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August 30, 1991


On Motion to Dismiss Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections

Ferren and Terry, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge, in chambers.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

Petitioner, Robert Singleton, was a prisoner at Lorton Reformatory when an assault occurred in his dormitory. The victim of the assault identified Singleton from an array of photographs as one of his assailants, and as a result Singleton was placed in the Central Facility Adjustment Unit in administrative segregation. After a hearing before the prison housing board, in accordance with 28 DCMR §§ 520-531 (1987), Singleton was ordered to be transferred to the Maximum Security Facility at Lorton. Singleton appealed to the Administrator of the Central Facility, who affirmed the housing board's decision. Singleton then filed in this court a petition for review, to which the Department of Corrections responded with a motion to dismiss. The Department argues that this court lacks jurisdiction to consider the petition because prison disciplinary proceedings are not contested cases. We agree and dismiss the petition.

This court has jurisdiction to review orders or decisions of District of Columbia government agencies only in "contested cases." D.C. Code § 1-1510(a) (1987); D.C. Code § 11-722 (1989). A contested case is defined by statute as "a proceeding before the Mayor or any agency in which the legal rights, duties, or privileges of specific parties are required by any law . . . or by constitutional right, to be determined after a hearing before the Mayor or before an agency . . . ." D.C. Code § 1-1502(8) (1987). We have held that the hearing to which this definition refers is a "trial-type" hearing, Chevy Chase Citizens Ass'n v. District of Columbia Council, 327 A.2d 310, 314 (D.C. 1974) (en banc), which is "statutorily or constitutionally compelled . . . ." W.C. & A.N. Miller Development Co. v. District of Columbia Zoning Commission, 340 A.2d 420, 422 (D.C. 1975) (en banc). The proceeding before the prison housing board in Singleton's case does not pass this test.

There is no constitutional right to a full trial-type hearing in prison discipline cases. Prisoners are entitled to some due process protections, such as the right to receive notice of the charges against them and a written statement of reasons for any disciplinary action, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-565, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935 (1974), but other constitutional rights must generally be balanced against the correctional goals of the prison authorities. Id. at 556 ("there must be mutual accommodation between institutional needs and objectives and [prisoners' consitutional rights]"). For example, a prisoner may call witnesses and present evidence, but only "when permitting him to do so will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals." Id. at 566. There is no right of confrontation or cross-examination at such hearings; such matters are left to the sound discretion of prison officials. Id. at 567-569. See also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224, 96 S. Ct. 2532, 49 L. Ed. 2d 451 (1976) (prisoner not entitled to fact-finding hearing before being transferred to "substantially less favorable conditions").

Nor is there any statute in the District of Columbia that requires a trial-type hearing in such cases. *fn1 The departmental regulations under which Singleton's hearing was held do afford several procedural safeguards, such as the right to written notice of the hearing at least three days in advance, *fn2 the right to call witnesses, *fn3 the right to be represented at the hearing by counsel or substitute counsel, *fn4 and the right to an administrative appeal. *fn5 On the other hand, the regulations limit the number of witnesses that a prisoner may call, *fn6 the prisoner's right of confrontation, *fn7 and even the prisoner's right to know the names of the witnesses *fn8 and all the evidence relied upon by the board in making its decision. *fn9 Because the regulations do not bestow on prisoners the "full panoply" *fn10 of trial-type procedural rights, we necessarily conclude that the proceeding before the prison housing board at issue here was not a trial-type hearing and hence not a contested case. *fn11

The petition for review is therefore

Dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

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