New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
COLSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-058-009, Claim No. 127552

Synopsis

Claim for wrongful confinement dismissed after trial on the ground that Claimant failed to establish his confinement was not privileged.

Case information

UID: 2019-058-009
Claimant(s): RONALD COLSON
Claimant short name: COLSON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 127552
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: CATHERINE E. LEAHY-SCOTT
Claimant's attorney: Ronald Colson, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Letitia James, Attorney General
Christina M. Calabrese, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: September 24, 2019
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, a pro se inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), seeks damages for wrongful confinement while incarcerated at Coxsackie Correctional Facility (CCF) and thereafter at the Special Housing Unit (SHU) at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (SSCF). The trial of this claim was conducted by videoconference on July 30, 2019, with the parties appearing at CCF and the Court presiding in Albany, New York. Claimant presented his own testimony; Defendant called one witness. Claimant offered twelve (12) exhibits and Defendant offered one exhibit, all received into evidence by stipulation. After considering all testimony and evidence received at trial and reviewing the applicable law and arguments made by the parties, the Court dismisses the Claim.

Claimant testified that on August 20, 2015, a fight broke out in the center yard at CCF and he had no involvement in said fight. A misbehavior report dated August 21, 2015 was served August 26, 2015 upon Claimant alleging that Claimant, as a high-ranking member of the Bloods Gang, ordered two inmates to assault another inmate. Claimant contends he was wrongly confined as a result of being found guilty of charges at his tier III hearing. Claimant was confined in keeplock and/or the SHU from August 21, 2015 until November 18, 2015. Claimant asserts that evidence he requested to assist in his defense at this hearing was withheld by DOCCS and that the misbehavior report dated August 21, 2015 was issued in retaliation of words exchanged between Claimant and a CCF Correction Officer on or about July 27-28, 2015.

Defendant produced the Hearing Officer who presided over Claimant's tier III hearing as a witness. The Court found this witness credible. The Hearing Officer testified that based upon his review of Defendant's Exhibit A(1) as well as his recollection of Claimant's hearing and attendant issues, no DOCCS' regulations and/or policies were violated. The Hearing Officer testified further that he found Claimant guilty of all the charges in the August 21, 2019 misbehavior report, to wit: violent conduct, assault on inmate, fighting, and gangs. Penalties imposed included 90 days in the SHU as well as loss of other privileges. The Hearing Officer testified that the incident occurred on August 20, 2015. A misbehavior report was issued on August 21, 2015 consistent with DOCCS' policy that a report be issued as soon as practicable after an incident. This report was served on Claimant on August 26, 2015. An assistant charged with the responsibility to assist Claimant with his hearing initially met with Claimant on August 31, 2015. A hearing was scheduled for September 9, 2015. The Hearing Officer adjourned the hearing as assistance to the Claimant was not completed; and the Hearing Officer also intended to assist Claimant in obtaining evidence needed for his defense. Several extensions of the hearing date were requested and granted consistent with DOCCS' policy. Claimant testified he wanted to obtain video of the fight which occurred at CCF in the central yard on August 20, 2015 to aid in his defense. DOCCS did not have a videotape of the incident. The Hearing Officer testified that he confirmed that such videotape did not exist, and therefore, could not be produced. Claimant's tier III hearing was concluded on September 17, 2015; and Claimant was found guilty of all charges contained in the misbehavior report hereinbefore described.

The court rejects Claimant's contention that he was wrongfully confined due to retaliation of having exchanged words with a correction officer. Other than Claimant's conclusory remark during trial, no proof was presented in support of said claim (see Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159, 1159 [3d Dept 2013] [dismissing claim for wrongful confinement where the "claimant ha(d) not articulated 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]; McGee v State of New York, UID No. 2004-031-076 [Ct Cl, Minarik, J., June 21, 2004] ["bald conclusory allegations" are insufficient to support a Claim for wrongful confinement]).

"To establish a claim of false imprisonment or unlawful confinement, claimant [is] required to show that (1) defendant intended to confine him, (2) he was conscious of the confinement, (3) he did not consent to the confinement, and (4) such confinement was not otherwise privileged" (Cass v State of New York, 134 AD3d 1207, 1208 [3d Dept 2015], lv dismissed 27 NY3d 972 [2016] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; accord Miller v State of New York, 124 AD3d 997, 998 [3d Dept 2015]).

In this matter, the Court finds the Claimant established through his testimony at trial that he was intentionally confined, that he was conscious of said confinement, and that he did not consent to it. However, the fourth element of a wrongful confinement claim has not been proven. So long as Defendant's confinement of a claimant is "under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations, [its] 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] [internal citations omitted]). As relevant here, "[d]efendant's confinement of claimant . . . is privileged if it was in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision" (Hernandez v State of New York, 48 Misc 3d 218, 220 [Ct Cl 2015]; see Lee v State of New York, 124 AD2d 305, 307 [3d Dept 1986]). It is well-settled that where DOCCS' employees, in commencing and conducting formal inmate disciplinary proceedings, "act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations, their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the State has absolute immunity" (Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 212 [internal citations omitted]; see also Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841, 841 [3d Dept 2001]). This immunity is lost if DOCCS violates its own rules and regulations in conducting the hearing or otherwise acts in contravention of privileged actions and deprives the claimant of due process safeguards (Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 220-221; Amato v State of New York, UID No. 2014-041-038 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., June 26, 2014]). Claimant must establish that his confinement was not privileged by the preponderance of the credible evidence (see Diaz v State of New York, UID No. 2018-053-008 [Ct Cl, Sampson, J. Aug. 10, 2018]). No such facts have been alleged here.

Regulations authorize DOCCS to confine an inmate to his cell because "he represents an immediate threat to the safety, security or order of the facility or [a]n immediate danger to other persons" (7 NYCRR 251-1.6[a]). Inasmuch as Claimant was charged with participating in gang activity, being a high-ranking member of a gang, and ordering two inmates to engage in assaultive conduct upon another inmate, his confinement pending resolution of the disciplinary charges was an authorized disciplinary measure. Additionally, DOCCS complied with its regulations in issuing a timely misbehavior report, serving it upon Claimant, providing assistance to Claimant, as well as conducting a hearing. There is no evidence to support Claimant's contention that DOCCS withheld evidence, specifically a videotape of the incident, at the tier III disciplinary hearing. In fact, credible evidence presented at trial established that no such evidence of a videotape, as requested by Claimant, existed. Moreover, additional, affirmative steps were taken to protect Claimant's rights in obtaining all requested evidence for the hearing, including granting adjournments in order to obtain same and ensuring proper assistance. Therefore, having acted in accordance with the governing rules and regulations, the Defendant retains its immunity (see Matter of Kairis v State of New York, 113 AD3d 942, 942-943 [3d Dept 2014]; Varela, 283 AD2d at 841-842; 7 NYCRR 251-1.6; 7 NYCRR 251-3.1; 7 NYCRR 251-4.1, 251-4.2; 7 NYCRR 251-5.1; 7 NYCRR 253.1; 7 NYCRR 253.4; 7 NYCRR 253.6). Thus, Claimant did not prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that DOCCS' violated any rule or regulation or exceeded the scope of its authority.

Assuming arguendo that there is a loss of immunity as a result of a violation in the disciplinary process, such loss "does not result in absolute liability . . . because [C]laimant is still required to prove the merits of his [or her] claim" (Turley v State of New York, UID No. 2010-032-504 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., June 4, 2010]; see Moustakos v State of New York, 133 AD3d 1268, 1269 [4th Dept 2015]). In order to establish that the confinement was not privileged, Claimant must show that had the violation not occurred, the outcome of the hearing would have been different (see Moustakos, 133 AD3d at 1270; see also Watson v State of New York, 125 AD3d 1064, 1065 [3d Dept 2015]; Adams v State of New York, UID No. 2017-015-259 [Ct Cl, Collins, J., Sept. 20, 2017]). At trial of the instant matter, Claimant has not shown, and no proof was offered, that the existence of videotape evidence would have had any impact upon the hearing or a finding of not guilty.

Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss, made at the conclusion of the trial, is now GRANTED, and the Claimant's claim is dismissed in its entirety. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of the Defendant dismissing Claim Number 127552. Additionally, all motions not previously ruled upon are DENIED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

September 24, 2019

Albany, New York

CATHERINE E. LEAHY-SCOTT

Judge of the Court of Claims


1.

1 Exhibit A includes the misbehavior report, hearing record sheet, hearing disposition rendered, witness interview notice, tier III Assistant List: English, and

disciplinary hearing extension requests with responses.