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William Stovall v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


September 27, 2012

WILLIAM STOVALL, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 23, 2012

Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.

William Stovall, an inmate at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), Trenton, appeals from the December 28, 2010 final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) continuing his placement in the Management Control Unit (MCU). Following our review of the arguments advanced on appeal, in light of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

I.

Stovall is serving an aggregate eighty year sentence, with a thirty-one year mandatory minimum for escape, criminal attempt, possession of implements for escape, nine assorted weapons charges, two counts of assault while armed, and three counts of robbery. Stovall also has five open detainers, two from Pennsylvania for escape and kidnapping, and three federal robbery charges.

Stovall's conduct resulted in his assignment to the MCU, which is "a close custody unit to which an inmate may be assigned if the inmate poses a substantial threat to the safety of others; of damage to or destruction of property; or of interrupting the operation of a State correctional facility."

N.J.A.C. 10A:5-1.3. The Management Control Unit Review Committee (MCURC) is responsible for hearing cases of inmates referred for placement in the MCU and for conducting three month status reviews of inmates assigned to the MCU. Ibid.

An inmate shall be assigned to the MCU when the MCURC, after considering of criteria in N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.4, concludes that the inmate poses a substantial threat: (1) to the safety of others; (2) of damage to or destruction of property; or (3) of interrupting the operation of a State correctional facility.

[N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.5.]

A number of criteria are considered when making this determination, including: (1) the inmate's disciplinary records; (2) past criminal offenses; (3) the number and location of past institutionalizations; (4) reports by professional staff; (5) reports indicating present involvement in criminal activity within the correctional facility; (6) evidence of an attitude indicating an unwillingness to follow rules and obey orders; (7) inability to maintain a satisfactory work record as indicated in reports by work supervisors and/or frequency of job changes; (8) information indicating unsatisfactory adjustment to or performance in treatment or rehabilitative programs; and (9) evidence of an inability or unwillingness to house with other inmates in a non-disruptive and non-destructive manner.

N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.4.

Following an inmate's placement into the MCU, a routine review hearing "shall be made a minimum of every three months." N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.10(a). At each routine review hearing, the MCURC shall review the information upon which the decision was based to assign the inmate to the MCU. N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.10(e). The MCURC shall release an inmate from the MCU only when, in its opinion, "the inmate no longer poses a substantial threat: (1) [t]o the safety of others; (2) [o]f damage to or destruction of property; or (3) [o]f interrupting the secure and/or orderly operation of a State correctional facility." N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.10(f). In addition, an inmate's placement in the MCU shall be reviewed annually "to determine whether an inmate's release from MCU is appropriate." N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.11(a).

Stovall was initially placed in the MCU in April 1981, and was released three months later. In 1986, he was again placed in the MCU but was released in 1987, and placed in administrative segregation. In January 1990, he was returned to the general population, but from May 12, 1990 through April 2, 1991, Stovall was in administrative segregation. He was then returned to the general population, but later in 1991 until 1993, Stovall was placed in administrative segregation.

In 1993, Stovall was administratively referred for placement in the MCU at NJSP due to his continuous involvement in escapes, escape attempts, disruptive activities, illegal demonstrations, assault, and conspiracy in which people could be harmed. By that time, Stovall had accumulated twenty-three disciplinary charges, had spent a total of 125 days in detention, and had spent three years in administrative segregation. On May 21, 1993, Stovall was again assigned to the MCU.

Since his last placement in the MCU, the MCURC has conducted both annual and routine reviews to determine whether Stovall's MCU placement remains appropriate. On November 1, 2010, the MCURC conducted a routine and an annual review of Stovall's placement. The MCURC determined that because Stovall remains a threat to the safety and security of the correctional facility, he should remain in the MCU. On December 7, 2010, Stovall filed an Inmate Remedy System Form, appealing the decision of the MCURC. On December 28, 2010, the Administrator of NJSP issued a final agency decision upholding the MCURC's decision to place Stovall in the MCU. In March 2011, Stovall appealed that decision and the DOC filed for remand so that the MCURC could accurately identify the evidence it considered in deciding to continue Stovall's placement in the MCU. We granted that motion.

On October 27, 2011, the MCURC conducted a new routine review and an annual review of Stovall's placement. In its routine review, the MCURC considered documents regarding Stovall's initial placement in the MCU, his disciplinary reports, program participation, social services, medical and psychological interview, and housing reports. In addition, the MCURC considered Stovall's compliance with the revised MCU placement phases. It also considered a written statement submitted by Stovall. The MCURC determined that Stovall remained a threat to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of any correctional facility and, therefore, should remain in the MCU.

In its annual review, the MCURC considered the statement presented by Stovall. The MCURC expressed concern with regards to Stovall's history of escape and attempted escape, along with his attempts to obtain automatic weapons and explosive devices. It noted that in 2004, while housed in the MCU, Stovall was found guilty of assaulting another inmate with a weapon. The MCURC also noted that Stovall has received institutional infractions for possession of $50 or more in currency, possession or introduction of narcotic paraphernalia or drugs, and engaging or encouraging a group demonstration. In April 2011, while housed within the MCU, Stovall was again found guilty of assaulting a fellow inmate. The MCURC determined and informed Stovall that "[y]ou have repeatedly involved yourself in escape, escape attempts, purchase of explosives, and other extremely serious and dangerous activities. Your actions as well as your lack of respect for authority continue to pose a threat to the safety and security of any correctional facility." Consequently, the MCURC decided that Stovall should remain in the MCU.

In November 2011, Stovall filed a letter appealing the decision of the MCURC with the Administrator of NJSP. In December 2011, Stovall filed an Inmate Remedy System Form requesting a response to his previously submitted appeal and restating his contentions. On December 19, 2011, the Administrator issued a final agency decision upholding the decision of the MCURC. It is from that decision that Stovall appeals.

II.

Appellant raises the following points on appeal:

POINT I

THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT REVIEW COMMITTEE DECISION TO CONTINUE APPELLANT'S MCU PLACEMENT WAS ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS AS IT DEPRIVED APPELLANT OF THE RIGHT TO BE RELEASED FROM THE MCU PURSUANT TO N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.11(b)(c) ALTHOUGH APPELLANT WAS IN COMPLETE COMPLIANCE WITH THE REQURIEMENTS FOR SAME. THEREBY DENYING APPELLANT DUE PROCESS OF LAW IN VIOLATION OF NEW JERSEY CONSTITUTION ART. 1 ¶ 1.

POINT II

THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT REVIEW COMMITTEE REQUIREMENT THAT APPELLANT DISCUSS IN DETAIL THE CIRCUMSTANCES RELATED TO APPELLANT'S INITIAL MCU PLACEMENT, BY RELINQUISHING HIS FIFTH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT IN AN ONGOING CRIMINAL PROCEEDING AND SURRENDERING HIS APPELLATE RIGHTS AS A PREREQUISITE FOR RELEASE CONSIDERATION FROM THE MCU, VIOLATES N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.11 AND DEPRIVES APPELLANT OF HIS SUBSTANTIVE AND PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS RIGHTS, AN UNREASONABLE REQUIREMENT.

POINT III

THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT REVIEW COMMITTEE DECISION TO CONTINUE APPELLANT'S MCU PLACEMENT WAS ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS AS IT WAS BASED ON EVIDENCE NOT CONTAINED IN THE RECORD BEFORE THE COMMITTEE, AND IT WAS RENDERED PERFUNCTORY.

POINT IV

THE ADMINISTRATORS FINAL DECISION TO SUSTAIN THE MCURC DECISION TO CONTINUE APPELLANT'S PLACEMENT IN THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT IS ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS AND BASED ON AN ILLEGAL APPLICATION OF NEW JERSEY REGULATIONS AND IS IN VIOLATION OF N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.7(b).

POINT V

THE AUTHORITY LEGISLATIVELY BESTOWED UPON MEMBERS OF THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT REVIEW COMMITTEE BY N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.2(1)(2)(3) TO MAKE DECISIONS PURSUANT TO N.J.A.C. 10A:502.11(c) AND 10A:5-2.10(f) TO DETERMINE IF APPELLANT POSES A THREAT TO SECURITY HAS BEEN USUPED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF, THEREBY DEPRIVING APPELLANT OF AN EVLUATION PURSUANT TO ADMINISTRATIVE CODE.

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. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (alteration in original) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)). Furthermore, "[i]t is settled that '[a]n administrative agency's interpretation of statutes and regulations within its implementing and enforcing responsibility is ordinarily entitled to our deference.'" Wnuck v. N.J. Div. of Motor Vehicles, 337 N.J. Super. 52, 56 (App. Div. 2001) (quoting In re Appeal by Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 307 N.J. Super. 93, 102 (App. Div. 1997)). We have noted in the past that the Legislature has provided for the broad exercise of the DOC's discretion in all matters regarding the administration of a prison facility. Russo v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 324 N.J. Super. 576, 583 (App. Div. 1999).

Neither the United States Constitution, nor our Constitution, recognizes a right to a less restrictive custody status. Smith v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 346 N.J. Super. 24, 29 (App. Div. 2001) (citing Jenkins v. Fauver, 108 N.J. 239, 249 (1987)). Inmates in correctional facilities do not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in a reduced custody status. Smith, supra, 346 N.J. Super. at 29; see also White v. Fauver, 219 N.J. Super. 170, 178 (App. Div. 1987), modified sub nom., Jenkins, supra, 108 N.J. 239. As we further observed:

[U]nder State law, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections has complete discretion in determining an inmate's place of confinement, N.J.S.A. 30:4-91.2. See Hluchan v. Fauver, 480 F. Supp. 103, 108 (D.N.J. 1979) (observing that inmates have no liberty right to be assigned to any particular custody level); . . . . Classification of prisoners and the decision as to what privileges they will receive rests solely within the discretion of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections. N.J.S.A. 30:1B-6; N.J.S.A. 30:4-91.1. [Id. at 29-30 (citation and quotations omitted).]

The New Jersey State Prison system is maintained and operated by the DOC, N.J.S.A. 30:1B-8, which is headed by the Commissioner of Corrections. N.J.S.A. 30:1B-4. Classification and transfer of state prisoners is confined to the Commissioner's sole discretion. N.J.S.A. 30:1B-6, -9; N.J.S.A. 30:4-91.1 to -91.3, -92.

"Basic to the resolution of any proceeding seeking review of prison administrative action is the legal principle that courts will not interfere with the internal administration of the institution, absent action by the prison authorities which deprives an inmate of his constitutional rights or is clearly capricious or arbitrary." State v. Rydzewski, 112 N.J. Super. 517, 521 (App. Div. 1970).

Accordingly, the Commissioner of the DOC has considerable discretion in determining the custody status of inmates. Smith, supra, 346 N.J. Super. at 29. Moreover, "under New Jersey law, a reduction in custody status is a matter of privilege, not of right." Id. at 30 (citing N.J.A.C. 10A:9-4.2). Although an inmate has no constitutionally protected right to a reduced custody status, we have not hesitated "to strike down arbitrary action" and have insisted upon "procedural fairness in the administrative process." White, supra, 219 N.J. Super. at 180.

Given the evidence upon which the decision was based to continue Stovall's placement in the MCU, and our standard of review as to discretionary acts, there is no reason to disturb the agency's decision.

To the extent we have not discussed any issue raised in this appeal, we are satisfied that it lacks sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

Affirmed.

20120927

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