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Class Certification Maintained in New York Prisoners’ Suit for Damages Due to Illegally Imposed Post-Release Supervision

by David M. Reutter

On March 14, 2022, the federal court for the Southern District of New York denied a motion to decertify the class in a long-running suit filed by prisoners subjected to terms of post-release supervision (PRS) administratively imposed by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

The Class consists of convicted violent felons sentenced in state courts to imprisonment and then subjected to a PRS term — which their sentencing courts failed to mandate — by DOCCS administrators responsible for incarceration and parole. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined in 2006 that this was unconstitutional, holding that PRS could be imposed only by a court. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.46].

Defendants are three individuals who administratively imposed PRS terms on Class members after that decision. Anthony Annucci was DOCCS counsel from September 1989 until October 2007, when he became deputy commissioner. Brian Fischer was DOCCS commissioner from January 2007 to April 2011. Terrance Tracy was chief counsel for the New York Division of Parole (DOP) from December 1996 until March 2011.

After the Second Circuit’s 2006 decision, the state legislature amended New York criminal law in June 2008 to codify procedures by which DOCCS and DOP could seek PRS by referring defendants to their sentencing courts for potential resentencing. By January 2009, almost all individuals who needed a referral had received one. Some were resentenced with PRS, some received abbreviated PRS, and some received no PRS at all.

Plaintiffs then filed their lawsuit in 2011, and the class was certified on October 31, 2014. The case has been subject to several appeals, and a trial scheduled for February 2016 was delayed due to another appeal by Defendants. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.50.]

Heading into a trial for damages, Defendants moved to decertify the class, contending damages should be awarded on an individualized basis. Taking up the motion, the district court noted the numerosity of the class and the commonality of their claims. It found that loss of liberty is a distinct form of damage from which “general damages” may be recovered, and those can be determined on a class-wide basis. Moreover, the Class meets all criteria for proceeding as a class, the Court said. As such, Defendants’ motion to decertify the class was denied. See: Betances v. Fischer, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45082 (S.D.N.Y.).

The case now proceeds to a trial in 2023 to determine Plaintiffs’ damages, and PLN will report developments as they are available. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP in Manhattan. See: Betances v. Fischer, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 1:11-cv-03200. 

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