New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MITCHELL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-032-030, Claim No. 108857, Motion Nos. M-69219, CM-69301


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2005-032-030
Claimant(s):
DONTIE S. MITCHELL
Claimant short name:
MITCHELL
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
108857
Motion number(s):
M-69219
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-69301
Judge:
JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant's attorney:
Dontie S. Mitchell, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney GeneralBy: Kathleen M. Arnold, Assistant Attorney General, Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 31, 2005
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Defendant moves this Court for an order pursuant to CPLR 3212 dismissing claimant's action. In opposition, claimant cross-moves seeking summary judgment on his claim and, in the alternative, for an order pursuant to CPLR 3124 compelling compliance with his discovery demands.


Claimant brings this action to recover damages as a result of his confinement in the special housing unit [SHU] at Upstate Correctional Facility [Upstate]. He was placed in the SHU at Upstate upon his transfer from Sing Sing Correctional Facility [Sing Sing], where he had received a sentence of 7 ½ months of keeplock after two separate disciplinary hearings wherein he was found guilty of, inter alia, assault on staff. An inmate assigned to keeplock is confined to his cell 23 hours per day, takes his meals in his cell and must be escorted to exercise, showers and visits. Claimant served 90 days of his keeplock at Sing Sing before he was transferred to Upstate. Inasmuch as Upstate contains double-bunk cells, it does not have provisions for keeplock confinement, and claimant was placed in the SHU. As a result, claimant brings this action for wrongful confinement, violation of due process and cruel and unusual punishment. He alleges that defendant erroneously interpreted its regulation to allow certain inmates under keeplock to be housed in the SHU. Further, he alleges that defendant's practice of transferring keeplock inmates to the SHU at Upstate is unreasonable because SHU confinement is more onerous than keeplock inasmuch as an inmate is deprived of his personal property and subject to mechanical restraint while outside his cell. The Court previously denied defendant's motion to dismiss finding that the record contained insufficient information to make a determination. The parties now move this Court for the aforementioned relief.

Initially, it is well-settled the State has absolute immunity from wrongful confinement claims unless it violates the governing statutes and regulations (see Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 765-766 [3d Dept 2001]). Next, "Correction Law §§ 112 and 137 give the Commissioner [of Corrections] broad discretion in the implementation of policies [including promulgating regulations] relating to...security and inmate discipline" (Allah v Coughlin 190 AD2d 233, 236 [3d Dept 1993]).

As an inmate discipline measure, the Commissioner promulgated 7 NYCRR 301.6, which pertains to keeplock admission in SHUs. The regulations provides, in pertinent part:

(a) [a]n inmate in a medium or minimum security correctional facility or Upstate Correctional Facility may be housed in a special housing unit for reasons such as, but not limited to, the following:

(1) awaiting disposition of a disciplinary (Tier II) or superintendent's (Tier III) hearing;

(2) for confinement pursuant to a disposition of a disciplinary (Tier II) or superintendent's (Tier III) hearing.


Claimant argues that the regulation pertains only to inmates housed in Upstate at the time that the inmate receives keeplock after a hearing and not, as in claimant's case, where an inmate has already received a keeplock sanction after a hearing and the inmate is then transferred to Upstate. Conversely, defendant argues that the regulation pertains to all inmates no matter what facility the inmate received his sanction.

In support of this argument, defendant submits the affidavit of Donald Selsky, the Director of the SHU program for the Department of Correctional Services [DOCS]. He states that there are over 85,000 inter-facility inmate transfers per year, and that when an inmate with outstanding disciplinary sanctions is transferred, the inmate serves the remainder of his sanction in accordance with DOCS's policies at the new facility. Further, Selsky explained that due to the additional supervision of inmates assigned to a lengthy keeplock sanction, extra personnel is required to ensure the overall security and operation of the facility. Accordingly, Selsky stated that in 1999, DOCS amended 7 NYCRR 301.6 to allow inmates under keeplock status to be housed in the SHU at Upstate.[1] Thus, given that the regulation allows inmates housed in Upstate to be confined to the SHU, defendant is immune from a wrongful confinement claim (see Holloway v State of New York, supra). In making this determination, the Court notes that to the extent that claimant's action can be construed not as a claim for wrongful confinement, but as a challenge to the agency's discretionary determination to transfer long-term keeplock inmates to SHUs, such claim is properly brought in the context of a CPLR article 78 proceeding (see Safety Group No. 194--New York State Sheet Metal Roofing & Air Conditioning Contractors Ass'n, Inc. v State of New York, 298 AD2d 785, 786 [3d Dept 2002]; CPLR 7801 et. seq.).

Next, the Court determines that claimant was not subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as he was not deprived of "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" (Malik v Coughlin, 157 AD2d 961, 962, quoting Rhodes v Chapman, 452 US 337, 347). Finally, although claimant retains certain constitutional rights, including due process rights, institutional security and internal order and discipline require limitation of those rights (id). Under the circumstances here, the Court determines that claimant's due process rights were not violated.

Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim is granted. All remaining relief is denied.




March 31, 2005
Albany, New York

HON. JUDITH A. HARD
Judge of the Court of Claims


The following papers were considered on defendant's motion and claimant's cross-motion:


1. Notice of Motion filed October 4, 2004;

2. Affirmation of Kathleen M. Arnold dated October 4, 2004; Exhibit AA annexed;

3. Affidavit of Donald Selsky sworn to September 30, 2004; Exhibits A-B annexed;

4. Notice of Cross-Motion filed November 1, 2004;

5. Affidavit of Dontie S. Mitchell sworn to October 20, 2004; Exhibits A-C annexed;

6. Affirmation in Opposition of Kathleen M. Arnold dated November 15, 2004;

7. "Affirmation" of Donald Selsky sworn to November 15, 2004;

8. Reply "Affirmation" of Dontie S. Mitchell sworn to November 29, 2004;

Filed papers - Verified Claim; Verified Answer









[1] Prior to 1999, the regulation pertained to only minimum and medium security facilities (7 NYCRR former 301.6).