New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
BRYANT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-015-021, Claim No. 132399, Motion No. M-94890, Cross-Motion No. CM-94980

Synopsis

Pro se inmate's motion for summary judgment on his claim for wrongful confinement was denied as was defendant's cross motion to dismiss the claim for improper service. Claimant failed to establish the violation of a due process safeguard in the conduct of a prison disciplinary hearing or that the outcome of the hearing would have been different without the violation. Defendant in support of its cross motion addressed the manner in which an amended claim was served, but failed to address the manner in which the initial claim was served thereby requiring denial of it motion.

Case information

UID: 2020-015-021
Claimant(s): MICHAEL BRYANT
Claimant short name: BRYANT
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 132399
Motion number(s): M-94890
Cross-motion number(s): CM-94980
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Michael Bryant, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Letitia James, Attorney General
By: Michael T. Krenrich, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: February 19, 2020
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant moves for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212 and defendant cross-moves to dismiss the claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2) and (8) on the ground of improper service of the claim.

Claimant, a pro se inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), seeks damages for wrongful confinement arising from a disciplinary hearing in which he was found guilty of violating certain prison rules and ordered confined to the Special Housing Unit (SHU). The charges were reversed following claimant's administrative appeal on the grounds the hearing officer inappropriately referenced claimant's disciplinary history and failed to properly address the reason for failing to call potentially relevant witnesses.

The law is settled that conduct of correctional facility employees taken in furtherance of authorized disciplinary measures is quasi-judicial in nature and entitled to absolute immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 [1988]; Matter of Kairis v State of New York, 113 AD3d 942 [3d Dept 2014]; Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159 [3d Dept 2013], lv denied 22 NY3d 852 [2013]; Shannon v State of New York, 111 AD3d 1077 [3d Dept 2013]). The Arteaga Court made clear, however, that the State is not immune from liability for "actions of correction personnel in physically abusing inmates (see, Correction Law 137 [5]) or in confining them without granting a hearing or other required due process safeguard (see, 7 NYCRR 251-5.1; parts 252-254)" (Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 221). Consequently, " '[A]ctions of correctional facility employees with respect to inmate discipline matters are quasi-judicial in nature and, unless the employees exceed the scope of their authority or violate the governing statutes and regulations, [defendant] has absolute immunity for those actions' " (Loret v State of New York, 106 AD3d 1159, quoting Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 765 [3d Dept 2001]). However, where an alleged regulatory violation does not implicate a constitutionally required due process safeguard (see generally Wolff v McDonnell, 418 US 539 [1974]; Matter of Texeira v Fischer, 26 NY3d 230, 234 [2015]), the cloak of absolute immunity from liability is not lost (Ramirez v State of New York, 175 AD3d 1635 [3d Dept 2019]; but see Bottom v State of New York, 142 AD3d 1314 [4th Dept 2016], appeal dismissed 28 NY3d 1177 [2017] [State was not immune from liability for a discretionary, albeit erroneous, denial of a witness at a prison disciplinary hearing]). Thus, the viability of the instant claim requires the threshold determination of whether the hearing officer violated a constitutionally required due process safeguard in the conduct of claimant's disciplinary hearing.

Claimant alleges that the hearing officer failed to consider a video of the alleged incident, failed to afford claimant the right to call a witness, failed to verify the status of claimant's mental health, improperly referenced claimant's disciplinary history and found claimant guilty of offenses with which he was not charged in the Misbehavior Report. On this record, the Court is unable to determine whether or not a constitutionally required due process safeguard was violated as claimant failed to support his motion with the transcript of the hearing, the Misbehavior Report or any paperwork relating to the allegedly improper denial of his request for witnesses. Reversal of an administrative determination, standing alone, provides no basis to conclude that the defense of absolute immunity is not applicable to shield DOCCS from liability for the discretionary determinations of its hearing officers. Nor did claimant demonstrate that his confinement to the SHU was not privileged (see Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975], cert. denied sub nom., Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 [1975]) as he failed to demonstrate that without the alleged due process violations the outcome of the hearing would have been different (Moustakos v State of New York, 133 AD3d 1268 [4th Dept 2015]). Accordingly, claimant failed to meet his burden of establishing his entitlement to summary judgment (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 [1980]).

Defendant contends in support of its cross motion that the claim was improperly served by regular mail rather than certified mail, return receipt requested, as required by Court of Claims 11 (a). The claim that is alleged to have been served improperly is dated February 4, 2019 and was received in the Office of the Attorney General by regular mail on February 7, 2019 (see defendant's Exhibit A, last page, copy of envelope in which the claim was mailed). However, the initial claim in this matter, dated November 16, 2018, was filed in the Office of the Court of Claims on December 14, 2018. According to the claimant's affidavit of service attached the claim, it was served on the Attorney General on November 16, 2018.(1)

Inasmuch as defendant did not address the manner in which the initial claim was served, it failed to demonstrate that personal jurisdiction over the defendant was not acquired. Notably, defendant's answer, dated March 14, 2019, relates to the claim that was received in the Attorney General's Office on February 7, 2019. This claim, though not denominated as such, is an amended claim. Section 206.7(b) of the Uniform Rules for the Court of Claims (22 NYCRR 206.7 [b]) permits a pleading to be amended in the manner provided by CPLR 3025, "except that a party may amend a pleading once without leave of court within 40 days after its service, or at any time before the period for responding to it expires, or within 40 days after service of a pleading responding to it." Although the claim was amended beyond the time to do so as of right, defendant did not reject the claim and served an answer thereto (see Moran v Hurst, 32 AD3d 909 [2d Dept 2006]; Golub v Ganz, 22 AD3d 919 n 2 [3d Dept 2005]; Jordan v Aviles, 289 AD2d 532 [2d Dept 2001]; Sahinis v Brunswick Hosp. Ctr., 264 AD2d 474 [2d Dept 1999]).

With respect to the manner of service of the amended claim, CPLR 2103 (b) (2) specifically provides for service by regular mail on an attorney in a pending action. Service of the amended claim by regular mail was therefore proper (see Rohany v State of New York, 144 Misc 2d 940 [Ct Cl, 1989]). Inasmuch as defendant failed to demonstrate that the initial claim dated November 16, 2018 was either unserved or improperly served, its cross motion must be denied.

Based on the foregoing, both claimant's motion and the defendant's cross motion are denied.

February 19, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

M-94890

  1. Notice of motion dated October 18, 2019;
  2. Affidavit in support sworn to October 18, 2019, with attachments.

CM-94980

  1. Notice of cross motion dated November 26, 2019;
  2. Affirmation dated November 26, 2019, with Exhibits A-D;
  3. Claimant's reply dated December 12, 2019, with attachments.

1. In opposition to defendant's cross motion, claimant submits a copy of a certified mail return receipt card indicating the receipt of certified mail by the Attorney General's Office on February 19, 2019.