This case involves the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to entertain damage suits against the state arising out of the unconstitutional conduct by New York State police officers. Artemus Lyles, a black man, was stopped for a traffic infraction early Saturday morning on March 27, 1999. In connection with the traffic stop, Mr. Lyles was detained for over an hour, his car was searched and portions of the interior of the car were torn apart in a search to which Mr. Lyles did not consent. Mr. Lyles was then released and he was permitted to continue on his trip home. Three minutes later, the officers stopped Mr. Lyles again. They searched the vehicle again, tearing open the interior panels of the car door. They handcuffed Lyles so as to coerce him into opening the trunk, after which the officers broke a guitar that had been in the trunk. Mr. Lyles was then released and permitted to drive home. These searches were undertaken in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the state constitutional analogue to the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Lyles also contends that racial profiling was a factor in the police stops and that, as such, the unreasonable search and seizure also violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mr. Lyles seeks damages to compensate for these constitutional injuries and for injury to his property.
The Court of Claims dismissed the suit on the ground that constitutional claims cannot be pursued in the Court of Claims if the claimant can pursue common law tort claims. The NYCLU appealed that decision as inconsistent with the Court of Appeals decision in Brown v. State of New York, 89 N.Y.2d 172 (1996), but the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the dismissal. In a brief submitted to the Court of Appeals on Sept. 3, 2004, the NYCLU argued that constitutional claims are distinct from common law claims, that they address different interests and involve different elements and that litigants should be permitted to pursue constitutional claims in the Court of Claims even if they might have separate and independent tort law claims. On Nov. 30, 2004, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division.
N.Y. State Court of Claims, Index No. 105774, App. Div., 2nd Dept., No. 2002-10356 (direct)