Lucas's direct order and spewing profanities towards her and the other officers who were present. If there was some misunderstanding or confusion over where appellant was supposed to be that morning, that problem could and should have been sorted out after appellant returned to her wing, as she was directed.

The circumstances here do not bespeak entrapment, as appellant failed to establish at the hearing any false representations, improper inducements, or other "patently wrongful" conduct on the part of the corrections officers involved in this incident. See State v. Johnson, 127 N.J. 458 (1992) (detailing the requirements of an entrapment defense); see also N.J.S.A. 2C:2-12. We also decline to consider for the first time on this appeal proofs and contentions that appellant failed to raise below at her administrative hearing. Nieder v. Royal Indemn. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973)

The finding of appellant's guilt is supported by substantial, credible proof in the record, as developed at the hearing. The Department's final decision is reasonable, and neither arbitrary nor capricious. We further conclude that appellant was afforded sufficient due process required for such disciplinary matters. See Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975).

Affirmed.


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