The Third Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice McShan, determined the state was properly found liable for the actions of corrections officers who conducted a strip search of claimant prisoner. The strip search protocol includes having a male inmate lift his testicles and spread his cheeks. Here the corrections officers repeatedly made claimant touch his genitals and then run his fingers along his gums. The officers made claimant do the same after inserting his finger in his anus. Although the officers were committing intentional torts, their actions were deemed to be within the scope of their employment, making the state vicariously liable:
The law is well established that intentional torts may still fall within the scope of employment, and the motivation for such conduct is not dispositive as to defendant’s liability; rather, that factor is but one of several for our consideration pertaining to whether such acts were foreseeable as “a natural incident of the employment” … . Said differently, “where the element of general foreseeability exists, even intentional tort situations have been found to fall within the scope of employment”… . Although the correction officers’ actions may have been motivated in part by an intent to humiliate claimant, we disagree with defendant’s assertion that such intent was the sole motivation for each of the commands and that such actions were undertaken without any furtherance of defendant’s business .. . In this respect, the preponderance of the acts performed during the strip frisk and placement into observation did not significantly deviate from the mandates of the directive and were in fact required prior to claimant’s confinement in one-on-one observation. What rendered the incident demeaning, and the reason that claimant has a viable claim, is the product of the sequence in which those acts occurred. Moreover, the potential for such conduct is precisely that which was foreseen in the warnings contained in the directives, which instructed those officers conducting a strip frisk to be mindful of the sensitive nature of the search and to conduct themselves “in a manner least degrading to all involved.” M.K. v State of New York, 2023 NY Slip Op 03268, Third Dept 6-15-23
Practice Point: An employer can be vicariously liable for the intentional torts of employees if the employees were acting within the scope of their employment. Here corrections officers were conducting a required strip search of the claimant prisoner, but they did so in a mean-spirited and deliberately and profoundly degrading manner. The state was deemed vicariously liable for the officers’ intentional torts.
Practice Point: The decision does not specify the intentional torts for which the state was found liable. There is a public policy prohibiting “intentional infliction of emotional distress” claims against governmental entities, so that cause of action may not have been a basis for the state’s liability in this case. The Digest does not have a general “Intentional Torts” category. This decision was placed in the “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” category only because it seems closest to the facts.