New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HILL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2021-041-010, Claim No. 134933, Motion Nos. M-96079, M-96184, Cross-Motion No. CM-96293

Synopsis

Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (CM-96293) dismissing wrongful confinement claim because pre-hearing confinement of claimant was privileged is granted and claimant's two motions relating to discovery (M-96079 & M-96184) are denied as moot.

Case information

UID: 2021-041-010
Claimant(s): MICHAEL HILL
Claimant short name: HILL
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 134933
Motion number(s): M-96079, M-96184
Cross-motion number(s): CM-96293
Judge: FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant's attorney: MICHAEL HILL
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
New York State Attorney General
By: Michael T. Krenrich, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: February 4, 2021
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The inmate/claimant moves (M-96079 & M-96184) to compel discovery in this claim alleging that defendant wrongfully confined him for seven (7) days prior to claimant's disciplinary hearing.

Defendant opposes the claimant's discovery motions and cross-moves for summary judgment (CM-96293) dismissing the wrongful confinement claim because the pre-hearing confinement of claimant was privileged. Claimant opposes the defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.

The claim alleges that defendant wrongfully confined claimant to keeplock from May 14, 2020 until May 20, 2020 based upon an Inmate Misbehavior Report charging claimant with violating Clinton Correctional Facility disciplinary rules, in particular, refusing a direct order, smuggling, stealing, violating mess hall serving policies and wasting state food.

Claimant's disciplinary hearing was held on May 20, 2020 and concluded with a dismissal of the disciplinary charges. Claimant was then released from confinement.

Defendant's potentially dispositive cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim will be considered first. Defendant contends that claimant's pre-hearing confinement was privileged and the claim consequently fails to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement.

To state a cause of action for wrongful confinement, claimant must allege factual statements sufficient to show that "(1) the defendant intended to confine [claimant], (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" (Broughton v State of New York, 37 NY2d 451, 456 [1975], cert denied sub nom. Schanbarger v Kellogg, 423 US 929; Krzyzak v Schaefer, 52 AD3d 979 [3d Dept 2008]).

With respect to whether a confinement is privileged, Holmberg v County of Albany (291 AD2d 610, 612 [3d Dept 2002], lv denied 98 NY2d 604 [2002]), instructs that: "Generally, where a facially valid order issued by a court with proper jurisdiction directs confinement, that confinement is privileged . . . and everyone connected with the matter is protected from liability for false imprisonment."

In the context of confinement pursuant to a prison disciplinary proceeding, such confinement is "privileged to the extent that it was under color of law or regulation, specifically in accordance with [inmate misbehavior] regulations" (Gittens v State of New York, 132 Misc 2d 399, 402 [Ct Cl 1986]).

To state a wrongful confinement cause of action, claimant is required to allege that the pre-hearing confinement was not "otherwise privileged" (Broughton, 37 NY2d at 456) by pleading facts alleging that defendant violated an applicable regulation in imposing the confinement.

Here, the claimant's pre-hearing confinement was imposed pursuant to 7 NYCRR 301.3 (a) (1) and 7 NYCRR 251-1.6 (a), which provide, respectively, as follows:

"7 NYCRR 301.3

(a) Detention admissions may be used in the following cases:

(1) in the case of an inmate who is awaiting initial appearance before or determination of a disciplinary hearing or superintendent's hearing;

7 NYCRR 251-1.6 (a):

"Where an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that an inmate should be confined to his cell or room or housing area because he represents an immediate threat to the safety, security or order of the facility or in immediate danger to other persons or to property, such officer shall take reasonable and appropriate steps to so confine the inmate."

The subject regulation (7 NYCRR 251-1.6 [a]) has been broadly interpreted to authorize confinement whenever an officer reasonably believes that a facility rule has been violated by an inmate (Pettus v West, 28 AD3d 907, 908 [3d Dept 2006]).

In opposing the defendant's cross-motion to dismiss the claim, the claimant offers only his conclusory statement that the charges against him, dismissed after a disciplinary hearing, were "false."

Claimant has failed to allege any specific facts to demonstrate that defendant violated 7 NYCRR 301.3 (a) (1) or 7 NYCRR 251-1.6 (a) when defendant confined claimant prior to completion of claimant's disciplinary hearing.

Claimant has failed to state a cause of action for wrongful confinement.

Claimant's purported cause of action for violation of his state constitutional right to be free from "cruel and unusual punishment" is beyond the limited jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to adjudicate state constitutional rights and fails to state a cause of action.

The Court of Appeals has recognized a narrowly defined cause of action for a state constitutional tort in the Court of Claims with respect to "violation of the Equal Protection and Search and Seizure Clauses of the State Constitution" (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 188 [1996]).

Subsequent decisional law, however, instructs that this narrow remedy does not apply where claimant has an available alternate legal remedy or forum (Jones v State of New York, 171 AD3d 1362, 1363 [3d Dept 2019], appeal dismissed, 33 NY3d 1056 [2019]; see Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83-84 [2001]).

The claim's purported state constitutional cause of action for "cruel and unusual punishment" is simply a repackaged allegation of wrongful confinement and does not lie as a cognizable constitutional tort in the Court of Claims.

This point is made in DuBois v State of New York (25 Misc 3d 1137, 1138 [Ct Cl 2009]):

"[A]llegations of a state constitutional tort only exist where a claimant has no common law or statutory remedy available (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 652 N.Y.S.2d 223, 674 N.E.2d 1129) . . . Inasmuch as Claimant has an alternative remedy sounding in wrongful confinement, that part of the motion that can be read as seeking judgment for civil rights violations is denied"

This verity is further illustrated in Ifill v State of New York (46 Misc 3d 1228(A) [Ct Cl 2013]):

"While it has been held that certain constitutional tort claims may be maintained in the Court of Claims (see Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172 [1996]), it has been held generally that where 'constitutional tort allegations may be analogized into existing common-law tort[s] for which there are adequate alternate remedies' (Augat v State of New York, 244 AD2d 835, 837 [3d Dept 1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 814 [1998]), a Brown cause of action will not be available. As claimant here clearly has an adequate alternative remedy in his first cause of action for wrongful confinement, the second cause of action for a constitutional tort is hereby dismissed."

Augat, 244 AD2d at 837, cited above, makes the point clear:

"[W]e recognize that actions for money damages exist against the State for the actions of its employees based upon alleged violations of the State Constitution . . . However . . . we find that each of claimants' constitutional tort allegations may be analogized to an existing common-law tort for which there are adequate alternate remedies."

Defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim for failure to state a cause of action (CM-96293) is granted. The claim is dismissed.

Claimant's motions relating to discovery (M-96079 & M-96184) are denied as moot.

February 4, 2021

Albany, New York

FRANK P. MILANO

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Claimant's Notice of Motion for Discovery, M-96079, filed October 20, 2020;

2. Affidavit of Michael Hill, sworn to October 15, 2020;

3. Claimant's Notice of Motion to Compel Discovery, M-96184, filed November 17, 2020;

4. Affidavit Of Michael Hill, sworn to November 5, 2020;

5. Defendant's Notice of Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissing the Claim, filed December 21, 2020;

6. Affirmation of Michael T. Krenrich, dated December 21, 2020, and attached exhibits;

7. Affidavit of Michael Hill, sworn to December 29, 2020.