New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JOHNSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-031-520, Claim No. 104243


Although Defendant's actions relating to ministerial duties were not covered by absolute immunity, Claimant failed to show negligent handling of those duties. Claim dismissed

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:
New York State Attorney General
BY: TIMOTHY P. MULVEY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 8, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Odell Johnson ("Claimant") filed claim number 104243 on May 7, 2001, stating that Defendant unlawfully confined him in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") in Cayuga Correctional Facility ("Cayuga") for 13 days. I held a trial on this matter on September 20, 2004 at Auburn Correctional Facility ("Auburn").

There is no dispute that Claimant was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing at Greenhaven Correctional Facility ("Greenhaven") on January 11, 2000 and received a sentence of 180 days in SHU and loss of all privileges. Claimant was then placed in Cayuga's SHU ("SHU 200") to serve his sentence. Subsequently, on March 24, 2000, his disciplinary determination was reversed, at which point he became immediately eligible to lock in general population with all appropriate privileges. He was not released from SHU confinement until April 5, 2000, 13 days after the hearing was reversed.

There is no argument that, after his hearing, claimant should have been released from SHU in a timely manner. The question then is: was the 13-day delay reasonable?

The State called Cynthia Ervolina, the Inmate Records Coordinator ("IRC") at Cayuga. One of her duties is arranging the transfer of inmates in and/or out of the facility. She is also responsible for maintaining inmates' records, including transfer referrals and transfer orders. At the time of the actions complained of in this claim, she was employed at the IRC office at Auburn. The procedures and practices for transferring inmates out of SHU was the same at both Auburn and Cayuga.

At Cayuga, the SHU 200 facility is a maximum security facility totally distinct and separate from Cayuga ("Cayuga General"), which is a medium security facility. Generally, to transfer an inmate out of SHU 200, the facility Guidance Unit puts in a referral for a transfer three to four weeks before an inmate is released. The referral is sent to the Office of Classification and Movements ("OCM") for its review. The OCM is the office that is responsible for determining what facility is appropriate for the inmate. They consider an inmate's security level, mental health status, any enemy list and the prior disciplinary history in order to place an inmate in an appropriate facility. This office is the office that actually "cuts" the transfer order. The witness testified that she could not schedule the transfer until she received a transfer order from the OCM. Once she receives an order, she e-mails the Transportation Department in Albany to arrange for transportation to the facility identified by OCM.

When an inmate's hearing is reversed, the date that the inmate is to be released is immediate and the Guidance Unit puts in a referral for a transfer the next business day following notice of the reversal.[1]
Because the facility will not have the normal 3- to 4-week lead time, the IRC and the affected departments within the Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") can expedite the process somewhat by electronically sending information back and forth between the facility and Albany to get the transfer arranged. For instance, the Disciplinary Office in Albany sends a daily list to the facilities of inmates whose hearings have been reversed. An IRC is then able to see which of his or her keeplocked inmates will need to be transferred. Likewise OCM will know via e-mail which inmates must be moved quickly. Here, the reversal and notice occurred on March 24, 2000, a Friday. The next business day was Monday, March 27, 2000 and the day that a referral for a transfer order was requested by Cayuga's Guidance Unit (Exhibit B). The reason for Claimant's transfer was noted on Exhibit A, that is, that he was no longer appropriately housed in SHU 200 and that he came to SHU 200 from Greenhaven. Great Meadow Correctional Facility was the facility identified by OCM, but they did not immediately have a bed available until April 5, 2000. The witness opined that the 13-day wait for a transfer was reasonable given the situation.
Claimant did admit that he went to Level 3, the level with the most privileges available in SHU 200, once the facility was notified of the hearing reversal.

Once the disciplinary hearing was reversed, the State's confinement of Claimant was no longer protected by absolute immunity (
Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982). Additionally, the release of an inmate from disciplinary confinement is a ministerial duty, the negligent performance of which can result in the State being cast in damages (Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7). However, the fact that Claimant was not immediately released from SHU confinement does not necessarily mean that the State failed to adequately fulfill its ministerial responsibilities.
I find that the Defendant was reasonable in holding Claimant the additional 13 days, given the lack of an available bed in an appropriate facility, particularly given Claimant's maximum security classification, and the process and procedures for inmates' movement. It appears from the record before me that Defendant moved expeditiously to commence the transfer process and was not negligent in carrying out its ministerial duties.

Accordingly, Claimant's claim is dismissed.


November 8, 2004
Rochester, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Notice of a reversal most often comes in the form of an e-mail from DOCS in Albany with the paperwork to follow. This gives the facility as much notice as possible to begin the transfer process.