New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
ANKH AMON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-015-132, Claim No. 132654, Motion No. M-93606

Synopsis

Claim seeking damages for violations of the State Constitution, Correction Law 610, and the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) was dismissed for failure to state a cause of action and lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The claim failed to state a cause of action for a constitutional tort as alternative remedies were available, and this Court lacks jurisdiction over claims under both Correction Law 610 and RLUIPA. With respect to RLUIPA, Congress may not subject the State to suit under RLUIPA through article I legislation nor did the State waive its immunity to suit under RLUIPA by virtue of 8 of the Court of Claims Act.

Case information

UID: 2019-015-132
Claimant(s): QABAIL HIZBULLAH ANKH AMON
Claimant short name: ANKH AMON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) : The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 132654
Motion number(s): M-93606
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Qabail Hizbullah Ankh Amon, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Letitia James, Attorney General
By: Belinda A. Wagner, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: April 19, 2019
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

In this action for damages against the State of New York, defendant moves to dismiss the claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2), (7) and (8) on the grounds the claim fails to state a cause of action, and that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a portion of the claim.

Claimant, an inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), seeks damages following the cancellation of the Muslim Jumu'ah service at Great Meadow Correctional Facility on November 23, 2018. Claimant alleges that the cancellation unlawfully infringed upon his right under the N.Y. Constitution (art 1, 3) to practice his faith, and violated his rights under Correction Law 610 as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (hereinafter RLUIPA) (see 42 U.S.C. 2000cc).

Defendant contends in support of its dismissal motion that the claim fails to state a constitutional tort cause of action under the NY Constitution because an alternative avenue of redress was available in the Supreme Court pursuant to Correction Law 610, a statute which defendant argues divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction.

A cause of action for a violation of the State Constitution may give rise to a tort cause of action only where it is necessary to ensure the full realization of claimant's constitutional rights (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172 [1996]). The remedy is a narrow one which is only cognizable when no adequate alternative remedy is available (Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83 [2001]). Here, claimant had multiple alternative avenues of redress available, including the pursuit of an administrative grievance and proceedings in the Supreme Court under Correction Law 610 (see Alsaifullah v State of New York, 166 AD3d 1426 [3d Dept 2018]; Oppenheimer v State of New York, 152 AD3d 1006 [3d Dept 2017]). With respect to claimant's cause of action under Correction Law 610, however, the statute makes clear that the statutory remedy is limited to "proceedings in the supreme court of the district where such institution is situated" (Correction Law 610 [3]). By its own terms, then, the statute creates a cause of action that may only be asserted in the Supreme Court, not the Court of Claims. Thus, both the constitutional tort cause of action and the cause of action under Correction Law 610 must be dismissed.

Claimant also seeks damages under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) which Congress enacted pursuant to its powers under the Spending and Commerce Clauses of Article I of the United States Constitution (see Sossamon v Texas, 563 US 277, 281 [2011]; Cutter v Wilkinson, 544 US 709, 715 [2005]).(2) Section 3 of the RLUIPA provides:

"No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, . . . even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person - (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest" (42 USC 2000cc-1[a]).

Congress conditioned the receipt of federal funds on compliance with RLUIPA's provisions (see 42 USC 2000cc-1[b] [1] [RLUIPA applies in any case in which "the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance"]), and the statute expressly provides that "[a] person may assert a violation of [RLUIPA] as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government" (42 USC 2000cc-2 [a]). In such cases, the question arises whether Congress has the power, under Article I, to subject States to suit in either Federal or State Court.

Principals of sovereign immunity "enforce an important constitutional limitation on the power of the federal courts" and, absent a clearly expressed waiver, federal jurisdiction over suits against otherwise unconsenting States is not permitted (Sossamon, 563 US at 284). Notably, a State's consent to suit in its own Courts is not a waiver of immunity from suit in federal court (id.). In Sossamon, the Court held that RLUIPA's authorization of "appropriate relief against a government" (42 USC 2000cc-2[a]), did not unambiguously waive sovereign immunity to private suits for damages in federal court:

"[T]the phrase 'appropriate relief' in RLUIPA is not so free from ambiguity that we may conclude that the States, by receiving federal funds, have unequivocally expressed intent to waive their sovereign immunity to suits for damages. Strictly construing that phrase in favor of the sovereign - as we must . . . - we conclude that it does not include suits for damages against a State" (Sossamon, 563 US at 288).

Nor can Congress enact Article I legislation effecting a waiver of sovereign immunity in State Court. In Alden v Maine (527 US 706 [1999]) the United States Supreme Court recognized that unlimited congressional power to authorize suits for money damages in State court could create staggering financial burdens "giving Congress a power and a leverage over the States that is not contemplated by our constitutional design" (id. at 750). The Alden Court held "[i]n light of history, practice, precedent, and the structure of the Constitution, . . . the States retain immunity from private suit in their own courts, an immunity beyond the congressional power to abrogate by Article I legislation" (id. at 754).

Unlike legislation enacted by Congress under 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which explicitly grants to Congress the "authority to enforce 'by appropriate legislation' the substantive provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment" (Fitzpatrick v Bitzer, 427 US 445, 446 [1976]), Congress may not abrogate the States' sovereign immunity through Article I legislation so as to subject it to suit in its own courts (see Alden, 527 US at 754-755; see also Alston v State of New York, 97 NY2d 159 [2001]; Bergmann v State of New York, 281 AD2d 731 [3d Dept 2001]). Inasmuch as the RLUIPA was enacted under Article I, no waiver of immunity arises as a result of either the statute itself or the State's acceptance of funds thereunder.

Turning to the question of whether the State of New York has waived its immunity from suit for RLUIPA violations, Court of Claims Act 8 provides, in pertinent part, the following:

"The state hereby waives its immunity from liability and action and hereby assumes liability and consents to have the same determined in accordance with the same rules of law as applied to actions in the supreme court against individuals or corporations, provided the claimant complies with the limitations of this article" (Court of Claims Act 8).

"The waiver includes all claims over which the Court of Claims has jurisdiction--appropriation, breach of contract and torts--and applies the rule of respondeat superior to the State" (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 181 [1996], citing Court of Claims Act 9 [2]). The Court of Appeals in Brown recognized that there are no fixed categories of torts and tort law is best defined as "a set of general principles which, according to Prosser and Keeton, occupies a 'large residuary field' of law remaining after othermore clearly defined branches of the law are eliminated" (89 NY2d at 181-182). Here, however, the requirements of the RLUIPA apply only to a "government," while the State's waiver of sovereign immunity under Court of Claims Act 8 is limited to those actions which may be brought in Supreme Court against an individual or corporation.(3) Sossamon made clear that immunity forecloses the availability of money damages as a remedy against the State and State actors in their official capacities and it is now settled, at least in the Second Circuit, that RLUIPA does not provide a cause of action against State officials in their individual capacities (Washington v Gonyea, 731 F3d 143 [2d Cir 2013]). There being no similar actions against individuals or corporations in the Supreme Court, the State's waiver of immunity contained in 8 of the Court of Claims Act does not reach proceedings under RLIUPA.

Relatedly, the primary jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is limited to actions seeking money damages (Court of Claims Act 9 [2]; Psaty v Duryea, 306 NY 413, 416 [1954]). As made clear by the Court in Sossamon, money damages are not available against the State under RLUIPA. The Court of Claims therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear the claim (cf. Fair v Smith, 93 AD3d 964 [3d Dept 2012], appeal dismissed 19 NY3d 874 [2012]).

Based on the foregoing, the defendant's motion is granted, and the claim is dismissed.

April 19, 2019

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

  1. Notice of motion dated March 12, 2019;
  2. Affirmation dated March 12, 2019, with Exhibit A;
  3. Unsworn statement of Qabail Hizbullah Ankh Amon dated March 20, 2019.

2. Although the defendant did not specifically address this cause of action, the Court of Claims may address sua sponte a lack of subject matter jurisdiction (Erie Blvd. Hydropower, LP v State of New York, 90 AD3d 1292 [3d Dept 2011]; Berrian v State of New York, 45 AD3d 995 [3d Dept 2007]; Signature Health Ctr., LLC v State of New York, 42 AD3d 678 [3d Dept 2007]).

3. The term "government" includes "a State, county, municipality, or other governmental entity created under the authority of a State . . . any branch, department, agency, instrumentality, or official" thereof, and "any other person acting under color of State law" (42 USC 2000cc-5 [4] [A]).