New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

VAUGHN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-031-529, Claim No. 108937


Synopsis


Claimant demonstrated that Defendant illegally confined him for a period of 84 days. Claimant also demonstrated that Defendant neglected to honor his lower bunk medical restriction during this 84 day period. Claimant awarded $1,260.00 for illegal confinement and $1,500.00 for pain and suffering related to his being forced to occupy an upper bunk. Total award to Claimant in the amount of $2,760.00

Case Information

UID:
2005-031-529
Claimant(s):
PATRICK VAUGHN
Claimant short name:
VAUGHN
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
108937
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Claimant's attorney:
PATRICK VAUGHN, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
New York State Attorney General
BY: REYNOLDS E. HAHN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 29, 2005
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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Decision
Claimant, Patrick Vaughn, filed claim number 108937 on February 23, 2004 against the State of New York. Claimant alleges that he was unlawfully confined by the State of New York, that during this confinement Claimant was assaulted in his cell by a known enemy, and that the State of New York neglected Claimant's medical condition which required him to be given a bottom-bunk assignment. I conducted the trial of this claim in Rochester, New York on January 12, 2005.

Claimant alleges that he was unlawfully confined for 84 days at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility ("Lakeview") Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). Mr. Vaughn testified that he was residing in Wyoming Correctional Facility when he had problems with an employee of that facility, Correction Officer Hadsall. Claimant alleges that Officer Hadsall harassed him by calling him a rapist in front of many other inmates. Claimant was upset about Officer Hadsall's remark because he was not a rapist or a sexual predator and he was worried he might suffer violent consequences from other inmates who heard it. Claimant testifed that, in response to this incident, he wrote a letter in which he "spazzed out." The letter demonstrated Claimant's frustration, used threatening language and implied that Claimant might be forced to harm Officer Hadsall if Claimant was not removed from the facility (Defendant Exhibit B). The letter was addressed to Captain Malenski, who assigned Sergeant Hecht to investigate the matter. Sergeant Hecht testified that he had a conversation with Claimant about the letter and subsequently issued Claimant a Tier III Inmate Misbehavior Report ("IMR," Defendant's Exhibit A) relating to the threatening and harassing language contained in the letter. Sergeant Hecht wrote in the IMR that "Vaughn admitted to this writer that he was writing about C.O. Hadsall when he wrote his threats. He also stated he was very angry when he wrote the letter." Captain Malenski, the recipient of the letter, presided over Claimant's disciplinary hearing on the matter. Claimant alleges that this violated Defendant's regulations relating to inmate disciplinary hearings. Claimant also alleges, with regard to the hearing, that he was denied the right to call witnesses to the event in which Officer Hadsall called Claimant a rapist, as well as another incident when Claimant had requested soap from Officer Hadsall.

As a result of the hearing held on July 30, 2003, Claimant was sentenced to 84 days of SHU confinement. It appears from the record that Claimant was transferred from Wyoming to Lakeview SHU, where he was to serve his disciplinary sentence. Claimant appealed the hearing decision to Robert J. Murphy, Acting Director, Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, who affirmed Captain Malenski's decision. Claimant made a second appeal to Donald Selsky, Director, Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program, who administratively reversed the decision on January 6, 2004, well after Claimant had completed serving the 84 days SHU sentence (Claimant's Exhibits 5, 6).

While in his cell at Lakeview SHU, Claimant testified that he was exposed to inactive tuberculosis and repeated sexual advances by the other inmate in the cell, with one event on September 2 - 3, 2003 that caused the Claimant to resort to fistfighting in self defense. Claimant alleges that the correction officers on the cell block did not intervene in the altercation for several hours, even after requests by both inmates for help (Claimant's Exhibit 3). After asking for help from Correction Officers Griffith and Dhali, and being repeatedly ignored, Claimant alleges that he kicked the cell door for attention, and was issued a written warning for this behavior (Claimant's Exhibit 3). Claimant also testified that, just after a physical altercation with his cellmate, the correction officer on duty put two razors in the cell for the designated shower time, and his cellmate tampered with his razor to make it into a weapon. Claimant notified the correction officer and was left in this cell for another week before being transferred to the top bunk of another cell.

With regard to his medical malpractice/neglect claim, Claimant testified that he has a chronic back condition. Evidence of this condition was contained in the report of C. J. Riggio, M.D., who evaluated Claimant on September 9, 2002 (Defendant's Exhibit C). Claimant also had a permanent written medical restriction requiring that he be assigned to a bottom bunk because getting up and down would further strain his back (Defendant's Exhibit C; Claimant's Exhibit 2). Claimant was placed in the top bunk of his cell at Lakeview SHU, despite having brought this written restriction to the attention of the correction officers on duty at the time. During Claimant's time at Lakeview SHU, he made numerous complaints relating to back pain (Defendant's Exhibit C). Claimant's medical records also note multiple requests for a lower bunk. Claimant used the Inmate Grievance Program in an attempt to obtain a bottom bunk assignment, but the grievance was denied (Claimant's Exhibit 4). Claimant alleges that a member of the Lakeview medical staff, upon learning of the written restriction, told the Claimant that getting up and down from the top bunk would be good exercise for his back. Claimant testified that the top bunk made his back pain worse.

Claimant testified that he took 200 mg of ibuprofen throughout his incarceration but Claimant's medical records do not indicate consistent use (Defendant's Exhibit C). They do, however, indicate that Claimant was in pain, evidenced by frequent recordings of "sick calls" to the nurse on duty while in Lakeview SHU. Claimant clarified that he did not take ibuprofen regularly because, to his knowledge, ibuprofen could not be taken with his prescription blood pressure medication. Claimant did admit on cross-examination that he suffered no physical injuries during his physical altercations with his cellmate and that he never contracted tuberculosis. On October 21, 2003, Claimant was transferred to Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica") to finish his sentence.

Vance Mason Hawley, a licensed Registered Nurse employed at Attica, testified that he encountered Claimant on October 21, 2003 as part of routine intake evaluations. Hawley testified that Claimant takes Maxide for high blood pressure and that his records do not indicate medications for pain. Claimant was assigned to a bottom bunk at Attica. Hawley also testified that, to his knowledge, Claimant could have taken ibuprofen with his high blood pressure medication.
ILLEGAL CONFINEMENT
Defendant correctly points out that the State enjoys 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). However, Claimant's allegations are that the hearing was not conducted in accordance with applicable rules and regulations. If Defendant did violate its own rules and regulations in conducting the hearing, or otherwise acted outside the sphere of privileged actions, this immunity is lost (Arteaga v State of New York, supra; Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765; cf. Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399 [NY Ct Cl 1986]).
Claimant received his disciplinary sentence as a result of writing a letter containing threats to Captain Malenski. Captain Malenski was the individual who ordered Sergeant Hecht to investigate the incident. Defendant does not dispute that it was also Captain Malenski who presided over Claimant's disciplinary hearing. 7 NYCRR § 254.1, which governs such disciplinary hearings, provides as follows:
"The following persons shall not be appointed to conduct the proceeding: a person who actually witnessed the incident; a person who was directly involved in the incident; the review officer who reviewed the misbehavior report, or a person who has investigated the incident."
I find that it was inappropriate for Captain Malenski, the recipient of the letter and the person who initiated the investigation, to preside over Claimant's disciplinary hearing. As such, Defendant's
Arteaga immunity was lost and Claimant's confinement was illegal. Accordingly, I find that Claimant was improperly confined to SHU for a period of 84 days. I award Claimant the amount of $1,260.00, representing $15.00 for each day that he was improperly confined.
LOWER BUNK ASSIGNMENT
I also find that Claimant has adequately demonstrated that he had a legitimate medical restriction requiring that he be permanently assigned to a lower bunk. Defendant argues that this cause of action lacks merit because medical staff at Lakeview evaluated Claimant's back and determined that such an assignment was not necessary. I note, however, that this evaluation was in response to Claimant's grievance concerning his bunk assignment and not a step that was taken prior to violating the restriction and giving Claimant an upper-bunk assignment.

Apart from his uncontradicted testimony regarding the pain and discomfort that getting in and out of the upper bunk caused him, Claimant was unable to demonstrate any actual independent injury to his back caused by being assigned to an upper bunk. Accordingly, I award Claimant the amount of $1,500.00 for the pain and suffering he endured during the period he was assigned the upper bunk.
ASSAULT/TUBERCULOSIS EXPOSURE
Claimant's final cause of action relates to his being confined with an inmate that was a known enemy and whom Claimant alleges exposed him to tuberculosis. Claimant candidly admitted that he had been informed that his cellmate was not contagious. Claimant also indicated that he did not contract tuberculosis. He further admitted that his concerns about his cell assignment were voiced after his initial fight with his cellmate and that he suffered no physical injuries as a result. Claimant also presented no competent evidence that he suffered any emotional or psychological injuries (
Alcalay v Town of N. Hempstead, 262 AD2d 258; Young v New York City Tr. Auth., 143 AD2d 656). For this reason, I find no merit in this cause of action and dismiss it.
Accordingly, I award Claimant $1,260.00 on his illegal confinement cause of action and $1,500.00 on his medical neglect cause of action. Claimant's total award is $2,760.00.[1]
To the extent that Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2). Any and all motions on which the Court may have previously reserved decision are hereby denied.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

March 29, 2005
Rochester, New York

HON. RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Judge of the Court of Claims



[1]The amount claimed has been amended to conform to the proof.