Claimant's motion for summary judgment in wrongful confinement claim is granted where defendant fails to raise factual issue requiring a trial as to claimant's proof showing that defendant confined claimant for fifty-eight (58) days as a result of inmate disciplinary determination commenced and conducted in violation of defendant's own regulation.
|Claimant short name:||FLOYD|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||FRANK P. MILANO|
|Claimant's attorney:||JAMEL FLOYD
|Defendant's attorney:||HON. BARBARA D. UNDERWOOD
New York State Attorney General
By: Thomas R. Monjeau, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||September 7, 2018|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Claimant moves pursuant to CPLR 3212 for summary judgment as to defendant's liability for wrongfully confining claimant at Clinton Correctional Facility (Clinton) as a result of an inmate disciplinary proceeding. Defendant opposes the claimant's motion and cross-moves to dismiss the claim.
Claimant's affidavit supporting his summary judgment motion, and his claim, allege that claimant was wrongfully confined to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) at Clinton for 58 days, beginning on July 26, 2016 and ending on September 23, 2016, as a result of an inmate misbehavior report issued to claimant on July 26, 2016. The 58 day SHU confinement was a consequence of a determination issued after an inmate disciplinary hearing which found claimant guilty of violating facility rules regarding contraband, smuggling and facility correspondence, as set forth in his inmate misbehavior report of July 26, 2016.
The disciplinary determination was administratively reversed on September 23, 2016 because "EVIDENCE USED CONTRADICTS DEPARTMENTAL POLICY GOVERNING MAIL ROOM PROCEDURE."
Claimant's affidavit asserts that the reversal was based upon defendant's "opening of claimant's outgoing mail without first obtaining facility's superintendent's written consent to open claimant's mail."
In particular, claimant states that:
"At the hearing Claimant made two objections pertaining to the admission of mailroom clerk's memorandum stating that she spoke to the Superintendent, who gave her oral/verbal (via telephone call), authorization to open both envelopes. This course of action was in violation of 7 NYCRR § 720.3 (3) (e) (1) - ie., no written authorization has been issued. I also objected to the opening of mail was done in violation of D.O.C.C.S. regulations and absent that violation, a misbehavior report would not have been issued or a disciplinary hearing held."
The claim notes that 7 NYCRR 720.3 (e) (1) provides, at relevant part, that:
"Outgoing correspondence . . . shall not be opened, inspected, or read without express written authorization from the facility superintendent."
The standard for review of the motion is well-established. "A motion for summary judgment should be entertained only after the moving party has established, by competent admissible evidence, that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law" (Ware v Baxter Health Care Corp., 25 AD3d 863, 864 [3d Dept 2006]).
Once the moving party has satisfied this obligation, the burden shifts and the party opposing the motion must demonstrate by admissible evidence the existence of a factual issue (Svoboda v Our Lady of Lourdes Mem. Hosp., Inc., 31 AD3d 877 [3d Dept 2006]).
To establish that he was wrongfully confined, claimant must 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 , cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 ; Krzyzak v Schaefer, 52 AD3d 979 [3d Dept 2008]).
In the context of confinement pursuant to a prison disciplinary proceeding, the determinative element as to liability is usually the question of whether the confinement was privileged. Prison disciplinary confinement is "privileged to the extent that it was under color of law or regulation, specifically in accordance with [inmate misbehavior] regulations" (Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 402 [Ct Cl 1986]).
The Court finds that claimant has met his initial burden to present a prima facie case of wrongful confinement, in particular by offering proof that the confinement was not privileged, based upon defendant's employee opening claimant's outgoing correspondence without the "express written authorization from the facility superintendent" in violation of defendant's own regulation (7 NYCRR 720.3 [e] ).
Defendant has submitted no factual opposition to the allegations of claimant's affidavit and claim, instead arguing that it is shielded from liability by the quasi-judicial governmental immunity defense and that claimant has offered only "conclusory statements which are legally insufficient to provide the facts necessary to sustain his motion for summary judgment."
The quasi-judicial governmental immunity defense provides that where employees of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in commencing and conducting formal inmate disciplinary proceedings, "act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations . . . their actions 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]). This immunity attaches even if the conviction is later reversed administratively or as the result of a successful CPLR Article 78 proceeding (see Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 215).
If, however, prison officials fail to comply with a rule or regulation governing such disciplinary hearings, absolute immunity may be lost and liability for money damages may be imposed if it is proven that the regulatory violation involved minimal due process protections (Sira v Morton, 380 F3d 57, 69 [2d Cir 2004]) and caused actual prejudice or injury to the inmate at the hearing (see Davidson v State of New York, 66 AD3d 1089, 1089 [3d Dept 2009]; Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004]).
Here, the regulation violated by defendant, opening claimant's outgoing correspondence without the "express written authorization from the facility superintendent" in violation of defendant's own regulation (7 NYCRR 720.3 [e] ), together with defendant's hearing officer admitting the improperly obtained evidence into the disciplinary hearing record over the objections of claimant, implicated minimal due process protections. In addition, claimant suffered actual prejudice both in the commencement of disciplinary charges, which would not have been brought if claimant's mail had not been improperly opened, and at the hearing, by the admission of tainted evidence obtained through the violation of defendant's own regulation.
Claimant's facts are remarkably similar to those in Craft v State of New York (189 Misc 2d 661, 664 [Ct Cl 2001]), in which the court found that defendant's violation of the same regulation (which Craft, at 663, states permitted the mail clerk no discretion) regarding the opening of inmate mail, requires judgment in claimant's favor since "[t]he claim . . . addresses not just the violation of claimant's regulatory rights regarding the opening of [his] mail, but also the impingement of [his] due process rights at the hearing when the tainted evidence was admitted . . . directly resulting in wrongful confinement of claimant. The absolute immunity which shields the disciplinary proceeding itself cannot be extended, post hoc, to cover the violation which initiated the entire series of events."
As in the Craft decision, defendant lacked discretion to ignore the specific regulatory requirement that the "express written authorization from the facility superintendent" be obtained before claimant's outgoing mail could be lawfully opened. Also, as in Craft, the admission into evidence, at the disciplinary hearing, of the tainted evidence together with the mail clerk's memorandum asserting that the facility superintendent "gave her oral/verbal (via telephone call), authorization to open both envelopes" cannot offer quasi-judicial governmental immunity "post hoc, to cover the violation which initiated the entire series of events" (Craft, 189 Misc 2d at 664). Defendant, by offering no factual contradiction to the proof set forth in the verified claim and claimant's affidavit and attachments, has failed to demonstrate, by admissible evidence, the existence of a factual issue requiring a trial with regard to defendant's liability.
Claimant's motion for summary judgment as to defendant's liability is granted. Defendant's cross-motion to dismiss the claim is accordingly denied.
The Court will schedule a trial to determine claimant's damages.
September 7, 2018
Albany, New York
FRANK P. MILANO
Judge of the Court of Claims
1. Claimant's Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, filed July 5, 2018;
2. Affidavits of Jamel Floyd, each sworn to June 19, 2018, and attached exhibits;
3. Notice of Cross-Motion, filed July 26, 2018;
4. Affirmation in Opposition of Thomas R. Monjeau, dated July 26, 2018, and attached exhibit.