Inmate's disciplinary conviction was reversed on substantive grounds. Thus, inmate was afforded his full constitutional due process protections and the claim for damages for wrongful excessive confinement was barred by governmental immunity.
|Claimant(s):||JERMAINE B. PAGE|
|Claimant short name:||PAGE|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||STEPHEN J. MIGNANO|
|Claimant's attorney:||JERMAINE B. PAGE, pro se|
|Defendant's attorney:||ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERAL
By: Michael Krenrich, Assistant Attorney General
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||October 15, 2010|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Claimant, an inmate at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, seeks damages for alleged wrongful excessive confinement resulting from his confinement to his cell (keeplock) pursuant to an August 12, 2007 misbehavior report and his confinement to special housing (SHU) subsequent to his conviction on the charges, which was subsequently reversed by DOCS's Acting Director for Special Housing and Inmate Discipline.
The incident underlying the disciplinary charge arose from a dispute involving the use of the television in the day room at the facility. Claimant testified that it was a Sunday and he and some other inmates wanted to watch a football game while other inmates wanted to watch Spiderman. A verbal altercation ended with one of the other inmates throwing the television to the floor and breaking it. According to claimant's Inmate Misbehavior Report (Exhibit 1), his superintendent's hearing commenced on August 16, 2007 and concluded on August 24. Claimant was found guilty of violent conduct, creating a disturbance and causing property damage and sentenced to 13 days "pre-hearing" keeplock (i.e., the time he had already served from August 12 through the disposition on August 24), two months of special housing confinement, and loss of various other privileges.
On October 19, 2007, the conviction was reversed, with the Acting Director finding that "the inmate's role in the misconduct does not support a guilty finding" (Exhibit 1).
Although claimant testified that his conviction was reversed because his request to call an officer as a witness was denied, the Acting Director's decision reveals that such was not the reason for the reversal. Captain Louis Pingotti, who conducted claimant's hearing, testified that claimant requested four inmate witnesses and one officer and he denied permission only with respect to the officer, whom Pingotti stated was not present at and had no knowledge of the incident.
The fundamental principle underlying potential State liability to a correctional facility inmate alleging excessive wrongful confinement arising from disciplinary charges is that when DOCS officials:
"act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations (Correction Law §§ 112, 137; 7 NYCRR parts 250-254), their actions constitute discretionary conduct of a quasi-judicial nature for which the State has absolute immunity."
Arteaga v State of New York (72 NY2d 212, 214).
Here, the record indicates that claimant's disciplinary proceeding was conducted in accordance with the governing regulations as set forth in 7 NYCRR parts 250-254 and that, although he was initially convicted on the charges, claimant successfully appealed that result and obtained a reversal of the conviction on the ground that the facts did not warrant a guilty verdict. The conviction was not reversed, as alleged by claimant, because he was not allowed to call witnesses, one of the rights specifically set forth in the governing regulations. Had it been, there would be no immunity and claimant would have established prima facie entitlement to damages (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 220, 221; Matter of Laureano v Kuhlmann, 75 NY2d 141, 146; Gaiter v State of New York, Mignano, J., 2009-029-060, [Oct. 5, 2009]; DuBois v State of New York , Patti, J., UID No. 2009-013-022, [Sept. 9, 2009]; Diaz v State of New York, Schweitzer, J, UID No. 2006-036-008, [June 20, 2006]). In contrast, the facts of this case indicate that claimant's conviction was reversed not because he was not afforded proper procedural safeguards but because the Commissioner's designate found that the evidence did not support the conviction. Thus, the Arteaga immunity applies.
The hearing record also reveals that, although claimant's 13 days in pre-conviction keeplock was referred to as "pre-hearing confinement," August 24 (13 days after claimant's confinement commenced) was the date the hearing concluded. It actually commenced on August 16. Thus, 7 NYCRR § 251-5.1 - requiring that the hearing commence within seven days and be concluded within 14 days) - was not violated.
After review of all the evidence, the court concludes that claimant was afforded all of the procedural safeguards set forth in the regulations that are intended to protect inmates' constitutional rights, including the right to an appeal. Accordingly, there can be no liability for claimant's confinement to keeplock and special housing as the result of the reversed conviction. Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim for failure to present a prima facie case is granted and the Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
October 15, 2010
White Plains, New York
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims