New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HENRY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-032-006, Claim No. 123515

Synopsis

Claimant awarded $150,000 for wrongful confinement. Claimant was wrongfully confined for 512 days. The Court found that the Parole Board did not have the discretionary authority to incarcerate claimant for longer than his aggregate maximum term.

Case information

UID: 2018-032-006
Claimant(s): JERRELL HENRY
Claimant short name: HENRY
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 123515
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant's attorney: Gary E. Divis, Esq.
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, NYS Attorney General
By: Thomas Trace, Assistant Attorney General,
Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: March 19, 2018
City: ALBANY
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

FACTS

After timely serving a notice of intention to file a claim upon defendant, claimant filed the instant claim seeking damages related to his incarceration beyond the maximum expiration date of his time assessment. The facts underlying the instant matter are largely undisputed and are fully discussed in the Court's Decision and Order which granted claimant's motion for summary judgment on liability (Henry v State of New York, UID No. 2017-032-030 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., May 16, 2017]). The Court found that the Parole Board did not have the discretionary authority to incarcerate claimant longer than his aggregate maximum term--which expired on July 21, 2011 (Henry v State of New York, UID No. 2017-032-030 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., May 16, 2017]; People ex rel. Hines v Bradt, 86 AD3d 678, 679-680 [3d Dept. 2011]).(1) Claimant was not released until December 14, 2012 and now seeks noneconomic damages for 512 days of wrongful confinement.(2)

Claimant was the sole witness at the trial on damages. He testified that following his re-incarceration for a parole violation in May 2010, he was informed that his release date was set for July 2012, even though his sentence on the underlying conviction had a maximum expiration date of July 21, 2011. Thus, claimant understood that he would be released on July 21, 2011--the maximum expiration date of the underlying sentence--without appearing before the Parole Board (T: 25).(3) Claimant maintained at trial that he informed his correction counselor that he was "maxing-out" and was not supposed to appear before the Parole Board (T: 27). Nevertheless, claimant appeared before the Parole Board in May 2011, and the Parole Board imposed a fifteen-month hold on claimant (T: 25). When claimant was denied discretionary release by the Parole Board, he felt confused, stressed and abandoned (T: 26-27).

During the period of wrongful confinement from July 21, 2011 through December 14, 2012, claimant spent 277 days in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for various offenses, including drug use and smuggling, possession of drugs, violent conduct, creating a disturbance, violating a direct order, smoking and being out of place (Exhibit 6). The SHU cell was a ten-foot by twelve-foot cement block room with two bunk beds, a toilet, and a sink. A ten-foot by twelve-foot recreation area surrounded by cement walls was attached to the SHU cell. While claimant was in the SHU, he was not allowed to: go to the yard for recreation; receive packages; have personal property or non-prison food; use the phone; or wear personal clothing. He did not have privacy when he defecated or took a shower while in the SHU, nor could he receive visitors or mail. He was allowed in the recreation area for one hour a day where he could enjoy fresh air and take short walks or do jumping jacks. The remaining 23 hours per day were spent in the cell with his bunkmate. He left his cell only to appear before the Parole Board, see a counselor or for a sick call. A library cart came around once a week with reading material, and he could access a radio by plugging headphones into a hole in the wall of his cell. He claims that he received less food in SHU because he could not ask for an extra scoop of foods that he enjoyed. Claimant was married on March 24, 2010 while on parole, but divorced in 2013. His wife was not allowed to visit him while he was in the SHU and he could not call her when they were going through hard times. He had a daughter who also could not visit him. During claimant's time in the general population, he lived in a dormitory having access to all of the foregoing amenities, including watching television, playing chess, playing basketball or working out. Toilet areas in the dormitory had dividers between them and inmates showered in open stalls that accommodated twelve persons at a time.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

"As a general rule, the measure of damages for [wrongful] confinement is such a sum as will fairly and reasonably compensate the injured person for injuries caused by the defendant's wrongful act" (Hallenbeck v City of Albany, 99 AD2d 639, 640 [3d Dept. 1984]; accord Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d 988, 993 [Ct Cl 2010]). These damages may include noneconomic damages for mental anguish and loss of liberty during confinement (Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d at 993). " 'The mental anguish suffered by an inmate while he is in prison encompasses his discomfort, fear, lack of privacy and degradation' (Baba-Ali v State of New York, 24 Misc 3d 576, 581-582 [Ct Cl 2009], affd in part, revd in part 76 AD3d 940 [2d Dept. 2010]), and [d]amages attributable to loss of liberty include damages for the loss of the fundamental right to be free, lost opportunities to engage in everyday activities while confined, and for the mental anguish that accompanies the loss of liberty (Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d at 993).' " (Miller v State of New York, UID No. 2013-039-369 [Ct Cl, Ferreira, J., Apr. 9, 2013]).

The case law on damages is limited and the purview of the awards is not formulaic (see Torres v State of New York, UID No. 2015-040-014 [Ct Cl, McCarthy, J., Apr. 2, 2015]; Ifill v State of New York, UID No. 2014-039-436, [Ct Cl, Ferreira, J., Jan. 22, 2015]; Miller v State of New York, UID No. 2013-039-369 [Ct Cl, Ferreira, J., Apr. 9, 2013]; Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d at 993 [Ct Cl 2010]; Jackson v State of New York, UID No. 2009-038-105 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Dec. 21, 2009]). It is ordinarily " 'left to a [factfinder's] common sense and judgment in light of its common knowledge and experience and with due regard to the evidence presented at trial, including the demeanor and testimony of all witnesses' " (Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d at 995, quoting Apuzzo v Ferguson, 20 AD3d 647, 648 [3d Dept. 2005] [additional citation omitted]). One factor the Court may consider in evaluating mental anguish is the previous incarceration of the claimant (Sanabria v State of New York, 29 Misc 3d at 994, citing Johnson v State of New York, 155 Misc 2d 537, 541 [Ct Cl 1992]).

Claimant was the only witness to testify in support of his claim for damages. At the time of his release in 2012, he had been in prison nearly consistently since 2003. While he was not the most empathetic witness, he testified aptly about his loss of privacy, feelings of degradation, and concern for his elderly adoptive parents while wrongfully confined for 512 days. Claimant's experience in the SHU during this time is a factor, even though he may have caused the more restrictive confinement, because he should not have been incarcerated during that period (compare Ifill v State of New York, UID No. 2014-039-436, [Ct Cl, Ferreira, J., Jan. 22, 2015]). The Court was not convinced, however, that his marriage dissolved due to his incarceration. Moreover, this claim is distinguishable from cases where a wrongfully confined claimant suffers from severe mental health disorders due to such confinement, as was the case in Jackson v State of New York, UID No. 2009-038-105 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Dec. 21, 2009], where the claimant was awarded noneconomic damages in the amount of $125,000 for 105 days of wrongful confinement. The claimant in Jackson v State of New York suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) following his wrongful confinement, and a psychological expert provided testimony regarding the claimant's mental disorders at the damages trial. The mental injuries caused by the Jackson claimant's wrongful confinement are not present in the instant claim. Here, similar to the claimant in Ifill v State of New York, UID No. 2014-039-436, [Ct Cl, Ferreira, J., Jan. 22, 2015], claimant did not suffer any substantial physical or mental harm. In Ifill v State of New York, the Court awarded the claimant $20,000 for 94 days of wrongful confinement, and the Court finds that a similar award is appropriate here. However, claimant was wrongfully confined for a period of time much longer than the claimant in Ifill v State of New York, and because of that lengthy confinement, a larger award is necessary. Therefore, after reviewing all the evidence and evaluating the demeanor of the witness, the Court awards noneconomic damages to claimant in the amount of $150,000.00 for his wrongful confinement of 512 days.

The amount awarded herein shall carry interest at the interest rate of 9% per year from the date of the determination of liability on May 16, 2017. In addition, to the extent claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act 11-a (2). Any motions or objections not previously ruled upon are hereby denied.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

March 19, 2018

ALBANY, New York

JUDITH A. HARD

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Unlike Ifill v State of New York, 149 AD3d 1287 [3d Dept. 2017] and Torres v State of New York, 149 AD3d 1290 [3d Dept. 2017], the instant action does not concern local jail time credit of which DOCCS was unaware. Here, Richard de Simone, Deputy Counsel in charge of the DOCCS Office of Sentencing Review, calculated that claimant's assessed expiration date was July 21, 2011 (Henry v State of New York, UID No. 2017-032-030 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., May 16, 2017]). After the Appellate Division's decision in People ex rel. Hines v Bradt, 86 AD3d 678 [3d Dept. 2011], DOCCS failed to immediately identify Claimant for release, even though DOCCS acknowledged that claimant was entitled to immediate release following the Hines decision (Henry v State of New York, UID No. 2017-032-030 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., May 16, 2017]).

2. Claimant withdrew his claim for economic damages at trial (T: 5).

3. References to the trial transcript are indicated herein (T: ).