|Claimant short name:||WARD|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||MAUREEN T. LICCIONE|
|Claimant's attorney:||LANGSDEN WARD, pro se|
|Defendant's attorney:||HON. LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL
By: Dorothy M. Keogh, Assistant Attorney General
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||November 12, 2019|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
This decision follows a trial on the claim of Langsden Ward ("Claimant" or "Ward"), an inmate proceeding pro se, against the State of New York ("Defendant") which was conducted via videoconference from Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") on October 22, 2019. The claim filed on May 24, 2016, alleges that Ward was placed in keeplock from the evening of March 13, 2016 through the morning of March 16, 2016, while he was housed in Sing Sing. The claim further alleges that Defendant failed to follow its rules and protocol because the confinement was carried out without the issuance of a misbehavior report. The claim sounds in wrongful confinement.
At trial, Ward's testimony repeated the allegations in his claim, although he contradicted his claim by stating that he was in keeplock until the afternoon on March 16. Claimant stated that he was not issued a misbehavior report as was necessary, and that his confinement was not reported to the superintendent or to the sergeant. Claimant stated that he did not know the reason he was placed in keeplock. According to Ward, on March 16, around 12 noon and 1:00 p.m., it was discovered that a misbehavior report was not in the system and a correction officer informed him that his time in keeplock had ended. On cross-examination, Claimant stated that C.O. Joseph informed him that he was on keeplock, but he was never told the reason why.
For its part, Defendant called as a witness Sergeant Ramos. Ramos is employed by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), and at the time of the incident at issue, he had been assigned to Sing Sing for approximately 23 years. The sergeant was shown Defendant's exhibit A. He stated that it was an entry from a gallery logbook, and that at the time he was the area supervisor. The log entries run from 7:00 a.m. on March 13, through 7:00 a.m. on March 17. Ramos stated that the first indication that Claimant was in keeplock was made to the log on March 14, at 7:00 a.m. He added that the log also indicates that Ward was in keeplock on the afternoon of March 14, and the morning and afternoon of March 15. However, there is no indication that Claimant was in keeplock on March 13 or March 16. Ramos testified that based on the log entries the latest Claimant could have been released from keeplock was on March 16 by 7:00 a.m., and therefore his confinement to keeplock lasted for approximately 48 hours. Ramos noted that even if Claimant had been confined from the evening of March 13, it would still not add up to 72 hours.
Ramos explained that a 72 hour hold is usually implemented on an inmate when an investigation is undertaken, or for misconduct, or for safety of the inmate or another inmate. According to the sergeant, if an inmate is released from keeplock before 72 hours the issuance of a misbehavior report is not required, and therefore, no such report was required regarding this incident.
On cross-examination, Ramos stated that he had no idea if a written notification was made in regard to this incident and did not know why Claimant was placed in 72 hour keeplock in the first place. He testified that C.O. Joseph did not have the authority to place Claimant in keeplock and that such had to be authorized by a supervisor. On redirct, Ramos testified that the purpose of writing down the time keeplock begins is so that the inmate is released within 72 hours and in this case he was released well before the expiration of 72 hours. Ramos reiterated that a misbehavior report was not required because Ward was released within the regulatory 72 hours.
To prove a claim for wrongful confinement a claimant must establish that: "(1) the defendant intended to confine him, (2) [he] was conscious of the confinement, (3) [he] did not consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged" (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 , cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929  [citations omitted]). In the context of a prison setting, a claimant must also overcome defendant's absolute immunity articulated in Arteaga v State of New York (72 NY2d 212, 214 )
In Arteaga, the Court of Appeals held that in the context of a prison disciplinary procedure, the State has absolute immunity from liability when its employees act under the authority of and in full compliance with the statutes and regulations (Correction Law §§ 112, 137; 7 NYCRR parts 250-254), and their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature (id. at. 214). The Arteaga Court stated, however, that actions of correction employees confining an inmate "without granting a hearing or other required due process safeguard . . . would not receive immunity" (id. at 221; see also Moustakos v State of New York, 133 AD3d 1268, 1269). However, not all rule and regulation violations implicate due process protections, and in turn, where there has been no due process violation the State retains its absolute immunity (see e.g. Ramirez v State of New York, UID No. 2018-040-036 [Ct Cl, McCarthy, J., Apr. 25, 2018], affd 175 AD3d 1635 [3d Dept 2019]; Bethune v State of New York, 50 Misc 3d 1216 [A] [Ct Cl, 2015]; Gifford v State of New York, UID No. 2015-049-024 [Ct Cl, Weinstein, J., March 31, 2015]; Amato v State of New York, UID No. 2014-041-038 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., June 26, 2014]).
Pursuant to DOCCS regulations, an inmate may be confined to his or her cell
"[w]here an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that an inmate should be confined to his cell or room or housing area because he represents an immediate threat to the safety, security, or order of the facility or in immediate danger to other persons or to property . . ."
(7 NYCRR 251-1.6 [a]).
This regulation has been interpreted as "authorizing keeplock whenever an officer reasonably believes that a facility rule has been violated by an inmate, thus establishing an immediate threat to the order of the facility" (Matter of Pettus v West, 28 AD3d 907, 908 [3d Dept 2006] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]).
7 NYCRR 251-1.6 (b) limits an inmate's initial confinement to a cell or room for that inmate's protection to 72 hours "and within such time period the inmate shall either be: (1) transferred to another housing unit; (2) scheduled for transfer to another facility; (3) released from such confinement; or (4) placed in protective custody."
On the record before the Court, and assuming that Ward was confined for his own protection (see Matter of Shaird v Selsky, 268 AD2d 721, 722 [3d Dept 2000] [petitioner was not confined for his own protection, and therefore his reliance on the regulation which requires certain action within 72 hours of such confinement (7 NYCRR 251-1.6 [b]) is misplaced]), Claimant has failed to establish that his confinement exceeded the 72 hour limit proscribed in the regulation. Even accepting his testimony that his keeplock began on the evening of March 13 and ended sometime between 12 noon and 1:00 p.m. on March 16 (in contradiction of the allegation in his claim that he was released in the morning of the 16th, and refuted by the entries in the gallery log in evidence), he nevertheless was timely released in accordance with section 251-1.6 (b).
Ward's contention that the correction officer who initially confined him to keeplock failed to issue a written report to the superintendent prior to going off duty, in violation of section 251-1.6 (e) (1), can serve as the basis for a wrongful confinement claim, is similarly unavailing.
That provision provides:
"An employee who places an inmate in confinement in his cell or room or who places an inmate in a special housing unit pursuant to the provisions of this section shall report such fact, in writing, to the superintendent as soon as possible, but in any event before going off duty."
However, there was no proof that the rule was violated or that the confinement was unauthorized, and in any case "that provision does not require that the report be provided to claimant, and a violation of that rule does not implicate claimant's due process rights" (Dawes v State of New York, UID 2019-038-106 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., July 29, 2019]; see also Lamage v State of New York, UID No. 2015-044-002 [Ct Cl, Schaewe, J., Apr. 17, 2015] [section 251-1.6 (e) (1) does not mandate that the report be provided to the inmate and failure to issue the report "does not implicate any due process safeguard"]).
Moreover, there is no prescribed limitations period for the filing of a formal misbehavior report, rather, it need only be prepared "as soon as practicable" (7 NYCRR 251-3.1 [a]) (see Matter of Washington v Annucci, 160 AD3d 1313, 1314 [3d Dept 2018]; Matter of Killings v O'Keefe, 238 AD2d 638 [3d Dept 1997]). In any event, Claimant was not served with a misbehavior report and there is no requirement that one be served under the circumstances.
In view of the foregoing, the Court finds that Claimant has failed to meet his burden of overcoming the State's presumption of absolute immunity under Arteaga (see Callender v State of New York, UID No. 2012-049-108 [Ct Cl, Weinstein, J., Aug. 3, 2012]; Geer v State of New York, UID No. 2000-011-502 [Ct Cl, McNamara, J., Mar. 9, 2000]).
Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now granted and claim no. 127984 is dismissed.
All motions not previously decided are hereby denied.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.
November 12, 2019
Central Islip , New York
MAUREEN T. LICCIONE
Judge of the Court of Claims