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New York DOC’s Failure To Transmit Protective Custody Order Is Actionable

by John E. Dannenberg

The Supreme Court of New York held that the Court of Claims erred when it dismissed a prisoner’s damages claim for injuries suffered when he was not placed in protective custody as had been ordered by the Criminal Court.

Kenneth Hunt was arrested on September 15, 1998 for grand larceny and arraigned in the Criminal Court of New York. Unable to post bail, he was remanded to the New York Department of Corrections and placed in the general population at the Manhattan Detention Center 04DC1, where he was sexually assaulted by another prisoner several times between September 16 and 18. At his September 18 court hearing, his attorney asked that he be placed in protective custody. The court wrote “Protective Custody” on Hunt’s “Record of Court Action” holding him to answer to felony charges.

However, upon return to MDC on September 21, he was again sexually assaulted by the same prisoner. He complained to his attorney that he had not been placed in protective custody. On September 24 or 25, he was finally transferred. Hunt sued for failure to timely place him in protective custody. It was determined that court officers had the ministerial duty to process such special court orders and to timely transmit them to DOC, but that such an order for Hunt did not arrive until September 24. The Court of Claims denied Hunt relief on grounds that he had failed to show just how the state officers had erred.

The Supreme Court distinguished “discretionary acts” from “ministerial acts.” The former involve exercise of reasoned judgment while the latter require strict adherence to a governing rule with a compulsory result. Here, the record indicated that a strict procedure and duty devolved from standing court procedures to transmit a protective custody order to DOC. There was no discretion involved. Because of the failure to perform the ministerial duty, the court officers were liable for the damages suffered by Hunt.
Accordingly, the damages claim was reinstated, liability against the state was determined and the matter was remanded for trial to determine damages. See: Hunt v. State of New York, 828 N.Y.S. 2d 355 (2007).

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Related legal case

Hunt v. State of New York