New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DAVIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-015-051, Claim No. 114112-A, Motion Nos. M-74685, CM-74803


Synopsis


Claimant's motion for default was denied and defendant's motion for dismissal was granted. Claim failed to state a cause of action and State was immune from liability for conduct of District Attorney and the Criminal Court Judge.

Case Information

UID:
2008-015-051
Claimant(s):
DONNELL E. DAVIS
1 1.The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
DAVIS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
114112-A
Motion number(s):
M-74685
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-74803
Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Donnell E. Davis, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Elyse J. Angelico, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 15, 2008
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, moves for the entry of a default judgment alleging the defendant failed to timely serve its answer to the claim. Defendant cross-moves for dismissal of the claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2) and (7). The instant claim was filed and served on August 17, 2007. Defendant served its answer to the claim on September 25, 2007 and the answer was filed in the Office of the Clerk of the Court of Claims on September 27, 2007. By letter dated October 5, 2007 the Clerk acknowledged receipt of the answer and noted the fact that "no claim has been filed in this office" (see defendant's Exhibit J). The assertion that no claim had been filed was incorrect, however, and a second letter from the Clerk dated November 20, 2007 acknowledged that the claim was indeed filed on August 17, 2007 (see defendant's Exhibit K). As the defendant's answer was served within 40 days of service of the claim, it was timely (see 22 NYCRR § 206.7). Claimant's motion for a default judgment is therefore denied.

The Court now turns its attention to the defendant's cross-motion alleging that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the claim and that it fails to state a cause of action.

In 1998, after two nonjury trials, the claimant was convicted in the Westchester County Court of four counts of robbery in the first degree, three counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree, murder in the second degree, attempted robbery in the first degree, and assault in the first degree. The four judgments of conviction were affirmed on appeal (People v Davis, 9 AD3d 468 [2004], lv dismissed 9 NY3d 916 [2007]).

The forty-nine page claim alleges, in pertinent part, the following:
3. This action is being brought against the State of New York, for the actions, acts, or omission(s) of [the Department of Correctional Services] who have or has knowingly recruited, harbored, transported, provided or obtained, by any means the above captioned plaintiff, for labor or services in violation of Ch. 77 (Title 18) (see 18 U.S.C. § 1590).

4. Such labor or services was knowingly provided, obtained and or secured by the Westchester Court District Attorney's office, by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589 (3) (emphasis in original).
The claim goes on to detail purported abuses committed during the prosecution of the criminal charges by the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney as well as the Judge who heard the case and found the claimant guilty after two non-jury trials. Among the alleged abuses are that claimant's arrest was without probable cause, the District Attorney suborned perjury, the claimant's lawyer failed to adequately prepare the case for trial and that after he - the claimant - assaulted his lawyer in open court, the Judge failed to adjourn the trial in order to allow replacement counsel to adequately prepare. At least some of these arguments were rejected on appeal from the judgments of conviction. With respect to the trial court's denial of claimant's request for an adjournment, the Appellate Division, Second Department stated (People v Davis, 9 AD3d at 469):
"Having assaulted his first assigned counsel, necessitating the replacement of counsel, the defendant's request for an adjournment to have additional time to prepare for trial was properly denied. Notwithstanding the defendant's constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel, the defendant was not entitled to create a delay and then seek to benefit therefrom (see People v Arroyave, 49 NY2d 264, 271 [1980]; People v Grigg, 299 AD2d 367 [2002]). The defendant's contention that the denial of the requested adjournment resulted in his receiving less than effective representation is not supported by the record . . ." (citations omitted).
The Appellate Division also found that the verdict of guilt of criminal possession of a weapon was not against the weight of the evidence, that the arrest for this charge was based on probable cause and that the County Court Judge properly declined to recuse herself from presiding over one of the trials after the assault occurred in open court.

As for the conduct of DOCS the following is alleged in the claim (at 25-26):
In relation to § 1590, D.O.C.S. employees have a duty to act once they received information that they are in violation of this statute.

While, initially, department employees and/or officials, would not be in violation of § 1590, by merely accepting into their system a person who is a victim of § 1589 (3); where they had no knowledge of the violation prior to acceptance; once department officials or employees are made aware, or 'put on notice' that such violation either exists, or may exist; If the Department, from that point, opts to ignore, or, chooses not to investigate the allegation, and the allegation is true, the Department by omission of its own mandate and duty, has knowingly 'harbored' a person for labor or services in violation of § 1590.

Additionally, per the N.Y.S. D.O.C.S. "Inmate" Rule book, it is mandatory for prisoners to accept a "Program Assignment"(see Rule # 180.18).
On a motion to dismiss a claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7) the court is required to "accept the facts as alleged in the [claim] as true, accord [claimant] the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]; accord Nonnon v City of New York, 9 NY3d 825, 827 (2007); Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d 314, 326 [2002]). Thus, the determination is made by reference to whether "the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he has stated one" (Id. at 88).

To the extent the claim is based on an alleged violation of the laws against slavery and involuntary servitude (18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1590) jurisdiction is expressly limited to "an appropriate district court of the United States" (18 U.S.C. § 1595 [a]). Accordingly, this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear and decide a claim alleging a violation of these statutes.

To the extent the claim seeks to predicate liability on the alleged misdeeds of the District Attorney's Office, it must fail. The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction empowered to award damages in appropriation, contract or tort for claims against the State of New York (see NY Const. art. VI, § 9; Court of Claims Act § 9[2]) and other specified entities (see e.g. Education Law § 6224 (4); Public Authorities Law § 361-b; Public Authorities Law § 2622). The State is not subject to liability for the actions of a District Attorney because neither a District Attorney nor an Assistant District Attorney is an officer or employee of the State (Fisher v State of New York, 10 NY2d 60 [1961]; Fuller v State of New York, 11 AD3d 365 [2004]; Whitmore v State of New York, 55 AD2d 745 [1976], lv denied 42 NY2d 810 [1977]; Public Officers Law § 2). As a result "a District Attorney's torts are the torts of the county rather than of the State" (Ramos v City of New York, 285 AD2d 284, 303 [2001]). The State is not liable for the conduct of the District Attorney's office and the claim therefore fails to state a cognizable cause of action in this regard.

Although a County Court Judge is a state officer or employee for whose conduct the State may be liable, the doctrine of judicial immunity shields the State from liability for the conduct complained of in this case (Mullen v State of New York, 122 AD2d 300, 301 [1986], lv denied 68 NY2d 609 [1986], cert denied 480 US 938 [1987]; Judiciary Law § 39 [6]; see also Davey v State of New York, 31 AD3d 600 [2006], Montesano v State of New York, 11 AD3d 436 [2004]; Swain v State of New York, 294 AD2d 956 [2002], lv denied 99 NY2d 501[2002]). The rule of absolute immunity from suit is deeply rooted in the common law and is "necessary to assure that judges, advocates, and witnesses can perform their respective functions without harassment or intimidation" (Lombardoni v Boccaccio, 121 AD2d 828, 829 [1986], quoting Butz v Economou, 438 US 478, 512 [1978]). "Only two exceptions to the doctrine are recognized: when a Judge does not act as a Judge, or when a Judge, though acting under color of judicial authority, lacks any jurisdiction supporting judicial authority for the action taken" (Alvarez v Snyder, 264 AD2d 27, 34 [2000], lv denied 95 NY2d 759 (2000), cert denied 531 US 1158 [2001][citations omitted]). Here, the claimant failed to allege facts sufficient to demonstrate that the actions of the County Court Judge, acting as such, were performed in the absence of jurisdiction so as to take them outside the cloak of immunity (see Harley v Perkinson, 187 AD2d 765 [1992]; Rosenstein v State of New York, 37 AD3d 208 [2007]). Rather, this case constitutes the very type of collateral attack which the doctrine of judicial immunity is designed to discourage (Mosher-Simons v County of Allegany, 99 NY2d 214, 219 [2002] ["Judicial immunity discourages inappropriate collateral attacks on court rulings and fosters judicial independence by protecting courts and judges from vexatious litigation"]. Under such circumstances the doctrine of judicial immunity shields the State of New York from suit for the alleged improper conduct of the County Court Judge.

Nor may the claim be read to include a viable cause of action for wrongful confinement. To establish a cause of action for wrongful confinement, a "species" of the tort of false imprisonment (Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 402 [Ct Cl 1986]), a claimant must show that "(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]). "[W]here a facially valid order issued by a court with proper jurisdiction directs confinement, that confinement is privileged and everyone connected with the matter is protected from liability for false imprisonment" (Holmberg v County of Albany, 291 AD2d 610, 612 [2002], lv denied 98 NY2d 604 [2002]) (citation omitted). Prison officials are "conclusively bound" by the commitment papers and cannot add or detract therefrom (Matter of Murray v Goord, 1 NY3d 29, 32 [2003], quoting Middleton v State of New York, 54 AD2d 450, 452 [1976], affd 43 NY2d 678 [1977]). Absent an allegation in the claim, "express or inferable", that the order of commitment was invalid on its face or that the court lacked jurisdiction to issue the order, a claim for wrongful confinement lacks merit (Ferrucci v State of New York, 42 AD2d 359, 361 [1973], affd 34 NY2d 881 [1974]; see also, Harty v State of New York, 29 AD2d 243 [1968], affd 27 NY2d 698 [1970]; Mullen v State of New York, 122 AD2d 300 [1986], lv denied 68 NY2d 609 [1986], cert denied 480 US 938 [1987]). As the instant claim does not expressly or implicitly assert that an order of commitment was invalid on its face so as to defeat the claim of privilege, any claim for wrongful confinement lacks merit.

To the extent the claim could be read to include a cause of action for unjust conviction pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 8-b, it fails as a matter of law because among other reasons, claimant's judgment of conviction was not "reversed or vacated", (Court of Claims Act § 8-b [3] [b] [ii]; cf. Turner v State of New York, 50 AD3d 890 [2008]; Harris v State of New York, 38 AD3d 144 [2007]).

To the extent the claim may be read to include a violation of the claimant’s federal constitutional rights, it must be dismissed as no claim for a violation of the claimant’s federal constitutional rights is cognizable against the State in the Court of Claims (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 184-185 [1996]; see also Monell v New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 US 658; Matter of Gable Transp., Inc. v State of New York, 29 AD3d 1125 [2006]; Welch v State of New York, 286 AD2d 496 [2001]). Nor can the claim be read to include a cause of action for violation of the New York State constitution as such a cause of action is unnecessary to ensure the full realization of the claimant’s constitutional rights (Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83 [2001]; Brown v State of New York, supra; Waxter v State of New York, 33 AD3d 1180 [2006]; Bullard v State of New York, 307 AD2d 676 [2003]).
Accepting the facts as alleged in the claim as true and according the claimant the benefit of every possible favorable inference, the claim fails to state a cognizable cause of action.

Based on the foregoing, claimant's motion for a default judgment is denied and the defendant's cross-motion for dismissal pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2) and (7) is granted.


July 15, 2008
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated March 11, 2008;
  2. Declaration of Donnell E. Davis sworn to March 12, 2008 with exhibits;
  3. Notice of cross-motion dated April 10, 2008;
  4. Affirmation of Elyse J. Angelico dated April 10, 2008 with exhibits.