New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-001-514, Claim No. 100879


The Court grants the State's motion, , which was first made at the close of claimant's proof and on which decision was reserved, and dismisses the claim for failure to establish a prima facie case of false arrest/false imprisonment

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:
Crupain & GreenfieldBy: Jon L. Norinsberg, Esq., Of Counsel
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney GeneralBy: Janet L. Polstein, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 10, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Based on the testimony given and the documents accepted into evidence, the Court finds the following facts which are, in any event, generally undisputed:

(1) Claimant Jomo Williams a/k/a Kasheem Spencer ("claimant") was convicted in New York State Supreme Court, Rockland County, of grand larceny in the fourth degree and was sentenced on February 21, 1995 to an indeterminate prison sentence of one and one-half to three years. He was also convicted in New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and bail jumping in the second degree, and was sentenced on March 16, 1995 to serve two indeterminate prison sentences of one and one-half to three years, which were to run consecutively and concurrently with the prior Rockland County sentence. Accordingly, claimant was sentenced to serve an aggregate term of imprisonment from three to six years (Penal Law § 70.30) (T 148-150).[1]

(2) When claimant was received at the Orleans Correctional Facility ("Orleans") to begin serving his sentence, his parole eligibility date (the date when the minimum period or minimum aggregate period is satisfied) was computed as October 10, 1997; his maximum expiration date (the date when the maximum period or maximum aggregate period is satisfied) was computed as October 10, 2000; and his conditional release date (Correction Law § 803) was computed as October 10, 1998 (T 153-157). Subsequent to claimant's commitment to the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), however, an amended jail time certificate was received for him, which increased the credit for the time that he had served in county jail from 173 to 190 days (T 151-153), and so his parole eligibility date became September 23, 1997, his maximum expiration date became September 23, 2000 and his conditional release date became September 23, 1998. Inmates are provided at reception with these three tentative release dates (T 153).

(3) Prior to his conviction and sentencing in New York, claimant had failed to appear for sentencing on charges to which he had pleaded guilty in the State of New Jersey (T 71; defendant's exh. C). His family lived in New Jersey and so, shortly after arriving at Orleans, claimant "set the ball rolling" for his extradition from New York to New Jersey (T 71;
see also, T 72).
(4) Under cover of a letter dated November 16, 1995, the Governor's extradition secretary provided to the Undersheriff of Orleans County the warrants and authorizations required to carry out claimant's extradition to New Jersey for sentencing, as well as an original and a copy of an Executive Agreement executed by the Governors of New York and New Jersey, providing that New York agreed to claimant's extradition upon "the express condition that [claimant] be taken from and returned to the State of
New York at the expense of the State of New Jersey, as soon as sentencing in the State of New Jersey has been effected" (defendant's exh. G, "Agreement between the Governor of the State of New Jersey-and-the Governor of the State of New York").
(5) On April 3, 1996, claimant executed a waiver of extradition proceedings (defendant's exh. G;
see also, T 74-76); he was extradited to New Jersey where he was subsequently sentenced, but the sentence was suspended (T 76-79). Claimant was released from incarceration in New Jersey in January 1997 and placed on probation; i.e., he was not returned by New Jersey to New York to serve the remainder of his aggregate term of imprisonment in New York, as was required by the Agreement between the Governors of New York and New Jersey (T 76-79).
(6) In mid-January 1998, Investigator Purdue ("Purdue"), who worked in the Escape and Absconding Unit of DOCS's Inspector General's Office and was assigned claimant's case (T 115-118), received what he referred to as a warrant detainer (defendant's exh. J), claimant's commitment papers, his photograph and other documents relevant to Purdue's investigation of claimant's mistaken release (T 120-122).

(7) On February 10, 1998, Purdue and other law enforcement officers took claimant into custody at his mother's apartment in New York City, where he had been living with his wife and children (T 26, 123-124). He was transported to the Escape and Absconding Unit's base in Long Island City, and subsequently he was transported to and housed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and at Auburn Correctional Facility for short periods of time before being returned to Orleans (T 31-32, 124-126).

(8) Claimant subsequently filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking immediate release from incarceration in New York based on his erroneous release from the New Jersey correctional system. The Honorable James P. Punch granted the writ and ordered claimant's release by a decision and order dated August 26, 1998, holding that DOCS's failure to take claimant back into custody until 13 months after his erroneous release was "grossly negligent" (
People ex rel. Spencer v Goord, 179 Misc 2d 85, 88).
(9) When Judge Punch's decision was received at Orleans on August 26, 1998, claimant was in court in New York City pursuant to a superior court order (claimant's exh. 11; defendant's exh. L; T 167-170). He was returned to Orleans from New York City on the evening of Friday, September 4, 1998, and was released to parole supervision on Tuesday, September 8, 1998, the next business day after the intervening Labor Day holiday weekend (claimant's exh. 13; T 170-173).

(10) By order to show cause, claimant subsequently sought release from parole supervision and sanctions against the Commissioner of DOCS and the Superintendent of Orleans. By decision and order dated January 25, 1999, Judge Punch noted that he had granted the writ because the Commissioner and Superintendent had known of claimant's erroneous release but had not acted on that information for 13 months; and observed that the placement of claimant on parole supervision did not appear to be an attempt to circumvent his order, which, although it did not address parole, ordered claimant's immediate release (defendant's exh. M). Judge Punch therefore decided that sanctions were not appropriate and ordered claimant's release from parole supervision (
(11) By decision and order filed on July 21, 1999, the Honorable Francis T. Collins granted claimant permission to serve and file a late claim setting forth a false imprisonment cause of action against defendant State of New York ("defendant" or "the State") (
Williams v State of New York, Motion No. M-59156, [Collins, J.], July 21, 1999).
Discussion and Conclusion
In order to recover damages for false arrest/false imprisonment, claimant must show that (1) defendant intended to confine him; (2) he was conscious of the confinement; (3) he did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged (
Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, cert. denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929). Only the existence of privilege is disputed here.
Claimant argues principally that his confinement was not privileged because Judge Punch decided that the 13-month delay in executing his sentence constituted a waiver of jurisdiction over him under an otherwise valid criminal sentence; and that the "Authorization for Detention and Return of Temporarily Released Inmate to a Correctional Facility or Other Correctional Institution" (defendant's Exh. J) is not a valid arrest warrant. The State counters that Judge Punch's decision in the habeas corpus proceeding involved issues different from and not relevant to this action for damages for false arrest/false imprisonment, and that an arrest warrant is not required to retake a properly sentenced prisoner who has been erroneously released. Specifically,
the Authorization [defendant's exh. J] was sufficient and . . . no warrant was necessary to retake claimant into State custody as he was not being charged with any new crime or even being rearrested. At the time that [claimant] was retaken into custody, he still owed time on his New York sentence. There was no new case pending against [claimant] at that time, rather, he was a sentenced prisoner who rightfully belonged to the New York State Department of Corrections. In retaking [claimant] into State custody, Investigator Purdue was merely insuring that [claimant] finished out the sentence that he received prior to his extradition to New Jersey.
(Defendant's Post-Trial Memorandum, received November 19, 2002, at p 14).
The Court agrees with the State. Claimant was erroneously released by New Jersey in January 1997: at that time, his earliest possible release date from the New York correctional system--his parole eligibility date--was still nine months away, or September 23, 1997.[2]
His conditional release date was September 23, 1998; and his maximum expiration date was September 23, 2000. As a general rule, "a certificate of conviction showing the sentence pronounced by the court . . . constitutes the authority for execution of the sentence and serves as the order of commitment, and no other warrant, order of commitment or authority is necessary to justify or to require execution of the sentence" (CPL 380.60; see generally, Holmberg v County of Albany, 291 AD2d 610, 612, lv denied 98 NY2d 604 ["Generally, where a facially valid order issued by a court with proper jurisdiction directs confinement, that confinement is privileged (citation omitted) and everyone connected with the matter is protected from liability for false imprisonment"]).
Upon his sentencing, claimant was committed to DOCS's custody, where he was to remain until the sentence was satisfied. That sentence had not been satisfied when claimant was released by New Jersey officials in 1997 or returned to DOCS's actual custody on February 10, 1998. Judge Punch's decisions and orders did not invalidate claimant's certificate of conviction or order of commitment or vacate or set aside his sentence. Even if they had done so, claimant's commitment papers were facially (and otherwise) valid when Purdue and the other law enforcement officers returned claimant to DOCS's actual custody on February 10, 1998. Accordingly, claimant's confinement by DOCS on February 10, 1998 and thereafter until his subsequent release from incarceration and from parole supervision was privileged.

Based on the foregoing, the Court now grants the State's motion to dismiss the claim for failure to establish a prima facie case of false arrest/false imprisonment, which was first made at the close of claimant's proof and on which decision was reserved. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly. Any other motions on which the Court previously reserved judgment or which were not previously decided are now denied.

December 10, 2002
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Numbers preceded by the letter "T" refer to the corresponding page(s) in the transcript of the liability trial.

[2]There is absolutely no doubt in the Court's mind that when claimant was released by New Jersey rather than returned to New York, he knew full well that he was the beneficiary of a mistake. Although claimant's testimony on the point was evasive, he was both notified and exhibited knowledge in the summer of 1995 that his parole eligibility date was September 23, 1997 (defendant's exhs. C and D; T 69). The question of whether claimant knew that his release was erroneous is not relevant to any issue in this case. In the habeas corpus proceeding, Judge Punch found that claimant did not know that he had been mistakenly released notwithstanding, among other things, his testimony that he was confused about his conditional release date but believed that it was September 1997; i.e., nine months after his release from the New Jersey correctional system. (As noted earlier, claimant's parole eligibility date was September 23, 1997 and his conditional release date was, in fact, a year later.)