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
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
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.