Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
JAMES McINTOSH v. LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS
James McIntosh, an inmate housed at B.B. Rayburn Correctional Center, appeals the district court's judgment that affirmed the denial of his Disciplinary Board appeal (RCC-2020-363) by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) and dismissed his petition for judicial review. We vacate the district court's judgment and remand with instructions.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
McIntosh was involved in an incident with prison guards on October 19, 2020, which resulted in McIntosh being written up for violating prison disciplinary rules 3 and 5, prohibiting defiance and aggravated disobedience. McIntosh pled not guilty to the infractions, claiming video from the prison surveillance cameras would prove his innocence. The Disciplinary Board found McIntosh guilty of the rule violations and sentenced him to a transfer to Level I for a period of 90 days for violating rule 3, to a loss of 60 days good time for violating rule 5, and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $32.00, representing the actual cost for the post-use-of-force exams required of the involved prison guards. McIntosh appealed the decision in accordance with LAC 22:1.341(H), again arguing that video evidence could prove his innocence, and also arguing that the sentence imposed was excessive. Both the Warden and DPSC Secretary denied the appeals, with the Warden noting that a review of the video evidence was inconclusive and the officers’ account was clear and precise as to the events as they occurred, and the Secretary stating that the officer's version was determined to be more credible and that McIntosh's claims on appeal were without merit.
In accordance with the Louisiana Corrections Administrative Remedy Procedure Act (CARP), La. R. S. 15:1171, et seq., McIntosh then filed a petition for judicial review in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, seeking production of video and other evidence, reversal of the disciplinary decision, reinstatement of his good time, and transfer to another prison. A Commissioner for the district court issued a screening report, recommending that the court affirm DPSC's decision and dismiss McIntosh's petition for judicial review because DPSC's decision was not arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of McIntosh's rights. McIntosh filed a traversal to the Commissioner's recommendation, contending that the recommendation was based on an incomplete record and that the relevant video evidence was being withheld in violation of his right to due process and his right to defend himself. The district court affirmed DPSC's decision and dismissed McIntosh's petition for judicial review, adopting the Commissioner's recommendation as its reasons. McIntosh now appeals the district court's judgment.
Judicial review of this matter is governed by La. R.S. 15:1177, which allows a reviewing court to reverse or modify an administrative decision only if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative decisions or findings are: (1) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions; (2) in excess of the agency's statutory authority; (3) made upon unlawful procedure; (4) affected by other error or law; (5) arbitrary, capricious, or characterized by an abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion; or (6) manifestly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record. La. R.S. 15:1177(A)(9). Judicial review is confined to the record established at the administrative level, absent alleged irregularities in the procedure. See La. R.S. 15:1177(A)(5); Poullard v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2017-1743 (La. App. 1st Cir. 6/4/18), 2018 WL 2676675, *2 (unpublished), writ denied, 2010-1179 (La. 5/28/19), 273 So.3d 308. On appeal of the district court's judgment, the appellate court reviews the administrative record de novo under the criteria of La. R.S. 15:1177(A)(9), owing no deference to the factual findings or legal conclusions of the district court. Marchand v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2020-0747 (La. App. 1st Cir. 2/24/21), 322 So.3d 269, 273, writ denied, 2021-00457 (La. 9/27/21), 324 So.3d 104.
McIntosh argues that the record in this matter is incomplete since it does not include his requested discovery. He further argues that during the disciplinary proceedings he was denied the right to confront his accusers and cross examine the officers who accused him of the infractions, as well as the right to call witnesses on his own behalf.
DPSC has promulgated Disciplinary Rules and Procedures for handling prisoner disciplinary matters. See LAC 22:1.341, et seq. Thereunder, a prisoner has certain rights when appearing before the Disciplinary Board, including the right to present evidence and witnesses on his behalf and to cross-examine his accusers, provided such request is relevant, not repetitious, not unduly burdensome to the institution, and/or not unduly hazardous to staff or offender safety. LAC 22:1.341(J)(5); Hill v. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2018-0809 (La. App. 1st Cir. 12/21/18), 2018 WL 6716927, *3 (unpublished). These procedural rights must be followed unless waived by the accused. LAC 22:1.341(G)(4)(b); Hill, 2018 WL 6716927 at *3. DPSC's rules also require that all hearings be recorded in their entirety and that the recording be preserved for a period of five years. LAC 22:1.341(G)(4)(c).
Our review of the record reveals no transcript or audio recording of the disciplinary hearing that could be reviewed to determine the merits of McIntosh's claims. We further note that McIntosh's traversal of the Commissioner's report states that one of the videos he sought through discovery had been recently produced and refers to attached exhibits and a memorandum. Although the record indicates no evidence was filed with the clerk's office for the district court, the record index identifies the traversal and other documents as “Exhibits” filed by an attorney on April 26, 2022, after the date of the Commissioner's report. One “exhibit” is what appears to be a photocopy of a cd envelope with the notations “19th JDC” and “McIntosh videos.” Other exhibits include DPSC Unusual Occurrence Reports with descriptions of the incident by the involved guards and a narrative description of the incident written by McIntosh. The district court's judgment states its judgment was based on “de novo consideration of the entire administrative record ․ together with any [timely filed] traversal.” (R48) Thus, it is unclear whether the “exhibits” filed with McIntosh's traversal were considered as evidence by the district court.
Under CARP, the opportunity for the parties to present evidence occurs at the administrative level, not at the district court level. Poullard, 2018 WL 2676675 at *2. In conducting its review, the district court has no authority to accept evidence or testimony at the hearing on review, but may order that additional evidence be taken before the agency upon conditions determined by the court or may remand the case for further proceedings. See La. R.S. 15:1177(A)(4) and (8); Poullard, 2018 WL 2676675 at *2.
Based on the record before us, we find it necessary to vacate the district court's judgment that dismissed McIntosh's petition for judicial review and remand this matter to the district court for re-consideration. The district court is specifically instructed to determine whether the “Exhibits” filed with McIntosh's traversal form part of the administrative record and, if not, whether the matter should be remanded to the agency to take additional evidence. The district court is further instructed to obtain a transcript or recording of the Disciplinary Hearing and consider the merits of McIntosh's claims that he was denied due process and the right to confront his accusers.
The district court's June 23, 2022 judgment is vacated and this matter is remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Costs of this appeal in the amount of $643.00 are assessed to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
VACATED AND REMANDED.
Response sent, thank you
Docket No: NO. 2022 CA 1117
Decided: April 14, 2023
Court: Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit.
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)