New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
PEARSON v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-058-038, Claim No. 133621, Motion No. M-94986, Cross-Motion No. CM-95333

Synopsis

Defendant's cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim granted; Court lacks jurisdiction over claim challenging Claimant's placement in the Step Down Program at Mid-State Correctional Facility; Claimant's motion for summary judgment denied.

Case information

UID: 2020-058-038
Claimant(s): KAYSON PEARSON
Claimant short name: PEARSON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 133621
Motion number(s): M-94986
Cross-motion number(s): CM-95333
Judge: CATHERINE E. LEAHY-SCOTT
Claimant's attorney: Kayson Pearson, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Letitia James, New York State Attorney General
By: Albert D. DiGiacomo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: September 17, 2020
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Pro se Claimant Kayson Pearson filed this Claim on September 11, 2019 alleging that he was wrongfully confined in the Step-Down Program at Mid-State Correctional Facility. In particular, Claimant alleges that, on April 17, 2018, he was transferred from Wende Correctional Facility's Special Housing Unit (SHU) to Mid-State Correctional Facility's SHU where he was placed in the Step-Down Program. Claimant remained in the Step-Down Program until July 22, 2019, when he was released to the general population.

Although Claimant avers that his placement in the Step-Down Program by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) was improper because such program is "limited to 'inmates who have at least a minimum of 9 months of SHU confinement[,] including sanctions that total 9 months'" (Claimant's Aff in Supp of Mot for Summary Judgment, Ex 1 [Claim] 8, quoting Settlement Agreement in Peoples v Fischer, No. 11-cv-2694 [SAS] [SD NY] at 4 [reproduced in part in Claimant's Aff in Supp of Mot for Summary Judgment, Ex 5]; see Claimant's Aff in Supp of Mot for Summary Judgment, Ex 6 [Step-Down to General Population Program Policy and Procedure 2017] at 1). Claimant reasons that he was wrongfully placed in the Step-Down Program because he was not serving a SHU confinement from the time he was placed in the program to the time he was released from the program to general population. Defendant answered the Claim on October 18, 2019, asserting various affirmative defenses.

Claimant now moves for summary judgment on his Claim (M-94986).(1) Defendant opposes Claimant's motion and cross-moves for summary judgment dismissing the Claim (CM-95333). Defendant argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the Claim because Claimant "is essentially seeking judicial review of DOCCS' determination to place him in a Step-Down Program" (Affirmation of Albert D. DiGiacomo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General 25). Because Defendant's motion implicates this Court's jurisdiction, it will be addressed first.

It is well settled that "the proponent of a summary judgment motion must make 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" (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 [1986]). Once the proponent of a motion for summary judgment has established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, "the burden shifts to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment to produce evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action" (id.; see Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 [1980]). In determining a motion for summary judgment, the Court must examine the proof in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, which, on Defendant's motion, is Claimant (see Robinson v Strong Mem. Hosp., 98 AD2d 976, 976 [4th Dept 1983]).

The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction and does not possess the jurisdiction to grant strictly equitable relief (see Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d 759, 760 [3d Dept 2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 704 [2005]). The threshold issue in determining whether the Court of Claims has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim is "'[w]hether the essential nature of the claim is to recover money, or whether the monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim'" (id., quoting Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988], rearg denied 72 NY2d 1042 [1988]). "The second inquiry, regardless of how a claimant categorizes a claim, is whether the claim would require review of an administrative agency's determination--which the Court of Claims has no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain" (Buonanotte v New York State Off. of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Servs., 60 AD3d 1142, 1143-1144 [3d Dept 2009], lv denied 12 NY3d 712 [2009]; Feur v State of New York, 101 AD3d 1550, 1551 [3d Dept 2012]). Indeed, "an administrative agency's determination may be reviewed only in the context of a CPLR article 78 proceeding commenced in Supreme Court, and not in an action brought in the Court of Claims" (Buonanotte, 60 AD3d at 1144; see Matter of Scherbyn v Wayne-Finger Lakes Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 77 NY2d 753, 757 [1991]; Matter of Gross, 72 NY2d at 236). "If the award of a money judgment must be preceded by overturning and annulling a determination of an administrative agency then the primary relief sought is not money damages" (Ouziel v State of New York, 174 Misc 2d 900, 905 [Ct Cl 1997]).

Although Claimant characterizes the Claim as one seeking money damages, it is clear that resolution of this matter will require review of the propriety of DOCCS' determination to place Claimant in the Step-Down Program, over which this Court lacks jurisdiction (see Green v State of New York, 90 AD3d 1577, 1578-1579 [4th Dept 2011] [holding Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claim seeking money damages for "various improprieties imposed upon (the claimant) via disciplinary actions" because "adjudication of (the) claim requires review of the underlying administrative determination, over which the Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction"], lv denied in part & dismissed in part 18 NY3d 901 [2012]; Johns v State of New York, UID No. 2017-040-083 [Ct Cl, McCarthy, J., July 7, 2017] [dismissing claim seeking money damages stemming from the claimant's placement into Fishkill Correctional Facility's Residential Treatment Facility (Fishkill's RTF) on the ground that "the Court would have to review and overturn or annul DOCCS' determination to place (the) Claimant in Fishkill's RTF," which must be pursued in Supreme Court]). Notably, DOCCS previously denied Claimant's grievance challenging his placement in the Step-Down Program (see Claimant's Aff in Supp of Mot for Summary Judgment, Ex 8). This Claim effectively seeks to review this determination, which must be challenged in Supreme Court through a CPLR article 78 proceeding. In short, Claimant fails to raise a triable issue of fact regarding this Court's lack of jurisdiction over this matter.

In sum, the Court concludes that there is no issues of material fact and Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the Claim. In light of the foregoing, Claimant's motion for summary judgment is denied.

Accordingly, it is hereby:

ORDERED that Defendant's Cross Motion CM-95333 is granted and Claim No. 133621 is dismissed in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Claimant's Motion M-94986 is denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

September 17, 2020

Albany, New York

CATHERINE E. LEAHY-SCOTT

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court has considered the following in deciding this motion:

(1) Claimant's Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, filed December 3, 2019.

(2) Claimant's Affidavit in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, sworn to on November 26, 2019, with exhibits.

(3) Notice of Cross Motion for Summary Judgment, dated February 26, 2020.

(4) Affirmation of Albert D. DiGiacomo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General in Support of Cross Motion for Summary Judgement, dated February 26, 2020, with exhibits.

(5) Claimant's Affidavit in Support of Response to Defendant's Motion, filed August 4, 2020.


1. By Executive Order 202 et seq., Governor Andrew M. Cuomo extended the tolling of "any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding, as prescribed by the procedural laws of the state" until October 4, 2020. By letter dated June 12, 2020,

this Court requested the parties' consent to a new return date of August 5, 2020. Assistant Attorney General Albert D. DiGiacomo consented to the August 5, 2020 return date. On August 4, 2020, Claimant submitted an affidavit in opposition to Defendant's cross motion for summary judgment. By letter dated August 7, 2020, the Court sent an additional letter to the parties requesting their consent to a return date of September 16, 2020. Assistant Attorney General Albert D. DiGiacomo consented to the September 16, 2020 return date. The Court has not received any further submissions from the parties following the August 7, 2020 letter. Given that both the motion and cross motion are fully submitted, the Court deems Claimant's August 4, 2020 affidavit as consent to the new return date.