1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of James Lewis, pro se;
2. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affirmation of Michael T. Krenrich, AAG,
with annexed Exhibits; and
3. Reply (“Verified Answer to Notice of Motion”) of James Lewis,
Filed papers: Claim; Answer
This is a claim for wrongful confinement in a prison setting that is alleged to
have accrued at Coxsackie Correctional Facility in March
According to Claimant, the assistant
appointed to help Claimant in his defense at a Tier 3 hearing failed to obtain
information and evidence that would have altered the outcome of the hearing, and
the Hearing Officer failed to postpone the hearing until such evidence could be
marshaled. He also alleges that the penalty imposed at the hearing was
excessive and harsh. Subsequently, after Claimant had served his sentence, the
determination of the hearing was administratively reversed, after it was
determined that Claimant’s role in the underlying incident “did not
warrant disciplinary action” (Claim, Exhibit J).
In support of his motion for summary judgment, Claimant recites the basic
allegations of his Claim, insofar as they relate to the results of the Tier 3
hearing and the subsequent reversal of that hearing’s determination. In
support of his motion, Claimant references the several exhibits that were
annexed to his Claim, including the Exhibit quoted above setting forth the
reason for the administrative reversal.
It is well-established that the State is entitled to absolute immunity from
claims for money damages for confinement or other injury resulting from the
discretionary, quasi-judicial actions of prison officials in connection with
prison disciplinary proceedings, even if the underlying result of such
proceedings are later reversed administratively or as the result of a successful
article 78 proceeding, as long as the disciplinary proceeding was conducted in
accordance with the rules and procedures established by the Department of
Correctional Services (hereinafter “DOCS”) (Arteaga v State of
New York, 72 NY2d 212 ; Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887
[3d Dept 1999], lv denied 93 NY2d 819 ). If in the course of the
proceeding, prison officials fail to comply with one of the ministerial rules or
regulations governing such disciplinary hearings, that absolute immunity is lost
and liability may be imposed if, and only if, it is proven that the violation
caused actual injury to the inmate (Rivera v State of New York,
UID#2006-028-008, Claim No. 102781 [Ct Cl Feb. 8, 2006], Sise, P.J., citing
Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004] and Henderson v
Coughlin, 163 Misc 2d 20 [Ct Cl 1994]). In other words, the Claimant must
prove that if officials had complied with the rule or regulation in question,
the result of the hearing would have been different and he would not have been
confined or suffered other injury.
In the instant case, Claimant alleges that the Tier 3 hearing officer
“failed to follow regulatory procedure for disciplinary hearings”
(Claim, ¶ 7), but he does not identify any specific regulation. And while
he also asserts that this failure altered the outcome of the proceeding, he does
not prove that this is the logical or inevitable result. To the extent that the
Claim can be read to allege that the hearing officer’s failure to postpone
or adjourn the hearing was the wrongful act, determining whether or not to grant
an adjournment is typically the type of discretionary decision-making for which
the State is absolutely immune. The Court is not aware of, nor has Claimant
identified, any regulation that automatically requires a hearing officer to
postpone or adjourn proceedings. If such a regulation existed, Claimant would
have to establish that it was violated in the situation presented here and, in
addition, that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different if the
adjournment had been granted.
Accordingly, the submissions now before the Court do not establish that
Claimant is entitled to summary judgment in his favor. “The proponent of
a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to
judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any
material issues of fact from the case” (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med.
Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853 ), and such showing must be made “by
producing evidentiary proof in admissible form” (Zuckerman v City of
New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 ). In the absence of admissible evidence
sufficient to preclude any material issue of fact, summary judgment is
unavailable (Ayotte v Gervasio, 81 NY2d 1062, 1063 ; Alvarez v
Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 ).
Summary judgment is similarly unavailable to Defendant. Claimant has alleged
that in carrying out the disciplinary hearing, prison officials violated a rule
or regulation and that such violation altered the outcome of the hearing. He is
entitled to prove these allegations. (It should be noted that he must also
prove that the rule or regulation in question was ministerial in nature.) In
order to support its motion for summary judgment, Defendant was required to
tender sufficient evidence “to eliminate any material issues of fact from
the case” (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Center, 64 NY2d 851, 853
). In this instance, this would require Defendant to establish that
there is no relevant rule or regulation that was or could have been violated in
the conduct of Claimant’s disciplinary hearing, and this was not done.
Alternatively, if there was a relevant regulation that may have been violated,
Defendant could have established either that the regulation in question imposed
a discretionary or quasi-judicial duty or, if ministerial, that violation of the
regulation did not affect the outcome of the hearing. While it appears unlikely
that Claimant will be able to make the proof necessary to prevail when this
action is tried, summary judgment should not be granted where there is any doubt
as to the existence of a material issue of fact (Sillman v Twentieth
Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 404 ).
Defendant also seeks dismissal of this Claim on the ground that it is untimely.
Claimant’s Tier 3 hearing was concluded on April 8, 2005 (Claim, Exhibit
B). Although he was initially sentenced to 180 days’ confinement to
Special Housing Unit and loss of privileges, the duration of that sentence was
subsequently reduced to 90 days (id. Exhibit E). This would suggest
that his confinement ended on or about July 7, 2005. In his affirmation,
defense counsel states that Claimant was released from confinement on June 26,
2005 (Krenrich Affirmation, ¶ 19), and Claimant does not dispute this
assertion in his reply affidavit. Taking the latest possible date, the 90-day
period in which a Claim had to be filed and served or a Notice of Intention
served (Court of Claims Act § 10) would have expired on October 5, 2005.
The Claim in this action was filed on December 1, 2006, and a copy of the Claim
was served on Defendant on December 7, 2006.
Claimant contends that his cause of action accrued on the day that he received
notice of the administrative reversal, October 17, 2006. This is simply not the
law. A cause of action for wrongful confinement within a prison setting is
recognized as a “species” of false imprisonment (Gittens v State
of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 407 [Ct Cl 1986]), and a cause of action for
false imprisonment accrues on the date that the imprisonment or confinement ends
(see Jackson v Police Dept. of City of New York, 119 AD2d 551 [2d Dept
1986]; Boose v City of Rochester, 71 AD2d 59, 65 [4th Dept 1979]; 59 NY
Jur 2d, False Imprisonment and Malicious Prosecution § 118).
Consequently, causes of action for wrongful confinement within a prison setting
also accrue on the date the confinement ends (Ramirez v State of New
York, 171 Misc 2d 677, 680 [Ct Cl 1997]). The claim is untimely.
For the reasons set forth above, Claimant’s motion for summary judgment
is DENIED; Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED; and
Defendant’s motion for dismissal of the claim on the ground of
untimeliness is GRANTED. Claim No. 113060 is dismissed.