New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
DAVIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2009-031-075, Claim No. 114998, Motion No. M-76706, Cross-Motion No. CM-76923

Synopsis

Defendant, being aware that Claimant had been erroneously sentenced, had a duty to notify the District Attorney of the invalid sentence. Its failure to do so renders it liable to Claimant in this action for illegal confinement. Claimant's motion for partial summary judgment on liability is granted. Defendant's cross motion for summary judgment is denied.

Case information

UID: 2009-031-075
Claimant(s): CORNELL DAVIS, JR.
Claimant short name: DAVIS
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 114998
Motion number(s): M-76706
Cross-motion number(s): CM-76923
Judge: RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK
Claimant's attorney: MULDOON & GETZ
BY: JON P. GETZ, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney General
BY: MICHAEL T. KRENRICH, ESQ.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: December 31, 2009
City: Rochester
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The following papers numbered 1 through 6 were read on Claimant's motion for partial summary judgment on liability and on Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment:

1) Claimant's Notice of Motion (M-76706), filed May 14, 2009;

2) Affidavit of Jon P. Getz, Esq., sworn to May 12, 2009, with attached exhibits;

3) Defendant's Notice of Cross-Motion (CM-76923), filed July 8, 2009;

4) Affirmation of Michael T. Krenrich, Esq., dated July 8, 2009, with attached exhibits;

5) Claimant's Reply Memorandum of Law, dated September 14, 2009;

6) Filed Documents: Claim and Answer.

I have before me Claimant's motion for partial summary judgment on liability and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. The facts are not in dispute. On August 14, 2001, Claimant, a second felony offender, pled guilty to one count of attempted assault in the second degree [PL 110.00 and 120.05(1)]. This was a Class E felony and, importantly, was a non-violent felony. Under New York law, attempted assault in the second degree provides for a maximum indeterminate sentence of two to four years. However, on October 5, 2001, Claimant was sentenced to a four year determinate sentence, with five years of post-release supervision. Both parties agree that the determinate sentence and the post-release supervision were improper because such sentences can only be given for violent felonies.

Claimant was received into New York State Department of Correctional Services' ("DOCS") custody on October 18, 2001. He was released to parole supervision on December 10, 2004, but was returned to custody on May 10, 2005 for violating the terms of his post-release supervision (delinquent). He was released again on June 9, 2006. He was again delinquent and returned to custody on February 28, 2007. Claimant was once again restored to post-release supervision on April 16, 2007. He was found to be delinquent, yet again, and returned to custody on November 19, 2007. Upon discovering that his original sentence was apparently illegal, Claimant then brought a CPL 440.20 motion and, on January 29, 2008, his sentence was vacated as illegal by Judge Joseph D. Valentino and he was re-sentenced to the appropriate two-to-four year indeterminate term. As he had already served this term (and more), he was released on February 1, 2008.

Claimant argues that he was illegally confined in prison for a period of 370 days and that, as parole supervision is a restriction on liberty, he was illegally confined to parole supervision for 597 days. It is clear that, due to the invalid sentence, he was improperly held during these times.

The parties' only dispute is whether Defendant can be held liable for confining Claimant for a period longer than was permitted by law, despite knowing that the sentence was improper.

Claimant argues that, because the Certificate of Conviction and the Court's Commitment Order indicated that he had been found guilty of a non-violent crime, but was sentenced for a violent crime, these documents were "facially invalid," and illegal as a matter of law. Claimant argues, citing Becker v Martin (190 Misc 488), that a commitment order requiring an individual to be held longer than is authorized by statute is facially invalid. Claimant then asserts that an order that is invalid on its face will not immunize the State from liability (Dabbs v State of New York, 59 NY2d 213). Finally, Claimant argues that Defendant had a duty, as set forth in Correction Law 601-a, to notify the District Attorney of the fact that Claimant had been sentenced improperly. Defendant was aware of the improper sentence and did send a letter to the sentencing judge notifying him of the mistake. However, no action was taken as a result of that letter. Defendant concedes that it did not notify the District Attorney.

Defendant's position is that, regardless of the mistake, DOCS was "conclusively bound by the contents of commitment papers accompanying a prisoner" and that DOCS' only valid option in circumstances such as these is to "comply with the plain terms of the last commitment order received" (Matter of Murray v Goord, 1 NY3d 29, 32; Middleton v State of New York, 54 AD2d 450, 452). Defendant argues that it cannot be held liable for complying with the terms of the defective commitment papers because the Court of Appeals has made it clear that "sentencing is a judicial function and, as such, lies beyond DOCS's limited jurisdiction over inmates and correctional institutions" (Matter of Garner v New York State Dept. of Correctional Services, 10 NY3d 358, 362; People v Sparber 10 NY3d 457, 470).

Further, Defendant argues that Correction Law 601-a (as it existed at all times relevant to this matter) imposed a duty to notify the District Attorney only if a person was erroneously sentenced as a second, third or fourth felony offender. Claimant was admittedly a second felony offender and sentencing him as such was not erroneous. Since the flaw in Claimant's sentence did not involve his status as a second felony offender, Defendant asserts that Correction Law 601-a did not impose a duty on DOCS to contact the District Attorney.

I find that, although Defendant was conclusively bound by the commitment papers, the question is not whether Defendant had the authority to release Claimant or to unilaterally change the terms of Claimant's sentence. The question, rather, is what duty, if any, did Correction Law  601-a place on Defendant? I find no merit in Defendant's argument that, although it was aware of the improper sentence, it had no duty to notify the District Attorney because the portion of the sentence that was improper (the determinate sentence and post-release supervision) did not relate to Claimant's status as a second felony offender. I do not read the statute so narrowly. Claimant was a second felony offender and he was improperly sentenced. Defendant was aware of this fact and yet breached the duty placed upon it by Correction Law 601-a to notify the District Attorney. As a result of this breach, Claimant was illegally confined.

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED, that Claimant's motion for partial summary judgment on liability is granted, and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied. A preliminary conference will soon be scheduled by the Court for purposes of scheduling the damages trial.

December 31, 2009

Rochester, New York

RENÉE FORGENSI MINARIK

Judge of the Court of Claims