New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PRATT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-030-005, Claim No. 110574


Synopsis


Pro se inmate’s cause of action for wrongful confinement established where correctional facility failed to correctly calculate the period of confinement related to two disciplinary sentences in violation of facility rules. No violation of rules where facility did not credit pre-hearing detention against disciplinary sentence imposed. $20.00 damages for one (1) day of excessive confinement.

Case Information

UID:
2008-030-005
Claimant(s):
MILTON PRATT
1 1.The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
PRATT
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110574
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
MILTON PRATT, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: DEWEY LEE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 15, 2008
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Milton Pratt alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents at Green Haven Correctional Facility wrongfully confined him in violation of facility rules. Trial of the matter was held on November 30, 2007 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Mr. Pratt testified that on November 2, 2004 he was keeplocked based upon a misbehavior report prior to a disciplinary hearing on the charge. Two “disciplinary actions”[2] had been received on that same day he said, but he was confined only with respect to the one “walk in charge pending the hearing.” He testified that “on November 5th, . . . [he] appeared before Lieutenant Gorsch for the ‘walk in ticket’ hearing.” After that disciplinary hearing, he received a sentence of ten (10) days keeplock from November 5, 2004 to November 15, 2004. Then, on November 7, 2004, he appeared before Lieutenant Russett on the other charge.

Before Lieutenant Russett, he received as a sentence
“30 days keeplock, 15 days deferred for 30 days and 15 revoked; and the keeplock was from 11/2 to 11/17; and the 15 days revoked was from 11-17 to 12-2-04. So, from 11/2 to 12/2 was 30 days. Then the 10 days overlapped: from 11/5 to 11/15. In totality, however, . . . [he] had been keeplocked from 11/2 to 12/16 - 44 days instead of the 40 . . . [he] should have served.”

When he tried to “get out” as his disposition indicated on December 12, he was “told no”, and kept an additional four (4) days. First he was told he “would get out the 15th, but then . . . [he] was not released until 12/16.”

After reviewing the two disciplinary hearing dispositions completed by the respective lieutenants without knowledge of the pendency of the two disciplinary proceedings, the court notes that it appears that Lieutenant Gorsch, who was addressing charges of refusing a direct order and “out of place” did not note that the claimant had been keeplocked since November 2, 2004; while Lieutenant Russett did based upon the “start dates” for keeplock noted on the disposition report. [See Exhibit 1].

Claimant filed a grievance, which was accepted in part. [Exhibits 1, 2 and A]. The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee concluded that the disciplinary sanctions were miscalculated, and while he should have been released on December 12, 2004, he was not released until December 16, 2004. [Ibid.]. They suggested he apply to the Court of Claims for relief. [Exhibits 2 and A].

Somewhat inexplicably, back pay for one (1) day was granted in the amount of $.45 in the Superintendent’s decision. [Exhibit A]. In a memorandum dated January 20, 2005 from Lieutenant Russett to claimant - a memorandum referred to by the Superintendent’s decision granting the back pay - the officer writes: “You ended up doing three (3) days pre-hearing keeplock and stayed confined an extra day as well as the forty days of the assigned disposition.” [Exhibits 1 and A].

Claimant testified that he seeks “$2,500.00 in damages”, based upon the deprivation of liberty, as well as the fact that having found that he was held wrongfully, he should have been compensated accordingly. He thought it should not have taken filing a grievance for the facility to acknowledge their error.

On cross-examination Mr. Pratt agreed that the Superintendent’s decision reflects a final facility determination that claimant had been confined for one (1) extra day rather than four (4) days.

Mr. Pratt also pointed out, however, that the pre-hearing detention was not dealt with in the final calculation. He said he “gave them a chance to correct” one error - by telling them he was “supposed to be out on December 12, 2004” - they then “told . . . [him he] could get out December 15, but then kept . . . [him] in until December 16, 2004, which was still wrong.” This appears to be borne out by the investigative reports for the IGRC dated December 27, 2004, wherein it is indicated that claimant should have been credited with three (3) days keeplock. [Exhibit A].

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

To establish a prima facie case of wrongful confinement, a “species” of the tort of false imprisonment, [Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 407 (Ct Claims 1986)], 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.

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.

Claimant presented as a credible witness and has satisfied his burden of establishing at least a portion of his claim by a preponderance of the evidence. With respect to his cause of action for wrongful confinement, claimant has established that through errors that were not his own the facility failed to calculate the period of his confinement with regard to the expiration of his two disciplinary sentences in violation of facility rules. [See generally 7 NYCRR §253.7]. With respect to pre-hearing detention, however, although he was subject to same, there is no violation of rules and regulations when the facility does not credit pre-hearing detention[3] against a disciplinary sentence ultimately imposed. See Matter of Melluzzo v Goord, 250 AD2d 893, 895 (3d Dept 1998), lv denied 92 NY2d 914 (1998). Such determination would constitute discretionary immunized conduct under the principles of Arteaga v State of New York, supra.

Accordingly, the Court finds that claimant is entitled to compensation for one (1) day of wrongful confinement, and that the amount of $20.00 per day for a total of $20.00 in damages adequately compensates him for the loss. Pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2) Claimant is entitled to receive in addition the amount of any filing fee paid.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

January 15, 2008
White Plains, New York

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




[2]. All quotations are to trial notes or audiorecordings unless otherwise indicated.
[3]. Indeed, the primary concern with regard to any pre-hearing detention is whether the disciplinary hearing is timely commenced and concluded. [see 7 NYCRR §251-5.1].