Supreme Court Seal
Supreme Court Seal
South Carolina
Judicial Department
2010-UP-251 - SCDC v. James


In The Court of Appeals

South Carolina Department of Corrections, Respondent,


Isiah James, Jr., Appellant.

Appeal From Jasper County
James C. Williams, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No. 2010-UP-251
Submitted April 1, 2010 – Filed April 26, 2010  


Isiah James, Jr., pro se, for Appellant.

Lake Eric Summers, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Isiah James, Jr., appeals the circuit court's order in this administrative grievance action. 

James filed Step 1 and Step 2 grievances in accordance with the South Carolina Department of Corrections' (the Department) Inmate Grievance System Policy, alleging he was paid less than the prevailing wage while employed by Kwalu in the Prison Industries System.  James further argued the Department improperly deducted funds from his pay for room and board and victim assistance.  After the Department denied his grievances, James appealed to the Administrative Law Court (ALC). 

By order filed March 6, 2006 (Final Order), the ALC affirmed the Department as to the deductions for room and board and victim assistance.    The ALC determined, however, James was entitled to the prevailing wage of $5.25 per hour and ordered the Department to pay James within thirty days the difference between the wages owed and the wages previously paid.

On March 24, 2006, the ALC issued an "Order of Clarification."  The Order of Clarification referenced nine inmate appeals, including James's appeal.  It stated the ALC received a letter[1] from the Department dated March 14, 2006, requesting clarification of compliance deadlines set forth in the Final Order and other ALC orders concerning the nine inmate appeals.  The Order of Clarification added:  "To avoid any further confusion, and to give the Department adequate time to complete its work, it is hereby ORDERED that the relief ordered in each case shall be completed by April 24th, 2006, thirty days from the file date of this order." (emphasis in original)

Both James and the Department appealed to the circuit court.  James appealed on March 28, 2006.  The Department filed its notice of appeal on April 20, 2006, appealing all nine ALC orders referenced in the Order of Clarification.  James moved to dismiss the Department's appeal as untimely, arguing the Department failed to file and serve its notice of appeal within thirty days from service of the Final Order. 

The circuit court granted the Department's appeal and denied James's appeal and motion to dismiss, holding the Department "timely filed its appeal in accordance with the orders issued by the ALC in this matter and in conformity to the ALC's Rules of Procedure."  The circuit court affirmed the ALC as to deductions for room and board and victim assistance.  However, with James's consent and agreement, the court remanded the prevailing wage issue to the ALC.  In addition, upon the Department's request, the circuit court reversed the ALC's "apparent ruling James worked for Kwalu or was ever an employee of Kwalu."  James appealed.

James argues the circuit court erred in: (1) denying his motion to dismiss and finding the Department timely filed its notice of appeal from the ALC's final order, and (2) affirming the ALC's holding that the Department properly deducted funds from James's inmate pay for room and board and victim assistance programs.  We reverse in part, affirm in part, and vacate in part.[2]

1.  We reverse the circuit court's denial of James's motion to dismiss the Department's appeal to the circuit court because the Department did not timely file its notice of appeal.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-610 (Supp. 2009) (providing an appeal from a final decision of the ALC must be filed with the court of appeals and served on the opposing party not more than thirty days after the party receives the final decision); Elam v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 361 S.C. 9, 17, 602 S.E.2d 772, 776 (2004) (holding timeliness of an appeal is a jurisdictional matter).  The Department's letter requesting clarification of the ALC's final order did not toll the Department's time period for filing and serving its appeal.  Initially, we note the letter was not a motion, and it did not appear in our record on appeal.  More importantly, the Department did not ask the ALC to alter, amend, modify, or even clarify the judgment; rather, the Department asked the ALC to clarify the deadline by which the Department had to pay the judgment.  Because we hold the circuit court was without jurisdiction to entertain the Department's appeal, we vacate all portions of the circuit court order that address issues raised only by the Department.  Specifically, we vacate the circuit court's reversal of the ALC's "apparent ruling" that James worked for Kwalu.  We address issues raised in James's timely appeal to the circuit court below.  

2.  We affirm the ALC's holding that the Department properly deducted funds from James's inmate pay for room and board and victim assistance programs. 

"The General Assembly shall establish institutions for the confinement of all persons convicted of such crimes as may be designated by law, and shall provide for the custody, maintenance, health, welfare, education, and rehabilitation of the inmates."  S.C. Const. art. XII, § 2.  Section 24-1-130 of the South Carolina Code of Laws (Supp. 2009) vests the Director of the Department with "the management of the affairs of the prison system and for the proper care, treatment, feeding, clothing, and management of the prisoners confined therein."

Section 24-3-40(A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws (Supp. 2009) permits the Department to deduct money from "the gross wages of [a] prisoner" authorized to work in a prison industries program.  Sections 24-3-40(A)(1) and (2) require a deduction of 20% of a prisoner's gross prison industries wages to be directed to fulfill the prisoner's court ordered restitution, or if the prisoner has no court ordered restitution obligation, to be applied to "the State Office of Victim Assistance."  Section 24-3-40(A)(3) provides: "If there are no child support obligations, then twenty-five percent must be used by the Department of Corrections to defray the cost of the prisoner's room and board."

James's argument that the deductions violate South Carolina constitutional and statutory law is without merit.  There is no conflict between  article XII, section 2, of the South Carolina Constitution and section 24-3-40 (A) of the South Carolina Code of Laws.  The language set forth in article XII, section 2, requiring that prisons "provide for" prisoners' custody has no specific application to prison industries wage deductions and does not mandate that the Department incur all costs of incarceration.  See Brown v. S.C. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Control, 348 S.C. 507, 515, 560 S.E.2d 410, 414 (2002) ("An appellate court cannot construe a statute without regard to its plain meaning and may not resort to a forced interpretation in an attempt to expand or limit the scope of a statute.").  Further, our supreme court has held article XII, section 2, should be interpreted broadly.  See Sullivan v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 355 S.C. 437, 444, 586 S.E.2d 124, 127 (2003) (holding even if article XII, section 2, is read to require some rehabilitation for inmates, it does not mandate any specific programs or any particular timetable for furnishing rehabilitation).

Further, there is no conflict between section 24-1-130 and section 24-3-40(A).  Although section 24-1-130 charges the Department's director with caring for and feeding prisoners, the section does not require the Department to assume all costs associated with the prisoners' welfare.

James does not assert any authority for his argument that the deductions are discriminatory or that they violate his due process rights. See In re McCracken, 346 S.C. 87, 92, 551 S.E.2d 235, 238 (2001) (holding an issue is abandoned on appeal if the argument is not supported by authority or is conclusory).  Likewise, James fails to prove he was double-charged for room and board.  Although James references an earnings and deductions statement, the record does not indicate the cost the Department expended for James's housing or the total amount James claims was deducted from his wages to pay for room and housing.  See State v. Mitchell, 330 S.C. 189, 199, 498 S.E.2d 642, 647 (1998) (holding the appellant has the burden of presenting a sufficient record for our review).

James's argument that his pay was deducted without a hearing is without merit.  James has been afforded hearings pursuant to the grievance system, and he appealed to the ALC, the circuit court, and now this court.   Nothing further is required by law or due process.  See Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 376-82, 527 S.E.2d 742, 754-57 (2000) (setting forth an inmate's procedural rights from grievance claims).

Finally, James's reference to restitution is without merit because section 24-3-40(A)(2), which mandates pay deductions for victim assistance, is distinct from restitution.



[1] This letter does not appear in our record on appeal.

[2] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.