New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
COKE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-032-019, Claim No. 131512, Motion No. M-93160, Cross-Motion No. CM-93283

Synopsis

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted. The Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review DOCCS' administrative determination regarding claimant's eligibility to participate in a Master's Program.

Case information

UID: 2019-032-019
Claimant(s): WILLIAM COKE
Claimant short name: COKE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 131512
Motion number(s): M-93160
Cross-motion number(s): CM-93283
Judge: JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant's attorney: William Coke, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Letitia James, Attorney General
By: J. Gardner Ryan, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: April 1, 2019
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed the instant claim on June 1, 2018, seeking damages as a result of being denied admittance to a Master's Program administered by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The claim is somewhat difficult to follow, but after reviewing the documents attached to the claim, it appears that claimant is challenging a DOCCS determination that denied him eligibility to participate in the Master of Professional Studies program offered by the New York Theological Seminary at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Claimant moves to dismiss defendant's first affirmative defense of failure to state a cognizable claim against the State for compensatory damages. Defendant cross moves for dismissal of the claim upon the ground that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim. For the following reasons, the Court grants defendant's motion and dismisses the claim.

Regardless of how a claimant categorizes a claim, where a Court's assessment of a claim would require review of an administrative agency's determination, the Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the claim (see Hoffman v State of New York, 42 AD3d 641 [3d Dept. 2007]; City of New York v State of New York, 46 AD3d 1168 [3d Dept. 2007], lv denied 10 NY3d 705 [2008]). An administrative agency's determination may be reviewed only in the context of a CPLR Article 78 proceeding commenced in Supreme Court; such action cannot be brought in the Court of Claims (CPLR 7801; see Matter of Scherbyn v Wayne-Finger Lakes Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 77 NY2d 753 [1991]; Matter of Salahuddin v Connell, 53 AD3d 898 [3d Dept. 2008]). Here, the claim requires the Court to review DOCCS' determination that claimant is not eligible for participation in the Master's Program to which he seeks admittance. The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to conduct such a review (Polanco v State of New York, 130 AD3d 1494, 1495 [4th Dept. 2015]).

Moreover, the State is immune from liability for discretionary conduct, even if the discretionary conduct rises to the level of negligent or malicious (Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34, 40 [1983]; see also McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d 194, 203 [2009]). DOCCS' determinations regarding inmates' participation in certain programs is discretionary conduct for which the State is immune from liability for money damages (see Defeo v New York State Dept. of Corr. Servs., 56 AD3d 886, 887 [3d Dept. 2008] [participation in family reunion program is "heavily discretionary"]; see also Yorro v Ledbetter, 50 Misc 3d 1222[A], 2016 NY Slip Op 50225[U], *1-2 [Sup Ct, Albany County 2016] [determining whether denial of participation in temporary work release program was an abuse of discretion]; Rivera v Goord, 10 Misc 3d 302, 304 [Sup Ct, Albany County 2005] [determining whether requiring prisoner to participate in a substance abuse program was an abuse of discretion]). Thus, the State is immune from liability for damages arising from DOCCS' determination on claimant's eligibility to participate in the Master's Program.

Based upon the foregoing, it is hereby

ORDERED that claimant's motion to dismiss defendant's first affirmative defense (M-93160) is DENIED; and it is further

ORDERED that defendant's cross motion to dismiss the claim (CM-93283) is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that claim number 131512 is DISMISSED.

April 1, 2019

Albany, New York

JUDITH A. HARD

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Verified Claim, filed on June 1, 2018.

2. Verified Answer, filed on June 20, 2018.

3. Notice of Motion to Dismiss Affirmative Defense; and Affidavit in Support of Motion to Dismiss Affirmative Defense, sworn to by claimant on October 22, 2018, with Exhibits annexed thereto.

4. Letter from Claimant, sworn to on December 5, 2018.

5. Notice of Cross Motion, dated December 19, 2018; and Affirmation, affirmed by J. Gardner Ryan, AAG on December 19, 2018, with Exhibits annexed thereto.