New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WASHINGTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-032-149, Claim No. 116284, Motion No. M-76627


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2009-032-149
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY WASHINGTON
Claimant short name:
WASHINGTON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
116284
Motion number(s):
M-76627
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant’s attorney:
Anthony Washington, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, NYS Attorney GeneralBy: Roberto Barbosa, Assistant Attorney General, Of Counsel
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 22, 2009
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Defendant moves this Court for summary judgment dismissing the claim on the basis that Defendant’s actions were quasi-judicial in nature and therefore immune from liability, or in the alternative, on the basis that Claimant is collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue set forth in his claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendant’s motion and dismisses Claim No. 116284.
FACTS
On August 16, 2008, an Inmate Misbehavior Report was issued against Claimant for failing to follow a direct order, interference, and harassment. The report indicated that Claimant had refused to clean a cell which had been ordered pursuant to his job as a porter, that he utilized offensive language, and caused a delay in the floor officers’ duties. He was placed in keeplock pending the outcome of a Tier II disciplinary hearing, which commenced on August 19, 2008 and continued until September 15, 2008. On September 15, 2008, Claimant was found guilty of refusing a direct order and harassment. The disposition resulting therefrom provided that Claimant’s penalty was 30 days keeplock, with a loss of privileges, to run from September 15, 2008 until October 15, 2008. Said penalty was in addition to 30 days of prehearing keeplock from August 16, 2008 until September 15, 2008.

Claimant appealed the Tier II hearing decision, alleging that it was in violation of 7 NYCRR 253.7(a)(1)(iii), which prohibits a penalty of keeplock in excess of 30 days. Claimant argued that he should have been given a credit for the 30 days he served prior to the conclusion of the hearing. The Tier II hearing decision was affirmed by Captain Heitrick on or about September 28, 2008.

Thereafter, on October 23, 2008, Claimant filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 78, which set forth the same allegations as in his administrative appeal, specifically, that he was improperly kept in keeplock for 30 days more than the maximum allowed for Tier II hearings. The petition was dismissed by Decision and Order of the Supreme Court (Cerio, J.), dated April 8, 2009.

Claimant filed the subject claim on January 8, 2009, alleging wrongful confinement based upon the same facts set forth in his appeal of the Tier II hearing decision and in his Article 78 petition. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on the basis that: (1) Defendant’s actions were quasi-judicial in nature and immune from liability; and (2) Claimant is collaterally estopped from litigating the issue.
LAW
Summary judgment is a drastic remedy which should not be granted unless it is clear that there are no triable issues of fact (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361, 364 [1974]). The Court’s function in a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve issues of fact, but to determine whether issues of fact exist (Barr v County of Albany, 50 NY2d 247 [1980]). The proponent of a motion for summary judgment must make a prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 [1986]; Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853 [1985]; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 [1980]; Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 404 [1957]). Once the proponent of a motion for summary judgment has set forth such a prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the opponent of the motion to produce evidentiary proof, in admissible form, sufficient to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, supra at 324; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, supra at 562).

The underlying claim alleges wrongful confinement. To establish a prima facie case of wrongful confinement, a claimant must show the following: (1) the defendant intended to confine him; (2) the claimant was conscious of the confinement; (3) the claimant did not consent to the confinement; and (4) the confinement was not otherwise privileged (see Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975]). In support of its motion for summary judgment, Defendant argues that Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of wrongful confinement because he has failed to establish that the confinement was not privileged. Defendant argues that Claimant’s prehearing confinement was lawful and pursuant to 7 NYCRR § 251.1-6 (a), which allows Defendant to confine an inmate to his cell under certain circumstances, rather than related to the outcome of the hearing. This Court agrees.

Pursuant to 7 NYCRR § 251-1.6 (a), an officer shall take reasonable and appropriate steps to confine an inmate where said officer has reasonable grounds to believe that an inmate should be confined to his cell or room or housing because he represents an immediate threat to the safety, security or order of the facility or in immediate danger to other persons or property. Courts have held that this regulation can be interpreted as “authorizing keeplock whenever an officer reasonably believes that a facility rule has been violated by an inmate, thus establishing an ‘immediate threat’ to the ‘order of the facility’” (see Matter of Pettus v West, 28 AD3d 907, 908 [3d Dept 2006]; Matter of Lowrance v Achtyl, 20 F3d 529 [2d Cir 1994]).

In the present case, it is clear from the documents submitted by Defendant that Claimant’s confinement between August 16, 2008 and September 15, 2008, was the result of Claimant’s misbehavior on August 16, 2008, and the disciplinary hearing which ensued as a result thereafter. It was not an actual penalty for Claimant’s disciplinary violations. Moreover, there is nothing in the regulations of the Department of Correctional Services that requires petitioner’s prehearing keeplock be credited toward the penalty imposed after the disciplinary hearing (see Matter of Melluzzo v Goord, 250 AD2d 893, 895 [3d Dept 1998], lv denied 92 NY2d 814 [1998]; Matter of Fama v Mann, 196 AD2d 919 [3d Dept 1993], lv denied 82 NY2d 662 [1993]; see Matter of Mastropietro v New York State Dept. of Corrections, 52 AD3d 1125 [3d Dept 2008]; Matter of Starks v Goord, 2 AD3d 1117 [3d Dept 2003]).

Moreover, where employees of the Department of Correctional Services, in commencing and conducting formal inmate disciplinary proceedings, “act under the authority of and in full compliance with the governing statutes and regulations . . . 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 [1988]; Tarter v State of New York, 68 NY2d 511 [1986]; Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34 [1983]; Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 [3d Dept 2001]). “[T]he actions of Correction Department employees in preparing and filing misbehavior reports, confining inmates, and making dispositions following Superintendents’ hearings entail discretionary decisions in furtherance of general policies and purposes where the exercise of reasoned judgment can produce different acceptable results” (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, supra at 219). Accordingly, their actions are quasi-judicial in nature and deserving of absolute immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, supra at 219). The absolute immunity for discretionary quasi-judicial acts relating to inmate discipline applies even where it is later determined that the discretionary decision was mistaken (Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841, supra). In short, the State is absolutely immune from liability “when the action involves the conscious exercise of discretion of a judicial or quasi-judicial nature” (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, supra at 216).

The facts here are not in dispute and the Court finds that Defendant has satisfied its initial burden by correctly pointing out that the prehearing confinement was unrelated to the outcome of the hearing, particularly as there was no legal obligation of Defendant to credit the prehearing period of time in which Claimant was in keeplock against the ultimate penalty imposed. This Court further finds that if it were to accept the factual, rather than legal, allegations of the claim as true, Defendant’s actions in the context of the disciplinary proceeding were immune from liability as a matter of law. As such, Defendant has set forth its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. The burden therefore shifts to Claimant to produce evidentiary proof, in admissible form, sufficient to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial of the action (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, supra; Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, supra; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, supra at 562). Claimant has failed to meet this burden, as he has failed to raise, in his opposition to Defendant’s motion, the existence of any material issues of fact which would require a trial of the action.

To the extent Defendant asserts that Claimant is collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of whether Claimant was wrongfully confined, this Court agrees. “Collateral estoppel precludes a party from relitigating in a subsequent action or proceeding an issue raised in a prior action or proceeding and decided against that party or those in privity” (Buechel v Bain, 97 NY2d 295, 303 [2001]). “The doctrine of collateral estoppel is based on the notion that it is not fair to permit a party to relitigate an issue which has previously been decided against him in a proceeding in which he had a fair opportunity to fully litigate the point” (Gilberg v Barbieri, 53 NY2d 285, 291 [1981]). In order for said doctrine to be invoked, two requirements must be met - there must be an identity of issue which has necessarily been decided in the prior action and is decisive of the present action, and there must have been a full and fair opportunity to contest the decision now said to be controlling (Buechel v Bain, 97 NY2d 295, supra at 303-304). In the present case, the issue of whether Claimant was excessively or wrongfully confined was necessarily decided in the Article 78 proceeding as it was the main issue raised with respect to the September 15, 2008 Tier II hearing disposition, and, given that the same issue is the foundation upon which Claimant bases his current claim, it is decisive in the present action. As to the second requirement, Claimant filed the petition in the Article 78 hearing and subsequently submitted a reply to Defendant’s Verified Answer and Return. Accordingly, this Court finds that Claimant had a full and fair opportunity to contest the proceeding and therefore, he is collaterally estopped from litigating the issue again in the instant claim.

Based upon the foregoing, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted and Claim No. 116284 is dismissed.




September 22, 2009
Albany, New York

HON. JUDITH A. HARD
Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:
1. Notice of Motion and Affirmation in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, dated May 1, 2009, with Exhibits;
2. Affidavit in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment, sworn to by Anthony Washington on May 28, 2009, with Exhibit.
Filed Papers: Claim, filed on January 8, 2009; Verified Answer, filed on January 29, 2009.