Thursday, July 20th, 2023

Plaintiff can pursue punitive damages related to his unlawful state supervision

In Aponte v. Perez, No. 20-2186 (2d Cir. July 20, 2023), the Second Circuit rules largely in favor of the plaintiff-appellant, who brought a civil rights suit after he was wrongfully subjected to post-release supervision.

 In 2000, plaintiff Felix Aponte was sentenced in New York State court to 8 years in prison for robbery. After sentencing, the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) “administratively added a five-year term of post-release supervision” (PRS). This practice seems obviously unconstitutional and, in 2006, the Second Circuit so held. Aponte was eventually resentenced in 2008.

In the meantime, Aponte was subject to this illegal supervision term. He was imprisoned for violating the terms of his (illegal) supervision.

Aponte, acting pro se, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DOCS and others, seeking damages related to his unlawful supervision and incarceration.

The district court found a violation of Aponte’s due process rights, but concluded that he failed to allege any actual injury—“only” the “injustice of being detained unconstitutionally and generalized ‘mental’ and ‘emotional’ suffering.” The court therefore awarded only nominal damages of $1.

On appeal, now with the help of counsel, Aponte raised several issues. Most notably, the Circuit agreed that Aponte “is entitled to a jury trial to establish the availability of punitive damages arising from his confinement pursuant to the administratively imposed PRS.” The Court recognized that any punitive damages award under § 1983 requires “conscious wrongdoing” by the defendants. But that was evident here, since the Circuit has “admonished the appellees for their repeated failure to take prompt action to end the custody of prisoners unconstitutionally detained for violating PRS terms imposed by DOCS.”

The Circuit also held that the district court should consider further whether Aponte may be entitled to compensatory damages and further develop the factual record regarding the length of Aponte’s illegal confinement.

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