New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SMITH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-014, Claim No. 111410


Synopsis


Defendant State liable for wrongful confinement of inmate confined after modification and reduction of original sentence. Because inconsistent with DOCS own rules and regulations, not immunized by Arteaga v State of New York, 72 N.Y.2d 212 (1988). Original confinement followed inmate’s religiously based - but unrecognized - refusal to allow his beard to be shaved while being processed in reception at Downstate Correctional Facility. Record supports a finding that claimant was wrongfully confined for a period of twelve (12) days, and also supports an award of $120.00 ($10.00 per day) for this deprivation as reasonable compensation.

Case Information

UID:
2007-030-014
Claimant(s):
RANDOLPH SMITH
Claimant short name:
SMITH
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
111410
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
RANDOLPH SMITH, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: BARRY KAUFMAN, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 22, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Randolph Smith alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents within the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) wrongfully confined him after his religiously based refusal to allow his beard to be shaved while being processed at the Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate) reception center. Claimant seeks damages for a period of thirteen (13) days he asserts he was wrongfully confined beyond a modified sentence and release date he received after administrative review. Trial of the matter was held at Downstate on March 30, 2007.

At trial, Mr. Smith essentially relied upon the factual allegations contained in his claim, and attachments to his responses to defendant’s discovery demands - which included the disciplinary hearing and review documents - as well as his own testimony.

Claimant testified that on February 24, 2005 he was “sent to SHU for a period of six (6) months in Sing Sing Correctional Facility” and was then transferred to Greene Correctional Facility SHU.[1] On May 5, 2005 his sentence was modified to three (3) months, which would have meant release on June 1, 2005. He was not, however, released until June 13, 2005. He asked for damages “for thirteen days” in the amount of $150.00 per day from June 1, 2005 to June 13, 2005. Claimant submitted an internal DOCS document indicating - or so it appeared at first - that he was sent from Greene Correctional Facility SHU on May 31, 2005 to Great Meadow Correctional Facility. [Exhibit 1].

Documents attached to the claimant’s discovery response filed with the clerk’s office as required [see 22 NYCRR §206.5(c)], include the initial misbehavior report and superintendent’s hearing disposition, as well as the State Commissioner’s review of the superintendent’s hearing modifying claimant’s sentence as he had indicated to three (3) months on May 5, 2005. According to the original hearing disposition, the start of the SHU sentence was March 1, 2005, confirming that - as Mr. Smith had testified - his release from SHU should have occurred on June 1, 2005.

Catherine Jacobsen of Downstate was shown the document that Claimant submitted [Exhibit 1], and identified it as “the inmate transfer history screen.” Ms. Jacobsen said that it “indicates that on May 31, 2005 Mr. Smith was put in for a transfer from the SHU 200 to a general pop[ulation] facility” and that on June 13, 2005 he was transferred. She explained that the “SHU 200" notation indicates special housing for disciplinary inmates. She expressed herself as “familiar” with the procedures involved in transferring an inmate from one facility to the next, and said that generally an inmate is put in for a transfer, and then moved when space becomes available. In this case, she said that this inmate was awaiting transfer to a maximum security prison, and that as soon as a bed became available he was transferred. The waiting period from May 31, 2005 when the request was made, and his ultimate transfer back to the general population of a different facility on June 13, 2005, is what is reflected by the document. She said that “max beds are at a premium, so you might have to wait a little longer for a bed” in a maximum security prison.

On cross-examination, Mr. Smith asked Ms. Jacobsen why they waited until May 31, 2005 to request the transfer, when he had received a downward modification of his sentence on May 5, 2005. Ms. Jacobsen could not answer the question, because she “did not work at Greene”, but said that there are times that a request is put in earlier, but may not be processed. The screen shown by the document does not provide the information as to when the request for a transfer may have been put in, she said.

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, however, 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 (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), cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929 (1975). In this case the claimant has established, without contradiction, all four elements.

Due to the appeal process, the initial disciplinary determinations were modified in keeping with privileged conduct. The court is satisfied however, that claimant was then kept confined beyond the three (3) month modification provided in the final disposition, with no explanation offered beyond a very general understanding of the administrative process given by the State’s witness. No specific explanation about how a disposition entered on May 5, 2005 took almost an entire month to implement was given.

There were no other disciplinary proceedings pending that might have meant Mr. Smith’s retention in SHU despite the modification and, on this record, it cannot be found that defendant’s employees acted within the scope of their discretionary functions in keeping this claimant in SHU beyond the period sentenced without any hearing or even any articulable rationale. The witness called by the State did not know the particulars of this Claimant’s situation, and by her testimony buttressed the Claimant’s position that Claimant was not released from SHU on time. This is inconsistent with defendant’s own rules and regulations. Arteaga, supra; Gittens v State of New York, supra.

Accordingly, the court finds that the record supports a finding that claimant was wrongfully confined for a period of thirteen (13) days, and also supports an award of $130.00 ($10.00 per day) for this deprivation as reasonable compensation. Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982, 983 (4th Dept 1994).

Any motions on which the court may have previously reserved decision are hereby denied. To the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a (2).

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

May 22, 2007
White Plains, New York

HON. THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims




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