New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
PEOPLES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-045-504, Claim No. 125968

Synopsis

Trial decision. Claimant alleges that he was wrongfully confined to SHU after his release date from SHU.

Case information

UID: 2019-045-504
Claimant(s): LEROY PEOPLES
Claimant short name: PEOPLES
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125968
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: GINA M. LOPEZ-SUMMA
Claimant's attorney: Leroy Peoples, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Letitia James, Attorney General
By: Jeane L. Strickland Smith, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: May 14, 2019
City: Hauppauge
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Leroy Peoples, a pro se inmate, filed a claim on April 14, 2015 in which he alleged that defendant, the State of New York, through its agents, wrongfully confined him to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for 27 days while he was an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility.

A trial of this claim was held by video conference on May 13, 2019. At trial, the claim with attached exhibits was moved into evidence. Claimant testified that on November 5, 2014 he was due to be released from the SHU at Fishkill Correctional Facility. He stated that he was not released on that date due to a New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policy that there is no transportation of inmates on Wednesdays. Claimant testified that he was also informed on that date that he would need to remain confined until another facility could be found where he could be housed.

Claimant testified that after hearing this information he became a "disciplinary problem" because he was angry and wanted to get out of the SHU. Claimant alleges in his filed claim that after not being released from the SHU he suffered anguish and attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself with a cord. On November 5, 2014, as a result of threatening to kill himself, claimant was sent to the Green Haven Correctional Facility suicide watch to be interviewed by mental health personnel. On November 6, 2014, he was issued a misbehavior report for refusing an order while he was being returned to the suicide-watch cell also referred to as the tank from an interview room. He was ordered to stop pulling his hand and cuffs into the tank and as a result of the struggle, the handcuff key broke. In addition, claimant stuffed a blanket into the toilet and flooded the suicide-watch cell. A misbehavior report was issued based upon these incidents. A hearing was held beginning on November 20, 2014 and ending on November 25, 2014. Therefter, claimant was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in the SHU running from November 6, 2014 to December 6, 2014.

At trial, claimant testified that he was placed in the suicide-watch cell at the Green Haven Correctional Facility for disciplinary reasons. Additionally, he testified that he saw a psychologist who told him on more than one occasion that he was not a threat to himself and could be let out of the suicide-watch cell, however employees from the Fishkill Correctional Facility never picked him up. Claimant alleged that he was arbitrarily left in the suicide-watch cell. The filed Claim states that after claimant attempted to commit suicide, he was sent to the Green Haven Punitive Segregation Unit (PSU) suicide-watch unit from November 5, 2014 through November 10, 2014. On November 10, 2014, claimant was returned to the SHU at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. Claimant alleges that later on November 10, 2014 he was sent to the Downstate Correctional Facility suicide-watch unit where he stayed through November 14, 2014. He alleges that he was supposed to be released from the Downstate Correctional Facility suicide-watch unit on November 13, 2014 however he was not transferred to the Fishkill Correctional Facility until November 14, 2014 at which time was wrongfully placed in the SHU until December 7, 2014. Claimant contends that he was wrongfully confined to the SHU on November 5, November 10, and November 13 through December 7, 2014. Claimant also contends that because the November 25, 2014 hearing determination was later reversed it cannot be used as the basis for his confinement to the SHU. Defendant submitted documentation setting forth that the reason for the reversal was due to the hearing record not indicating how the Office of Mental Health testimony was considered.

At the close of claimant's case, defendant moved to dismiss the claim for failure to set forth a prima facie case. The Court reserved decision on the motion. Defendant presented no witnesses.

A cause of action for wrongful confinement requires a claimant to show that defendant intended to confine him, that claimant was conscious of the confinement, that claimant did not consent to the confinement and lastly that the confinement was not otherwise privileged (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975]).

The Court of Appeals has held that the actions of Correction Officers in commencing and conducting disciplinary proceedings, that are "under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations (Correction Law 112, 137; 7 NYCRR parts 250-254)

. . . 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]). The Court explains that this immunity can be lost "for [the] unlawful actions of employees taken beyond their authority or in violation of the governing rules and regulations" (Arteaga, supra at 220).

In the case at hand, claimant argues that the policy of no transit or transportation of prisoners on Wednesdays violated his due process rights. He contends that if he had been released from the SHU on November 5, 2014, he would not have attempted to commit suicide and the actions leading to the November 6, 2014 misbehavior report would not have occurred. He also argues that the reversal of the guilty finding from that misbehavior report was due to his psychologist saying he was not a threat.

If there is no regulatory authority to hold an inmate in restrictive confinement, discretionary conduct is not involved and continued confinement is not privileged (Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982 [4th Dept 1994]; Porter v State of New York, UID No. 2017-018-816 [Ct Cl Fitzpatrick, J., May 4, 2017]). However, in this case, on the day of claimant's scheduled release, he threatened to commit suicide and was sent to another facility for observation. While there, claimant was issued an inmate misbehavior report which resulted in a hearing and an additional 30 day sentence in the SHU. Although, it has not been established that there was any regulatory authority to hold claimant in restrictive confinement on November 5, 2014, his release date, claimant's threat to himself and his subsequent inmate misbehavior report, establish that his continued confinement was privileged.

Additionally, claimant alleges that the November 25, 2014 disciplinary hearing was reversed and thus cannot be used as the basis for his confinement past November 5, 2014. The administrative reversal of disciplinary findings alone, without proof of a violation of nondiscretionary rules and regulations, does not establish a wrongful confinement cause of action (see Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159, 1159-1160 [3d Dept 2013], lv denied 22 NY3d 852 [2013]). Claimant has failed to demonstrate that the Hearing Officer either exceeded the scope of her authority or violated any of the pertinent governing regulations in conducting the disciplinary hearing.

Upon consideration of all the evidence, the Court finds that the evidence presented failed to establish a claim for wrongful confinement.

Further, to the extent claimant is attempting to assert a claim based on a violation of his constitutional rights it is well settled that the Court should not imply a State Constitutional remedy when an adequate alternative remedy was available to claimant (Flemming v State of New York, 120 AD3d 848 [3d Dept 2014]; Waxter v State of New York, 33 AD3d 1180 [3d Dept 2006]; Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78 [2001]; Remley v State of New York, 174 Misc 2d 523 [Ct Cl 1997]). Claimant had an alternative remedy sounding in wrongful confinement. Additionally, to the extent claimant is alleging federal constitutional violations such claims are beyond the jurisdiction of this court (see Court of Claims Act 9).

Lastly, claimant puts forth a claim of excessive force in his filed Claim. 7 NYCRR 251-1.2 (b) provides that correction officers may use physical force but "only such degree of force as is reasonably required." In the filed claim, claimant alleges that he was negligently injured by Correction Officer Ortiz when he applied unnecessary force to claimant's right thumb while claimant was handcuffed. Claimant stated in his notice of intention to file a claim that after not being released from SHU he attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself and that Correction Officer Ortiz injured claimant's thumb when he stopped his suicide attempt. Claimant testified at trial that, at the time of the injury, claimant was being a "disciplinary problem" due to being kept in SHU. Thus, the Court finds that claimant has failed to credibly establish that Correction Officer Ortiz used excessive force in stopping claimant's suicide attempt (Shirvanion v State of New York, 64 AD3d 1113 [3d Dept 2009]; Wester v State of New York, 247 AD2d 468 [2d Dept 1998]; Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234 [2d Dept 1994]).

Therefore, based upon the foregoing, the Court finds that claimant has failed to prove, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, his claims against defendant. Accordingly the claim is hereby dismissed in its entirety. Any motions upon which the Court had previously reserved or which remain undecided are hereby denied.

The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

May 14, 2019

Hauppauge, New York

GINA M. LOPEZ-SUMMA

Judge of the Court of Claims