New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DAVIDSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-041-028, Claim No. 114411, Motion No. M-74257


Synopsis


Inmate’s motion for summary judgment is denied and claim is dismissed upon findings that a one-day delay in holding a disciplinary hearing (7 NYCRR § 251-5.1 [a]) did not result in any injury to claimant and that claimant was not confined to SHU for more than the 30-days to which he had been sentenced.

Case Information

UID:
2008-041-028
Claimant(s):
CHESTER DAVIDSON
1 1.The caption is amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
DAVIDSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
114411
Motion number(s):
M-74257
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant’s attorney:
CHESTER DAVIDSONPro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Paul F. Cagino, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 6, 2008
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


This wrongful confinement claim is based upon an allegedly unlawfully imposed sentence following a Tier III disciplinary hearing. After the hearing, claimant was found guilty of violent conduct and fighting and sentenced to thirty days in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) of Greene Correctional Facility (Greene). Claimant asserts that the sentence was unlawfully imposed because the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) procedures relating to timeliness of hearings had been violated. Claimant also asserts that he was held in confinement for an extra day beyond the imposed sentence.

In support of his motion for summary judgment, claimant has submitted the August 15, 2007 Inmate Misbehavior Report that charged him with fighting and violent conduct and the Hearing Disposition sheet, dated August 23, 2007, showing that he was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to 30 days confinement in the SHU and loss of privileges. The Hearing Disposition sheet indicates that the sentence start date was August 15, 2007 and the proposed release date was September 13, 2007.

In its opposition papers, defendant has produced a printout of claimant’s movement records showing that he was confined to SHU at Greene from August 15, 2007 to September 14, 2007.

Pursuant to Section 251-5.1(a) of the Rules and Regulations of the Department of Correctional Services (7 NYCRR 251-5.1 [a]), any disciplinary hearing must be commenced within seven (7) days of the date an inmate is confined to his cell after being charged with an infraction, unless an extension is authorized by the Commissioner or his designee before that period expires. If the inmate is charged with an infraction but not confined, the hearing must take place within 14 days of the issuance of the misbehavior report. In the instant case, the incident giving rise to the charges against claimant occurred on August 15, 2007, although claimant was not served with charges until the following day. The inmate movement records printout supplied by defendant, however, shows that claimant was confined to SHU on the 15th. The disciplinary hearing took place on August 23, 2007, within the seven (7) day period after charges were brought but eight (8) days after claimant was confined. It is the date of confinement, not the date on which charges were formally lodged, from which the seven (7) days must be measured (Matter of Anderson v Coughlin, 195 AD2d 1075 [4th Dept 1993]). Consequently, it appears that a time requirement of Section 251-5.1(a) was violated.

It is well-established that the State is entitled to absolute immunity from claims for money damages for confinement or other injury resulting from the discretionary, quasi-judicial actions of prison officials in connection with prison disciplinary proceedings, as long as the disciplinary proceeding was conducted in accordance with the rules and procedures established by the Department of Correctional Services (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 [1988]; Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887 [3d Dept 1999], lv denied 93 NY2d 819 [1999]). This immunity attaches even if the conviction is later reversed administratively or as the result of a successful article 78 proceeding.

If, however, prison officials fail to comply with one of the ministerial rules or regulations governing such disciplinary hearings, however, absolute immunity is lost and liability may be imposed if it is proven that the regulatory violation caused actual injury to the inmate (Rivera v State of New York, UID #2006-028-008, Claim No. 102781 [Ct Cl, Feb. 8, 2006], Sise, P.J., citing Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004] and Henderson v Coughlin, 163 Misc 2d 20 [Ct Cl 1994]).

In Solis v State of New York (UID #2002-030-056, Claim No. 104793 [Ct Cl, July 29, 2002], Scuccimarra, J.), prison officials did not hold a disciplinary hearing until four days after the time required by Rule 251-5.1, and at the hearing, the inmate was found to be not guilty of the charges brought against him. Because he would have been released four days earlier if the hearing had been commenced in a timely fashion, the State was held liable for wrongful confinement as a result of its failure to comply with the applicable rules and regulations.
In the situation presented here, however, claimant was found guilty of the charges against him, sentenced to 30 days in SHU, and given credit for the time he served in confinement before the disciplinary hearing was held. To be entitled to money damages because of the one-day delay in conducting his hearing, claimant would have to prove that the outcome of the hearing would have been different if it had been held in a timely fashion or that the delay caused actual injury to him in some other fashion (see Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004]; Henderson v Coughlin, 163 Misc 2d 20 [Ct Cl 1994]).

Consequently, since the length and conditions of claimant’s confinement were unchanged by the one-day delay in affording him a disciplinary hearing, claimant suffered no injury and he is not entitled to any recovery on this portion of the claim.

With respect to claimant’s allegation that he was kept in SHU for an extra day after his sentence had been served, the documentary evidence before the Court indicates, as set forth above, that he was placed in SHU on August 15, 2007 and released on September 14, 2007. On the Hearing Disposition form, the date “8-15-07" was written in as the start date for claimant's sentence and “9-13-07" was written in as the proposed release date. This would appear to support claimant’s contention that he was held in SHU an additional day.

A check of the calendar, however, reveals that September 13, 2007 is actually the 29th day after August 15, 2007 and consequently prison officials were entitled to keep claimant in SHU until the following day, September 14, 2007, pursuant to the thirty-day sentence.

Summary judgment is a drastic remedy that should be granted only when there is no outstanding issue of material fact (Redcross v Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 260 AD2d 908, 914 [3d Dept 1999], citing Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853 [1985]). The Court's task has been described as “issue finding, rather than issue determination,” and before judgment can be issued it must be clearly ascertained that there is no triable issue of fact outstanding (Matter of Hannah UU, 300 AD2d 942, 943 [3d Dept 2002], citing Matter of Suffolk County Dept. of Soc. Servs. v. James M., 83 NY2d 178 [1994] and Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395 [1957]). The threshold to be met is high, as “there must be only one conclusion that can be drawn from the undisputed facts” (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 254 [2002]).

If the evidence presented on a motion for summary judgment is sufficient to establish that the party opposing the motion, rather than the proponent, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Court “may grant such judgment without the necessity of a cross-motion” (CPLR 3212 [b]; see Conroy v Swartout, 135 AD2d 945, 947 [3d Dept 1987]). In the instant case, it is appropriate for the Court to exercise that power.

Claimant’s motion for summary judgment is denied and summary judgment is granted in favor of defendant. Claim No. 114411 is dismissed.


August 6, 2008
Albany, New York

HON. FRANK P. MILANO
Judge of the Court of Claims


Papers Considered:

  1. Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, filed November 21, 2007;
  2. Affidavit of Chester Davidson, sworn November 15, 2007, and annexed exhibits;
  3. Affirmation in Opposition of Paul F. Cagino, dated December 12, 2007, and annexed exhibits.