New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CUEVAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-029-026, Claim No. 95347


Synopsis


Prisoner - wrongful confinement. Claimant failed to establish violation of 7 NYCRR 254.5, however, claimant did establish that he was held in SHU for an additional 33 days after the hearing officer's determination was administratively reversed. Claimant awarded $10.00 per day for 33 days.

Case Information

UID:
2000-029-026
Claimant(s):
ELVIS CUEVAS
Claimant short name:
CUEVAS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
95347
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant's attorney:
Elvis Cuevas, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: Elyse Angelico, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 19, 2000
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

This claim, by a
pro se prisoner, seeks recovery for damages allegedly sustained for wrongfully confining claimant to his cell on keeplock status. The trial of this matter was held on September 21, 2000 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereinafter Sing Sing).
At trial, the parties stipulated that (1) claimant was issued a misbehavior report on March 7, 1995 at Sing Sing charging him with assaulting a fellow inmate (see Exh. 1); (2) at a disciplinary hearing held on March 13, 1995, claimant was found guilty of the charges; (3) at some point after the hearing, the determination of the hearing officer was overturned.

Claimant testified that (1) when he received the misbehavior report on March 7, 1995, he was immediately placed in the Special Housing Unit (hereinafter SHU); (2) the hearing officer at the disciplinary hearing found him guilty of the assault and imposed a sentence of three (3) years in SHU, as well as loss of privileges and good time. Claimant asserts that he should not have been found guilty based upon the evidence, or lack thereof, presented at the disciplinary hearing. Claimant submitted an administrative appeal of the hearing officer's determination and on May 23, 1995, the determination was affirmed by Donald Selsky, Director of Special Housing

(Exh. 3).
Claimant testified that he then commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding by Order to Show Cause on June 16, 1995 and on January 30, 1996, the Supreme Court transferred the matter to the Appellate Division, Second Department. On June 17, 1996, claimant wrote a letter to Mr. Selsky, requesting he reconsider his administrative appeal. While the Article 78 proceeding was still pending in the Appellate Division, Mr. Selsky issued an administrative reversal of the hearing officer's determination on July 12, 1996 and ordered claimant be released from SHU (see Exh. 5). Claimant further testified that he was not released from SHU until August 14, 1996.

Claimant seeks damages for the entire period - March 7, 1995 to August 14, 1996 - he asserts he was wrongfully confined in SHU. Claimant asserts that the correction officer who wrote the misbehavior report charging him with assault did not witness the alleged assault and thus the misbehavior report was not issued in accordance with 7 NYCRR § 251-3.1. Upon review of § 251-3.1 (b), the Court notes that the regulation states that "the misbehavior report shall be made by the employee who has observed the incident or who has ascertained the facts of the incident." In the misbehavior report, the officer wrote that he observed only claimant and one other inmate in the area of the incident just prior to seeing the victim (see Exh. 1). The State is immunized from liability for any confinement that results from disciplinary proceedings that are conducted in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations (
Arteaga v State, 72 NY2d 212). Since the pre-hearing confinement was plainly authorized by defendant's regulations, that confinement cannot be considered excessive or wrongful (7 NYCRR 251-1.6, 251-5.1 [a]). The fact that claimant was ultimately successful in having the charges against him overturned did not render his pre-hearing confinement improper (see, Modeste v State of New York, Claim No. 93290, filed 11/17/99, Patti, J.; Brown v State of New York, Claim No. 94876, filed 10/27/98, Bell, J).
Claimant also asserts that the defendant's regulations were violated because he requested that an inmate be brought to the hearing as a witness and that his request was denied. An inmate's due process right to call other inmate witnesses in his favor is governed by 7 NYCRR Part 254.5.

Part 254.5 (a) provides that an inmate may call witnesses provided their testimony is material, non-redundant and doing so does not jeopardize institutional safety or correctional goals. The same regulation requires that if permission to call a witness is denied, the hearing officer shall give the inmate a written statement giving the reasons for the denial.

Claimant did not establish, or even assert, any violation of Part 254.5. In such circumstances, correction personnel are entitled to absolute immunity for those "discretionary decisions in furtherance of general policies and purposes where the exercise of reasoned judgment can produce different acceptable results (
Arteaga v State of New York, supra at 219). The hearing officer's refusal to allow claimant to call a witness was a discretionary decision made while acting in a quasi-judicial role and is afforded absolute immunity (see, Arteaga v State of New York, supra; Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982).
The record also establishes that the commissioner's office (by its designee, Mr. Selsky) ultimately reversed the hearing officer's determination on the basis of "insufficient evidence" (see Court Exh. 1). There is no indication that the evidence supporting the affirmance in the first appeal was any more "sufficient" than in the second and this eventual result should have been reached months before.

Despite the Court's misgivings, we are constrained to follow the policy set forth in
Arteaga, supra, which holds the State's immunities in these matters to be absolute. As a result, defendant's conduct is beyond the reach of the motivational or reasonableness analyses which are implicated where the immunity in question is merely "qualified". Thus, this Court finds that claimant is not entitled to compensation for the period preceding the ultimate reversal of his disciplinary determination.
Arteaga, however, does not apply to the time period claimant continued to be confined in SHU after Mr. Selsky reversed the hearing officer's determination. No discretion or independent judgment of a quasi-judicial nature is involved in releasing an inmate from SHU when the superintendent's hearing determination of guilty is reversed. The inmate is to be released from SHU immediately and the failure to release claimant immediately is a wrongful act that is wholly ministerial (see, Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982; see also, Gayle v State of New York, 135 Misc 2d 570; Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399).
Accordingly, we find the State liable. However, we limit claimant's damages to the 33 day period from July 12, 1996, the date of the administrative reversal, to August 14, 1996, the date claimant testified that he was released from SHU.

Claimant is awarded the sum of $10.00 per day for 33 days of excessive wrongful post-reversal confinement for a total of $330.00. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.


October 19, 2000
White Plains, New York

HON. STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims