New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MOORE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-031-511, Claim No. 111675


Synopsis


Claimant failed to prove that he was damaged by alleged minor violation of disciplinary hearing regulations. Claim dismissed

Case Information

UID:
2008-031-511
Claimant(s):
ERIC MOORE
Claimant short name:
MOORE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
111675
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Claimant’s attorney:
ERIC MOORE, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney General
BY: BONNIE GAIL LEVY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 30, 2008
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

Claimant, Eric Moore, filed claim 111675 on November 25, 2005, alleging that he was illegally confined following an inmate disciplinary hearing. I conducted the trial of this matter on June 6, 2008, at Auburn Correctional Facility (“Auburn”).


Claimant testified that on July, 21 2005, he was given an inmate misbehavior report by Correction Officer J. Morabito when his urinalysis tested positive for opiates. He was charged with a violation of Rule 113.24 (use of controlled substances). According to Claimant, the urine sample was taken at 9:45 a.m. on that day. The urine was tested twice, once at 11:07 a.m. and again at 11:43 a.m. It was positive both times.

Claimant was given a disciplinary hearing and, on July 27, 2005, he was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months in Auburn’s Special Housing Unit (“SHU”), with loss of packages, commissary and telephone. At trial, Claimant demonstrated that his hearing was reversed on appeal on September 9, 2005. He testified that he was released from SHU confinement shortly thereafter, after serving approximately 60 days of his sentence.

Claimant contends that various due process violations occurred at the hearing. First, he testified that the inmate misbehavior report was not signed indicating that he had been served with a copy. He did admit, however, that he was in fact appropriately served. Second, Mr. Moore testified that he received inadequate assistance in preparation for his hearing. He bases this argument on the fact that his assistant failed to provide him with the Department of Correctional Services directive that deals with urinalysis procedures (Directive 4937). Third, Claimant stated that his hearing started 21 hours after his last meeting with his assistant, instead of the 24 required by the New York State Department of Correctional Services regulations. Finally, Claimant testified that he believed that Defendant failed to adequately demonstrate the chain of custody of his urine, making any results of the urinalysis unreliable. In closing his direct case, Claimant stated that Defendant must have done something to violate his due process rights at the hearing because the hearing was ultimately reversed.

Defendant called no witnesses in defense of the action, but several documents were introduced into evidence that shed light on the issues in this matter. Defendant’s Exhibit A, the transcript of the disciplinary hearing, indicates that the hearing was commenced only 21 hours after Claimant last met with his assistant, and that Claimant was not provided a copy of Directive 4937 prior to the hearing. The hearing officer, however, gave Claimant a copy of Directive 4937 and immediately adjourned the hearing for 24 hours to give Claimant a chance to review that document and determine if he needed anything else to prepare for the hearing.

Defendant’s Exhibit B indicates that the disciplinary hearing was overturned on appeal for one reason, because “the hearing officer commenced the hearing without waiting the required 24 hours after the inmate initially met with the assistant.” And finally, Defendant’s exhibit

C, the hearing disposition packet, defines the chain of custody of Claimant’s urine sample. Specifically, Appendix A demonstrates that the urine sample was in the possession of the testing officer, J. Morabito, the entire time the tests were being conducted. I also note that Exhibit A indicates that this was explained to Claimant and that the hearing officer even offered to call Officer Morabito as a witness if Claimant had any further questions about the chain of custody. Claimant declined.

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 819). 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. The fact that the disposition from a disciplinary hearing is later reversed does not necessarily remove the matter from the blanket of immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 supra; Bonacorsa v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 31, 1994 [Claim No. 86522], Bell, J.).

Claimant did demonstrate that his hearing was initially commenced three hours early. However, with regard to that three hour period after bringing the matter to the hearing officer’s attention, Claimant was given an immediate 24-hour adjournment of the hearing. There is no indication that Defendant violated any other rules or 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).

Although there was a technical violation of Defendant’s rules and regulations pertaining to disciplinary hearings, this does not necessarily grant a right of recovery. While complying with the relevant rules provides defendant with absolute immunity, failing to follow a rule does not necessarily result in absolute liability of defendant (Edmonson v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 452; Bonacorsa v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 31, 1994 [Claim No. 86522], Bell, J., supra; see Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, supra [violation of a directive while obtaining evidence later used at a disciplinary hearing does not give rise to a viable claim for money damages]). In some circumstances, and this instance is certainly one, reversal of the disciplinary determination and expungement of all references to the matter from an inmate’s record are a sufficient remedy (see Edmonson v State of New York, supra, at 456).

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 is clearly no injury to Claimant. In fact, any prejudice whatsoever was cured by the hearing officer’s adjournment of the hearing.
Accordingly, Claim Number 111675 is hereby DISMISSED in its entirety.

Any and all motions on which the Court may have previously reserved decision or which were not previously determined are hereby denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

September 30, 2008
Rochester, New York

HON. RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Judge of the Court of Claims