New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
WARREN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2021-041-043, Claim No. 135887, Motion No. M-96777

Synopsis

Inmate wrongful confinement claim is dismissed for failure to state a cause of action and based upon defendant's absolute immunity where claim fails to allege that defendant violated a disciplinary hearing rule or regulation in conducting disciplinary hearing which resulted in administratively reversed disciplinary determination.

Case information

UID: 2021-041-043
Claimant(s): ZONTAIL WARREN
Claimant short name: WARREN
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 135887
Motion number(s): M-96777
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant's attorney: NONE
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
New York State Attorney General
By: Charles Lim, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: July 29, 2021
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Defendant moves to dismiss the inmate/claimant's wrongful confinement claim for failure to state a cause of action because the claim fails to allege that defendant violated a disciplinary hearing rule or regulation in conducting the claimant's disciplinary hearing which resulted in an administratively reversed disciplinary determination.

Claimant has not appeared in opposition to defendant's motion.

The claim alleges that the claimant was found guilty, after his disciplinary hearing on February 28, 2019, of having tested positive for "dirty urine" after a "urinalysis test." Claimant was sentenced to a period of thirty (30) days in the Clinton Correctional Facility "Special Housing Unit."

The claim further shows that the disciplinary hearing determination of February 28, 2019 was administratively reversed by the Director, Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, on January 24, 2020 because "a cross reactivity issue may have existed regarding the Cannabinoid assay used in testing."

To state a cause of action for wrongful confinement, claimant must allege 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; Krzyzak v Schaefer, 52 AD3d 979 [3d Dept 2008]).

The element most often contested in a prison disciplinary wrongful confinement claim is whether claimant can allege and prove that the confinement was not "otherwise privileged."

In the context of confinement pursuant to a prison disciplinary proceeding, such confinement is "privileged to the extent that it was under color of law or regulation, specifically in accordance with [inmate misbehavior] regulations" (Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 402 [Ct Cl 1986]).

The claim fails to allege any particular rule or regulation violation allegedly committed by defendant in conducting the claimant's disciplinary hearing.

Consequently, the claim fails to allege facts showing that the confinement resulting from the inmate disciplinary proceeding was not "otherwise privileged."

The claim essentially alleges that the cause of claimant's confinement was defendant's operation of a urinalysis machine, which allegedly caused a false positive result for claimant's drug test, rather a failure by defendant to comply with rules and regulations intended to ensure that claimant be provided a procedurally fair hearing.

Claimant has shown nothing more than that defendant made an error in charging and confining claimant because claimant's confinement was not supported by substantial evidence. The defendant's error was administratively reversed when reviewed by the Facility's Director, Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program.

In affirming a Court of Claims dismissal of a similar wrongful confinement claim on the ground that defendant was entitled to absolute immunity for the actions of the correctional facility employees with respect to the disciplinary proceedings brought against claimant, the court in Loret v State of New York (106 AD3d 1159, 1159-60 [3d Dept 2013], lv denied 22 NY3d 852 [2013]), held as follows:

"[C]laimant has not articulated any facts to support his claim that the correctional facility employees responsible for his discipline acted in excess of their authority or in violation of any relevant rules or regulations. Indeed, this Court's annulment of the determination of claimant's guilt was based upon a finding that it was not supported by substantial evidence, not upon any finding that the correctional facility employees acted in excess of their authority or departed from any applicable statutory or regulatory direction."

Here, as in Loret, the reversal of claimant's guilty determination at the disciplinary hearing was based upon a lack of substantial evidence of claimant's guilt, not upon violation by defendant of any applicable rule or regulation.

The proposed claim fails to allege violation of a hearing rule or regulation and consequently fails to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement.

Dismissal of the claim is further compelled because defendant is entitled, under the facts alleged in the claim, to absolute immunity from liability for claimant's alleged wrongful confinement.

Where employees of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in commencing and conducting inmate disciplinary proceedings, "act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations . . . their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the State has absolute immunity" (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214 [1988]; Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 [3d Dept 2001]; Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887 [3d Dept 1999], lv denied 93 NY2d 819 [1999]). The defendant's quasi-judicial disciplinary hearing immunity attaches even if the determination is later reversed administratively or as the result of a successful CPLR Article 78 proceeding (see Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 215).

If, however, prison officials fail to comply with a rule or regulation governing such disciplinary hearings, absolute immunity may be lost and liability for money damages may be imposed if it is proven that the regulatory violation caused actual prejudice or injury to the inmate (see Davidson v State of New York, 66 AD3d 1089, 1089 [3d Dept 2009]; Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004]).

In considering a claim similar to the claim at issue, Ramirez v State of New York (175 AD3d 1635, 1637-38 [3d Dept 2019], lv denied 35 NY3d 902 [2020]), affirmed a Court of Claims dismissal of an inmate wrongful confinement claim based on mishandling of claimant's drug sample:

"[C]laimant argued that defendant is not entitled to absolute immunity because the correction officer violated drug testing directives. We find this argument unavailing. This Court has held that a wrongful confinement action cannot be based on the mishandling of a urine sample because the violation of drug testing directives does not constitute a due process violation (see Miller v. State of New York, 156 AD3d 1067 at 1068)."

The claim fails to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement and defendant is entitled to absolute immunity under the facts alleged in the claim.

The claim is, accordingly, dismissed.

July 29, 2021

Albany, New York

FRANK P. MILANO

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Notice of Motion to Dismiss, filed May 13, 2021;

2. Affirmation in Support of Motion to Dismiss of Charles Lim, dated May 12, 2021, and attached exhibits.