New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
CARRASCO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2017-041-069, Claim No. 124810, Motion No. M-90739

Synopsis

Defendant's unopposed motion for summary judgment dismissing wrongful confinement claim is granted based upon defendant's quasi-judicial hearing absolute immunity.

Case information

UID: 2017-041-069
Claimant(s): JOSE CARRASCO
Claimant short name: CARRASCO
Footnote (claimant name) : Caption is amended to state the proper spelling of claimant's name.
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 124810
Motion number(s): M-90739
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant's attorney: NONE
Defendant's attorney: HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN
New York State Attorney General
By: Michael T. Krenrich, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: October 13, 2017
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Defendant moves for summary judgment dismissing the claim based upon defendant's absolute immunity with respect to claims emanating from a quasi-judicial inmate disciplinary hearing. Claimant has not opposed the defendant's summary judgment motion.

The claim alleges that claimant was wrongfully confined as a result of a disciplinary hearing in which "several Due Process Rights were violated, but most importantly, Claimant was persecuted for something he did not do at all." The claim further alleges that "because Claimant prevailed on his Administrative Appeal, he is entitled to Monetary Damages in the sum of Seven Thousand Nine Hundred Dollars [$7,900.00]."

Claimant was convicted of a charge of drug use after a disciplinary hearing on September 5, 2013 at Clinton Correctional Facility and was thereafter confined to keeplock for 90 days, among other penalties. The record shows that the disciplinary hearing determination was administratively reversed on November 1, 2013. The administrative reversal stated that the determination was reversed because "RECORD FAILS TO INDICATE 'HOW' INMATE'S MENTAL STATE AFFECTED THE DISPOSITION."

The claim alleges various purported regulatory violations committed by defendant at the disciplinary hearing, including untimeliness of the hearing, failure to provide claimant requested documents, ineffective assistance, failure to follow urinalysis procedures and "disregarding [c]laimant's mental condition."

The standard for review of the defendant's motion is well-established. "A motion for summary judgment should be entertained only after the moving party has established, by competent admissible evidence, that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. . . . If the movant meets this initial burden, the opposing party is required to submit evidence which raises a material issue of fact to preclude an award of summary judgment" (Ware v Baxter Health Care Corp., 25 AD3d 863, 864 [3d Dept 2006]).

Once the moving party has satisfied this obligation, the burden shifts and the party opposing the motion must demonstrate by admissible evidence the existence of a legal or factual issue (Svoboda v Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital, Inc., 31 AD3d 877 [3d Dept 2006]). The defendant's motion for summary judgment is founded upon the quasi-judicial immunity defense which provides that where employees of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, 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]; Varela v State of New York, 283 AD2d 841 [3d Dept 2001]). This immunity attaches even if the conviction is later reversed administratively or as the result of a successful CPLR Article 78 proceeding (see Arteaga, 72 NY2d at 215).

If, however, prison officials fail to comply with a rule or regulation governing such disciplinary hearings, absolute immunity may be lost and liability for money damages may be imposed if it is proven that the regulatory violation caused actual prejudice or injury to the inmate (see Davidson v State of New York, 66 AD3d 1089, 1089 [3d Dept 2009]; Vasquez v State of New York, 10 AD3d 825 [3d Dept 2004]).

Importantly, not all disciplinary hearing procedural rules and regulations, if violated, form a basis to abrogate the immunity afforded to employees of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in commencing and conducting formal inmate disciplinary proceedings. The rule or regulation must implicate minimal due process protections:

"Notably, there is no right to counsel or to confrontation at prison disciplinary hearings. . . Nevertheless, an inmate is entitled to advance written notice of the charges against him; a hearing affording him a reasonable opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; a fair and impartial hearing officer; and a written statement of the disposition, including the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the disciplinary actions taken" (Sira v Morton, 380 F3d 57, 69 [2d Cir 2004]).

The Court finds that defendant has met its initial burden on its summary judgment motion by refuting, through reference to the disciplinary hearing record and applicable hearing regulations, each of the claim's asserted regulatory infirmities and, consequently, the defendant has demonstrated that the claimant was afforded a hearing comporting with fundamental due process requirements.

Even assuming that the record showed a fundamental due process violation, defendant has met its initial burden of proof by demonstrating that none of the purported regulatory violations caused actual prejudice or injury to the inmate at the hearing (see Davidson, 66 AD3d at 1089; Vasquez, 10 AD3d 825).

Claimant has not opposed the defendant's motion for summary judgment and thus offers no evidence raising an issue of fact as to whether defendant's alleged acts or omissions violated a fundamental due process requirement or caused actual prejudice or injury to claimant at the hearing. Claimant raises no triable issue of law or fact with respect to the defendant's asserted quasi-judicial immunity defense.

The defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim is granted. The claim is dismissed.

October 13, 2017

Albany, New York

FRANK P. MILANO

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Defendant's Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, filed July 12, 2017;

2. Affirmation of Michael Krenrich, dated July 11, 2017, and annexed exhibits.