March 16, 2012
ANTHONY BOONE, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 15, 2012
Before Judges Hayden and Accurso.
Anthony Boone, an inmate at East Jersey State Prison (EJSP), filed a property claim for damage to his word processor and radio by prison staff. Boone appeals from the October 25, 2010 Department of Correction (DOC) final decision, which denied his claim. Having considered the record on appeal in light of the applicable law, we affirm.
We discern the following facts from the record. On July 14, 2010, as part of an emergency investigation, two senior correction officers searched Boone's cell while he and his cellmate were detained elsewhere. According to Boone, when he returned to the cell, his cellmate reported that the officers had ripped apart and smashed Boone's word processor and radio. That day, Boone filed an inmate remedy claim, alleging that the officers had intentionally damaged his property during the search.*fn1
On July 19, 2010, Boone submitted an inmate property claim for his damaged property. He attached supporting documentation, which demonstrated that he had purchased the word processor for $149 in 1999, had owned the radio, costing $35, since 2001, and had paid $237 to have the word processor refurbished in 2006. Boone requested that EJSP pay for the repairs or replace the items.
Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant James Mattia, who was assigned to investigate Boone's property claim, interviewed the two senior correction officers involved in the search, who both submitted statements denying that Boone's property was damaged during the search. He also interviewed Boone's cellmate, who stated that the officers must have smashed and broken the items during the search. In addition, Mattia examined Boone's word processor and radio and found that four keys on the word processor's keyboard did not work, the radio was missing its antenna and the cassette player was missing some parts. Mattia concluded on September 13, 2010 that there was no credible evidence that the items had been damaged; rather, noting the advanced age of the items, he found that the damage resulted from normal wear and tear. Consequently, he recommended that the claim be denied.
On October 25, 2010, the EJSP Assistant Superintendent Charles Davis made the final decision to deny Boone's property claim. Based on the investigation, he denied the claim for the following reasons:
1. In regards to the word processor keyboard: an investigation revealed that the four keys that are not responding (delete, enter, arrow down, and left shift) when pressed appear to be consistent with normal wear on aging appliances. The word processor was originally purchased on March 29, 1999 and the keyboard was rebuilt in 2006.
2. In regards to the radio: an investigation revealed that the radio does not tune into radio stations as there is no antenna attached. You stated that the antenna was removed when you were housed at New Jersey State Prison. An investigation further revealed that the cassette player on the radio does not work. After interviewing the Officers who conducted the cell search and your witness, we have found no evidence to suggest staff negligence.
3. An inspection of the outer casings of both appliances did not show any damage, as would occur if the appliances were ripped apart and/or smashed as alleged. I find no evidence to suggest staff negligence.
This appeal followed. On appeal, Boone argues that the processing of his property claim failed to comply with N.J.A.C. 10A:2-6.1 and -6.2. Additionally, he argues that the final decision should be reversed because it was arbitrary, capricious, and not based upon credible evidence in the record.
After carefully reviewing the record in light of the written arguments advanced by the parties, we conclude that appellant's arguments "are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion." R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add only the following brief comments.
Our role in reviewing an agency decision is limited. In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579 (1980)). Our function is to determine whether the administrative action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or 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)(citations omitted). "The burden of demonstrating that the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable rests upon the [party] challenging the administrative action." In re Arenas, 385 N.J. Super. 440, 443-44 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 188 N.J. 219 (2006).
Applying these standards, we discern no reason to disturb DOC's decision. Initially, we reject Boone's claim that the DOC failed to comply with the applicable property claim regulation. N.J.A.C. 10A:2-6.1 requires that an investigation of an inmate's property claim include obtaining statements from the inmate, staff and witnesses. We are satisfied that the DOC fully complied with the obligation to investigate Boone's damaged property claim imposed by this regulation. Moreover, the DOC used the factors listed in N.J.A.C. 10A:2-6.1 to decide the claim.
The crux of Boone's complaint is that the DOC should have believed the statements of his witnesses rather than those of EJSP's staff. However, we may not substitute our judgment for the fact-finding of an administrative agency if it is supported by the record. Campbell v. N.J. Racing Comm'n, 169 N.J. 579, 587 (2001). We are satisfied that there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support DOC's rejection of Boone's claim for damage to his property. Thus, we find the DOC's decision denying Boone's claim for reimbursement for damage to his word processor and radio was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.