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Reginald Eaford v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

November 18, 2011


On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 7, 2011

Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Fasciale.

Reginald Eaford appeals from a decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding him guilty of disciplinary infraction *.204, use of any prohibited substances such as drugs, intoxicants or related paraphernalia not prescribed for the inmate by medical or dental staff, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the guilty finding. We affirm.

Eaford is incarcerated at Northern State Prison. Lieutenant C. Foley (Foley) ordered Eaford to submit to a urine test because Foley suspected that Eaford had used a prohibited substance. Foley's suspicion was confirmed when Eaford tested positive for opiates.

After the DOC provided the investigation and disciplinary reports to Eaford, a Hearing Officer (HO) conducted a hearing and considered several exhibits, including a special custody report prepared by Senior Corrections Officer J. Dasher (Dasher). Dasher noted that he observed Eaford "nodding while in the day room during recreational period." Dasher noticed that Eaford's "eyes appear[e]d to be red and [his] speech was slurred." Eaford and his counsel substitute declined the opportunity to make statements or call witnesses.

The HO found Eaford guilty of the infraction, and imposed a 15-day detention, 120 days loss of commutation time, permanent loss of contact visits, 90-day administrative segregation, and 300 days of urine monitoring. The HO explained that there was "[n]o evidence of mental health programs[. Inmate] was in position of trust, [and] violated said trust by this charge."

Eaford filed an administrative appeal and contended that the finding was not based on substantial evidence. The Assistant Superintendent reviewed the evidence and upheld the HO's findings and sanctions. In his written decision, the Assistant Superintendent noted that "[t]here was compliance with [N.J.A.C.] Title 10A on inmate discipline which prescribes procedural safeguards. The decision of the [HO] was based upon substantial evidence. The sanction imposed was proportionate to the offense."

On appeal, Eaford raises several contentions that he did not argue before either the HO or the Assistant Superintendent. He contends, for example, that the DOC did not (1) timely serve him with the disciplinary charge, (2) ask him or his counsel substitute if they wished to make a statement or present evidence, and (3) properly administer the order to void urine specimen for drug testing and recognize that Eaford was taking Tylenol with codeine.*fn1

Our review of the DOC's decision is limited. We will only reverse when the agency's decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); see also In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 657 (1999) (indicating that a court must uphold an agency's findings, even if "it would have reached a different result," so long as "sufficient credible evidence in the record" exists to support the agency's conclusions").

We conclude that the final decision of the DOC is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. Dasher observed Eaford nodding off in the day room during a recreational period. Dasher issued a special custody report in which he stated that Eaford's eyes were red and his speech was slurred. Dasher then notified Foley, who ordered Eaford to submit to a urine test. The DOC and the New Jersey Department of Health & Senior Services performed independent urinalyses, and both lab reports indicated that Eaford tested positive for opiates. Also, we note that Eaford had the opportunity to present evidence and was represented by counsel substitute throughout the disciplinary hearing.

An inmate is not entitled to the full panoply of rights in a disciplinary proceeding as is a defendant in a criminal prosecution. Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). An inmate is entitled to written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing; an impartial tribunal; a limited right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; a limited right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses; a right to a written statement of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the sanctions imposed; and, where the ...

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