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Michael Knight v. Department of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


January 3, 2011

MICHAEL KNIGHT, APPELLANT,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 14, 2010

Before Judges Parrillo and Espinosa.

This is a prison disciplinary appeal. Michael Knight, an inmate confined at Northern State Prison, appeals a Department of Corrections (DOC) determination, after administrative proceedings, finding that he committed prohibited act *.009, misuse or possession of a cellular telephone, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). We affirm.

According to the State's proofs, on November 22, 2009, at approximately 1:45 p.m., Sergeant D.A. Morgan conducted a random pat frisk of Knight. During the pat frisk, Sergeant Morgan discovered a silver and black Nokia cell phone in the right front pocket of Knight's pants. Sergeant Morgan handed the cell phone to Senior Corrections Officer (SCO) McCoy, who subsequently arrived at the scene.

Knight offered a different account. He had just exited a shower stall when Sergeant Morgan placed a cell phone on the floor outside the stall and then asked Knight if the cell phone was his. Knight denied that it was his or having any knowledge of who owned the electronic device. According to Knight, Sergeant Morgan became irate and ordered Knight to dress. Being the only officer on the scene, Morgan then called for another officer, who arrived and escorted Knight from the minimum security unit.

Two inmates confirmed Knight's version. Steven Singletary said that Knight had just gotten out of the shower when Sergeant Morgan appeared on the scene. Vernon Brantley also stated that Knight had just gotten out of the shower, and that the phone was purportedly located on the floor. Brantley further stated that Sergeant Morgan asked Knight if the phone belonged to him, and he stated "no[,] he just got out of the shower and it was there."

At the close of the hearing at which Knight was afforded counsel substitute, an impartial tribunal, and the opportunity to call witnesses on his behalf as well as to confront those adverse to him, the hearing officer found Knight guilty of the charge. Knight was sanctioned to fifteen days' detention, 365 days' administrative segregation, 365 days' loss of commutation time (LOCT), 365 days' urine monitoring, 365 days' loss of contact visits (PLCV), 185 days' loss of telephone privileges (LOTP), and referral to both the Prosecutor and the Special Investigations Division (SID) for possible further action.

Knight administratively appealed the decision of the hearing officer, which was upheld by the Assistant Superintendent.

On appeal, Knight argues:

I. THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THE APPELLANT IS CONTRADICTORY AND THERE IS NO SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE EVIDENCE THAT THE APPELLANT COMMITTED A PROHIBITED ACT.

II. DESPITE SGT. MORGAN BEING THE ONLY WITNESS TO THE EVENT, IN HER AJDUDICATION, THE HEARING OFFICER DID NOT STATE THAT SHE FOUND THE SERGEANT CREDIBLE, NOR DID SHE SUMMARIZE THE CREDIBLE EVIDENCE THAT SHE RELIED UPON.

We deem these arguments without merit.

Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We will not upset the determination of an administrative agency absent a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacked fair support in the evidence, or that it violated legislative policies. In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). Further, decisions of administrative agencies carry with them a presumption of reasonableness. City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S. Ct. 400, 66 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1980).

We find no basis to disturb the result in this case, as we are satisfied that the DOC's ultimate determination is sufficiently grounded on substantial credible evidence, see Henry, supra, 81 N.J. at 579-80, and that the administrative adjudication comported with procedural due process. See Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 219-20 (1995); McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 193-95 (1995).

Affirmed.

20110103

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