New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

THOMAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-030-005, Claim No. 109647


Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

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 10, 2006
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Martin Thomas alleges in Claim Number 109647 that Defendant's agents wrongfully confined him while he was an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on January 13, 2006.

In his Claim, Claimant alleges that on July 23, 2003 he was issued a false misbehavior ticket based upon his failure to cooperate with the investigating officer concerning a fight in the yard on July 19, 2003. Claimant testified that on July 19, 2003 he was in the HBA yard when "an alleged fight broke out between two groups of inmates."[1]
He said "a shot was fired [by an officer in the tower] in the yard to gain compliance," and all the inmates were therefore lying on the ground. All the inmates were escorted back to the cells, first standing in front of the camera and identifying themselves by name and number "one by one." The same day, Sergeant McNamara directed that CO Davis escort Claimant to his office for an interview. There he asked Claimant whether he "was aware" of anything about the fight in the yard. When Claimant told Sergeant McNamara that he knew nothing about who was involved, he was then escorted back to his cell and placed on 72-hour "investigation". Claimant explained that this meant he would be confined to his cell for that period while the Sergeant investigated the matter.
Before that 72-hour period ended, however, Claimant received a misbehavior report [Exhibit 3], and was told that he had been "identified as fighting and striking" during the July 19, 2003 incident. "The UI [unusual incident] report for the fight did not mention" his name at all, nor was he otherwise described. Nonetheless, Claimant said, a misbehavior report indicating he was "identified" was issued to him. Claimant said that the UI report contains statements by all the officers in the yard at the time. He said they are required to report everything. CO Mandel, "who has known . . . [Claimant] for ten years, testified [at the disciplinary hearing] that he saw

. . . [Claimant], yet he had not given such a statement in the UI." [Exhibit 1].
Claimant testified that Sergeant McNamara issued the "false misbehavior report" because Claimant would not tell him anything about the fight. Claimant argued that because the UI did not mention him, the misbehavior report was not reliable evidence because the UI contradicted it.

On July 29, 2003 Claimant's Tier III hearing began. Claimant asked that the hearing officer, Lieutenant Patterson, recuse himself because of bias - Claimant felt that another claim naming Patterson as a defendant would prejudice him - but he would not. At the close of the hearing, the hearing officer found Claimant not guilty of fighting, or refusing a direct order, but found him guilty of violent conduct, and sentenced him to ninety (90) days in the Special Housing Unit (SHU). Claimant was immediately escorted to SHU to begin serving his sentence.

The final decision on his administrative appeal was issued on October 30, 2003. [Exhibit 2]. It reversed the determination of his "superintendent's hearing of August 25, 2003" but did not specify the reason for such reversal.
No other witnesses testified on Claimant's direct case, and no other evidence was submitted. Notably, Claimant did not submit any evidence that his hearing was not commenced or terminated when required by regulations, any evidence of when his sentence began and ended, nor was there any indication that he was held in keeplock beyond the time period adjudicated.

Sergeant John McNamara was called by Defendant, and he testified concerning his involvement with the incident of July 19, 2003. He said that he had been working as the housing sergeant on A-Block on that day, when he was notified that 25 to 30 men were fighting in the yard. He responded to the yard - having been in the A-Block housing unit at the time - and learned about the fight's genesis first from the correction officers in the yard and the tower officer. The officers were CO Valentin, CO Mandel and CO Fleshman. He was told that two groups of inmates - identified as Muslims and Bloods - began fighting on the northwest corner of the basketball court. The groups would not obey direct orders to separate, so a shot had been fired from the tower to gain compliance. The inmates were lying on the ground.

Participants were identified, upper body inspections were made for any obvious injuries - 4 to 5 inmates were immediately removed to the hospital for photographing and assessment. All of the inmates in the yard were identified by name and number and then returned to the housing unit. The yard was searched for weapons, and the investigation to identify other people involved in the fight began. He had a list of all the inmates in the yard, and proceeded to conduct interviews of inmates and staff.

During the course of the investigation, Sergeant McNamara began to view Claimant as one of the inmates involved in the fight. This was because he was a member of one of the groups - a Muslim - and was found near the "Muslims tables" on the basketball court, and was additionally observed "charging toward the incident instead of away from it" by staff.

When Sergeant McNamara interviewed Claimant, he gave "typical answers: I don't know anything, I didn't do anything, I didn't see anything." Sergeant McNamara described Claimant's demeanor at the time of the interview as "reluctantly cooperative." He interviewed a large number of people.

Sergeant McNamara decided to issue Claimant a misbehavior report based upon his presence in the area, staff identification of him charging toward the fight, and because he is a member of the Muslim community, and thus perhaps subject to sanctions within that community were he not to participate. "It would be detrimental to an inmate's reputation were he not to come to the aid of his Muslim brothers," Sergeant McNamara explained, based upon his experience.

Indeed, despite the reversal of the disciplinary finding by the Director, Sergeant McNamara continued to believe that Claimant was involved in the fight. He explained that he did not know the basis for the reversal of the disciplinary finding, which could have been technical or procedural.

When told of Claimant's belief that the Sergeant wrote the misbehavior report in retaliation for Claimant's not having answered questions during the investigation, the Sergeant denied the allegation, saying "I would have had to have written 100 others on that basis."

Sergeant McNamara was also familiar with the requirements for appointment of a hearing officer in a Superintendent's hearing, shown in a correctional facility directive [Exhibit A] and also codified in the departmental regulations. [
See 7 NYCRR §254.1]. The rule regarding who may preside over a disciplinary hearing limits appointments the Superintendent may make. [id.]. It provides: ". . . 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; a person who has investigated the incident." [id.]. He said there was no prohibition against Lieutenant Patterson presiding over such a hearing, if he were involved in "other litigation" with Claimant.
On cross-examination, Sergeant McNamara confirmed that the UI would not list "everyone involved; it would not list all the inmates in the yard." The witness agreed that the UI generally has the details of the incident, but said that new information may be added. Sergeant McNamara agreed that the Misbehavior Report did not contain the endorsement of the two officers that he said had identified Claimant as "charging toward the incident", but he said they were "testifying anyway". He could not recall which officer - Valentin or Mandel - "said what", but he recalled that one identified Claimant as being in the area, and the other identified Claimant as having run in toward the incident. He said that the information would "not necessarily" be written up, because "it's in the nature of follow-up to the UI" and the officers could simply bring the testimony to the hearing, as they did.

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

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 (NY Ct Cl 1986).
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).
From the facts presented it would appear that correction officers acted within the bounds of New York State Department of Corrections rules and regulations. Claimant has not met the threshold of establishing his claim of wrongful confinement. The disposition entered after a timely hearing is just the type of quasi-judicial determination shielded by the immunity principles of
Arteaga v State of New York, supra. Indeed, the finding was reversed.
The case law citations advanced by Claimant concern the very different inquiries associated with judicial review of the disciplinary hearing through an Article 78 proceeding.
See generally Civil Practice Law and Rules §7801 et seq. Such inquiries include whether substantial evidence supports the finding [see e.g. Foster v Coughlin, 76 NY2d 964 (1990); Rodriguez v Ward, 64 AD2d 792 (3d Dept 1978)] and whether due process requirements were met [See e.g. Allison v LeFevre, 134 Misc 2d 729 (Clinton Co Sup Ct 1987)].
The concerns in the Court of Claims are different.
See e.g., Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765 (3d Dept 2001); Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 (3d Dept 2001); cf. Craft v State of New York, 189 Misc 2d 661 (Ct Cl 2001).
Here, there is no indication that the hearing was not commenced or concluded in a timely fashion, the misbehavior report was facially sufficient and the product of investigation, the hearing officer presiding was authorized to do so by regulations, and no other relevant evidence surrounding the hearing - such as the disposition itself and the administrative review of the disposition - was submitted.

Claimant has not established any claim of wrongful confinement by a preponderance of the credible evidence. Accordingly, Claim number 109647 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

April 10, 2006
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.