New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SIMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-019-019, Claim No. 101974


At trial, claimant failed to establish superintendent improperly refused stay of penalty pending appeal of disciplinary action and, in any event, claimant failed to establish any actual damages resulting from restricted diet; claim dismissed.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
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Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

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Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Geoffrey B. Rossi, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 7, 2005

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Robert Sims, an inmate appearing pro se, alleges that prison officials improperly refused to stay the imposition of a penalty (e.g. a 14-day restricted diet) during his appeal of an adverse Tier III disposition. A trial was held in this matter on August 30, 2005 at the Elmira Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Elmira").

The underlying facts in this case were essentially undisputed at trial. Claimant's testimony was focused primarily upon the fact that his Tier III disposition was reversed and expunged in an article 78 proceeding. (Cl's Ex 1). By way of background, claimant testified that on January 7, 2000 while he was incarcerated at Elmira he received an inmate misbehavior report for an incident the details of which are not pertinent here. A Tier III hearing was conducted on January 18, 2000 during which claimant was denied the right to call witnesses. The hearing officer found claimant guilty at the conclusion of the hearing and imposed a penalty of a 14-day restricted diet, with a two-day break after seven days.

Claimant filed an administrative appeal of his hearing disposition on January 24, 2000 and on that same date made a written request to the superintendent to stay the imposition of his penalty pending said appeal. The superintendent denied claimant's request for a stay pending appeal on that same day. On January 26, 2000, claimant began serving his fourteen-day restricted diet penalty and served the same to completion. Claimant testified that as a result of the restricted diet he suffered from constipation, cramps, milk allergy, loss of sleep, bone pain, and headaches.

Claimant filed this claim on February 17, 2000 and the State filed a verified answer on March 27, 2000.

Claimant also filed a special proceeding pursuant to Article 78 in Supreme Court challenging the underlying disciplinary action. On August 23, 2000, the Hon. Samuel J. Castellino issued a Decision and Judgment granting the petition and finding that the January 18, 2000 Tier III hearing disposition should be annulled and further directing "[t]he expunge all references to the Tier III proceeding from the petitioner's departmental and institutional files and to restore any good behavior allowance lost." (Cl's Ex 1, p 4). More specifically, Judge Castellino determined that the hearing officer violated petitioner's right to call witnesses under 7 NYCRR 254.5 (a) and (c). (Cl's Ex 1, p 2).

On its case, the State did not refute the underlying sequence of events, but rather offered the testimony of ChengYin, M.D. the clinical physician at Elmira. Dr. Yin testified that this inmate was reviewed by the medical staff prior to the imposition of the restricted diet and received medical clearance. Additionally, the witness testified that claimant was visited by a nurse every day while he was on the restricted diet and made no complaints. Finally, although Dr. Yin testified that this restricted diet should not be used for more than a month, there are no adverse medical consequences associated with its consumption for only fourteen days.

Regarding claimant's theory of liability the court notes in the first instance that this claim was filed almost six months before Judge Castellino's Decision and Judgment and, arguably, this claim could not have been filed based upon the outcome of claimant's Article 78 proceeding. Rather, claimant's arguments appear to be based on his contention that the superintendent improperly rejected his request for a stay of the penalty imposed pending appeal. The State admitted as part of discovery that the superintendent may reduce a penalty but declined to do so in this case pursuant to 7 NYCRR 254.9. (State's Response to Claimant's First Request for Admissions, ¶ 2). The court finds that claimant offered no proof at trial demonstrating that the superintendent improperly exercised his discretion in denying claimant's request for a stay of his penalty pending appeal.

The fact that claimant's disciplinary hearing was later reversed some six months later is a separate issue. To the extent that this claim may be construed as seeking damages for pain and suffering resulting from the imposition of the penalty (e.g. the restricted diet) when the underlying disciplinary hearing was ultimately reversed it must be denied as well. It is well-settled that the State is entitled to absolute immunity from claims for monetary damages relating to disciplinary hearings when the rules and regulations that govern such hearings are followed. (
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). Moreover, even if the underlying disciplinary charges are later reversed administratively or via a successful proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78, as here, absolute immunity is not lost as long as the disciplinary proceedings were conducted consistent with the procedures provided in the relevant rules of the Department of Correctional Services. (Arteaga, 72 NY2d 212; Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887, lv denied 93 NY2d 819). That having been said, however, if the State did violate its own rules and regulations in conducting the hearing, or otherwise acted outside the sphere of privileged actions, immunity is lost with the exception of certain situations not relevant here. (Arteaga, 72 NY2d 212). Additionally, in certain circumstances, reversal of the disciplinary determination and expungement of all references to the matter from an inmate's record are a sufficient remedy. (Edmonson v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 452, 456).

Here, claimant alleges that he was improperly denied the right to call witnesses and to be present at his disciplinary hearing pursuant to 7 NYCRR 254.5. Clearly, the violation of said regulation is a proper basis for a valid claim against the State. (
Craft v State of New York, Ct Cl, October 31, 2001, Mignano, J., Claim No. 102949 [UID No. 2001-029-113]).[1] Further, in view of Judge Castellino's Decision and Judgment there can be no genuine dispute but that the State violated its own rules and regulations in conducting this hearing by failing to allow claimant an opportunity to call witnesses and to be present during the hearing.

That having been said, claimant failed to sufficiently establish from competent medical evidence that the ailments from which he suffered were caused by this restricted diet. Quite simply, the court did not find claimant's testimony credible. The State offered the testimony of the facility physician who sufficiently refuted the allegation that claimant's ailments, if any, were caused by said dietary restrictions. Consequently, the court finds that claimant failed to establish that he suffered any actual damage from the restricted diet.

Consequently, based upon the foregoing, Claim No. 101974 is DISMISSED.

Any and all motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


September 7, 2005
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Selected unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the Internet at