New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
SANTANA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-038-109, Claim No. 125153

Synopsis

Case information

UID: 2019-038-109
Claimant(s): ALEXANDER SANTANA
Claimant short name: SANTANA
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125153
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DeBOW
Claimant's attorney: ALEXANDER SANTANA, Pro se
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES, Attorney General
of the State of New York
By: Stephen Barry, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 15, 2019
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an individual incarcerated in a State correctional facility, filed this claim seeking compensation for wrongful confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) at Green Haven Correctional Facility (CF) for 90 days commencing on March 17, 2014. The trial of this claim was conducted by videoconference on July 25, 2019, with the parties appearing at Green Haven CF in Stormville, New York and the Court sitting in Albany, New York. Claimant presented his own testimony; defendant called no witnesses. Claimant did not offer any documentary exhibits; defendant offered one exhibit that was received in evidence. After listening to and observing claimant's demeanor as he testified, and upon consideration of his testimony and all the other evidence received at trial, the applicable law, and the arguments of the parties at trial, the Court concludes that defendant is entitled to absolute immunity for the actions of its agents.

FACTS

On March 17, 2014, claimant was confined to SHU at Green Haven CF pending the issuance of an inmate misbehavior report (IMR) charging him with numerous Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) rules relating to a fight that occurred in the G/H yard. Later that day, Correction Officer (CO) Dillon issued an IMR charging claimant with violating DOCCS Rule 106.10 for violating a direct order, Rule 100.10 for assault, Rule 100.13 for fighting, Rule 104.13 for causing a disturbance, and Rule 104.11 for violent conduct (see Defendant's Exhibit A [Santana IMR, dated Mar. 17, 2014]). CO Dillon described the incident as follows:

"While responding to a red alert in G/H Yard I, C.O. Dillon observed [claimant] and Inmate Quiles . . . exchanging what appeared to be close fisted punches to Inmate Cromartie's. . . . body and face. I then gave several direct orders to stop fighting, the inmates refused until responding staff arrived on scene. The inmates were then escorted from G/H Yard without any further incident."

(id.). Claimant testified that there was a big fight in the yard at Green Haven CF on March 17, 2014 between eight inmates, and that he was on the other side of the yard during the fight and played no role in the altercation. Claimant testified that when the COs responded to the fight they took everyone out of the yard back into the facility and that a CO pointed claimant out, and he was escorted to SHU. Claimant testified that according to the medical records, he was the only inmate allegedly involved in the fight who did not suffer any injuries. In an inmate injury report dated March 17, 2014 that noted that claimant sustained no injuries, claimant made the following written statement: "I don't know what happened" (id. [Santana Inmate Injury Report, dated Mar. 17, 2014]). Claimant offered no testimony, and no documentary exhibits were received regarding the disposition of the charges in the IMR or the duration of claimant's SHU confinement.

DISCUSSION

In the context of the prison disciplinary process, where defendant's "employees act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations (Correction Law  112, 137; 7 NYCRR parts 250-254), 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 [1988]). Thus, "unless the [correctional] employees exceed the scope of their authority or violate the governing statutes and regulations [relating to the prison disciplinary process], the State has absolute immunity for those actions" (Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 765 [3d Dept 2001]). Not all violations of DOCCS rules governing the disciplinary process will result in the abrogation of the State's absolute immunity, only those that violate an inmate's right to due process (see Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 221). Where the State has lost its absolute immunity, a claimant must still prove all the elements of a cause of action for unlawful confinement, namely "that the defendant intended to confine the [claimant], that the [claimant] was conscious of the confinement and did not consent to the confinement, and that the confinement was not otherwise privileged" (Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 85 [2001]; see Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975], cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 [1975]).

At the close of claimant's case, defendant moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that there was no proof that claimant was wrongfully confined. In opposition, claimant argued that he did not commit the acts alleged in the IMR and should not have been sent to SHU. The Court reserved decision on the motion, which it will now grant. Claimant argues only that he was innocent of the charges that were brought against him and has not made any argument or offered any evidence that defendant's agents exceeded their authority or violated any DOCCS rules implicating his due process rights (see Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159, 1159 [3d Dept 2013], lv denied 22 NY3d 852 [2013] [inmate's wrongful confinement claim properly dismissed where claimant failed to "articulate() any facts to support his claim that the correctional facility employees responsible for his discipline acted in excess of their authority or in violation of any relevant rules or regulations"]). In sum, claimant has not established that defendant's agents exceeded their authority or committed a due process violation that would strip defendant of its absolute immunity from liability, and thus defendant is not liable to claimant.

CONCLUSION

The evidence fails to establish that defendant's agents exceeded their authority or violated a DOCCS rule implicating claimant's due process in its confinement of claimant, and defendant is entitled to absolute immunity for the actions of its agents. Accordingly, claim number 125153 is DISMISSED. Any motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

August 15, 2019

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims