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Morgan v. New Jersey Dept. of Corrections

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 25, 2013

SHAFFONA MORGAN, Appellant,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 8, 2013

On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Shaffona Morgan, appellant pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lisa A. Puglisi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Randy Miller, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Sabatino and Rothstadt.

PER CURIAM

Shaffona Morgan, an inmate at New Jersey State Prison, appeals from a May 25, 2012 final administrative decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) adjudicating her guilty of institutional infractions *.004 (fighting with another person); and *.306 (conduct which disrupts the orderly running of the institution), N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). Morgan now appeals, arguing that the DOC failed to consider her claim of self-defense and that she was denied various procedural safeguards to which she was entitled, including effective assistance of counsel substitute and the ability to present her own witnesses and cross examine the DOC's witnesses. We reject these contentions and affirm.

On May 11, 2012, while incarcerated in New Jersey State Prison, Morgan engaged in a fight in the prison yard with another inmate. Senior Corrections Officer McDonough observed Morgan punching another inmate in the face with a closed fist. The other inmate then grabbed Morgan. While the two of them continued to brawl, another inmate joined the fight. As a result, Officer McDonough initiated "a Code 33" distress call, signaling an emergency situation and alerting other corrections officers to respond and assist in securing personnel, restoring order and returning the inmates to their cells.

The next day, prison officials served Morgan and the other two inmates involved with a copy of the formal charges made against them. Morgan entered a plea of not guilty.[1] She did not initially request the assistance of a counsel substitute, although prior to her hearing the DOC nevertheless provided a counsel substitute. In anticipation of her hearing, Morgan did not request the opportunity to present any testimony or cross-examine any of the DOC's witnesses.

A hearing officer conducted a review on May 18, 2012. The officer reviewed Morgan's statement and the uncontroverted staff reports and medical reports about injuries suffered in the fight. The hearing officer found Morgan guilty of the charges. The officer sanctioned her to fifteen days detention with credit for time served, 180 days administrative segregation, and 180 days loss of recreational privileges for the *.004 violation. The officer further imposed fifteen days detention with credit for time served, 90 days administrative segregation and 90 days loss of commutation time for the *.306 violation.

Morgan then pursued an administrative appeal. The Assistant Superintendent of Prisons reviewed the matter and upheld the hearing officer's decision. This appeal followed.

Our review of an agency decision is limited. "Ordinarily, an appellate court will reverse the decision of the 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) (citing Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Service, 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963)); see also Szemple v. Dep't of Corr., 384 N.J.Super. 245, 248 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 187 N.J. 82 (2006). "Our role is to engage in a 'careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings.'" DeCamp v. New Jersey Dept. of Corrections, 386 N.J.Super. 631, 636 (App. Div. 2006) (quoting Williams v. Dep't of Corr., 330 N.J.Super. 197, 204 (App. Div. 2000) (other citations omitted)). However, "[w]e cannot substitute our judgment for that of the agency where its findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record." Johnson v. Dep't of Corr., 375 N.J.Super. 347, 352 (App. Div. 2005) (citing Henry, supra, 81 N.J. at 579-80); Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J.Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005). "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).

On appeal, Morgan contends her conduct was a result of (1) self-defense, (2) her counsel substitute was ineffective, and (3) she was denied procedural safeguards. We ...


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