New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LEBRON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-009-25, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-66168


Claimant's application to serve and file a late claim was denied based upon his failure to assert a meritorious claim.

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
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 30, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant has brought this motion seeking permission to serve and file a late claim.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with this motion:
Notice of Motion, Affidavit in Support, Proposed "Constitutional Tort Claim" 1,2,3

Affirmation in Opposition, with Attachments 4

Reply, Affidavit in Support of Reply, with Exhibits 5,6

In order to determine an application for permission to serve and file a late claim, the Court must consider, among other relevant factors, the six factors set forth in § 10(6) of the Court of Claims Act. The factors set forth therein are: (1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; (2) whether the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; (3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; (4) whether the claim appears meritorious; (5) whether substantial prejudice resulted from the failure to timely file and the failure to serve upon the Attorney General a timely claim or notice of intention to file a claim; and (6) whether any other remedy is available. The Court is afforded considerable discretion in determining whether to permit the late filing of a claim (see, Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117).

With regard to excuse, claimant, proceeding pro se, asserts that he was not aware of the time requirements governing the service of a claim as contained in the Court of Claims Act. Claimant further asserts that since he was incarcerated in the State prison system, he was restricted in his access to legal reference materials. However, ignorance of the law does not provide an acceptable excuse for delay (Matter of E.K. v State of New York, 235 AD2d 540). Furthermore, incarceration in and of itself, is not an acceptable excuse (Plate v State of New York, 92 Misc 2d 1033), without an affirmative showing that the circumstances of such incarceration prevented the claimant from taking effective steps to perfect his claim (Bommarito v State of New York, 35 AD2d 458). Limited access to legal references, however, does not excuse one from the requirement to timely serve and file a claim (Sandlin v State of New York, 294 AD2d 723).

The Court, therefore, finds that claimant has not provided an acceptable excuse for his failure to timely serve and file his claim.

The next factor, often deemed the most critical, is whether the proposed claim has the appearance of merit. If claimant cannot establish a meritorious claim, it would be an exercise in futility to grant a late claim application (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254; Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729). In order to establish a meritorious cause of action, claimant has the burden to show that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective, and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Authority, 92 Misc 2d 1).

The proposed claim contains allegations of negligence, false imprisonment, wrongful confinement, and violations of the constitutional protections of free speech, due process, equal protection, and cruel and unusual punishment, all arising from certain disciplinary hearings conducted at various correctional facilities, and the penalties imposed against claimant at the conclusion of these hearings.

The specific hearings challenged by claimant in this claim are as follows:
Mohawk Correctional Facility Tier II January 14, 2000

Mohawk Correctional Facility Tier II January 18, 2000

Mohawk Correctional Facility Tier III February 28, 2000

Collins Correctional Facility Tier III April 12, 2000

Attica Correctional Facility Tier II August 3, 2000

Adirondack Correctional Facility Tier III January 23, 2002

Five Points Correctional Facility Tier III July 11, 2002

Cayuga Correctional Facility Tier III August 10, 2002

In addition to the allegations common to each of these hearings, claimant has also alleged a cause of action in assault and battery stemming from the August 3, 2000 hearing at Attica Correctional Facility.

As noted by defendant's attorney in his answering affirmation (see Item 4), and as confirmed by the computer generated listing of claimant's "Inmate Disciplinary History", the determinations made at the disciplinary hearings conducted at Mohawk Correctional Facility, Five Points Correctional Facility, and Cayuga Correctional Facility were all affirmed and/or modified following claimant's administrative appeal of such dispositions. As there are no listings of the disciplinary hearings conducted at Collins Correctional Facility, Attica Correctional Facility, and Adirondack Correctional Facility, defendant acknowledges that those determinations were reversed following claimant's administrative appeal and subsequently expunged from his disciplinary record.

As stated above, in the proposed claim claimant challenges determinations made, and the penalties assessed, at these administrative proceedings. The law is well settled, however, that the actions of Department of Correctional Services officials in the conduct of disciplinary hearings are considered quasi-judicial in nature, and that the decisions made therein are entitled to immunity, as long as such employees are acting "under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations" (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214).

Defendant contends that any confinement of claimant made pursuant to the administrative hearings was therefore privileged (see, Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929), and therefore claimant has not established a prima facie claim for wrongful confinement.

Based on the privilege set forth in Arteaga, and as defined in Broughton, claimant may not recover damages based upon allegations of wrongful confinement for penalties and sanctions imposed in a disciplinary proceeding (see, Melette v State of New York, 163 AD2d 703). Similarly, confinement of a claimant prior to the administrative hearing is not considered excessive or wrongful, as long as such confinement was imposed in compliance with State regulations (see, 7 NYCRR § 251-1.6; Modeste v State of New York, Ct Cl, Claim No. 93290, Patti, J.). Furthermore, an inmate may not recover damages for wrongful confinement imposed in the context of a disciplinary proceeding, even when such decision is ultimately overturned on administrative appeal (Melette v State of New York, supra).

The Court therefore finds that the allegations made by claimant in the proposed claim, since they pertain to administrative hearings which have been found to be quasi-judicial in nature, are subject to the absolute immunity provided by Arteaga, and that the penalties and sanctions imposed pursuant to said hearings, made in compliance with governing regulations (see, 7 NYCRR §§ 250-254) are immune from judicial review.

Claimant, however, seeks to avoid the absolute immunity provided by Arteaga by couching his claim as a "constitutional tort claim", relying upon the Court of Appeals decision in Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, in which a civil damage remedy was recognized for the violation of a State constitutional provision. Mere allegations of a State constitutional violation, however, in and of themselves, are insufficient to create a cause of action when the very actions complained of fall squarely within the scope of immunity provided by Arteaga. Claimant's reliance on Brown, therefore, is misplaced.

With regard to any intentional torts alleged by claimant, and with specific reference to the assault and battery claim alleged as part of the hearing which took place at Attica Correctional Facility on or about August 3, 2000, it is clear that such allegation is barred by the statute of limitations (see, CPLR § 215). Pursuant to Court of Claims Act, § 10(6), since this late claim application was not commenced prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for intentional torts, this Court does not have the authority to entertain such application.

Based on the foregoing, therefore, the Court must find that claimant has not asserted a meritorious claim.

Even though claimant has not established a meritorious cause of action, the Court will still review the factors of notice, opportunity to investigate, and substantial prejudice, which will be considered together. Claimant maintains that the State had appropriate notice of the facts alleged in his proposed claim, since all aspects of his claim pertain to the various administrative proceedings commenced against him. The State, however, in the administration of its correctional facilities, must of necessity conduct a vast number of administrative proceedings involving inmates, in which penalties and sanctions may be imposed when an inmate is found guilty. Even though the State maintains records of such proceedings, the State cannot be expected to presume that each and every decision may be eventually challenged in a separate civil action against it. Without any notice that an action may be commenced, there can certainly be no opportunity for the State to investigate a potential claim arising from these disciplinary hearings. Nevertheless, based upon the fact that the State does maintain records of the various administrative proceedings, and presumably would have records of the proceedings which are the subjects of the proposed claim, the Court does not find that the State would be substantially prejudiced should it have to defend such a claim.

The Court also finds that claimant does not have any other apparent available remedy.

The Court may in its discretion place as much or as little weight on any of the six factors to be considered pursuant to the statute. Under the current law "[n]othing in the statute makes the presence or absence of any one factor determinative" (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's & Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979, 981) and none of the factors can require denial as a matter of law.

Accordingly, after a review of the papers submitted herein, including claimant's proposed claim, and after weighing and considering all of the factors set forth under Court of Claims Act, Section 10(6), it is the opinion of this Court that claimant has not asserted a meritorious claim and that he should not be allowed to serve and file his proposed claim.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-66168 is hereby DENIED.

June 30, 2003
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims