In The Court of Appeals

Joshua Cramer, Appellant,


South Carolina Department of Corrections, Respondent.

Appeal from the Administrative Law Court
John D. McLeod, Administrative Law Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No. 2012-UP-031
Submitted November 1, 2011 Filed January 25, 2012


Joshua Cramer, pro se, for Appellant.

Lake E. Summers and Katherine A. Phillips, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this inmate grievance case, Joshua Cramer appeals an Administrative Law Court's (ALC) affirmation of the South Carolina Department of Corrections's (Department) denial of his grievance regarding wages he earned while employed in a prison industries project operated by the Department at Broad River Correctional Institution. We vacate and remand.[1]

Cramer is an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. He is currently incarcerated at the Broad River Correctional Institution and participates in a prison industries project making hardwood flooring. He began employment with the project on May 2, 2005. On April 26, 2007, Cramer filed a grievance labeled BRCI-0594-07. In this grievance, Cramer asserted a claim for back pay based on the Department's failure to pay him the prevailing wage in the private sector for his work performed in the prison industries project and a claim for immediate access to his wages held in escrow pursuant to section 24-3-40(B) of the South Carolina Code (2007).[2] The Department failed to issue a decision on this grievance, so Cramer filed a subsequent grievance labeled BRCI-0015-08 on December 24, 2007. In this grievance, Cramer claimed the Department's failure to issue a decision on his initial grievance violated the Department's policy providing for the resolution of grievances within 180 days and requested the Department address his claims presented in his initial grievance. On June 11, 2008, the Department issued a final decision denying grievance BRCI-0015-08 and stating that his initial grievance BRCI-0594-07 was being held in abeyance until the appropriate personnel obtained all the necessary information for processing his grievance.

Cramer appealed the denial of his grievance BRCI-0015-08 to the ALC. Cramer asked the ALC "to take jurisdiction of my original grievance BR-0594-07 and resolve all my issues set forth in my original grievance." In his brief to the ALC, Cramer asserted the claims presented in his original grievance BRCI-0594-07, claiming he was entitled to back pay because the Department erred by not paying him the prevailing wage for his work and that the Department erred by denying him immediate access to his escrowed wages in violation of section 24-3-40(B). The ALC found the Department had denied Cramer's grievance BRCI-0594-07 and affirmed the Department's denial of the grievance, finding the wages paid to Cramer were proper under South Carolina case and statutory law and that Cramer was not entitled to immediate access to his escrowed wages pursuant to section 24-3-40(B). In addition, the ALC found Cramer's claims were barred by the doctrine of laches and Cramer's failure to file a timely grievance pursuant to the Department's procedural requirements. This appeal followed.

Although "confined to the record," the court of appeals has the authority to review a decision of the ALC in order to determine whether "the substantive rights of the petitioner have been prejudiced because the finding, conclusion, or decision is . . . in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions; . . . affected by other error of law; . . . [or] arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion." S.C. Code Ann. 1-23-610(B) (Supp. 2010). The ALC's factual findings must stand unless they are "clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record." Id.; see also Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 380, 527 S.E.2d 742, 756 (2000) ("It has long been established that the court may not substitute its judgment for that of an agency on questions of fact when those facts are supported by substantial evidence.").

The ALC "shall preside over all appeals from final decisions of contested cases." S.C. Code Ann. 1-23-600(D) (Supp. 2010). A "contested case" is defined as a proceeding "in which the legal rights, duties, or privileges of a party are required by law to be determined by an agency after an opportunity for hearing." S.C. Code Ann. 1-23-310(3) (2005); see also Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 375, 527 S.E.2d at 753 ("An inmate brings a contested case for purposes of judicial review when he challenges a disciplinary outcome, calculation of sentence-related credits, custody status, or other condition of imprisonment."). Accordingly, "the AL[C] has subject matter jurisdiction to hear appeals from the final decision of the [Department] in a non-collateral or administrative matter." Slezak v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 361 S.C. 327, 331, 605 S.E.2d 506, 507 (2004).

In its order, the ALC found "[o]n June 11, 2008, the Department issued its final decision and denied all claims raised by Cramer in both grievances." This finding is unsupported by the evidence. The decision referenced by the ALC was issued in response to Cramer's grievance BRCI-0015-08, in which he complained that the Department had not responded to his initial grievance regarding the issues of back pay and his access to his escrowed wages. The Department did not issue a final decision on Cramer's grievance BRCI-0594-07 and, in fact, explicitly stated that grievance was held in abeyance until the inmate grievance coordinator received all the necessary information for processing the grievance. The record contains no evidence the Department ever issued a decision on Cramer's initial grievance, BRCI-0594-07, regarding his claims to back pay and immediate access to his escrowed wages. Because the Department never issued a final decision on those issues, the ALC erred in asserting jurisdiction over the claims presented in Cramer's initial grievance. Accordingly, the ALC's order is vacated, and this case is remanded with instructions for the ALC to consider only the issue raised in Cramer's grievance BRCI-0015-08, namely the Department's failure to timely respond to Cramer's initial grievance.


FEW, C.J., THOMAS and KONDUROS, JJ., concur.

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

[2] Section 24-3-40(B) provides in relevant part: "The Department of Corrections shall return a prisoner's wages held in escrow pursuant to subsection (A) as follows: . . . (2) A prisoner serving life in prison or sentenced to death shall be given the option of having his escrowed wages included in his estate or distributed to the persons or entities of his choice."