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N.Y. Affirms Multiple Accumulating DOC Disciplinary Proceedings For Same Incident

New York State prisoner Derek Josey sought review of an intermediate appellate court ruling allowing the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to punish him multiple times for the same incident. New York’s highest court ruled that res judicata did not preclude such acts and affirmed the lower court.

Josey stabbed and killed another prisoner during a prison fight in 2003. At a DOCS hearing, Josey was found guilty of assault and weapons charges, subjected to 24 months in the Special Housing Unit (segregation) and lost privileges. Since the murder was not mentioned in the proceeding, a second hearing was scheduled and Josey was also found guilty of refusing to obey a direct order and violent conduct. He was sentenced to 120 months segregation, later reduced to 60 months on administrative appeal. Josey petitioned for an article 78 proceeding, arguing res judicata, which prevents subsequent prosecution for prior actions which have already been decided. He withdrew the petition when the DOCS reversed the second punishment for already having been decided.

Josey later pled guilty to second degree manslaughter and the court sentenced him to six and a half to 13 years to run consecutive to his existing sentence. The DOCS held a third hearing which subjected Josey to an additional 72 months segregation, loss of privileges and 156 months loss of good time credits. Josey petitioned the court for another article 78 proceeding arguing a res judicata violation. The petition was denied and affirmed on appeal.

On review, the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) held that res judicata does not preclude an inmate from being disciplined more than once based upon the same incident. The court further held that "To conclude otherwise would impede DOCS's ability to promote prison safety and have the perverse effect of encouraging DOCS hearing officers to impose more stringent disciplinary penalties initially" prior to investigations and proceedings. See: In re Josey v. Goord, 9 N.Y.3d 386, 880 N.E.2d 18, 849 N.Y.S.2d 497 (2007).

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Related legal case

In re Josey v. Goord

Josey v. Goord, No. 176 (N.Y. 12/20/2007)


[2] No. 176

[3] 2007 NY Slip Op 09963

[4] December 20, 2007


[6] Dianna Goodwin, for appellant.

[7] Martin A. Hotvet, for respondent.

[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Graffeo, J.

[9] Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

[10] This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

[11] Petitioner, an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), brings this CPLR article 78 proceeding claiming that the doctrine of res judicata precludes the imposition of a prison disciplinary penalty based on his second-degree manslaughter conviction because he was previously disciplined in connection with the incident underlying his criminal conviction. Like the courts below, we conclude that res judicata does not apply under these circumstances.

[12] On July 17, 2003, petitioner Derek Josey and another inmate, Richard Rodriguez, engaged in a physical altercation witnessed by over 300 other prisoners. During the fight, petitioner stabbed Rodriguez in the chest. He died later that day. Three days later, DOCS charged petitioner in a misbehavior report with breaching inmate rules prohibiting assault, fighting, possession of a weapon and refusal to obey a direct order*fn1. The report stated that three correction officers observed "two combatants lunging back and forth at each other, with what appeared to be weapons in hand." Following the completion of a Tier III disciplinary hearing on July 30, 2003, a hearing officer found petitioner guilty of the assault, fighting and weapon charges, and imposed a penalty of 24 months in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) with a corresponding loss of packages, commissary and telephone privileges. For reasons that are unexplained in the record, neither the misbehavior report nor the hearing officer's written determination indicated Rodriguez's death.

[13] A second DOCS misbehavior report premised on the same incident was served on petitioner in September 2003, charging him with violating the disciplinary rules proscribing assault, possession of a weapon, refusal to obey a direct order and violent conduct. This report added that Rodriguez had died and that confidential informants stated that petitioner had stabbed Rodriguez with a metal shank, which was hidden with the help of other inmates. According to the report, State Police retrieved the weapon. After this Tier III hearing, petitioner was found guilty of assault, possession of a weapon and violent conduct, and assessed a penalty of 120 months in the SHU with a loss of privileges. On administrative review, the penalty was reduced to 60 months in the SHU. Petitioner brought an article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court to annul the determination, arguing that it was barred by res judicata. While that court proceeding was pending, DOCS reversed its determination, reasoning that the incident had already been considered at the July 2003 hearing. As a result, petitioner withdrew his article 78 petition.

[14] In August 2004, petitioner appeared in Dutchess County Court and pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter (Penal Law § 125.15 [1]) in connection with the July 17, 2003 incident, and was sentenced as a second felony offender to a consecutive term of 6 1/2 to 13 years*fn2. DOCS later issued a third misbehavior report, charging petitioner with violating Disciplinary Rule 1.00, which authorizes DOCS to discipline an inmate convicted of violating the Penal Law. Following a third Tier III hearing, the hearing officer found petitioner guilty and imposed an additional 72 months in the SHU, together with a loss of privileges and 156 months loss of good time. The determination was affirmed on administrative appeal.

[15] Petitioner commenced this article 78 proceeding, asserting that the doctrine of res judicata prohibited DOCS from holding the third Tier III hearing. Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, finding res judicata inapplicable. The Appellate Division affirmed and we granted petitioner leave to appeal.

[16] Petitioner argues that the third Tier III determination must be annulled on res judicata grounds because the Penal Law conviction, upon which the determination was based, arose out of the same July 17, 2003 incident for which he was already assessed a penalty following the first Tier III determination. DOCS counters that application of res judicata under the circumstances of this case would be inconsistent with the purpose of prison disciplinary proceedings and unduly hamper its ability to regulate the security and safety of the prison environment.

[17] The doctrine of res judicata precludes a party from litigating "a claim where a judgment on the merits exists from a prior action between the same parties involving the same subject matter" (Matter of Hunter, 4 NY3d 260, 269 [2005]). Under New York's transactional approach to the rule, "once a claim is brought to a final conclusion, all other claims arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions are barred, even if based upon different theories or if seeking a different remedy" (O'Brien v City of Syracuse, 54 NY2d 353, 357 [1981]). Additionally, res judicata is generally applicable to quasi-judicial administrative determinations that are "rendered pursuant to the adjudicatory authority of an agency to decide cases brought before its tribunals employing procedures substantially similar to those used in a court of law" (Ryan v New York Tel. Co., 62 NY2d 494, 499 [1984]).

[18] Before we will apply res judicata to an administrative decision, however, "it is necessary to determine whether to do so would be consistent with the function of the administrative agency involved, the peculiar necessities of the particular case, and the nature of the precise power being exercised" (Matter of Venes v Community School Bd. of Dist. 26, 43 NY2d 520, 524 [1978] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). Consequently, the rule should give conclusive effect to agency determinations "only if such application is consistent with the nature of the particular administrative adjudication" (id.; see also Borchers and Markell, New York State Administrative Procedure and Practice § 3.23, at 76 [2d ed] [observing that "preclusion must make sense within the over-all context of the agency's procedures"] [internal quotation marks and footnote omitted]).

[19] Here, DOCS promptly issued petitioner a misbehavior report after the fight and held a Tier III hearing, ultimately finding petitioner guilty of violating a number of inmate rules and imposing a penalty. In this regard, DOCS urges that immediate disciplinary action is essential to maintain order in correctional facilities and discourage violent behavior by inmates. Since it was not until over a year later that petitioner pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, DOCS contends that it must be able to conduct another Tier III hearing pursuant to Disciplinary Rule 1.00, which permits the imposition of departmental sanctions based on a criminal conviction and specifically provides that it "does not preclude an inmate from being disciplined at any time for any violation of the following rules of conduct based upon the same incident" (7 NYCRR 270.2 [A]). Although petitioner correctly asserts that both determinations arose out of the same July 17, 2003 transaction, we conclude that res judicata does not foreclose DOCS from disciplining petitioner for his subsequent criminal conviction. Application of the doctrine in this context would be inconsistent with the necessities of the case and the nature of DOCS's functions.

[20] We have recognized that DOCS "has legitimate penological interests in seeing that disciplinary determinations are made quickly, both for security and rehabilitative reasons" (People ex rel. Vega v Smith, 66 NY2d 130, 142 [1985]). "Prison disciplinary proceedings take place in a highly charged atmosphere, and prison administrators must often act swiftly on the basis of evidence that might be insufficient in less exigent circumstances" (Superintendent of Mass. Correctional Inst. v Hill, 472 US 445, 456 [1985]). Furthermore, when an inmate is confined pending a disciplinary hearing, departmental regulations provide circumscribed time frames for the adjudicatory process (see 7 NYCRR 251-5.1). Generally, DOCS is directed to commence the hearing within seven days of confinement and complete it within 14 days following the issuance of a misbehavior report (see 7 NYCRR 251-5.1 [a], [b]).

[21] DOCS therefore has both a need and general obligation to act swiftly to separate and discipline inmates who commit violent acts in prison, often before it can perform a comprehensive investigation. Indeed, prison disciplinary determinations need only be supported by substantial evidence (see Matter of Lahey v Kelly, 71 NY2d 135, 140 [1987]). In contrast, where a criminal investigation results in a subsequent conviction, issues such as mens rea and self-defense are necessarily resolved beyond a reasonable doubt, and this distinction is not obviated by an inmate who acknowledges his guilt by entering a plea, as was the case here*fn3. In the prison setting, DOCS has a strong penological interest in having the ability not only to conduct a disciplinary proceeding and impose a penalty for the violation of disciplinary rules, but also to modify that penalty in light of a subsequent criminal conviction premised on the same act as expressly contemplated by Disciplinary Rule 1.00. For example, where two inmates are promptly disciplined for fighting, but one is later criminally convicted of attempted murder for initiating the confrontation, DOCS should have the discretion to modify that inmate's penalty in the interest of prison security. As we have stated, the goal of prison disciplinary action is not "to vindicate public justice, but rather to further the separate and important public interest in maintaining prison order and safety" (People v Vasquez, 89 NY2d 521, 529 [1997] [internal quotation marks omitted], cert denied sub nom. Cordero v Lalor, 522 US 846 [1997]).

[22] We therefore determine that res judicata does not preclude DOCS from disciplining an inmate for being convicted of a Penal Law offense even though DOCS previously assessed a penalty for the inmate's violation of disciplinary rules stemming from the same conduct. To conclude otherwise would impede DOCS's ability to promote prison safety and have the perverse effect of encouraging DOCS hearing officers to impose more stringent disciplinary penalties initially, before any criminal investigation and proceedings are concluded.

[23] Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, without costs.

[24] Order affirmed, without costs. Opinion by Judge Graffeo. Chief Judge Kaye and Judges Ciparick, Read, Smith, Pigott and Jones concur.

Opinion Footnotes

[25] *fn1 No disciplinary rule specifically prohibits homicide.

[26] *fn2 Petitioner was originally indicted for murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter in full satisfaction of the indictment.

[27] *fn3 Additionally, a consecutive sentence is generally required for inmates who are convicted of committing a felony while incarcerated for a prior felony conviction, resulting in a lengthier prison term under DOCS's supervision (see Penal Law § 70.25 [2-a], [5]). But when DOCS disciplines an inmate before a conviction, DOCS is unable at that time to consider the effect of such increased incarceration on prison safety and security when rendering the penalty.