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Pierre v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 12, 2013

ALAIN PIERRE, Appellant,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, GARDEN STATE YOUTH CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 28, 2013.

On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Alain Pierre, appellant pro se.

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Andrew J. Sarrol, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Graves and Espinosa.

PER CURIAM.

Alain Pierre, a state prison inmate, appeals from a final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding him guilty of violating N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a) for committing prohibited act .256 (refusing to obey an order of any staff member), and .257 (violating a condition of any community release program).[1] The hearing officer imposed fifteen days detention with credit for time served and sixty days loss of commutation time for each of the disciplinary offenses.

In his administrative appeal, Pierre stated he did not receive a fair hearing because he was "ill-advised not to speak on behalf of [his] innocence, " and because the hearing officer was biased. On March 20, 2012, Assistant Superintendent Joseph Knowles noted Pierre's request for counsel substitute had been granted, and counsel substitute's signature on the adjudication forms acknowledged the information contained on lines one through fifteen of the forms "accurately reflect what took place at the disciplinary hearing." Nevertheless, Knowles modified the sanction for the .256 violation by suspending the fifteen-day detention for sixty days.

On appeal, Pierre presents the following arguments:

POINT I
THE DECISION OF THE HEARING OFFICER WAS NOT BASED UPON FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND ALSO LACKS THE NECESSARY ELEMENTS TO SUSTAIN GUILT BASED UPON SUBSTANTIAL CREDIBLE AND RELIABLE EVIDENCE IN THE RECORD AS A WHOLE.
POINT II
THE APPELLANT WAS DENIED EQUAL PROTECTION AND FUNDAMENTAL FAIRNESS AT HIS DISCIPLINARY HEARING.
POINT III
THE AGENCY FAILED TO PROVIDE EFFECTIVE SUBSTITUTE COUNSEL AT HEARING, N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.12; "THE HEARING OFFICER IS TO CHOOSE A SUFFICIENTLY COMPETENT STAFF MEMBER OR INMATE TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE."

Based on our review of the record and the briefs, we conclude that the DOC's decision "is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record as a whole, " Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(D), and that Pierre's arguments are clearly without merit, Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Nevertheless, we add the following comments.

N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a) requires that "[a] finding of guilt at a disciplinary hearing shall be based upon substantial evidence that the inmate has committed a prohibited act." See also Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 530 (1975) (requiring substantial evidence to support an inmate disciplinary sanction). Substantial evidence is "'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) (quoting In re Hackensack Water Co., 41 N.J.Super. 408, 418 (App. Div. 1956)).

In this case, a program counselor at the Bo Robinson Assessment Center, a residential community release program in Trenton, was interviewing Pierre during the intake process when the disciplinary violations occurred. The report filed by the program counselor stated that Pierre became "hostile" and refused to cooperate because "he claimed he had already filled out [the paperwork] in a previous facility." According to the counselor, Pierre said, "You already have it in your computer" and threw the forms on her desk. In addition, when Pierre was told he would be "written up for his behavior, " he took a binder from the counselor's desk and began reading it.

Pierre pled guilty to violating a condition of the community release program (.257), but not guilty to refusing to obey an order of any staff member (.256). At the disciplinary hearing, Pierre was given the opportunity to make a statement, to call witnesses on his behalf, and to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, but declined to do so. Based on the staff reports, the hearing officer found Pierre guilty of both offenses.

The scope of our review is narrow. We must uphold the DOC's decision, even if we would have reached a different result so long as there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the decision In re Taylor 158 N.J. 644 656 (1999); Johnson v N.J. Dep't of Corr, 375 N.J.Super 347 352 (App Div 2005) ("We cannot substitute our judgment for that of the agency where its findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record") An administrative agency's decision is entitled to a "strong presumption of reasonableness" City of Newark v Natural Res Council 82 N.J. 530 539 cert denied 449 U.S. 983 101 S.Ct. 400 66 L.Ed.2d 245 (1980) Ordinarily we "will reverse the decision of [an] administrative agency only if it is arbitrary capricious or unreasonable or 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); accord Williams v Dep't of Corr, 330 N.J.Super 197 203-04 (App Div 2000)

With these principles in mind we conclude from our examination of the record that Pierre's procedural due process rights were not violated and there was sufficient credible evidence to support the DOC's final decision Consequently the decision is neither arbitrary capricious nor unreasonable.

Affirmed.


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