New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CRAFT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-029-004, Claim No. 106174


Synopsis


No cause of action arises from prison officials opening inmate’s mail after she had been placed on mail watch. No duty to notify inmate that she had been placed on mail watch. Claim dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2007-029-004
Claimant(s):
SHARON CRAFT
Claimant short name:
CRAFT
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
106174
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant’s attorney:
SHARON CRAFT, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBy: Elyse J. Angelico, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 24, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, an inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility proceeding pro se, alleges that defendant’s employees opened, searched and seized her mail without authorization and that, as the result of the contents of that mail, she received disciplinary charges that resulted in 90 days “wrongful confinement in keeplock” (Claim, ¶ 2).

The misbehavior report issued to claimant by Lt. Bloss on March 7, 2002 states that he inspected an outgoing letter from claimant because she was on a “mail watch” and that the letter was found to contain a $20 bill, in violation of facility regulations prohibiting possession of money and smuggling items out of the facility (Exhibit 1). Although she claimed there was no substantial evidence to support her conviction of the charges, she acknowledged that she obtained $20 by selling cigarettes to other inmates, that she attempted to send it out in the letter and that she pleaded guilty to the disciplinary charges. The basis of this claim is that she was never informed that she was on a mail watch, allegedly a violation of the applicable directive.

Captain Stephen Albury testified that he was responsible for the inmate correspondence program at Bedford Hills in March 2002. He stated that an inmate could be placed on incoming and/or outgoing mail watch upon the request of a facility employee in connection with an investigation of possible illegal activity. A request is made in writing to the Superintendent by filling out a pre-printed form specifying the reason for the request. Albury identified a January 17, 2002 request that claimant be placed on mail watch which was approved by Acting Superintendent Miller for a 60-day period (through March 16, 2002) (Exhibit A). The memorandum contains the sentence: “[s]pecific reasons for the mail watch are outlined in the confidential addendum,” but the addendum was not attached. Albury testified that the request in this case was related to an ongoing investigation of drug trafficking in the facility.

According to Albury, there is no requirement that an inmate be notified of being placed on mail watch; indeed he asserted such notification would defeat the purpose of the mail watch. Directive 4422, a portion of which was received in evidence (Exhibit 4), supports Albury’s interpretation. The provision cited by claimant in support of her contention that she was entitled to notice she was on mail watch (paragraph 9[b]) in fact provides for informing the inmate only after correspondence is confiscated, and even then only if it would not interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Claimant also relied on this court’s decision in a prior claim, Craft v State of New York (189 Misc 2d 661), in which she was awarded damages for the unauthorized opening of her mail. In that matter, claimant had not been placed on mail watch. Here, in contrast, claimant had been placed on incoming and outgoing mail watch in accordance with the governing regulation, and her disciplinary conviction was affirmed.

The fact that the court was not provided with the written justification for the mail watch that was presented to the Deputy Superintendent is irrelevant. The sufficiency of the justification for the mail watch is not before the court. In any event, it was a discretionary determination made by the Deputy Superintendent and cannot be the basis of a civil action for damages (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). The sole relevant factor is that claimant’s mail watch was authorized in accordance with the requirements of the directive.

Claimant’s assertion that the authorization was fabricated after the fact, an assertion based solely on its absence from the records of the disciplinary proceeding submitted by defendant (Exhibit B), had no support in the record and is rejected by the court. The court accepts Albury’s testimony, based on his personal recollection, that claimant had been placed on incoming and outgoing mail watch in compliance with the directive’s requirements.

Accordingly, defendant’s motion to dismiss the claim is now granted and the Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment reflecting such dismissal.

January 24, 2007
White Plains, New York

HON. STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims