New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

Watts v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-018-301, Claim No. 108335, Motion Nos. M-67783, CM-67943


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 of the State of New York
By: PATRICIA M. BORDONARO, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 23, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant brings a motion for an order dismissing defendant's defense pursuant to

3211(b). Defendant has brought a cross-motion to dismiss the claim.

The Court will address defendant's cross-motion first, because the resolution of this motion will dictate whether a determination of claimant's motion is necessary. Defendant argues that the actions about which claimant takes issue in his claim, do not subject the State to liability, because discretionary acts of the State are protected by governmental immunity. Defendant argues that the underlying basis for claimant's claim challenges the hearing examiner's reliance upon a urinalysis test result to support a finding that claimant had used a controlled substance, despite the fact that there was no proper chain of custody for the urine specimen claimant provided. What the hearing examiner relied upon to reach her guilty finding, according to defendant, cannot be the basis for a cause of action against the State, because the hearing is a quasi-judicial proceeding which blankets the actions of the Department of Correctional Services personnel with absolute immunity in accordance with Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212; and therefore, the claim fails to state a cause of action for which relief can be granted.

Claimant filed a claim with the Clerk of this Court on September 29, 2003. In that claim, claimant complains about two separate incidents of wrongdoing. First, claimant alleges a violation of his rights under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, CPLR 4503, and 9 NYCRR § 7031.2 (b) and (c), for defendant's conduct in monitoring claimant's telephone conversation with his attorney from the public defender's office on April 18, 2003. He seeks only punitive damages for these alleged violations. Secondly, claimant takes exception to the State's use of the information obtained during that telephone call to direct claimant to give a urine sample for a urinalysis test on April 21, 2003. He complains that his due process rights were violated when the results from that sample, which did not have a complete chain of custody, were used to find claimant guilty of the charges and impose a punishment. Claimant seeks damages for his wrongful confinement, and the privileges he lost, specifically the loss of his placement in a cooking program (the "Food Service Quickchill Program"), his employment as a barber, and his lack of telephone privileges, which prevented him from speaking with his sister before her death. Claimant did appeal the findings from the disciplinary hearing, which were ultimately reversed and his record expunged. He was released from the SHU after 39 days.

In deciding this motion, the Court has accepted the factual allegations claimant asserts as true, and accorded claimant the benefit of every favorable inference (Rochdale Village Inc. v Zimmerman, 2 AD3d 827). Despite this favorable inference, claimant cannot succeed upon any reasonable view of the facts asserted.

Claimant's claim, based upon a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights, as a result of defendant monitoring his telephone conversation with his attorney, must be dismissed. This Court does not have jurisdiction over federal constitutional tort claims (see, Zagarella v State of New York, 149 AD2d 503; Ferrick v State of New York, 198 AD2d 822). Moreover, the Sixth Amendment sets forth the accused's rights "[i]n all criminal prosecutions." A disciplinary proceeding within the correctional facility is not a criminal prosecution. Even aside from the foregoing, the State's actions in monitoring claimant's telephone calls are authorized by regulation, and claimant had no reasonable expectation of privacy or attorney-client privilege, pursuant to CPLR 4503, in that notice is provided to all inmates that all telephone conversations are subject to electronic monitoring (Claim, Exhibit A, 8/5/03 Superintendent's response to Claimant's grievance and 9/17/03 Central Office Review Committee response; 7 NYCRR

§ 723.3; Doe v Poe, 244 AD2d 450, affd 92 NY2d 864). The section of the New York State Code of Rules and Regulations claimant cites as being violated (9 NYCRR § 7031.2) entitled "Access to legal counsel" applies to a local correctional facility, which means any county penitentiary, county jail, city jail, court detentional pen, hospital prison ward, or town, village or county lockup (9 NYCRR § 7000.1[1]). Cape Vincent is a State Correctional Facility. At State correctional facilities, all telephone calls are subject to being monitored (7 NYCRR § 723.3). Finally, punitive damages cannot be assessed against the State (see, Sharapata v Town of Islip, 56 NY2d 332, 338-339; Harvey v State of New York, 281 AD2d 846, 848-849).

Claimant's assertion that he is entitled to damages as a result of the hearing examiner relying on evidence at the disciplinary hearing, which did not have a proper chain of custody, does not set forth a cognizable cause of action before this Court. There is no allegation that the correctional services personnel, who served the misbehavior report and conducted the hearing, acted outside their authority or failed to comply with the procedures set forth in the New York State Code of Rules and Regulations (7 NYCRR § 251-3.1 - § 254.9). Claimant's complaint is that the hearing officer based her findings upon evidence which was not reliable, because there was no proper chain of custody. However, this goes to the heart of the immunity described in Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212. It is exactly this type of discretionary determination made by correctional services personnel that is cloaked in immunity; what the hearing examiner relied upon in reaching her determination, that claimant had violated the rule as charged in the misbehavior report, is not subject to review by this Court, nor can it form the basis for a claim against the State. As the Court of Appeals stated in Arteaga, "the actions of Correction Department employees in preparing and filing misbehavior reports, confining inmates, and making dispositions following Superintendent's hearings entail discretionary decisions in furtherance of general policies and purposes where the exercise of reasoned judgment can produce different acceptable results...[the] actions of correction employees, in circumstances such as those here, are quasi-judicial in nature and deserving of absolute immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 219). Claimant's recourse was to appeal the hearing examiner's determination, which he did, resulting in a reversal and expungement of his record.

Based upon the foregoing, claimant has failed to set forth a claim for which relief may be granted in this Court. Defendant's cross-motion is GRANTED and the claim is DISMISSED. Claimant's motion is DENIED as moot.

April 23, 2004
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court has considered the following documents in deciding this motion:

Notice of Motion......................................................................................1

Affidavit of Lester Watts, in support........................................................2

Notice of Cross-Motion............................................................................3

Affirmation of Patricia M. Bordonaro......................................................4

Memorandum of Law by Patricia M. Bordonaro......................................5

Letter dated January 27, 2004 from Lester Watts.....................................6