New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JONES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-019-040, Claim No. 101435


Synopsis


Claimant failed to establish wrongful confinement; claim dismissed.


Case Information

UID:
2005-019-040
Claimant(s):
GREGORY JONES
Claimant short name:
JONES
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
101435
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
GREGORY JONES, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 12, 2005
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, Gregory Jones, an inmate appearing pro se, alleges he was wrongfully confined in the special housing unit at Southport Correctional Facility for nearly five months from December 20, 1998 to May 10, 1999. The trial of this claim occurred on October 25, 2005 at Elmira Correctional Facility. The parties requested and were granted additional time to submit post-trial memoranda.


The facts of this claim are relatively straightforward and not in dispute. On December 27, 1998,[1]
claimant was placed in the special housing unit and charged with a violation of departmental rule 114.10 (smuggling) and 001.00 (Penal Law offense).

Thereafter, a disciplinary hearing and rehearing were held regarding these charges. The first hearing commenced on January 3, 1999 and concluded on January 5, 1999. Claimant requested various witnesses including inspector general investigator Loran. The hearing officer denied claimant's request for investigator Loran stating that calling him as a witness would jeopardize institutional safety. More specifically, the hearing officer's statement of denial indicated "I have a confidential tape with Investigator Loran on it and calling him to testify would jeopardize correctional goals and compromise his position in an ongoing investigation." (St's Ex E). Claimant was found guilty on both charges. Claimant was sentenced to 730 days in the special housing unit and loss of various privileges. Claimant filed an administrative appeal of said determination asserting the improper denial of a witness. On March 2, 1999, claimant's guilty finding was reversed and a rehearing was directed because he was denied the right to call Loran as his witness.


On March 11, 1999, the rehearing commenced and claimant requested three witnesses,

inspector general investigator Loran, claimant's wife Mary Brown Jones, and correction officer Warren. The hearing officer, William J. Hopkins, denied claimant's request for investigator Loran due to institutional safety concerns, but accepted Loran's testimony on a confidential tape not disclosed to claimant. (St's Ex C). Officer Hopkins denied claimant's request to call Mrs. Jones because of his inability to locate her. (St's Ex C). Officer Hopkins also denied claimant's request to call correction officer Warren stating that his testimony was not relevant to the case. (St's Ex D). On March 16, 1999, the rehearing concluded with claimant being found guilty on the smuggling charge, but not guilty on the Penal Law charge. Claimant was sentenced to three years in the special housing unit, as well as the loss of various privileges. Claimant filed an administrative appeal of said determination asserting the improper denial of witnesses. On May 10, 1999, claimant's guilty finding was reversed because "[t]he hearing officer inappropriately denied officer Warren as witness due to his being on vacation." (Claimant's post-trial submission, Exhibit L).

Disciplinary measures imposed consistent with the governing rules and regulations are covered by immunity, except in cases in which the State exceeded the scope of its authority or violated the governing rules and regulations. (
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). The fact that disciplinary charges are ultimately dismissed or reversed does not give rise to a cognizable cause of action where there is no evidence defendant acted inconsistently with its own rules and regulations. (Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399; Arteaga, 72 NY2d 212). An inmate's due process right to call witnesses in his favor at disciplinary hearings is governed by 7 NYCRR Part 254.5. 7 NYCRR Part 254.5 (a) establishes certain legitimate grounds for the denial of witness requests such as institutional safety concerns or that the proposed testimony is not material to the matter being heard.

With respect to claimant's original hearing, the court finds that the hearing officer denied claimant the right to call investigator Loran due to safety concerns which was a proper basis under 7 NYCRR Part 254.5 (a). (St's Ex E).


At the rehearing, claimant was denied the right to call three witnesses, namely correction officer Warren, inspector general investigator Loran; and his wife Mary Brown Jones.[2]
At issue here is the denial of correction officer Warren as a witness. The reversal of claimant's guilty finding was because: "[t]he hearing officer inappropriately denied officer Warren as witness due to his being on vacation." (Claimant's post-trial submission, Exhibit L). The denial of witness Warren because he was on vacation was not based upon one of the approved grounds under 7 NYCRR 254.5. As such, because prison officials failed to comply with the governing rules related to conduct of the disciplinary hearing, the State is not entitled to the protection of absolute immunity recognized in Arteaga.

That having been said, however, "[a]lthough establishing that defendant did not follow its own rule removes immunity from the case, it does not result in absolute liability of defendant [citation omitted]. Claimant still must prove the merits of his claim [citation omitted]." (
Moreno v State of New York, Ct Cl, April 5, 2001, Bell, J., Claim No. 100335 [UID No. 2001-007-551]).[3] In order to establish a prima facie case for wrongful confinement, a claimant must demonstrate: (1) the State intended to confine him; (2) claimant was conscious of the confinement; (3) he did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged. (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456, cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929). Here, claimant offered no credible proof that he did not commit the underlying offense with which he was charged. (Moreno, Ct Cl, April 5, 2001, Bell, J., Claim No. 100335 [UID No. 2001-007-551]). Thus, without more, the court cannot satisfy itself that claimant was wrongfully confined.

For the foregoing reasons, Claim No. 101435 should be and is hereby DISMISSED.

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


The clerk of the court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.




December 12, 2005
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]The misbehavior report incorrectly lists the incident date as December 20, 1998.
[2]Although claimant was denied the right to call investigator Loran, the hearing officer did interview witness Loran outside the presence of the inmate as permitted by 7 NYCRR Part 254.5 (b). (St's Ex C). The hearing officer also denied claimant's request to call his wife due to the inability to contact her. Claimant's assertion that attempts to contact Mrs. Jones should have been made in his presence are without merit. As such, the court finds that witnesses Loran and Mrs. Jones were properly denied by the hearing officer.
[3]Selected unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the Internet at