New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JENNINGS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-016-032, Claim No. 99977, Motion No. M-63978


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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Robert J. Cava, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Alan B. Berkowitz, Esq., AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 26, 2002
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


In her underlying claim, Valerie Jennings asserts that she was wrongfully incarcerated at the Willard Drug Treatment Campus from July 22, 1997 through October 7, 1997. This is defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing Ms. Jennings' claim on the grounds that it is barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. At a parole hearing on April 22, 1997, claimant pleaded guilty to violating certain conditions of her parole. At the conclusion of the hearing, the following exchange occurred:
ALJ TAPPER [the administrative law judge]: What is the Division recommending?

MR. HOOLAN [parole revocation specialist]: Ordinarily, your Honor, Miss Jennings would be a mandatory Willard. However, there are pending misdemeanors. So, that puts her into category three of time served plus three months.

MR. DOWDEN [Ms. Jennings' counsel]: I would concur with that too, judge and join in the recommendation.

ALJ TAPPER : No violence?

MR. HOOLAN: No, your Honor. There are no violent felonies in the background.

ALJ TAPPER: Okay. Which means you will be ready for a release on the parole warrant on the 2nd of July of 1997.[1] Good luck. That's it.

Thereafter, Judge Tapper prepared a written decision entitled "Parole Revocation Decision Notice." This indicates, in the "No Board Action Required" section that Ms. Jennings was exempt from "mandatory Willard." However, in the final section, entitled "Analysis and Decision," Judge Tapper checked off the box entitled "REVOKE AND RESTORE - MANDATORY WILLARD DTC PROGRAM."

Accordingly, on July 22, 1997, claimant was not released, but rather was sent to the Willard drug treatment program. Through her attorney, she demanded her release. In a "Parole Revocation Decision Notice Addendum" dated October 2, 1997, prepared by a Joseph Niola for Judge Tapper, it is stated that in Judge Tapper's "decision of 4-22-97, [she] erroneously imposed a time assessment of ‘Revoke and Restore - Mandatory Willard DTC Program." Claimant was thereafter released on October 7, 1997. In this lawsuit, she seeks damages for the July 22-October 7, 1997 period of time she was at Willard.
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In Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 216, 532 NYS2d 57, 58-59 (1988) (citations omitted), the Court of Appeals noted that:
With the enactment of the Court of Claims Act §8, the State waived that immunity which it had enjoyed solely by reason of its sovereign character . . . While assuming liability under the rules applicable to corporations and individuals for the actions of its officers and employees in the everyday operations of government . . . the State retained its immunity for those governmental actions requiring expert judgment or the exercise of discretion . . . This immunity, we have held, is absolute when the action involves the conscious exercise of discretion of a judicial or quasi-judicial nature . . .

Claimant argues that Judge Tapper's act should not be considered "judicial or quasi-judicial" because it was "purely a technical error." But she has cited no authority for the proposition that making an error of this sort would remove the cloak of immunity from the judge's acts.[2]

In Tarter v State of New York, 68 NY2d 511, 518, 510 NYS2d 530 (1986), it was stated that :
. . . the "‘erroneous manner in which [the court's] jurisdiction was exercised, however it may have affected the validity of the act, did not make the act any less a judicial act'". . . A Judge is not protected from a civil suit by an unsuccessful litigant merely where the Judge's decisions are letter-perfect.

(citing, inter alia, Stump v Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359).

In Stump, the United States Supreme Court held that "[a] judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the ‘clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" 435 U.S. at 356-57 (citation omitted).

Accordingly, absolute judicial immunity obtains in this case. Having reviewed the parties' submissions[3], IT IS ORDERED that motion no. M-63978 be granted and claim no. 99977 be dismissed.

March 26, 2002
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]The parties agree that the correct date was July 22, 1997, not July 2.
  2. [2]Whether judicial immunity in any way differs for an administrative law judge than for a judge appointed pursuant to Article VI of the State Constitution or Article III of the U.S. Constitution was not raised by the parties.
  3. [3]The following were reviewed: defendant's Notice of Motion with Stipulation as to Facts, exhibits A and B, and defendant's Memorandum of law; and Claimant's Affirmation in Opposition