New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LAMAGE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-015-181, Claim No. 110159, Motion Nos. M-72811, CM-72901


Synopsis


Claimant's cause of action for malicious prosecution was dismissed as defendant was entitled to absolute immunity. Mere fact that hearing officer's finding of guild was administratively reversed or that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge was insufficient to defeat the motion to dismiss where there was no evidence that the Department acted in violation of any rule or regulation or in the absence of authority.

Case Information

UID:
2007-015-181
Claimant(s):
EDWIN LAMAGE
Claimant short name:
LAMAGE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110159
Motion number(s):
M-72811
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-72901
Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Edwin Lamage, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Belinda A. Wagner, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 17, 2007
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant moves pro se for partial summary judgment on his fifth cause of action for malicious prosecution relative to a disciplinary proceeding while he was an inmate at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. Defendant cross-moves to dismiss this cause of action on the ground that the State is entitled to absolute immunity for the quasi-judicial conduct of its correction employees. On November 3, 2004 claimant was allegedly exposed to a chemical agent while housed in the special housing unit (SHU) at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. The exposure allegedly occurred as the defendant was utilizing a chemical agent to extricate a prisoner from a nearby cell. Following the application of the chemical agent, claimant allegedly became ill and reported this fact to Correction Officer Murphy. Correction Officer Murphy warned the claimant that if he was not in need of emergent care, a misbehavior report would be issued. Despite the warning, claimant persisted in his request for treatment and was taken to the prison infirmary. Following his treatment, Correction Officer Murphy issued a misbehavior report for making misleading and/or false statements in violation of 7 NYCRR 107.20. The report states the following:
On [November 3, 2004 at 7:01 p.m.] inmate Lamage was complaining of chest pains and blurred vision. Inmate Lamage was counseled by myself that if his illness was not legitimate he would be issued a misbehavior report. He still wanted to see medical. RN Miller called to inform me that there was nothing wrong with him. His medical test results showed that he had no problems. Inmate Lamage returned to his cell without incident or further complaints.
At the disciplinary hearing on this charge, Correction Officer Murphy testified that after the chemical was used, he "[walked] up and down the company and ask[ed] if everyone was all right without addressing individuals. Inmate Lamage did say that he was having a little bit of trouble and that is when I notified medical" (see defendant's Exhibit "D", transcript of hearing held on November 10, 2004, p.7). Correction Officer Murphy testified that he advised the claimant that a misbehavior report would be issued if this was not an emergency because, as he explained it, inmates complaining of chest pains are required to be transported by gurney and stretcher "which involves a lot of people doing a lot of different things and I warned him of the consequences if he was false reporting his illness" (see defendant's Exhibit "D", transcript of hearing on November 10, 2004, p.10) .

Nurse Miller treated the claimant following the incident and testified at his disciplinary hearing that the claimant advised her that there had been chemicals sprayed on his block and that he had complaints of chest pain and burning eyes. He was given an EKG, an oxygen saturation test and a blood pressure test. According to Nurse Miller, all of these tests were normal (see defendant's Exhibit "D", transcript of hearing on November 6, 2004, pp. 6-9). Nurse Miller also testified that the tests performed would not reflect any pain which the claimant may have suffered at the time (see defendant's Exhibit "D" transcript of hearing on November 6, 2004, p. 9). Nurse Administrator Paul Bundrick also treated the claimant by flushing his eyes with a saline solution and advising him that his symptoms should subside within a couple of hours (see defendant's Exhibit "D", transcript of hearing on November 6, 2004, pp. 8-9; transcript of hearing on November 10, 2004, p. 2). Nurse Miller testified that she advised Correction Officer Murphy that the tests performed on the claimant were normal and that in her opinion, emergency sick call was not warranted. Nurse Administrator Bundrick also testified that in his professional opinion, the claimant did not require emergency medical treatment (defendant's Exhibit "D", transcript of hearing on November 6, 2004, pp. 8-9; transcript of hearing on November 10, 2004, p. 2).

Claimant was found guilty of the charge of giving false statements and information and thereafter commenced a CPLR article 78 proceeding. The charge was administratively reversed and expunged from his records while the article 78 proceeding was pending (see claimant's Exhibit "B" and Matter of Lamage v Selsky, 26 AD3d 699 [2006]).

In support of his motion for summary judgment on his cause of action for malicious prosecution and in opposition to the defendant's cross-motion to dismiss, the claimant contends that he was innocent of the disciplinary charges brought against him and that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge. No violation of the governing rules and regulations has been alleged.

It is well-settled that conduct of correction employees taken in furtherance of authorized disciplinary measures is quasi-judicial in nature and entitled to absolute immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 [1988]). Unlike qualified immunity, which shields the State from suit except when conduct is taken in bad faith or without a reasonable basis, absolute immunity shields the government from liability regardless of the reasonableness of the conduct complained of or the motivation behind it (id. at 216). As stated by the Court in Arteaga (at p. 220), important policy issues underlie the application of absolute immunity to the conduct of correction employees:
Because of the unquestioned risks to inmates, employees, and the public from a breakdown in order and discipline in correctional facilities . . . it is particularly important that correction officers not be dissuaded by the possibility of litigation from making the difficult decisions which their duties demand. Nor should correction personnel acting as reviewing officers feel reluctant to reverse hearing determinations because doing so might expose the State to liability.
The Arteaga Court was careful to point out, however, that giving full immunity to the conduct of correction employees will not deprive inmates of their right to recover damages for "unlawful actions of employees taken beyond their authority or in violation of the governing rules and regulation" (id. at 220). The State is therefore immune from liability for malicious prosecution unless it acted in the absence of authority or in violation of the applicable rules or regulations (id.; see also Rivera v State of New York, Ct Cl, February 7, 2005, [Claim No. 108577, Motion No. M-69008, UID # 2005-032-001] Hard, J., unreported [1]; Mailey v State of New York, Ct Cl, March 30, 2001 [Claim No. 102611, Motion Nos. M-62438, CM-62699, UID # 2001-009-013] Midey, J., unreported).

Claimant does not allege that the defendant acted in violation of any applicable rule or regulation or in the absence of authority. The mere allegation that he was innocent of the charge brought against him or that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to support the charge is insufficient to defeat the defendant's motion for dismissal. Accordingly, the defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing claimant's fifth cause of action for malicious prosecution is granted, and the claimant's motion for partial summary judgment in his favor on this cause of action is denied.




April 17, 2007
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:

Motion No. M-72811
  1. Notice of motion dated January 2, 2007;
  2. Affidavit of Edwin Lamage sworn to January 2, 2007 with exhibits;
  3. Affirmation of Belinda Wagner dated January 16, 2007 with exhibits;
  4. Reply of Edwin Lamage sworn to January 31, 2007;

Cross Motion No. CM-72901

  1. Notice of cross motion dated January 31, 2007;
  2. Affirmation of Belinda A. Wagner dated January 31, 2007 with exhibits;
  3. Affirmation in opposition of Edwin Lamage sworn to February 7, 2007 with exhibit.

[1]. Unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the internet at www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us.