Case: Frateschi v. Fennessy

20-1700910 | New York state trial court

Filed Date: April 24, 2020

Closed Date: June 11, 2021

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: This habeas corpus action was filed in state court on April 24, 2020 by five medically vulnerable incarcerated people in the Mid-State and Marcy correctional facilities, seeking immediate release from detention in light of COVID-19. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on May 11, 2020. The petitioners filed a notice of appeal on June 9, 2020, but the parties agreed to dismiss the appeal in June of 2021. On April 24, 2020, the petitioners, five incarcerated indiv…

COVID-19 Summary: This habeas corpus action was filed in state court on April 24, 2020 by five medically vulnerable incarcerated people in the Mid-State and Marcy correctional facilities, seeking immediate release from detention in light of COVID-19. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on May 11, 2020. The petitioners filed a notice of appeal on June 9, 2020, but the parties agreed to dismiss the appeal in June of 2021.


On April 24, 2020, the petitioners, five incarcerated individuals incarcerated in New York, filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in the County of Oneida. The petitioners requested their immediate release from two prisons operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), Mid-State and Marcy, due to their vulnerability to contracting COVID-19, arguing that their continued confinement violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the New York State Constitution.

In their petition, the plaintiffs outlined medical reasons for why each individual was particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including age, preexisting respiratory conditions, and other chronic medical conditions. The petition then highlighted the near impossibility of the prisons protecting the plaintiffs from contracting the virus, the severity of the disease, and the high rate of transmission in the State of New York. Lack of protection for inmates specified in the petition included the difficulty of social distancing within the prisons and the lack of ability to engage in the proper cleaning and hygiene necessary to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Lack of supplies, shared toilets and showers, and communal eating arrangements all contributed to increased COVID-19 transmission, according to the petition.

The plaintiffs argued that the defendants’ continued incarceration of especially vulnerable persons constituted deliberate indifference to a serious medical harm. According to the petition, this deliberate indifference violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the New York State Constitution, which both prohibit the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments. The petitioners claimed that release was the only adequate remedy to cure the constitutional violation, arguing that transfer to other facilities or increased adherence to protocols suggested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be inadequate to prevent the petitioners from contracting COVID-19. The plaintiffs noted that precedent in New York had traditionally recognized that habeas claims were viable if a petitioner could show that the only way to cease a constitutional violation was through release from custody and that judges in New York had previously granted habeas petitions related to COVID-19.

The petitioners also argued that their ongoing exposure to COVID-19 constituted excessive punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 5 of the New York State Constitution. The petitioners argued that based on the New York State’s proportionality standard which looks to collateral consequences of conviction when determining constitutionality of a sentence, that their continued incarceration was unconstitutional given the spread of the virus. The plaintiffs requested that the court issue an Order to Show Cause for inquiring into the constitutionality of their continued confinement, grant a hearing, direct the petitioners’ immediate relief, and grant other just and proper relief.

The case was assigned to Justice David A. Murad. On April 27th, 2020, the court issued an order to show cause. On May 4, 2020, the respondents moved to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. Along with the motion to dismiss, Assistant Attorney General of the State of New York Thomas P. Carafa filed an affirmation in support of the motion.

The affirmation argued that habeas corpus relief was not available because the petitioners were not subject to immediate release from custody. The respondents argued that the court’s granting of the habeas corpus petition would violate the authority of the New York State Parole Board because the petitioners had not yet reached the expiration of their sentences and that deliberate indifference to the petitioners’ medical needs do not entitle them to immediate release. The respondents argued that even if the petitioners were correct that the respondents had acted deliberately indifferent to the inmates’ medical needs, the petitioners would not be entitled to habeas corpus relief.

The affirmation also argued that the petitioners failed to show that they would be safer from COVID-19 if they were dismissed from prison because the inmates failed to provide information about where they would go if they were released. It also pointed out that half of state and federal prisoners reported ever having a chronic condition. Setting the precedent of releasing all inmates with chronic conditions, the respondents warned, would result in chaos. The respondents also claimed that, contrary to the petitioners’ allegations of deliberate indifference, that DOCCS had been taking aggressive steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in its prisons.

On May 4, 2020, Charles Quackenbush, Deputy Counsel for DOCCS, also filed an affirmation in support of the respondents’ motion to dismiss. In his affirmation, Quackenbush highlighted DOCCS’s previous successes at managing infectious outbreaks and its stockpiles of supplies and equipment to combat COVID-19 transmission. He claimed that DOCCS’s COVID-19 protocols were in line with the CDC recommendations.

On May 5, 2020, the petitioners filed a memorandum in opposition to the respondents’ motion to dismiss. The petitioners argued that, contrary to the respondents’ memorandum, that habeas corpus is proper in this case. The petitioners cited recent cases in New York State where courts held that a prisoner’s seeking release through habeas corpus is proper when release is the only adequate remedy for unconstitutional conditions of confinement, noting that courts had previously granted habeas relief to medically vulnerable prisoners to prevent their exposure to COVID-19.

The petitioners rejected the respondents’ contention that the inmates are required to show that they would be safer if released. The plaintiffs claimed, instead, that they were only required to show that their constitutional rights had been violated by their conditions of confinement and that release was the only adequate remedy.

The petitioners’ memorandum also reiterated that the plaintiffs had demonstrated that the respondents had been deliberately indifferent to the inmates’ risk of harm from COVID-19. They cited a long history of DOCCS’s providing of inadequate medical care during infectious outbreaks. They also pointed out that the respondents failed to mention the specific supplies, equipment, and resources that were available to fight a COVID-19 outbreak.

On May 11, 2020, Justice Murad filed a decision, order and judgment granting the respondents’ motion to dismiss. The decision stated that even if the court found deliberate indifference by the respondents, that the available relief would not include immediate relief. Justice Murad stated that release from custody is not an available remedy for allegedly inhumane prison conditions.

On June 9, 2020, the petitioners filed a notice of appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The appeal was dismissed by stipulation, however, on June 11, 2021. 195 A.D.3d 1463.

Summary Authors

Nicholas Gillan (1/9/2021)

Rachel Harrington (9/19/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Murad, David A (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Abrams, David J. (New York)

Choi, Brian (New York)

Forster, Jill L. (New York)

Gebreselassie, Sophia (New York)

Intravatola, Jeffrey E. (New York)

Isaacs, Elizabeth L. (New York)

Lewis, Dori A. (New York)

Loftis, David E. (New York)

Luongo, Justine (New York)

Judge(s)

Murad, David A (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Abrams, David J. (New York)

Choi, Brian (New York)

Forster, Jill L. (New York)

Gebreselassie, Sophia (New York)

Intravatola, Jeffrey E. (New York)

Isaacs, Elizabeth L. (New York)

Lewis, Dori A. (New York)

Loftis, David E. (New York)

Luongo, Justine (New York)

Quackenbush, Robert Matthew (New York)

Short, Stefen Russell (New York)

Werlwas, Mary Lynne (New York)

Yacka-Bible, Andrea (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Carafa, Thomas P. (New York)

James, Letitia (New York)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Greifinger, Robert B. (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document
1

Verified Petition for Habeas Corpus

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

April 24, 2020 Complaint
5

Order to Show Cause

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

April 27, 2020 Order/Opinion
10

Affirmation in Opposition to Petition and in Support of Motion to Dismiss

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

May 4, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief
9

Notice of Motion to Dismiss

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

May 4, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief
11

Affirmation in Support

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

May 4, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief
23

Petitioners' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Respondents' Motion to Dismiss the Verified Petition for Habeas Corpus

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

May 5, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief
29

Decision, Order, and Judgment

People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

May 11, 2020 Order/Opinion
32

Notice of Appeal

The People of the State of New York v. Fennessy

New York state supreme court

June 9, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: New York

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: April 24, 2020

Closing Date: June 11, 2021

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Five people incarcerated in prisons operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Legal Services/Legal Aid

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Superintendent of the Mid-State Correctional Facility (Marcy, Oneida), State

Superintendent of the Marcy Correctional Facility (Marcy, Oneida), State

Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (Albany, Albany), State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Special Case Type(s):

Habeas

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General:

Over/Unlawful Detention

Crowding:

Crowding / caseload

COVID-19:

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Requested

Release Denied

Release Requested

Type of Facility:

Government-run