Following a trial, claimant's causes of action for wrongful confinement and bailment are dismissed.
|Claimant short name:||CORIOLAN|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :||Caption amended sua sponte to reflect the properly named Defendant.|
|Judge:||JUDITH A. HARD|
|Claimant's attorney:||Terhan Coriolan, Pro Se|
|Defendant's attorney:||Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, NYS Attorney General
By: Ray A. Kyles, Assistant Attorney General,
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||April 2, 2018|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed the instant claim on January 22, 2013 alleging that he was wrongfully confined in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for a period of 97 days, from July 18, 2012 to October 22, 2012, following a Tier III hearing that was
"unjust and bias [sic]" (Verified Claim ¶ 3). The claim further alleges that the correction officers lost all of his personal property while he was confined in the SHU (Verified Claim ¶ 6). The claim proceeded to trial on October 18, 2017.
On July 18, 2012, claimant was performing general cleaning duties on Block 11 at Five Points Correctional Facility (FPCF). He had recently transferred to FPCF and July 18, 2012 was one of his first days working. While he was taking out the trash located in the officer's station, a correction officer approached him and asked him what he was doing in that location. Claimant attempted to explain that he was working, but the correction officer would not listen. The correction officer grabbed claimant and spoke to him using racial slurs, and proceeded to place him in his cell. A different correction officer then told claimant that he did nothing wrong, and that the correction officer who had yelled at him was just having a bad day. This correction officer also told claimant that he would be moved to a different cell block. But, later that same day, three correction officers came to claimant's cell and took him to the Special Housing Unit (SHU).
On July 30, 2012, a hearing officer conducted claimant's Tier III disciplinary hearing and sentenced him to six month of SHU time. On October 2, 2012, the hearing determination was reversed (Exhibit 2). Claimant alleges that he lost all of his personal property while he was in the SHU, including a pair of sneakers. The sneakers were delivered to FPCF while claimant was in the SHU and he was told that they would be kept with his personal property until he was released from the SHU. Upon his release, the box containing his new sneakers contained old work boots.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
With respect to his claim of wrongful confinement, "claimant [is] required to show that (1) defendant intended to confine him, (2) he was conscious of the confinement, (3) he did not consent to the confinement, and (4) such confinement was not otherwise privileged" (Cass v State of New York, 134 AD3d 1207, 1208 [3d Dept. 2015], lv dismissed 27 NY3d 972  [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; accord Miller v State of New York, 124 AD3d 997, 998 [3d Dept. 2015]). As the first three elements of this cause of action are not disputed, defendant's liability in this case turns upon whether or not its confinement of claimant in the SHU was privileged.
Formal inmate disciplinary proceedings conducted by prison officials "in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations . . . constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the State has absolute immunity" (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214 ; Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 [3d Dept. 2001]). Thus, it is well-established that the State cannot be held liable where there is no allegation that the prison official acted in contravention of established rules and regulations while conducting disciplinary proceedings (Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 766 [3d Dept. 2001]). This is true even where the disposition of a disciplinary hearing is later reversed following an administrative appeal (Rivera v State of New York, UID No. 2006-028-008 [Ct Cl, Sise, J., Feb. 8, 2006]). However, "not all disciplinary hearing procedural rules and regulations, if violated, form a basis to abrogate the immunity afforded to employees of the [DOCCS] in commencing and conducting formal inmate disciplinary proceedings. The rule or regulation must implicate minimal due process protections" (Amato v State of New York, UID No. 2014-041-038 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., June 26, 2014]). A claimant must also show that the prison official's rule violation "caused actual prejudice or injury to [the] claimant at the disciplinary hearing" (id.).
Here, claimant argues that he was wrongfully confined because of an unjust and biased disciplinary hearing. Defendant argued that claimant failed to identify a specific DOCCS rule or regulation that was violated during the disciplinary hearing. Although claimant submitted a letter from Albert Prack, the Director of Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Programs, in support of his argument, the letter only states that the "hearing was reversed after it was determined that there was a procedural error" (Prack Letter, dated November 8, 2012).(2) The letter does not identify the procedural error, thus it is impossible for the Court to determine if the error implicated minimal due process protections (see Amato v State of New York, UID No. 2014-041-038 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., June 26, 2014]), and it is claimant's burden to demonstrate that he was denied due process at the hearing (Hines v State of New York, UID No. 2017-018-856 [Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J., Dec. 15, 2017]). Accordingly, because there is no allegation that the hearing officer acted in contravention of established rules and regulations while conducting the hearing (Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 766 [3d Dept. 2001]), claimant's wrongful confinement claim is dismissed.
It is well settled that the State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property and may be held liable in tort for failing to so do (see Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906, 907 [3d Dept. 1991]; Christian v State of New York, 21 Misc 3d 1128 [A], 2008 NY Slip Op 52267 [U], *3 [Ct Cl 2008]). As with any traditional tort claim, claimant has the initial burden of establishing that defendant took possession of the property in question and failed to return it (see Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550, 550 [1st Dept. 1977]). Once claimant meets that burden, there is a presumption of liability on the part of defendant, to whom the burden then shifts to overcome that presumption by establishing a non-negligent explanation for the loss (see Maisel v Gruner & Jahr USA, 89 AD2d 503, 504 [1st Dept. 1982]; New York Cent. Mut. Ins. Co. v Medical Diagnostic Imaging, PLLC, 33 Misc 3d 612, 616 [Poughkeepsie City Ct 2011]) or by demonstrating that it exercised ordinary care (see Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v Herb's Dodge Sales & Serv., 79 AD2d 1049, 1050 [3d Dept. 1981]).
Claimant testified at trial that the staff at FPCF lost a pair of sneakers that were sent to him. In support of this claim, claimant submitted an Inmate Claim Form requesting reimbursement for the cost of the Nike sneakers (Exhibit 3); an incomplete order form for "ACG Takos Mid" shoes (Exhibit 4); and a print out of a United Postal Service Proof of Delivery that noted that a package was delivered to a location in Romulus, New York on July 25, 2012 (Exhibit 5). Considering the exhibits and testimony adduced at trial, the Court finds that claimant has failed to prove his bailment claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence. Although claimant alleges that FPCF lost his Nike sneakers, the incomplete order form for "ACG Takos Mid" shoes does not establish that Nike sneakers were ever actually ordered. Furthermore, claimant failed to show that the "ACG Takos Mid" shoes are actually the Nike sneakers that were allegedly lost at FPCF. The United Postal Service Proof of Delivery also does not specify what items were delivered, or where the package was delivered. Accordingly, the Court finds that claimant failed to show that the correction staff at FPCF took possession of the Nike sneakers (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d at 550). Thus, claimant's bailment claim is dismissed.
Based on the foregoing, claim number 122288 is dismissed in its entirety. All motions and applications not previously determined are hereby denied as moot. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
April 2, 2018
Albany, New York
JUDITH A. HARD
Judge of the Court of Claims
2. At trial, claimant alleged that he had in his possession a letter from Albert Prack, Director of Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Programs that identified the specific rule or regulation that was violated at the disciplinary hearing, but that he had not received that letter upon his arrival at FPCF for the instant trial. In light of the fact that claimant did not have the letter from Prack in his possession to be admitted as a trial exhibit, the Court kept the record open for 60 days after the trial in order for claimant to submit the letter. Claimant sent the Prack letter to the Court on November 3, 2017, and counsel for defendant stipulated to the Court admitting the Prack letter into the record.