New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ANDERSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-041-505, Claim No. 109206


Synopsis

Incarcerated claimant awarded $15 where defendant improperly required claimant to work at his regular correctional facility job even though claimant should have been excused from work due to a Muslim holiday.

Case Information

UID:
2008-041-505
Claimant(s):
REGINALD ANDERSON
1 1.The court has amended the caption sua sponte to reflect properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
ANDERSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The court has amended the caption sua sponte to reflect properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109206
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant’s attorney:
REGINALD ANDERSONPro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Michael C. Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 1, 2008
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


The amended claim alleges that defendant denied the claimant “the right not to work on the claimants [sic] [r]eligious [h]oliday” and therefore violated “Correction Law § 610 and NYSDOC Directive 4202.” The amended claim further alleges that claimant endured “[p]ain and [s]uffering for being forced to work and not being able to observe the [r]eligious [h]oliday.” Although couched in terms of an intentional tort, claimant sets forth facts and circumstances which can reasonably be read to support a cause of action founded in negligence, for failure of the defendant to follow its own “call-out” policies by which inmates are excused from work.


Claimant was the only witness to testify at trial. Defendant presented no witnesses. Claimant, an inmate at Clinton Correctional Facility (Clinton) stated that he had a call-out for February 1, 2004 to attend an Islamic Prayer Service that morning. According to claimant, a call-out is intended to inform correction officers that an inmate has a facility-sanctioned appointment for a specific day, time and reason. The call-out slip was admitted into evidence as Claimant’s Exhibit 1 and stated that claimant was to report in the “morning” to a prayer service observing the Islamic holiday, Eid-Ul-Adha.

At 5:45 a.m. on February 1, 2004, claimant’s cell door was opened by a correction officer and he was instructed to report to his regular work assignment at the mess hall. Claimant objected, directing the correction officer’s attention to the call-out slip, pointing out that it was an Islamic holiday and that he should not have to work that day. Despite his objections, claimant complied with the officer’s direction that he report to work at the mess hall.

Claimant again complained to a correction officer at the mess hall that he was not required to work that day because of the call-out and the Islamic holiday. The correction officer told claimant he would look into claimant’s complaint and, after working from 5:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., claimant was permitted to attend the religious service at the facility mosque from 8:30 a.m. to 10:50 a.m.

Claimant returned to his cell after the prayer service concluded and was again told to report for work at the mess hall. Claimant again objected that he was not required to work on the religious holiday but complied with the order that he report to the mess hall. At the mess hall, claimant again objected to being required to work but complied when ordered to work by correction officers. Claimant continued to work at the mess hall until his regular shift ended at 6:00 p.m. Claimant was paid his regular hourly wage for the work he performed on February 1, 2004.

Claimant filed an inmate grievance (Claimant’s Exhibit 2) on February 4, 2004, alleging that he “should have been exempt from work on Feb 1st as noted in the call-out.” The grievance was resolved in claimant’s favor, with the investigative report (Claimant’s Exhibit 3) noting as follows:

“[C]orrective action taken ➝ officer was advised that inmates attending Eid-Ul-ADHA are excused from work + programs on that day.”

The grievance was forwarded to the facility superintendent (Claimant’s Exhibit 4) with a “recommendation that grievant’s action requested be granted in full.” The superintendent agreed that claimant should have been exempt from work on the Islamic holiday and noted that corrective action had been taken to avoid a similar situation in the future (Claimant’s Exhibit 5).

Claimant appealed the superintendent’s determination, favorable to him, to the Central Office Review Committee (CORC) because he wanted an amendment to the relevant “directive so that such actions does not occur again.”

CORC upheld the superintendent’s determination (Claimant’s Exhibit 6), noting that “appropriate administrative action has been taken,” but also finding that it had not been “presented with any compelling reason to revise related departmental directives.”

Initially, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction with respect to claimant’s cause of action alleged pursuant to Correction Law § 610 (entitled “Freedom of worship”) as the statute expressly provides at subdivision (3) that:

“In case of a violation of any of the provisions of this section any person feeling himself aggrieved thereby may institute proceedings in the supreme court of the district where such institution is situated, which is hereby authorized and empowered to enforce the provisions of this section.” (emphasis added).


Despite the clear directive of Correction Law § 610 (3) that any alleged violation of the freedom of worship protection afforded by § 610 be litigated in supreme court, claimant improperly sought to obtain relief under Correction Law § 610 in the Court of Claims.

Nevertheless, to the extent the uncontroverted proof adduced at trial clearly established that claimant was made to work on February 1, 2004, when he was excused from work by defendant, claimant suffered injury, notwithstanding having received wages for the work performed that day. Distinct from any religious observance implication, the grievance procedure documents admitted into evidence readily demonstrate that defendant negligently failed to follow its own policies and procedures in that, having excused claimant from work on February 1, 2004 and having documented that fact in written form (the Call Out slip), defendant nevertheless obligated claimant to work that day.

That the claimant felt and demonstrated justifiable indignation and upset at improperly being required to work, and was thereby injured, has been established to the Court’s satisfaction. What then, are the damages? To that point, damages for claimant’s wrongfully enforced labor of February 1, 2004 can reasonably be analogized, to the Court’s mind, to those damages awarded in cases of wrongful keeplock confinement. In each instance, an individual’s choice of movement and/or action (or inaction) has been wrongfully impaired.

Accordingly, damages are awarded to claimant in the amount of $15 (see Minieri v State of New York, 204 AD2d 982 [4th Dept 1994). To the extent claimant’s request for damages in the amount of $50,000 is viewed by the Court as seeking punitive damages, unrelated to his claim for actual injuries, it must be rejected since “it is a matter of public policy that punitive damages are not available against the State of New York” (Keskin v State of New York, 14 Misc 3d 537, 544 [Ct Cl 2006]; see Sharapata v Town of Islip, 56 NY2d 332 [1982]).

All motions not previously decided are hereby denied.

If the claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

May 1, 2008
Albany, New York

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