New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

McCLINTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-030-003, Claim No. 109628


Case Information

CHARLES McCLINTON The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 4, 2006
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Charles McClinton, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 109628 that Defendant's agents tampered with his legal documents, illegally searched his cell, and wrongfully confined him while he was an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on January 13, 2006.

Claimant testified that on or about July 1, 2004 his cell was searched while he was at the "A-Block gym"[1]
by Correction Officer M. Seward at approximately 10:00 a.m. A letter Claimant needed to use as evidence in proceedings in Suffolk County was seized, including appeal documents. Because these materials were taken, Claimant said he could not proceed with his "440 motion." When Claimant returned to his cell from the gym at approximately 10:15 a.m. he realized that it had been searched because items had been moved, including his "legal work," and CO Seward admitted as much. Claimant said he asked CO Seward for a contraband receipt, but was told that he would not get one because he would be getting "a ticket." When Claimant asked the officer what he would be getting a ticket for, there was no response, and CO Seward walked away saying he would be back. CO Seward did not return. "About 45 minutes later . . . [Claimant] yelled down the company for him." An "unknown female officer" came to Claimant, and told him that if he continued to make noise "it would get bloody." Claimant then asked for a sergeant. About 10 to 15 minutes later, a Sergeant J. McNamara arrived, told Claimant to put his hands behind his back, handcuffed him, and took him to "the OIC" or "Officer Inmate Control." Claimant explained that "the ‘Officer Inmate Control' is the place where the sergeant has an office; it's a control area on H-company, where mail is separated, inmates are interviewed; basically it is where the officers are."
At the OIC Claimant said that the sergeant came out with some papers that he immediately recognized as those he had in his cell. The papers were letters from the victim in his criminal case that Claimant told the sergeant he needed. They were not returned. Claimant was then put back in his cell, and about 10 to 15 minutes later he was escorted to the special housing unit (SHU). Claimant then filed an inmate grievance that was not responded to. He also filed an inmate claim for his personal property but received no answer. Claimant said he "kept ‘getting treatment' from different officers" and he would file grievances that were not responded to.

On or about September 8, 2004 he was "shipped out to Green Haven" to the S-block - "which is a box" - and put in an inmate claim for the same incident. This time they responded by giving him a claim number, but also told him that they were short of staff and he would need to file with the Court of Claims, which he had already done on July 19, 2004. He continued pursuing grievances as well as administrative appeals of his "sentence of 60 days in SHU keeplock."

Claimant indicated that he has continued to pursue his administrative claims to this day. He indicated that since his property was seized, he has suffered from depression and sleeplessness, and has been frustrated in his attempts to have his grievances responded to so that he can pursue his appeals.

Claimant presented a substantial amount of documentary evidence that has been reviewed by the Court. [
See Exhibits 1-5; 7-8;11-17; 19,21]. These include the envelope postmarked September 8, 2003, that contained the letter at issue [Exhibit 2] as well as other letters with envelopes apparently from the same person.[See Exhibits 1 and 3]. Other documents appear to relate to Suffolk County Court proceedings or an appeal to the Appellate Division. [See Exhibits 4, 5, 7, 8, 21]. A medical authorization [Exhibit 16], and records from Cental New York Psychiatric Center [Exhibit 15] have also been offered.
The only documents that appear relevant to this claim, however, and which seem to be related to the disciplinary hearing conducted concerning the misbehavior report issued to Claimant on July 1, 2004, are Exhibits 11, 12, 13, 14, and 17. Copies of these documents are also contained in Defendant's Exhibit A, described as the "hearing packet" for Claimant.

On cross-examination, Claimant conceded that he was aware of the cell search procedures allowed by Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) directives, and aware that such searches could be made at any time. He claimed to be unaware that the search of his cell was done pursuant to an investigation. Claimant said that he was aware that the misbehavior report indicates he is a member of the Bloods. Claimant said that he did not write threatening letters to the victim, although the misbehavior report indicates that this was the case.

When asked what specific items were taken from his cell, Claimant indicated it was a letter he had received from the victim while he was in Suffolk County Correctional Facility, stating that she "never wanted to be Blood, they never wanted to be stone, they tried everything in their power to get the charges dropped." He admitted this refers to the Bloods gang. He said many of his associates are in the Bloods, but he is not; he "is Muslim." He admitted that only 8 or 10 pages of letters were taken and not returned, and knew they were considered contraband because he was told that his writing had a lot of "Blood related characteristics - the ‘threes' for the ‘c'-s' for example - and that the way . . . [he] wrote looks like gang-related materials". Claimant also confirmed he continues to have mental health issues, and takes medication.

No other witnesses testified on Claimant's direct case.

Sergeant McNamara, correctional sergeant and housing sergeant at A Block associated with the crisis intervention unit of Sing Sing, a unit involved in hostage negotiations as well as in-service training in inmate religions, organizations and unauthorized inmate groups or organizations testified first. He himself is an in-service trainer in these areas. He has been employed by DOCS for 24 years, and has been a sergeant since 1989.

On July 1, 2004 he was working as an A-Block housing sergeant, and directed the search by CO Seward of Claimant's cell based upon information that Claimant might be associated with an unauthorized organization, specifically the Bloods gang. CO Seward was told to seize any documents that may prove or disprove such association. As the authorized supervisor, Sergeant McNamara said he is authorized to direct such searches upon suspicion pursuant to DOCS directives.

Shown Defendant's Exhibit A, the "hearing packet" concerning Claimant's misbehavior ticket, the witness identified the documents confiscated on July 1, 2004. He said that some of the signs and symbols are peculiar to the unauthorized organization - or gang - called the Bloods. For example, on one page could be seen the letter "C" with an arrow through it pointing downwards: this is a sign of disrespect to the Bloods' enemies, the Crips. On another page, the letter "c" is replaced throughout with the number "3"; this too is peculiar to writings by Blood's associates, and is also a sign of disrespect to the Crips. On the original copies these peculiarities would have been highlighted in yellow for the hearing. As contraband, Sergeant McNamara explained, the documents could not be returned to Claimant.

After the cell search on July 1, 2004 Sergeant McNamara said the inmate became loud and threatening, and he was brought to the OIC area. Claimant continued to be belligerent, announcing that he had a relative in the administrative department and threatening that he was "gonna take care of you." Sergeant McNamara told claimant that if the documents were part of his appeal it could be sorted out at the hearing, but the present assessment was that they were unauthorized contraband. A misbehavior report was issued. There was no use of force needed to handcuff Claimant.

On cross-examination, Sergeant McNamara could not say how long it was between his being notified of a misbehavior report being written and coming up to see Claimant, as he had "several other duties going on." He confirmed that there were two officers assigned to the gallery at the time of the incident.

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

From a review of the hearing packet [Exhibit A] and Exhibits 11-14, 17 and 19, it appears that the claimant was issued a misbehavior report [Exhibit 14] on July 2, 2004 based upon the July 1, 2004 incident, and a hearing was commenced on July 8, 2004 and ended on July 13, 2004. Claimant was found guilty of "unauthorized organizations/ activities" [Exhibit 11; Exhibit A] and - according to the form - sentenced to two (2) months keeplock; three (3) months in SHU; and loss of packages phones and commissary privileges for two (2) months; and loss of recreation for one (1) month.
[id.]. Portions of the sentence overlapped and also appear to have been suspended or deferred.
Claimant appealed this determination to the Commissioner [Exhibit 13] and a Memorandum decision appears to have been issued on September 1, 2004 modifying the determination in terms of the sentence imposed. [Exhibit 17].

The quasi-judicial acts of correction employees taken in furtherance of authorized disciplinary measures are entitled to absolute immunity.
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 219-220 (1988). If officers act inconsistently with their own rules and regulations, or otherwise act outside the sphere of privileged actions, liability may attach. 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. Arteaga v State of New York, supra; Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765 (3d Dept 2001); cf.: Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399 (Ct Cl1986).
To establish a
prima facie case of wrongful confinement, a "species" of the tort of false imprisonment, [Gittens, supra., at 407], a claimant must show ". . . (1) the defendant intended to confine him, (2) the . . . [claimant] was conscious of the confinement, (3) the . . . [claimant] did not consent to the confinement and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged . . . " Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451,456 (1975), cert denied 423 US 929 (1975).
From the facts presented it would appear that correction officers acted within the bounds of New York State Department of Corrections rules and regulations. The misbehavior report served upon Claimant, alleging facility rule violations, triggered the requirements of a Tier III disciplinary hearing, in accordance with 7 NYCRR § 254.1
et seq; as well as the "timeliness" provisions of 7 NYCRR §251-5.1. Any hearing must be commenced within seven (7) days of the confinement, unless delay in its commencement is "authorized" by "the commissioner or his designee." [7 NYCRR § 251-5.1(a)]. Similarly, the ". . . hearing must be completed within 14 days following the writing of the misbehavior report unless otherwise authorized by the commissioner or his designee . . . [T]he record of the hearing should reflect the reasons for any delay or adjournment, and an inmate should ordinarily be made aware of these reasons unless to do so would jeopardize institutional safety or correctional goal." [7 NYCRR § 251-5.1(b)].
The dispositions entered after the timely concluded hearing[2]
are just the type of quasi-judicial determinations shielded by the immunity principles of Arteaga v State of New York, supra. Because of the appeal process, the sentences were modified.
Based on the trial testimony and documentary evidence herein, Claimant has failed to establish a
prima facie case of wrongful confinement or any wrongful conduct on the part of Defendant's agents. He has not convinced the Court that the seizure of any documents was without authorization, nor has he convinced the Court that proceedings in another forum - and it is unclear what kind of proceeding because Claimant referred to both a "440 motion" at trial, and referred to a habeas corpus proceeding in his papers - was prevented or prejudiced by the seizure of the twelve (12) pages of letters.
Accordingly, Claim Number 109628 is dismissed in its entirety.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

April 4, 2006
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.
[2] See, 7 NYCRR § 251.5.1 (b) requiring that a superintendent's hearing be concluded within fourteen (14) days of the writing of the misbehavior report.