New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HALES v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-018-959, Claim No. 127891

Synopsis

Claimant awarded $420 for excessive wrongful confinement.

Case information

UID: 2018-018-959
Claimant(s): TERRELL HALES
Claimant short name: HALES
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 127891
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Claimant's attorney: TERRELL HALES
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: BARBARA D. UNDERWOOD
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Ray A. Kyles, Esquire
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: September 10, 2018
City: Syracuse
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant filed and served this claim alleging wrongful and excessive confinement as an inmate at Cayuga Correctional Facility (CCF). Defendant submitted a verified answer with 11 affirmative defenses including immunity, privilege, justification, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and culpable conduct of Claimant. A trial was held by video conferencing on August 1, 2018. Claimant was the only witness.

Claimant testified that on April 15, 2013, he sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the training and procedure manuals for the SYVA/EMIT VIVA JR urinalysis machine.(1) Claimant received a letter dated April 29, 2013,(2) from Chad Powell, Administrative Assistant in the DOCCS FOIL unit, denying his FOIL request but providing the name and address of the manufacturer of the machine to Claimant to write directly to obtain the information.(3) Claimant was not successful in getting the information from the manufacturer but Claimant's wife found the manual on the internet and mailed portions of it to him. Claimant wanted to use the information about the machine to defend himself on a drug use misbehavior charge.

On September 25, 2014, Claimant's property was searched and the portions of the manual in Claimant's possession were confiscated. Although Claimant explained the FOIL request and response and how he obtained the information, he was given a misbehavior report for contraband in violation of Rule 113.23.(4) Rule 113.23 reads:

"In addition to those items of contraband specifically identified by this rule series, an inmate shall not possess any item unless it has been specifically authorized by the superintendent or designee, the rules of the department or the local rules of the facility."(5) (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Regulations [7 NYCRR] 270.2).

A hearing was commenced on October 1, 2014, and concluded on October 3, 2014. During the hearing, Claimant argued that Rule 113.23 was vague and there are no rules prohibiting possession of the manual. Claimant described how a DOCCS's employee gave him the manufacturer's name and address to obtain the information. He also cited Matter of Applegate v Fischer, 89 AD3d 1303 [3d Dept 2011] in which the Third Department found that DOCCS had improperly denied the petitioner's FOIL request for the same urinalysis machine manual. In that case, the Court said if federal copyright law prohibited disclosure, DOCCS should provide the manufacturer's address as it did here.

Claimant further argued that when his wife sent the portions of the manual to him, the mailroom supervisor, the designee of the superintendent, accepted the manual and allowed it to be in his possession as an inmate and, therefore, he should not be found guilty of violating Rule 113.23.

The hearing officer found Claimant guilty of the charge.(6) The "Statement of Evidence Relied Upon" reads in part: "I also considered the testimony from Inmate Hales who stated that those papers were printed off the internet and mailed to him in six different envelopes. Inmate Hales' testimony was detailed in stating the process he had gone through to obtain Siemans drug testing documents as well as his purpose for requesting them."(7) After presenting his case at the hearing, Claimant felt the hearing officer did not review his evidence or consider it in any meaningful way, and that the hearing officer was not fair and impartial as required. Claimant testified that he requested the information to defend himself in another matter and was punished for it, despite the actions of DOCCS's employees issuing the letter of April 29, 2013 directing him to seek the information directly and the mailroom personnel allowing the manual to be placed in his property. The hearing officer imposed three months in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) with loss of privileges from September 25, 2014 through December 25, 2014. As a result, Claimant was moved from CCF to the SHU at Fishkill Correctional Facility (FCF). He testified that the transfer put a strain on his marriage as his wife lived in Buffalo and could not easily visit him.

Claimant appealed the hearing decision, and the determination was administratively reversed on November 28, 2014.(8) No reason was given for the reversal. Claimant testified that his appeal was based on the evidence he presented at the hearing. Claimant was not released from the SHU until December 12, 2014, 14 days after the reversal.

WRONGFUL CONFINEMENT

A cause of action for wrongful confinement, similar to a cause of action for false imprisonment, requires a claimant to prove that "(1) the defendant intended to confine him, (2) the [claimant] was conscious of the confinement, (3) the [claimant] did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged." (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975] cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 [1975]).

The first three factors are usually easily met, as they are here. Disciplinary confinement in the prison setting is privileged if it is done in accordance with DOCCS' due process regulations (Lee v State of New York, 124 AD2d 305, 307 [3d Dept 1986]; Gittens v State of New York,132 Misc 2d 399, 402 [Ct Cl 1986]). Where DOCCS employees have conducted the disciplinary process in accordance with the governing statutes and regulations, their actions are not only privileged, but where discretion is involved the conduct is quasi-judicial in nature and absolutely immune from liability (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214 [1988]). Such disciplinary decisions are immune from liability even if the hearing examiner's findings are later reversed after an administrative appeal (Id., at 215; Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159 [3d Dept 2013]). Even where there has been a violation of a specific nondiscretionary due process regulation, this only serves to lift the cloak of immunity. The hearing examiner's findings will still not result in liability unless Claimant demonstrates that the outcome of the hearing would have been different had the violation not occurred (Miller v State of New York, 156 AD3d 1067 [3d Dept 2017]; Bottom v State of New York, 142 AD3d 1314 [4th Dept 2016]; Moustakos v State of New York, 133 AD3d 1268 [4th Dept 2015]).

It is Claimant's burden in this matter to demonstrate that there was a violation of his due process rights at the hearing, that the disciplinary hearing was conducted in violation of the relevant nondiscretionary rules and that but for such violation he would not have been confined. Although Claimant presented a sympathetic case as DOCCS actions from the FOIL officer to the mailroom personnel seemed to implicitly authorize Claimant's possession of the SYVA/EMIT VIVA JR urinalysis machine manual for which Claimant's violations of Rule 113.23 arose, Claimant has failed to prove that the disciplinary process and/or the hearing examiner violated any specific nondiscretionary due process regulation or rule. The broadly drafted rule (Rule 113.23) prohibiting contraband permits the discretionary determinations of the correction officer and hearing officer. Here, Correction Officer E. Iversen, who issued the misbehavior report and the hearing officer, J. M. Daley, viewed Claimant's possession of SYVA/EMIT VIVA JR manual issued by Siemens Diagnostics as a violation of the rules and regulations against possession of contraband in the prison. On appeal, the acting director of the Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, Corey Bedard, found otherwise and reversed the finding made at the Superintendent's hearing. In the prison setting, it is precisely these circumstances that reflect the discretionary process involved in disciplining inmates which Arteaga blankets with immunity. Claimant has not established the State's liability for wrongful confinement.

Excessive Wrongful Confinement

An administrative reversal of an inmate's disciplinary determination gives rise to a ministerial duty to release the inmate from disciplinary confinement, and "[w]hen an inmate is kept confined beyond the term directed in a disciplinary disposition, or beyond the reversal and expungement of same, then the State may be liable in damages, unless such additional confinement is otherwise privileged." (Sellers v State of New York, UID No. 2011-030-012 [Ct Cl, Scuccimarra, J., May 25, 2011]; Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982 [4th Dept 1994]; Williams v State of New York, UID No 2018-040-057 [Ct Cl, McCarthy, J., July 2, 2018]). It is Defendant's burden to provide legal justification or privilege for any delay in releasing the inmate (see Minieri, 204 AD2d 982; Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 406 [Ct Cl, 1986]; Fanelli-Cressman v State of New York, UID No. 2015-018-644 [Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J., Oct. 6, 2015]).

Defendant offered no proof or argument that Claimant's continued confinement in the SHU after the administrative reversal was privileged or was otherwise authorized (cf., 7 NYCRR 251-1.6). The Court finds Claimant's testimony that he was released on December 12, 2014 credible and undisputed.

Claimant was unlawfully confined from November 28, 2014 to December 12, 2014. Claimant was excessively confined for those 14 days without any privilege or justification. Defendant is, therefore, liable to Claimant for wrongful excessive confinement in the SHU and the loss of privileges for a period of 14 days.

The Court awards damages to Claimant in the amount of $30 per day or $420 (Hines v State of New York, UID No. 2017-018-856 [Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J. Dec. 15, 2017] [$30 per day]; Donhauser v State of New York, UID No. 2015-018-648 [Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick J., Oct. 7, 2015] [$30 per day]; Melette v State of New York, UID No. 2013-009-029 [Ct Cl, Midey, J. Sept. 25, 2013] [$30 per day]; Wigfall v State of New York, UID No. 2011-031-505 [Ct Cl, Minarik, J., June 30, 2011] [$25 per day]). To the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee it may be recoverable pursuant to Court of Claims Act section 11-a [2].

Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby DENIED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

September 10, 2018

Syracuse, New York

DIANE L. FITZPATRICK

Judge of the Court of Claims


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