New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
DISSOTTLE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-053-543, Claim No. 134284, Motion No. M-95632

Synopsis

The State's motion to dismiss the claim of a pro se claimant alleging negligence and wrongful confinement to the Special Housing Unit due to errors in conducting a urinalysis test is granted. The Court ruled that the State's actions were quasi-judicial in nature and claimant failed to assert a violation of a regulation directly related to drug testing or the disciplinary process.

Case information

UID: 2020-053-543
Claimant(s): GERALD DISSOTTLE, JR.
Claimant short name: DISSOTTLE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 134284
Motion number(s): M-95632
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: J. DAVID SAMPSON
Claimant's attorney: GERALD DISSOTTLE, JR. Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
New York State Attorney General
BY: Wendy E. Morcio. Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: November 16, 2020
City: Buffalo
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Pro se claimant Gerald Dissottle alleges in claim no. 134284 that he was wrongfully confined in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) while he was incarcerated at Gowanda Correctional Facility (Gowanda). Defendant State of New York moves to dismiss the claim for failure to state a cause of action. Claimant failed to appear or otherwise oppose the motion.

According to the claim, claimant underwent a urinalysis test at Gowanda on June 21, 2019. He alleges that "as a result of errors by the officer conducting the test" he was confined to the SHU at Gowanda for 89 days and lost certain privileges following a Superintendent's Hearing on June 25, 2019 (see paragraphs 3 and 4 of the claim annexed to defendant's motion as Exhibit A). On September 20, 2019, claimant was advised that the Superintendent's Hearing had been reviewed and reversed. Pursuant to paragraph 2 of the claim, claimant is seeking damages based upon theories of wrongful confinement and negligence.

Wrongful Confinement

In order to establish a claim of wrongful confinement, the claimant must prove that "(1) the defendant intended to confine him, (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]). At issue in this motion is whether claimant's confinement was privileged.

Defendant's actions in commencing and conducting inmate disciplinary hearings are "quasi-judicial in nature for which the State has absolute immunity" (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214 [1988]). Notwithstanding a subsequent reversal of the underlying disciplinary findings, the defendant retains its immunity so long as the disciplinary proceedings were conducted in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) (Id. at 220-221; Lee v State of New York, 124 AD2d 305 [3d Dept 1986]).

In the prison context, when DOCCS' employees act under the authority of and in compliance with governing statutes and regulations, their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the defendant has absolute immunity (Artega v State of New York, supra at 214). However, even when a prison official violates the governing statutes and regulations during a prison disciplinary hearing, such a violation will only form the basis of a wrongful confinement claim where the violation implicates due process safeguards (Id. at 215; Miller v State of New York, 156 AD3d 1067 [3d Dept 2017]). Here, claimant does not allege a violation of any governing DOCCS statute or regulation relating to the prison disciplinary process. Thus, the wrongful confinement cause of action must be dismissed as the claim fails to allege facts showing that the confinement resulting from the Superintendent's disciplinary hearing was not "otherwise privileged" (Walker v State of New York, UID No. 2020-041-028 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., Sept 3, 2020]).

Rather than alleging a violation of a regulation relating directly to the disciplinary process, claimant alleges that he sustained injuries and damages as the result of errors by the officer conducting the test. DOCCS' regulation 7 NYCRR 1020.4 governs urinalysis drug testing of inmates. Claimant has failed to allege that any regulation governing drug testing was violated. Moreover, had claimant alleged the violation of a particular drug testing directive, such directives "do not relate to the due process concerns of the hearing and do not serve as a basis for the wrongful confinement cause of action" (Miller v State of New York, 156 AD3d 1067, 1068 [3d Dept 2017]; Haddock v State of New York, UID No. 2018-054-015 [Ct Cl, Rivera, J., March 27, 2018]). Thus, a wrongful confinement cause of action may not be based on an alleged violation of a drug testing regulation as such a violation does not constitute a due process violation (Ramirez v State of New York, 175 AD3d 1635[3d Dept 2019], lv denied 35 NY3d 902 [2020]; Moreland v State of New York, UID No. UID 2020-038-538 [Ct Cl, DeBow, June 25, 2020], Francischelli v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-544 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., July 10, 2020]; Martinez v State of New York, UID No. 2020-015-037 [Ct Cl, Collins, J., Apr. 22, 2020]). As the claim fails to allege that any due process safeguards were violated, it fails to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement and this cause of action must be dismissed.

Negligence

At paragraphs 2 and 3 of the claim, claimant alleges that his injuries and damages were sustained as the result of errors by the DOCCS officer conducting the urinalysis test. As previously noted, however, claimant does not allege that any of DOCCS' drug testing regulations were violated. Moreover, claimant is relegated to his intentional tort remedy of wrongful confinement and the negligence claim which is based on the same facts must be dismissed as a negligence claim may not supplant traditional tort remedies (Nazario v State of New York, 75 AD3d 715 [3d Dept 2010], lv denied 15 NY3d 712 [2010]; Simon v State of New York, 12 AD3d 171 [1st Dept 2004]; Francischelli v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-544 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., July 10, 2020]).

As claimant has failed to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement or for negligence, defendant's motion no. M-95632 is granted and claim no. 134284 is dismissed.

November 16, 2020

Buffalo, New York

J. DAVID SAMPSON

Judge of the Court of Claims

The following were read and considered by the Court:

1. Notice of motion and affirmation of Assistant Attorney General Wendy E. Morcio dated June 30, 2020, with annexed Exhibits A-B;