New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CABAN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-042-506, Claim No. 112519, Motion No. M-72826


Synopsis


This motion is brought by the claimant to dismiss defendant’s affirmative defense of immunity. Defendant opposes the motion and seeks to have the affirmative defense stand. Claimant’s motion is denied.

Case Information

UID:
2007-042-506
Claimant(s):
CARLOS CABAN #98-A-0220
Claimant short name:
CABAN
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
112519
Motion number(s):
M-72826
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Claimant’s attorney:
CARLOS CABAN #98-A-0220, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: THOMAS M. TRACE, ESQ.Senior Attorney
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 10, 2007
City:
Utica
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

This motion is brought by the claimant to dismiss defendant’s affirmative defense of immunity. The following papers were considered by the court:

  1. Notice of Motion, filed January 12, 2007
    1. Affidavit of Carlos Caban, pro se, sworn to January 10, 2007
    2. Exhibits A - C, annexed to the moving papers
    3. Opposition affirmation of Thomas M. Trace, Esq., dated February 21, 2007
    4. Exhibits A - C, annexed to the opposition affirmation
_____________________________________________

This matter comes before the court on the pro se claimant’s motion to dismiss defendant’s only affirmative defense, to wit:

Defendant, through its agents and/or employees, took actions which were privileged as being judicial, quasi-judicial or discretionary determinations made by such agents or employees while acting within the scope of their duties as public officials and therefore defendant is immune from any liability for such actions.


Defendant opposes the motion and seeks to have the affirmative defense stand.

The underlying claim seeks damages for mental anguish for the inmate claimant’s solitary confinement for 62 days, together with damages for assorted costs. Claimant alleges that while he was an inmate at Mohawk Correctional Facility he was the subject of improperly performed drug testing, which resulted in a positive cannabis report. Following what is alleged to be an improperly conducted superintendent’s disciplinary hearing, claimant was found guilty and subjected to an allegedly improper and excessive punishment.

However, following an administrative appeal, the disciplinary ruling was reversed and expunged from claimant’s prison record, and claimant’s disciplinary confinement ceased. In the administrative appeal’s ruling, the reason given for the reversal of the superintendent’s hearing is “[t]he hearing officer inappropriately references the inmate’s past disciplinary history in the statement of evidence relied upon” (Exhibit A, annexed to the moving papers).

In support of the motion to dismiss the affirmative defense as without merit, claimant argues that the defendant does not benefit from immunity because 1) the urine specimen collection was not conducted in accordance with applicable rules; 2) the claimant was denied the right to call certain witnesses during the superintendent’s hearing; and 3) the hearing officer improperly considered matters outside the record when he considered claimant’s past disciplinary history. In particular, claimant focuses on defendant’s allegedly improper consideration of his prior history of misconduct. However, even if this allegation is assumed to be true, claimant offers no law in support of his position that defendant could not be protected by quasi-judicial immunity for such a ruling, depending upon the factual context leading to the ruling.

The defendant opposes the motion, argues that the affirmative defense should not be dismissed if material issues of fact are unresolved and that, in any event, the burden is upon the claimant to prove that the defense cannot be maintained or that it’s prejudicial or scandalous, and claimant has not met that burden on this motion (see Minix v State of New York, UID No. 2006-032-060, Claim No. 110439, Motion No. M-71188, Hard, J.).

At the outset, it is apparent that ultimately this affirmative defense may have no bearing on the outcome of the case, if the facts develop as alleged by the claimant. However, it is claimant who has the burden of proof on this motion (Arquette v State of New York, 190 Misc 2d 676). And it is equally apparent that claimant has not met his burden on this motion and that there are sufficient gaps in the facts presently available to the court which preclude the grant of the motion.

The Court of Appeals has ruled, with regard to the State’s immunity from liability for actions of the Department of Correctional Services in commencing and conducting disciplinary proceedings, that:

where . . . the employees act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations (Correction Law §§ 112, 137; 7 NYCRR parts 250 - 254), their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the State has absolute immunity (see, Tarter v State of New York, 68 NY2d 511; Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34).


(Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214). With regard to claimant’s first two assertions concerning improprieties in the handling of his urine samples and violation of his right to call witnesses, there is simply not enough proof offered by claimant on this motion to support dismissal of the affirmative defense - material issues of fact are at this time unresolved (Harrison v State of New York, 262 AD2d 833; Morine v State of New York, UID No. 2003-031-094, Claim No. 106757, Motion No. M-67011, Minarik, J.).

Claimant’s third argument - and the basis of the administrative reversal of the superintendent’s hearing - that the hearing officer improperly considered matters outside the record when he considered claimant’s past disciplinary history, is more problematic. But whether it is subject to an immunity defense, be it an absolute or qualified immunity (see McCann v Coughlin, 698 F2d 112), is dependent upon the resolution of a myriad of factual issues, including a review of the complete hearing record.

It is also worth noting that the subsequent reversal of the underlying disciplinary charges does not itself establish liability against the defendant (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212; Rivera v State of New York, UID No. 2006-028-008, Claim No. 102781, Sise, P.J.; Morine v State of New York, UID No. 2003-031-094, Claim No. 106757, Motion No. M-67011, Minarik, J.).

In conclusion, claimant’s motion to dismiss the defendant’s affirmative defense is denied on the ground that there are relevant and unresolved material issues of fact which preclude the grant of the motion.



April 10, 2007
Utica, New York

HON. NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Judge of the Court of Claims