Claimant, Willie Frank Nelson, filed claim 112180 on April 5, 2006, alleging
that he was assaulted, illegally confined, and denied medical care while an
inmate at Five Points Correctional Facility (“Five Points”). I
conducted the trial of this matter on June 20, 2008, at Auburn Correctional
Claimant testified that each of his causes of action is related to an incident
which occurred on March 1, 2005. On that date, he was directed to report to
work at the mess hall at Five Points. According to Claimant, he had injured his
hand in an altercation on January 7, 2005 and was scheduled to have hand
surgery. While awaiting the surgery, he was to have been given light duty work.
In the mess hall, he felt that he was inappropriately instructed to do dishes in
the “pot room.” He refused to do this work for several reasons.
First, he alleges that another inmate told him that he heard two guards say
“Nelson is on his way down, make sure you take care of him.”
Claimant interpreted this statement to mean that members of a prison gang were
waiting in the pot room to assault him. He stated that the mess hall officers
knew and were a part of the conspiracy to assault him in the pot room. Second,
he believes that he should not have been directed to work in the pot room
because he had a medical excuse to have light duty.
When he wouldn’t go into the pot room as directed, he was given an inmate
misbehavior report (“ IMR”), charging him with violations of rules
104.13 (creating a disturbance), 106.10 (disobeying a direct order) and 109.10
(out of place).
Claimant alleges that, at the subsequent disciplinary hearing, his due process
rights were violated because he was denied the right to call one of his
requested witnesses, other witnesses were interviewed off the record, and he was
not allowed to submit his documentary evidence. Claimant was found guilty and
sentenced to 30 days of keeplock. Claimant also testified that, due to the IMR
and his subsequent punishment, he missed his scheduled hand surgery and that, as
of the date of the trial, he had still not had the required surgery.
Upon motion by Defendant at the conclusion of Claimant’s case, I
dismissed Claimant’s medical malpractice cause of action due to
Claimant’s failure to present expert medical testimony that the care he
received had deviated from good and accepted standards of medical care
(see Rossi v Arnot Ogden Med. Ctr., 268 AD2d 916; Spicer v
Community Family Planning Council Health Ctr., 272 AD2d 317; Lyons v
McCauley, 252 AD2d 516).
With regard to the assault, Claimant’s own testimony confirms that no
assault ever took place. Claimant concedes that he was never physically touched
but believes that an assault occurred because he feared for his safety upon
hearing that the correction officers said, “Nelson is on his way down,
make sure you take care of him.” Of, course this statement is by no means
an obvious threat. It could just as easily have meant, and probably did mean,
that the officers needed to find work for Claimant when he arrived. Further,
Claimant was with the guards while in the mess hall and never even went into the
pot room where he believes the assault was to have occurred. “An assault
is the intentional placing of another person in apprehension of imminent harmful
or offensive contact” (PJI 3:2 ). Claimant was not threatened with
“imminent harmful or offensive contact.” To the extent that
Claimant was fearful, I find that such fear was unreasonable. Accordingly,
Claimant failed to prove a prima facie case of assault.
With regard to his illegal confinement cause of action, I find that Claimant,
again, failed to meet his burden of proof. Initially, I note that Claimant
admitted he did not have a medical excuse for refusing to work. Accordingly, he
had no valid reason for refusing the officer’s direct order to work in the
pot room. Claimant alleges that his due process rights were violated because
the interview with medical personnel concerning this issue was made by
telephone, and not in person. He also alleges that he was not permitted to call
a witness concerning his request for a job assignment away from the mess hall.
I find that the witness was properly excluded and that it was not improper to
question the medical personnel by telephone. The actions of prison personnel
involving inmate disciplinary matters are generally quasi-judicial and, unless
they exceed the scope of their authority or violate applicable rules, are
afforded absolute immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212;
Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887, lv denied 93 NY2d
It was Claimant’s burden in this matter to demonstrate that he was denied
due process at the hearing; that the disciplinary hearing was conducted in
violation of the relevant rules before he could recover on this claim for
monetary compensation. He has failed. There is no indication that Defendant
violated any of its own rules and regulations in conducting the hearing, or
otherwise acted outside the sphere of privileged actions (Arteaga v State of
New York, 72 NY2d 212, supra; Holloway v State of New York,
285 AD2d 765; cf. Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399).
Moreover, as stated by the Honorable Richard E. Sise, in Rivera v State of
New York (Ct Cl, February 8, 2006 [Claim No. 102781], UID No. 2006-028-008),
“Before a violation of one of the rules or regulations governing prison
disciplinary hearings can become the basis for an award of money damages from
the State, it must be established that the violation caused actual injury to the
inmate.” Here, as in Rivera, there was no evidence produced which
indicated that the underlying disciplinary hearing would have had a different
result if the witness had testified. On the contrary, Claimant clearly had no
valid reason for refusing to work in the mess hall on the day in question. The
evidence appears to indicate that the hearing determination would have been the
same whether or not Claimant was permitted to call his witness or have the
medical personnel testify in person.
Finally, with regard to Claimant’s allegations of medical neglect, I note
that Claimant himself admitted that he had no medical restriction placed on his
ability to work. Further, Claimant’s own Exhibit 1 demonstrates that, not
only was Claimant never scheduled for hand surgery, but that the medical care
providers at Five Points determined that no further treatment was necessary.
Claimant has failed to offer any evidence that would indicate otherwise.