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Reggie Stamps v. New Jersey Department of Corrections


September 9, 2011


On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted August 29, 2011

Before Judges Alvarez and Nugent.

Appellant, Reggie Stamps, appeals from a final administrative disciplinary decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC), which upheld a hearing officer's finding that he had engaged in a fight while an inmate at Northern State Prison, thereby committing disciplinary infraction *.004 in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). The hearing officer imposed a sanction of ten days detention, 190 days administrative segregation with sixty days suspended, and 190 days loss of commutation time. Appellant's administrative appeal was denied. According to the "Disposition of Disciplinary Appeal" upholding the hearing officer's decision, there was compliance with the procedural safeguards of the administrative regulations governing inmate discipline. Appellant filed a timely appeal of the agency's decision. We affirm.

The incident out of which the disciplinary charges arose occurred on September 8, 2010. According to the investigation report, Senior Correction Officer A. Hamer reported that appellant was fighting with another inmate in the inmate dining area. Appellant requested the assistance of counsel substitute. His request was granted. A disciplinary hearing was scheduled to begin on September 13, was postponed, and was completed on September 15, 2010.

According to the adjudication sheet, appellant entered no plea, requested no witnesses, and offered no documentary evidence, but made the following statement: "Horseplaying got out of hand. Apologize[d] for behavior which should not have occurred." Based on that statement and a correctional officer's observation of appellant throwing punches, the hearing officer adjudicated appellant guilty of the disciplinary charges. Appellant's counsel substitute signed the adjudication sheet acknowledging the information contained in it accurately reflected what occurred at the disciplinary hearing.

On September 16, 2010, appellant filed an administrative appeal through his counsel substitute and requested a suspension of all sanctions. In the appeal, counsel substitute indicated that appellant was very sorry for his actions, had been charge-free for two years, and had taken programs to correct his conduct. On September 20, 2010, an assistant superintendent of the DOC upheld the decision of the hearing officer.

Appellant contends for the first time on appeal that the hearing officer falsified his statement of evidence, and failed to consider his request for video surveillance that would have exonerated him. He also contends that the attorney substitute, a paralegal, filed his administrative appeal without his consent.

Our review of agency action is limited. "An appellate court ordinarily will reverse the decision of an administrative agency only when the agency's decision is 'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.'" Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). Substantial evidence means "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." In re Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "[A]lthough the determination of an administrative agency is entitled to deference, our appellate obligation requires more than a perfunctory review." Blackwell v. Dep't of Corr., 348 N.J. Super. 117, 123 (App. Div. 2002).

There was adequate evidence to support the agency's decision. Appellant himself stated that he was involved in horseplay that got out of hand and resulted in a fight, and there was independent corroboration that he threw punches during his encounter with the other inmate.

There is no competent evidence in the record to support the allegation that the hearing examiner falsified appellant's statement of evidence or denied appellant the use of a video. Those self-serving accusations are refuted by substitute counsel's written acknowledgement that the information in the adjudication sheet accurately reflects what occurred at the disciplinary hearing.

As to appellant's argument that the administrative appeal was filed without his permission, appellant does not explain whether he told substitute counsel not to file the appeal, or whether he simply did not know the appeal was being filed. Instead, he claims that he wanted to file the appeal himself. He does not explain why substitute counsel disregarded his directive, assuming he told substitute counsel not to file the appeal; nor does he explain why he did not file the appeal himself, assuming he did not know that substitute counsel was filing the appeal. Finally, appellant does not indicate what arguments he would have raised in the administrative appeal, other than the arguments that we have rejected. Consequently, we reject appellant's argument that he is entitled to a new hearing because his counsel substitute filed the administrative appeal without his permission.



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