New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WALLACE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-001-030, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-61368


Synopsis


Claimant's motion for permission to file a late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) is granted.

Case Information

UID:
2000-001-030
Claimant(s):
SHAHEEN WALLACE
Claimant short name:
WALLACE
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
None
Motion number(s):
M-61368
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Susan Phillips Read
Claimant's attorney:
Shaheen Wallace, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney GeneralBy: Michele M. Walls, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 27, 2000
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The following papers were read and considered on claimant's motion for permission to file a late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6): Notice of Motion, dated March 4 and filed March 10, 2000; Affidavit of Shaheen Wallace, pro se claimant, sworn to March 4 and filed March 10, 2000, with annexed Proposed Claim; and Affidavit in Opposition of Michele M. Walls, Esq., AAG, sworn to April 10 and filed April 12, 2000, with annexed Exhibit A.

Claimant Shaheen Wallace ("claimant") seeks the Court's permission to file a late claim against defendant State of New York ("defendant" or "the State") pursuant to section 10 (6) of the Court of Claims Act. His proposed claim (annexed to Affidavit of Shaheen Wallace, pro se claimant, sworn to March 4 and filed March 10, 2000 ["Wallace Aff."]) alleges that on March 14, 1999, while incarcerated at Greene Correctional Facility, he was accused of various rule violations and confined to the facility's Special Housing Unit. On March 19, 1999, he was moved to the Punitive Segregation Unit of Coxsackie Correctional Facility, from which he was not released until May 5, 1999, some forty-five days later. During this time, claimant alleges, he never received a disciplinary hearing. This motion was brought ten months after the asserted cause of action arose, and a like action against a citizen would not be barred by any applicable statute of limitations (CPLR 214 [tort] and/or CPLR 215 [intentional tort]).

In determining a motion for permission to file a late claim, the Court must consider, among other relevant factors, the six factors set forth in subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act: 1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; 2) whether the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; 3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; 4) whether the claim appears to be meritorious; 5) whether the failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State; and 6) whether the claimant has another available remedy. The Court in the exercise of its discretion balances these factors, and the presence or absence of any one factor is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement Sys. Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement Sys., 55 NY2d 979).

Claimant states that he failed to initiate timely action because he is a layman, had no access to professional legal counsel and had only limited access to a law library. The filing requirements of this court are not so burdensome that a layperson cannot prepare adequate pleadings, and it is well-established that ignorance of the law, including ignorance of applicable time limits, is not an acceptable excuse for delay (see, e.g., Matter of Galvin v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1185, appeal denied 79 NY2d 753; Erca v State of New York, 51 AD2d 611, affd 42 NY2d 854). In addition, neither the fact of incarceration nor the normal conditions of incarceration justify failure to comply with the time requirements of the Court of Claims Act (Bommarito v State of New York, 35 AD2d 458; Plate v State of New York , 92 Misc 2d 1033, 1037-1038). This factor, therefore, weighs against claimant's motion.

The State inevitably had notice of the essential facts constituting this claim, assuming they occurred, because it is the State's responsibility to comply with the rules and regulations of the Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") and to carry out its role in initiating and adjudicating prison disciplinary proceedings (see,
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212).
Part of this responsibility is to assure that inmates receive a disciplinary hearing within seven days after they are confined pending such a hearing; specifically, 7 NYCRR § 251-5.1 (a) provides as follows:
Where an inmate is confined pending a disciplinary hearing or superintendent's hearing, the hearing must be commenced as soon as is reasonably practicable following the inmate's initial confinement pending said disciplinary hearing or superintendent's hearing, but, in no event may it be commenced beyond seven days of said confinement without authorization of the commissioner or his designee.
Because the State did or should have had notice if this regulation had been complied with, its opportunity to conduct a full and thorough investigation has not been hampered by the passage of time and defendant has not been prejudiced. These three factors weigh in favor of claimant's motion.

Defendant suggests that claimant had another remedy available to him because he could have instituted a grievance protesting the alleged violation. There is no information in the current submissions to determine whether he filed such a grievance, but even if he did not avail himself of that remedy, an institutional grievance would apparently not get for him the relief that he seeks here: monetary compensation for any time that he was unlawfully confined.

With respect to the underlying merit of a proposed claim, a claimant need only establish that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). On the other hand, for the Court to permit a defective claim to be filed, even if the other factors in Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) supported the granting of claimant's motion, would be meaningless and futile and could be considered an abuse of discretion (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254; Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729).

The proposed claim is not on its face patently frivolous or meritless. As noted above, DOCS' own regulations require that when an inmate has been confined after issuance of a disciplinary report, a hearing must commence within seven days. Claimant alleges, with factual detail to support the claim, that he was confined for a period of forty-five days without receiving a hearing.

In response, defendant has submitted a copy of claimant's Chronological History Display (Affidavit in Opposition of Michele M. Walls, Esq., AAG, sworn to April 10 and filed April 12, 2000, Exhibit A), which, according to counsel, shows that claimant was housed in Coxsackie Correctional Facility's Special Housing Unit for, at the most, part of the day on March 19, 1999. While the entries for March 19 list, first, a Special Housing Unit cell assignment and, after that, a Receiving Unit cell assignment, the Court cannot accept defendant's argument about what the information on this computer print-out means or whether it is complete without testimony from someone with personal knowledge of how this form is compiled and what the various entries indicate.[1] Thus, this factor weighs in favor of granting the requested relief.

Taking into account the six statutorily prescribed factors, the Court finds them to weigh in favor of granting claimant's motion for permission to file a late claim. Claimant is therefore directed to file and serve a claim identical to the proposed claim submitted in support of this motion, and to do so in conformity with the requirements of Court of Claims Act §§ 10 and 11 within sixty (60) days after this order is filed.

June 27, 2000
Albany, New York

HON. SUSAN PHILLIPS READ
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
Defendant presumably easily could have produced documentation that would conclusively refute claimant's allegations, if it exists. The March 14, 1999 misbehavior reports are annexed to the claim and it would seem to be a simple matter for defendant to identify and produce the record of the disciplinary hearings held in connection with these charges. No such documentation has been provided, however.