New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
CLAUDIO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-054-016, Claim No. 126418

Synopsis

No due process violation based on urinalysis calibration or Hearing Officer's failure to call witness.

Case information

UID: 2018-054-016
Claimant(s): ERIC CLAUDIO
Claimant short name: CLAUDIO
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 126418
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: WALTER RIVERA
Claimant's attorney: ERIC CLAUDIO
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Thomas Monjeau, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: March 22, 2018
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The trial of this claim was heard on February 16, 2018 via video-conferencing technology.

Claimant's exhibit 1, pages 1-88, was received in evidence and claimant testified at trial.

The evidence established that on January 16, 2015, during claimant's incarceration at Eastern NY Correctional Facility, claimant provided a urine sample for testing by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The results of the urinalysis on January 17, 2015 indicated that claimant tested positive for buprenorphine (Ex. 1, p 6). Claimant was issued a misbehavior report charging him with using a controlled substance (id.). After a disciplinary hearing, claimant was found guilty of the charge and he served 29 days in the special housing unit (id. at 2-6). On administrative appeal, the disposition was reversed on the ground of lack of substantial evidence and claimant's records were expunged (id. at 26-27).

Claimant alleges that he is entitled to damages for 29 days of wrongful confinement based upon the purportedly improper calibration of the machine used for his urinalysis and a violation of his due process rights at his disciplinary hearing. Specifically, claimant contends that the calibration of the machine used for his urinalysis on January 17, 2015 was too low at .263 (id. at 16) as compared to the calibration of the machine for the urinalysis of other inmates. In this regard, the machine was calibrated at .306 on January 2, 2015 and calibrated at .394 on April 8, 2012 (id. at 85-86). Claimant contends that if the calibration had been higher on January 17, 2015, he would not have tested positive for buprenorphine. Additionally, claimant contends that his due process rights were violated when the hearing officer acted in derogation of 7 NYCRR 254.5 by denying claimant's request to call the manufacturer of the machine to testify at claimant's disciplinary hearing.

Claimant testified at trial that he had been provided with the maintenance sheet for the machine at the disciplinary hearing which indicated that the machine had undergone a weekly routine maintenance on January 17, 2015 (id. at 20). Claimant brought this document to the attention of the hearing officer and asked the hearing officer to have the manufacturer of the machine called as a witness at the disciplinary hearing to testify as to why the calibration of the machine was so low on January 17, 2015. According to claimant, the hearing officer denied claimant's request to have the witness produced. On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited from claimant that page 4 of claimant's Exhibit 1 indicated that claimant had requested four witnesses who testified at the disciplinary hearing and that the manufacturer of the machine was not listed as a requested witness.

At the end of claimant's case, defendant moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that claimant had not made out a prima facie case establishing that his due process rights were violated. Additionally, defendant noted that claimant did not allege that any drug testing directives were violated. Finally, defendant argued that the reversal of the hearing officer's determination was based upon a lack of substantial evidence and this basis does not give rise to a wrongful confinement claim. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

Defendant then presented the testimony of Charles Barnard, the hearing officer who presided over claimant's disciplinary hearing (Ex. 1, pp 1-4). Barnard had been employed by DOCCS from 1986 through 2016 and had served as a hearing officer since 1995. Barnard testified that he did not see any indication in claimant's records requesting the manufacturer of the machine. Rather, the record indicated that claimant had requested the four witnesses listed on page 4 of Exhibit 1. Barnard did not recall claimant's request at the disciplinary hearing seeking that the hearing officer call the manufacturer of the machine to testify. Additionally, Barnard testified that as a hearing officer he did not have the authority to issue a subpoena or to compel a witness to testify who was not an employee of DOCCS.

Defendant then rested and renewed its motion to dismiss. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

Analysis

It is well established that the State is accorded absolute immunity for the actions of its employees involved in the investigation and prosecution of disciplinary charges brought against inmates in a correctional facility and for the actions of the hearing officer charged with presiding over and reviewing such matters. This immunity covers discretionary conduct due to its quasi-judicial nature, even if that discretion was erroneously exercised or the findings were subsequently overturned (see Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 [1988]; Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159 [3d Dept 2013]; Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765 [3d Dept 2001]; Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 [3d Dept 2001]).

Absolute immunity may be lost, however, if the State acted in contravention of a governing rule or regulation which caused the inmate to suffer actual prejudice or a deprivation of his due process rights (see Davidson v State of New York, 66 AD3d 1089 [3d Dept 2009]). Recently, in Miller v State of New York, 156 AD3d 1067 [3d Dept 2017], the Third Department held that "[t]o the extent that claimant asserts that drug testing directives were violated, they do not relate to the due process concerns of the hearing and do not serve as a basis for the wrongful confinement cause of action." So too here, the Court finds that claimant may not recover on his wrongful confinement claim based upon his allegation that the urinalysis machine was improperly calibrated. Additionally, the Court finds that claimant's evidence failed to establish that his due process rights were violated at the disciplinary hearing on account of the hearing officer's failure to have the manufacturer of the machine testify at claimant's disciplinary hearing. Notably, the record indicates that claimant had requested four witnesses to testify at his disciplinary hearing and the list did not include the manufacturer of the machine (Ex. 1, p 4). Further, the testimony of the hearing officer established that he did not have the authority to issue a subpoena or to compel a witness who was not a DOCCS employee to testify at the disciplinary hearing. Thus, the Court finds that claimant has not established that his due process rights were violated.

Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of trial, is now GRANTED and the claim is DISMISSED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 126418.

March 22, 2018

White Plains, New York

WALTER RIVERA

Judge of the Court of Claims