New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BROWN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-015-510, Claim No. 106746


Synopsis


Absolute immunity applied to the institution of disciplinary proceedings even when such charges are later reversed and expunged from inmate's records. Claim seeking damages for lost pay and 15 days confinement dismissed after trial.

Case Information

UID:
2005-015-510
Claimant(s):
JAMES BROWN
Claimant short name:
BROWN
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
106746
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
James Brown, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Stephen Maher, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 10, 2005
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant commenced this action seeking $2,400.00 in damages based upon his loss of pay, privileges and 15 days confinement in keeplock pursuant to a misbehavior report issued for claimant's refusal to obey a direct order (106.10). Claimant alleged that although he was found guilty of the charge at his Tier II hearing, that determination was reversed on administrative appeal (
see defendant's Exhibit A, Section B) by the Deputy Superintendent of Programs David Carpenter. The reversal indicated that claimant's record was expunged and all privileges were restored.
A trial was held on November 9, 2004 at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Great Meadow). Claimant testified at trial that he went to sick call at Great Meadow on July 9, 2002 complaining of chest and back pain and was given a slip for 5 days complete bed rest by the facility's physician's assistant. He alleged that the next day he showed the slip to a correction officer who, despite the slip, told claimant he had to go to work in the mess hall. When claimant refused to go to work the CO telephoned the Commissary Supervisor (Breault) who wrote up the misbehavior report based upon claimant's refusal to report for work. Claimant testified that he was kept in keeplock status for 15 days suffering a loss of income, phone and package privileges. He further testified that the events related above occurred on July 10, 2002, the day after he received the medical slip authorizing bed rest.

On cross-examination claimant testified that the physician's assistant gave him only one copy of the bed-rest slip which he retained after showing to the block officer. He otherwise largely repeated his testimony on direct examination. Claimant asserted that he spent the entire 15 days in keeplock and that he seeks compensation for both his confinement and the pain and suffering he endured.

The defendant offered certified records of the facility (Exhibit A) which were received in evidence. The Exhibit and its various parts were identified by Sergeant T.L. Vedder, a block relief sergeant at Great Meadow. Claimant did not object to its receipt.

Sergeant Vedder explained Great Meadow's sick-slip procedure stating that an inmate is provided with at least two copies of a sick slip, one to be given to the block officer and one to be retained by the inmate. With reference to Exhibit A the sergeant testified that claimant was given a sick slip on July 9, 2002 but was not issued a misbehavior report until July 12, 2002, three days later. He identified Exhibit F as a photocopy of a page from the keeplock logbook demonstrating claimant was placed on keeplock status on July 12 and released on July 28. That exhibit was received without objection. The witness's cross-examination was unremarkable.

The defendant's second and final witness was Correction Officer D. Crossman who alleged that in July 2002 he was assigned to Company 7, E Block at Great Meadow. He alleged that he neither recognized nor recalled the claimant. He explained the procedure to be followed by an inmate who receives a sick slip for bed rest stating that a correction officer who is informed by an inmate that he received a slip for bed rest would attempt to obtain a copy of the slip rather than accepting the inmate's word on the matter.

On cross-examination C.O. Crossman denied that claimant showed him the July 9, 2002 sick- call slip. He further denied any recollection of a grievance filed against him by the claimant prior to July 2002 and denied facilitating the issuance of the July 12, 2002 misbehavior report in retaliation for the grievance.

The Court reserved decision at the conclusion of the trial.

"Insofar as they relate to inmate discipline, the actions of correctional facility employees are quasi-judicial in nature and, unless the employees exceeded the scope of their authority or violated applicable rules and regulations, the State has absolute immunity for those actions (
see Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214, 218-220)" (Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841). "The fact that charges are ultimately dismissed does not give rise to a cognizable cause of action when there is no evidence defendant acted inconsistently with its own rules and regulations" (Smith v State of New York, Ct Cl., February 14, 2002 [Claim No. 101961, UID # 2002-030-007] Scuccimarra, J., unreported)[1]. At trial claimant offered no proof showing any rule or regulation was violated either in the issuance of the misbehavior report or in the conduct of the disciplinary hearing. Nor is claimant's allegation of improper motive by the correction officer who reported claimant's misbehavior to the commissary supervisor a sufficient basis upon which to predicate liability against the defendant (see Varela v State of New York, supra). It is well settled that "absolute immunity protects quasi-judicial decisions even when tainted by improper motives or malice" (Tarter v State of New York, 68 NY2d 511, 518).
Claimant's placement in keeplock status as a result of the disciplinary proceeding constituted action within the formidable task of maintaining order and security within a correctional facility (see Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765) and was therefore a proper exercise of discretionary authority for which the defendant has absolute immunity (Id. at 766).
The instant claim is dismissed. The Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment in accordance with this decision.


February 10, 2005
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]Unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the internet at