New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MALIK v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-013-023, Claim No. 101978, Motion Nos. M-61477, CM-61732


Inmate claim seeking damages for alleged errors made by a hearing officer during a Tier III misbehavior hearing is dismissed. State is immune from liability.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: JAMES E. SHOEMAKER, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 1, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


On June 21, 2000, the following papers were read on Claimant's motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment:

Notice of Motion; Affirmation in Support; Memorandum of Law; Notice of Cross-Motion; Affirmation in Support and Annexed Exhibits; Claimant's Response to Cross-Motion; Claim; Answer

On January 4, 2000, while Claimant was confined to a special housing unit (SHU) at the Southport Correctional Facility (Southport), he received a misbehavior report for spitting in the face of two correction officers and upon the food that the officers were in the process of serving to Claimant and the other inmates. Claimant decided to plead guilty to the charges but asked for a hearing and for an employee assistant, he says, to interview certain correction officers and inmates. It was Claimant's plan to use the testimony or statements of these witnesses in mitigation of the charges pending against him. Specifically, Claimant wanted to show that his misbehavior had been provoked by earlier mistreatment he had received at the hands of the correction officers, in hopes that the hearing officer who was presiding over his disciplinary proceeding would take those circumstances into account in imposing a penalty.

The hearing began on January 7, 2000. At that time, Claimant complained that the employee assistant had not conducted the interviews he requested. The hearing officer adjourned the hearing until January 18th to allow Claimant time to compose the questions he wanted to submit to his witnesses. When the hearing resumed, the hearing officer took the testimony of an inmate witness Claimant had requested. He also questioned, at Claimant's request, a mental health professional who had begun treating Claimant after the incident. The following day, he questioned a second inmate Claimant had requested. The inmate witnesses corroborated Claimant's description of certain mistreatment he had received at the hands of correction officers before the spitting incident. The mental health professional confirmed that Claimant had sought treatment.

The Hearing Officer was not able to locate a third inmate Claimant had requested. He denied Claimant's request for testimony from two other inmates, two correction officers and two sergeants on the grounds that the testimony was redundant or irrelevant.

When the hearing concluded, the Hearing Officer imposed a sentence of nine months' SHU confinement, 14 days restricted diet and six months loss of good time.

Claimant alleges that the Hearing Officer denied him of his due process rights by (a) failing to take the testimony of an inmate who would have corroborated that he had asked the employee assistant to interview certain witnesses; (b) failing to take the testimony of employee witnesses who would have corroborated the incidents that allegedly triggered the spitting behavior; (c) waiting until the 13th or 14th day to start his disciplinary hearing; and (d) failing to advise him that if he left the hearing, he would not be permitted to return. He contends that this conduct violated his rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Defendant, in its cross-motion, asserts that the claim fails to state a cognizable cause of action and asks that I grant summary judgment dismissing the claim as a matter of law.

The actions of Department of Correctional Services employees in preparing and filing misbehavior reports, conducting Superintendent's hearings and making dispositions following such hearings entail discretionary decisions where the exercise of reasoned judgment can produce different acceptable results (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 219). As such, they are quasi-judicial in nature, which means that the employees who carry out these functions and the State that they serve are absolutely immune from liability for the performance of those duties -- as long as they are not acting beyond their authority or in violation of the governing rules and regulations (id. at 219-220).

In this case, I conclude as a matter of law that Defendant is absolutely immune for all of the Hearing Officer's actions. Defendant's regulations expressly authorize each of the measures that Claimant complains about here.

Hearing officers are permitted to limit the witnesses that an inmate may call, if the Hearing Officer (a) finds that the witness's testimony is immaterial or redundant and (b) gives the inmate a written statement explaining the reasons for the denial (7 NYCRR 254.5[a]). The record reveals that the Hearing Officer made the requisite findings for each witness he declined to let Claimant call and provided Claimant with a written explanation for each such denial. Claimant's remedy, if he disagreed with the Hearing Officer's decisions, was to appeal the Hearing Officer's determination (see, 7 NYCRR 254.8).[1] The fact that Claimant was unsuccessful in his appeal does not give him the right to pursue a claim for damages against Defendant.

Claimant is correct that there are time limitations placed upon the conduct of superintendent's hearings. They must be commenced within seven days of any pre-hearing confinement and concluded within 14 days following the writing of the misbehavior report "unless otherwise authorized by the commissioner" (7 NYCRR 251-5.1). The transcript and misbehavior report in this case reveals that the Tier III hearing began on January 7, 2000, within three days after the incident and the writing of the misbehavior report (see, 7 NYCRR 251-5.1[a]). Although Claimant alleges that the hearing began after that time, he has not submitted evidence in admissible form which would substantiate his allegations and create a triable issue of fact (see, CPLR 3212; Edelstein & Co. v Ambassador Ins. Co., 86 AD2d 83). It is true, as Claimant asserts, that the hearing did not conclude until January 20, 2000, some 16 days following the writing of the misbehavior report. However, it is uncontroverted that the Hearing Officer received the appropriate permission to extend the hearing beyond 14 days and that Claimant was made aware of the reasons for the delay (see, 7 NYCRR 251-5.1[b]).

Finally, Claimant has not provided any support for his assertion that he was wrongfully deprived of the right to be present at his misbehavior hearing. A review of the transcript reveals that Claimant was present for all of the proceedings, except when the Hearing Officer questioned two inmate witnesses offered by Claimant. Defendant's rules and regulations give the Hearing Officer broad discretion to take the testimony of witnesses outside the inmate's presence (see, 7 NYCRR 253.5[b]).

Because Defendant is immune from liability for the conduct challenged by Claimant, the cross-motion for summary judgment is granted and Claim No. 101978 is dismissed. Claimant's motion is denied as moot.

August 1, 2000
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

It should be noted parenthetically that the Hearing Officer's decision not to call these witnesses did not appear to affect the outcome of the proceeding. Claimant and his two inmate witnesses painted a vivid portrait of the provocation that triggered Claimant's behavior. It is evident from the Hearing Officer's decision that he credited their account of what had transpired before the incident. He determined, however, that Claimant's misbehavior was not excused by the alleged provocation.