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
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
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.