New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SAUNDERS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-015-562, Claim No. 111538


Inmate's claim that mandatory academic programming caused emotional distress was dismissed following a trial. Conduct of prison officials was discretionary and immune from liability. In addition, conduct complained of failed to give rise to a claim for emotional distress.

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:
John Saunders, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Michael Krenrich, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 20, 2007
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, brings this claim for damages alleging correction officials required that he attend academic programming while in prison notwithstanding a doctor's recommendation that he be permitted to withdraw for psychological reasons. The claim proceeded to trial on June 13, 2007.

Claimant testified that he suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome resulting in an inability to remember what was taught in classes he attended as part of his academic programming. On March 9, 2005 Al Shimkunas, Ph. D., Forensic Program Administrator, authored a memorandum advising Karen Johns, Education Supervisor at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, that the claimant was receiving treatment for severe posttraumatic stress disorder and recommending "that he be waived from participation in academic programs due to his disability" (Exhibit 1). Notwithstanding this recommendation, the claimant testified that he was required to remain in class for another six months until he suffered panic attacks, was unable to sleep and became depressed. He testified that on September 19 and 20, 2005 he was ordered to take the T.A.B.E. test, which is used to determine academic level, and that he refused. The claimant's refusal to take the test as ordered resulted in the issuance of two misbehavior reports (Exhibits A and B) which were later dismissed when the claimant succeeded in securing an academic waiver from the program.

Exhibit 2 and Exhibit C reflect that on September 22, 2005 and September 23, 2005, respectively, the Deputy Superintendent for Programs approved claimant's request for a waiver from the mandatory education policy based on the recommendation of Dr. Shimkunas.

The defendant called Karen Johns to testify on its behalf. Ms. Johns testified that she spoke with Dr. Shimkunas about the claimant and the fact that he was doing well in the academic program following receipt of his recommendation that the claimant be excused from class. As the result of this conversation, Dr. Shimkunas agreed that the claimant could continue in the program so long as he was doing well and there were no "issues". She testified that all inmates are required to obtain a GED if they have no high school diploma.

Ms. Johns explained that the T.A.B.E. test is a national achievement test which measures academic strengths and weaknesses and is used to create an individualized academic program. She testified that the claimant filed a complaint regarding his continued participation in the academic program as well as the requirement that he take the T.A.B.E. test. Thereafter the claimant became extremely negative and a detriment to the class, which resulted in the decision to remove him from academic programming.

On cross-examination Ms. Johns testified that there were no problems with the claimant until he refused to take the T.A.B.E. test in September, 2005. She testified that the claimant was doing "quite well" in school prior to his refusal to take the test.

The law is settled that when official action involves the exercise of discretion, liability may not attach for the injurious consequences of that action even if resulting from negligence (Lauer v City of New York, 95 NY2d 95, 107 [2000]; Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34, 40 [1983]). "[D]iscretionary or quasi-judicial acts involve the exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results whereas a ministerial act envisions direct adherence to a governing rule or standard with a compulsory result" (Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d at 41). The conduct complained of in this case was clearly discretionary, a fact made clear by Department of Correctional Services directive 4804 entitled Academic Education Program Policies which states: "If, in the judgment of the Deputy Superintendent for Programs . . ., an inmate's medical, emotional or psychological status is such that continued enrollment jeopardizes the safety or security of the program area or is not in keeping with the individual's treatment plan, education is not mandatory."[1] Consequently, the defendant is immune from liability in this case.[2]

Moreover, to the extent a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress could be inferred from the claim, the claimant failed to show through the submission of medical evidence that the defendant's conduct unreasonably endangered his physical safety (Tatta v State of New York, 20 AD3d 825 [2005]; cf. Johnson v State of New York, 37 NY2d 378 [1975]). Any claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress is similarly lacking and, in any event, no such claim may be asserted against the State as a matter of public policy (Augat v State of New York, 244 AD2d 835 [1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 814 [1998]).

For the foregoing reasons, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

August 20, 2007
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1].There is no proof that the claimant sought the waiver available through the Deputy Superintendent, as provided in the directive, prior to September, 2005.
[2]. Defendant raised as its fourth defense that it is immune from liability for discretionary determinations made by agents or employees acting within the scope of their duties.