New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
SMYTHE v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-015-069, Claim No. 133137, Motion No. M-95607

Synopsis

Inmate confined to the Special Housing Unit for 55 days without a hearing was awarded summary judgment less the first seven days which were privileged.

Case information

UID: 2020-015-069
Claimant(s): FRANCIS SMYTHE
Claimant short name: SMYTHE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 133137
Motion number(s): M-95607
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Francis Smythe, 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: August 20, 2020
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, proceeding pro se, moves for summary judgment on his wrongful confinement claim pursuant to CPLR 3212.

Claimant, an inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, alleges a cause of action for wrongful confinement arising from the imposition of a 55-day period of disciplinary confinement without a hearing. In an affidavit submitted in support of his motion, claimant avers he was confined on keeplock status on January 17, 2019, he was moved to a Special Housing Unit (SHU) on January 18, 2019, and he received two Misbehavior Reports on January 20, 2019. According to the allegations in both the claim and the claimant's affidavit, a disciplinary hearing was commenced but not completed on January 24, 2019 and claimant was released from the SHU on March 12, 2019 without explanation.

By Decision and Order filed May 15, 2020, the Court denied claimant's prior summary judgment motion, with leave to renew, because he failed to support his motion with copies of the pleadings. This deficiency has now been rectified.

A party moving for summary judgment "bears the heavy burden of establishing 'a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact' " (Deleon v New York City Sanitation Dept., 25 NY3d 1102, 1106 [2015], quoting Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 [1986]; see also Jacobsen v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 22 NY3d 824 [2014]; Vega v Restani Constr. Corp., 18 NY3d 499, 503 [2012]; see also CPLR 3212 [b]). In this regard, CPLR 3212 (b) requires that a motion for summary judgment "shall be granted if, upon all the papers and proof submitted, the cause of action or defense shall be established sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in favor of any party". Only where the movant has made this showing, does the burden shift to the opposing party "to produce evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action" (Alvarez, 68 NY2d at 324 ).

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]; Diaz v State of New York, 155 AD3d 1279 [3d Dept 2017], lv dismissed in part and denied in part 30 NY3d 1101 [2018]; 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 Court of appeals in Arteaga 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). Indeed, it is well settled that an inmate's right to a prison disciplinary hearing is one of the fundamental due process rights implemented as part of the prison regulations in this State (Matter of Henry v Fischer, 28 NY3d 1135 [2016]; Matter of Laureano v Kuhlman, 75 NY2d 141, 146-147 [1990]; Matter of Micolo v Annucci, 152 AD3d 1103 [3d Dept 2017]; Matter of Rush v Goord, 2 AD3d 1185 [3d Dept 2003]; Matter of Weiss v Coughlin, 199 AD2d 638 [3d Dept 1993]; 7 NYCRR 254.6 [a] [2]). Here, claimant's contention that he was subjected to disciplinary confinement for a period of 55 days without the benefit of a hearing is unrefuted. Under these circumstances the State is not immune from liability. Nevertheless, the due process violation "merely remove[s] the cloak of absolute immunity and make[s] the State potentially liable, if liability would be imposed under common law tort principles" (Moustakos v State of New York, 133 AD3d 1268, 1269 [4th Dept 2015] quoting Kilpatrick v State of New York, Ct Cl, Dec. 2001, Patti, J., claim No. 100462, UID No. 2001-013-031).

To prevail on a common law cause of action for wrongful confinement, a species of false imprisonment, it must be established "that (1) the defendant intended to confine [claimant], (2) the [claimant] was conscious of the confinement, (3) the [claimant] did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged" (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975] ), cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 [1975]; see also Moustakos, 133 AD3d at1269; Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 406 [Ct Cl 1986]). Claimant clearly satisfied the first three elements. The fourth element of a wrongful confinement cause of action- that the confinement was not privileged- generally requires proof that the outcome of the hearing would have been different in the absence of a due process violation (see Moustakas, 133 AD3d at 1270; Watson v State of New York, 125 AD3d 1064 [3d Dept 2015]). Here, however, claimant was confined without the benefit of a hearing. As a result, he need not demonstrate that the outcome of the hearing would have been different without the due process violation.

While the first seven days of claimant's confinement to the SHU were privileged under 7 NYCRR 251-5.1 (a)(1) (see e.g. Floyd v The State of New York, Ct Cl, Aug. 29, 2014, Collins, J., claim No. 123449, UID No. 2014-015-022; Green v The State of New York, Ct Cl, Oct., 31, 2007 Collins, J., claim No. 113099, UID No. 2007-015-241; Gagne v The State of New York, Ct Cl, Nov. 14, 2006, Schaewe, J., claim No. 108815, UID No. 2006-044-007), the remaining period of confinement was not. Defendant having failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition to the claimant's motion, the motion is granted and claimant is awarded $3,525.00 ($75.00 per day for the period from January 24, 2019 through March 11, 2019, the last full day of his confinement).(2)

Let Judgement be entered accordingly.

August 20, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

  1. Notice of motion dated May 26, 2020;
  2. Affidavit in support sworn to May 26, 2020, with Exhibits;
  3. Affirmation in opposition dated August 14, 2020.

1. 7 NYCRR 251-5.1 (a) requires that a disciplinary hearing be commenced within seven days of confinement.

2. No claim is made for lost wages nor were any other circumstances established which would require a trial on the issue of damages.