On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 1, 2011 -
Before Judges Fisher and Baxter.
Appellant Rasool Jenkins is currently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) in Trenton. In July 2008, Jenkins was transferred, along with his property, from Riverfront State Prison to NJSP. At the time of the transfer, Riverfront officials apparently determined that Jenkins's word processor and television were in good working order, however, according to a claim asserted by Jenkins, they arrived at the NJSP in a damaged condition. Jenkins filed a claim for damages with the Department of Corrections. When the Department rendered a final decision rejecting the claim, Jenkins appealed to this court.
Our review of this final agency decision is limited. We will reverse such a determination only if it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or when it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005). This standard precludes our own weighing of the evidence, De Vitis v. N. J. Racing Comm'n, 202 N.J. Super. 484, 489-90 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 102 N.J. 337 (1985), and requires our deference to issues that fall within the agency's expertise, Matter of Vineland Chem. Co., 243 N.J. Super. 285, 309 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 127 N.J. 323 (1990).
Here, it is clear that Jenkins's claim was rejected due to his failure to demonstrate damage to the items in question. As this record reveals, when the items arrived at NJSP, Jenkins claimed they were damaged and they were sent to the prison's repair shop. Because the repair shop was closed, they were not inspected. Rather than waiting until such time as the items could be examined by the shop, Jenkins sent them to his home and purchased a new television and word processor. A prison investigator determined that Jenkins had failed to show that prison officers were neglectful in handling his property and failed to prove the property was damaged. The NJSP superintendent reviewed the matter and reached the same conclusion.
We recognize the difficulties facing an inmate attempting to prosecute such a claim. Obviously an inmate's lack of freedom would hamper his own investigation and ability to gather information. Here, however, a considerable period of time elapsed between the property's transfer to NJSP and the ultimate disposition of the claim; that interval provided ample time for Jenkins to gather the evidence needed to prove his claim. In applying the standard of review that binds this court, we cannot conclude in these circumstances that the rejection of Jenkins's claim was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.
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