New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GRAHAM v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-015-132, Claim No. 102124, Motion No. M-62876


Synopsis


Claim seeking to recover for alleged unlawful confinement resulting from time allowance committee decision to withhold 8 months accumulated good time dismissed on grounds that such decision was exercise of discretion of judicial or quasi-judicial nature for which the State enjoys absolute immunity.

Case Information

UID:
2001-015-132
Claimant(s):
DERRICK GRAHAM
Claimant short name:
GRAHAM
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
102124
Motion number(s):
M-62876
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Newman, O'Malley & Epstein, P.C.By: Nicholas J. Sciarrino, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: G. Lawrence Dillon, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 29, 2001
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim as barred by the doctrine of absolute immunity is granted. The claim seeks to recover money damages for unlawful confinement stemming from the defendant's failure to release claimant from custody on a conditional release date on the basis of claimant's inability to complete a Mandatory Sex Offender Program (MSOP) due to circumstances not of his own making. Claimant was convicted of rape and sodomy on June 26, 1996. That conviction, however, was reversed on appeal on June 8, 1998. In March of 1999 claimant pled guilty to a reduced charge of sexual abuse in the first degree and was re-sentenced to a term of 1 1/3 to 4 years. At claimant's May 17, 1999 re-sentencing the presiding justice (Honorable Joseph Silverman, J.S.C.), having been alerted that claimant might potentially be ineligible to participate in MSOP due to the amount of jail time remaining to be served prior to the claimant's scheduled conditional release date, recommended on the record that claimant's anticipated conditional release not be precluded because of his inability to participate in the MSOP. On June 14, 1999 claimant was advised by S. Carter of the Oneida Correctional Facility Guidance Unit that he was not eligible to participate in MSOP due to the close proximity of his earliest release date (see Exhibits B and C attached to claim). Despite the administrative determination of claimant's ineligibility to participate in the MSOP, claimant was served with a formal notice to appear before the facility's time allowance committee (TAC) on June 17, 1999 regarding the possible forfeiture of accumulated good time allowance due to his failure to complete the Mandatory Sex Offender Program. No other reason for the possible loss of good time was specified in the formal notice. Following the hearing, the time allowance committee recommended that claimant be denied 8 months of a total of 16 months accumulated good time. The committee's report, which was confirmed by the facility's superintendent, (see Exhibit D attached to the claim) stated that claimant was being denied 8 months of good time credit "[d]ue to his poor disciplinary record (aggressive and violent behavior) Mr. Graham needs successful completion of ART (Aggression Replacement Training) and MSOP (Mandatory Sex Offender Program)." Thereafter, claimant commenced an article 78 proceeding in Oneida County Supreme Court. By decision dated March 10, 2000 the Honorable John G. Ringrose determined that the decision of the respondents named in that proceeding to withhold eight months good behavior allowance was improper and, accordingly, annulled the respondent's decision on the authority of Beardon v Georgia, 461 US 660. Claimant was subsequently released from custody on March 17, 2000.[1]

On March 14, 2000, a few days prior to his release from custody, claimant filed a claim on a pro se basis. The Attorney General filed an answer on April 20, 2000 which, inter alia, asserted various affirmative defenses including lack of jurisdiction based upon untimely service of the claim and/or the notice of intention to file a claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §§ 10 and 11; failure to state a cause of action; failure to state a date of accrual as required by section 11 of the Court of Claims Act; that defendant's actions were quasi-judicial or discretionary determinations subject to absolute immunity and a number of other defenses which are not relevant to the issue raised on the motion now before the Court.

At the time of the filing of the claim claimant moved for poor person relief pursuant to CPLR § 1101. That application was addressed in an order of Presiding Judge Susan Phillips Read dated April 5, 2000 which directed that claimant pay a reduced fee in a single payment within 120 days of the date of the order. That period expired on August 3, 2000. In the interim the defendant moved for an order dismissing the claim on the ground that the Court lacked jurisdiction because the claim was untimely. That motion (M-61771) was denied as moot by decision and order of this Court dated September 11, 2000, after the Court learned that claimant had not paid the reduced filing fee within the time allotted in Judge Read's order and the claim file had been closed due to non-payment.

Claimant, through his attorney who appeared in this action by notice of appearance dated June 7, 2000, moved to restore the claim alleging that claimant had not paid the reduced filing fee because he never received a copy of Judge Read's order. That motion (M-62458) was granted by decision and order of Judge Read dated November 22, 2000.

Although initially cast as a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7), defendant's attorney's affirmation in support of the motion requested that this post-answer motion be treated as one seeking summary judgment dismissing the claim on the ground that there are no questions of fact requiring a trial and that the State is absolutely immune from liability under the Court of Appeals' holding in Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212. The affirmation of claimant's attorney submitted in opposition to the motion is supported solely by a copy of a formal notice of hearing before the time allowance committee (Exhibit A) and a copy of the decision of Acting Supreme Court Justice John G. Ringrose dated March 10, 2000. While the opposing affirmation does not address the motion's procedural context, it does oppose dismissal of the claim on the grounds of absolute immunity. In his affirmation, claimant's counsel addressed the legal issue of whether the doctrine of absolute immunity precludes liability and did not seek to raise any material issue of fact. Since the parties, in their own fashion, have addressed the issue of absolute immunity it is appropriate for the Court to treat the motion as one for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR Rule 3211 (c) (see, Costa v Finke, 162 AD2d 936; Bauch v Verrilli, 146 AD2d 835, 836).

Claimant in this action seeks to recover money damages for each day of alleged unlawful confinement attributable to the time allowance committee's decision to withhold eight months of accumulated good time credit. Such claims by inmates or former inmates must be considered in light of the Court of Appeals' seminal decision in Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212. Contrary to the position espoused by claimant's attorney on this motion, Arteaga (supra) does not confine itself to situations involving alleged illegal confinement resulting directly from disciplinary proceedings. The Court of Appeals fashioned a much broader doctrine of the sovereign's absolute immunity applying it to governmental action "when the action involves the conscious exercise of discretion of a judicial or quasi-judicial nature" (Arteaga, at 216, citing Tarter v State of New York, 68 NY2d 511; Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34). The Court went on to say that absolute immunity will attach to "decisions requiring the application of governing rules to particular facts, an 'exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results'" (Arteaga, at 216). The doctrine was applied to the function of the Board of Parole whose parole release decisions were found by the Court to be "classically judicial" in nature and deserving of full immunity (Arteaga, at 217, citing Tarter, supra at 518); and to "parole supervisors in establishing the level of restrictions on and the degree of supervision for a released inmate" (citing Eiseman v State of New York, 70 NY 175, 184).

In a recent decision, the Appellate Division, First Department held that a claim seeking money damages for "illegal incarceration" stemming from a revocation of claimant's parole was properly dismissed on the basis of the State's absolute immunity even where the Parole Board's decision was subsequently "determined to have been in error" (Semkus v State of New York, 272 AD2d 74). So too, in a case involving a decision to grant an inmate's furlough request the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Santangelo v State of New York, 101 AD2d 20, 21 stated "we hold that the actions of the Temporary Release Committee and the Superintendent were of a discretionary and quasi-judicial nature for which the State enjoys absolute immunity (see, Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34)." The Santangelo decision was cited with approval by the Court of Appeals in Arteaga, supra at 217.

In the instant case, despite Acting Justice Ringrose's determination that the time allowance committee's decision was erroneous, claimant may not recover money damages on this claim since the determination of the TAC, made in apparent conformity with the rules of the Department of Correctional Services and the TAC procedures published in 7 NYCRR 261.3 et seq, is a discretionary, quasi-judicial determination and, therefore, immune from liability.

Paragraph (b) of section 261.3 of such rules specifically states: "The committee shall consider the entire file of the inmate, and then shall decide upon a recommendation as to the amount of good behavior allowance to be granted, applying the principles set forth in sections 260.3 and 260.4." Moreover, the TAC's function is to make its own determination, not in accordance with any automatic rule but after appraising the entire institutional experience of the inmate (see, 7 NYCRR 261.3(c); Matter of Staples v Goord, 263 AD2d 943). The claimant does not argue that the TAC recommendation was ministerial and, in fact, the determination of a time allowance committee regarding the amount of good time to which a particular inmate may be entitled has been recognized by the Court of Appeals to be a discretionary act (Matter of Amato v Ward , 41 NY2d 469). Upon consideration of the functions and duties performed by the time allowance committee, the Court finds that a determination regarding the amount of good time allowance to be provided an inmate is one which inherently involves the exercise of discretion and judgment (see, Mon v City of New York, 78 NY2d 309). As the conduct complained of relates to the exercise of the committee's discretion, it is clear that the decision to withhold eight months of good time credit and the resulting additional confinement of the claimant are not actionable since the governmental action involved was cloaked in absolute immunity.

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is, therefore, granted.


March 29, 2001
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
1. Notice of motion dated May 23, 2000;
  1. Affirmation of G. Lawrence Dillon dated August 30, 2000;
  2. Affirmation in opposition of Nicholas J. Sciarrino dated December 29, 2000 with exhibits.

[1]Neither party has submitted a copy of Judge Ringrose's order directing claimant's release.