New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GOLDGRAB v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-007-521, Claim No. 93825


Synopsis


On July 25, 1995, claimant, an inmate, was assaulted by another inmate while in a recreation area at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. He contends that his assailant had known disciplinary problems and had previously demonstrated violent propensities. Claim dismissed.

Case Information

UID:
2000-007-521
Claimant(s):
SHMUEL GOLDGRAB
Claimant short name:
GOLDGRAB
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
93825
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
John L. Bell
Claimant's attorney:
Arnold S. Kronick, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
(Belinda A. Wagner, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel)
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 15, 2000
City:
Plattsburgh
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

On July 25, 1995, claimant, an inmate, was assaulted by another inmate while in a recreation area at Great Meadow Correctional Facility,[1]
Washington County. He contends that his assailant, Dontae Quinones, had known disciplinary problems and had previously demonstrated violent propensities. Claimant alleges that defendant negligently failed to provide adequate protection to claimant and supervision of Quinones.
Claimant testified that he was transferred to Great Meadow Correctional Facility (hereinafter Great Meadow) in March 1995. He was housed on B block, two company, which was a housing area for inmates serving prison disciplinary penalties. Inmates in such area were kept in their cells for 23 hours and permitted one hour of recreation each day. Claimant related that in April and May 1995, he began to experience problems with other inmates on his company. He stated that some items were stolen from his cell, he received threats, feces was thrown into his cell and an inmate attempted to set his cell on fire. Claimant complained to facility personnel regarding some of the problems he was experiencing. Claimant contends that in late June 1995, Correction Officer John Telisky returned a Jewish star and chain to claimant that had been stolen from him and found in the possession of another inmate. Thereafter, inmate Quinones reportedly called claimant a "snitch" and said to him, "You know what happens to snitches."

The recreation yard for inmates on disciplinary confinement included various cages, holding from one to 15 inmates. Claimant said that prior to July 25, he had always observed Quinones in a one-person cage whereas claimant was in a cage he characterized as a ten-person cage; however, on July 25 Quinones was reportedly placed as an eleventh person in the cage that included claimant. Claimant testified that as he was conversing with another inmate, Quinones came up to him and struck him with a razorblade. Quinones cut claimant from the top of his head, down the left side of his face and ear to nearly his chin. Claimant was taken to the facility infirmary where he received 81 stitches.

On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that he had the option of not going out for recreation on July 25. He stated that he went out because other inmates had indicated to him that they wanted to discuss and attempt to resolve the recent problem regarding the belief that he was a snitch. Claimant did not seek voluntary protective custody. Before going out for recreation on July 25, he did not ask to speak to facility personnel. He explained that he thought he could solve the problem with the other inmates by communicating directly with them.

Excerpts from the depositions of Correction Officer John Telisky, Lieutenant John Gillingham and Sergeant Charles Lansburg were placed on the record at trial. Officer Telisky stated that during the two months before the assault, he was not advised that claimant had expressed a concern for his safety. Lieutenant Gillingham, who was a Sergeant in July 1995, stated that at the time Quinones was incarcerated in the long term confinement unit at Great Meadow he was not aware of Quinones' prior disciplinary record. He related that the Deputy Superintendent of Security would list inmates who were to receive recreation in a single-person cage, but Gillingham did not recall if Quinones was on such list during June or July 1995. Gillingham explained that there were many different sizes of cages, ranging from single-person to ones that held 15 inmates at a time. He recalled that approximately five correction officers were assigned to watch the cages. Sergeant Lansburg could not recall if, in July 1995, he was familiar with Quinones' disciplinary record. He did not remember being advised that claimant had related concerns about his safety to facility personnel prior to the incident. He did not recall any directive on July 25 that Quinones be placed in a one-person cage during recreation.

Deputy Superintendent Gary Greene was called as a witness. He was the Deputy Superintendent for security services at Great Meadow during the relevant time. Greene reviewed the disciplinary record of Quinones (Claimant's Exhibit 1) and referred to such document during his testimony. In March 1994, Quinones had been found guilty of possessing a weapon. The weapon was a razorblade. In May 1994, Quinones was involved in a fight with another inmate. In June 1994, he assaulted an inmate, using a razorblade to cut the right side of the inmate's face. Because of the various long-term disciplinary penalties imposed, Quinones was transferred to Southport Correctional Facility to serve his special housing unit (hereinafter SHU) penalties. Although he had not served all his SHU time, he returned to Great Meadow by July 1995. He was placed in B block, the facility housing area for inmates on disciplinary confinement.

Greene did not recall receiving complaints from claimant during May, June or July 1995 about his safety. He was shown the copy of a note purportedly written by claimant and reiterated that he did not recall the note. Greene indicated that he received hundreds of notes from inmates. He testified that if the property of one inmate was found in the possession of another inmate, charges would be brought and the matter would have been documented. He stated that, although Quinones was serving SHU time in July 1995, there was no requirement that such an inmate be placed in a one-person cage during recreation. He reported that yard assignments were generally left to the discretion of the staff with immediate supervision of the area. He testified that the assault occurred in a 15-person cage, not a 10-person cage as claimed by claimant.

Correction Officer John Telisky was called by defendant as a witness. He stated that he did not return a Jewish star and chain to claimant. He denied any activity regarding claimant's chain and stated that he did not have any discussions with claimant regarding the chain.

The State must provide inmates reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of inmates and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to an inference of negligence (Schittino v State of New York, 262 AD2d 824). Indeed, it is well recognized that, by their very nature of being filled with often violent criminals, correctional facilities continually face the potential of violence within their walls (see, Bell v Wolfish, 441 US 520, 559; Jones v North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, 433 US 119, 132; Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 220). To establish liability for an inmate-on-inmate assault, a claimant generally must show that (1) the victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection (Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562), (2) the State had notice that the assailant was particularly prone to perpetrating such an assault and failed to take proper precautionary measures (Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833), or (3) the State had ample notice and ample opportunity to intervene but failed to act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
Claimant's contention that Quinones had displayed such a compelling propensity to perpetrate assaults that defendant should have taken additional precautionary measures with respect to him is unpersuasive. A review of the Tier 3 disciplinary matters involving Quinones during 1994 and 1995, prior to his assault upon claimant on July 25, 1995, reveals the following incident dates and disciplinary determinations:
March 4, 1994 - Guilty of possessing a weapon.


May 27, 1994 - Guilty of not obeying a direct order and fighting.


June 15, 1994 - Guilty of possessing contraband and a weapon, and violent conduct in assaulting an inmate.


March 20, 1995 - Guilty of an unauthorized exchange, possessing contraband, unhygienic act, and damaging property.

Although Quinones had been involved in a prior assault in which he used a razorblade as a weapon upon another inmate, such incident occurred on June 15, 1994, approximately eleven months before the subject assault. After the June 15, 1994 incident, there is no record of violent conduct by Quinones toward other inmates until the subject assault. In Littlejohn (supra), a claim in which liability was found, the assailant had been involved in four assaults within two months before the attack on the claimant. Each case, however, turns upon its specific facts as the court considers what is reasonable under the prevailing circumstances, and therefore there is no minimum number of assaults that must be shown within a certain period of time to establish liability (Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605, 608-609; see, Blake v State of New York, supra). Here, the court is not convinced that a similar assault occurring eleven months earlier was sufficient within the context of a prison setting to require defendant to provide additional security precautions regarding Quinones. Indeed, Quinones had not yet returned to general population. He was still serving time on restricted confinement, where his access to and interaction with other inmates was limited. The other misconduct of Quinones reflected by the Tier 3 determinations[2] fails to rise to the level of establishing negligent conduct by defendant regarding its handling of Quinones.
Claimant's contention that he placed defendant on notice that he was in danger and therefore that defendant had a duty to provide him with more vigilant protection is equally unavailing. Although claimant made a series of complaints to defendant, he did not inform defendant of specific threats to him by Quinones. Significantly, claimant's own testimony reflects that whatever problems he perceived he had with other inmates he also believed he could solve by conversing with the inmates. He thus chose to enter the yard on the day of the incident and he intended to discuss with the inmates his problem of being labeled a snitch. He admittedly did not request placement in protective custody.

Claimant's testimony that there were eleven inmates in a 10-person cage and that on all prior occasions Quinones had received recreation in a one-person cage lacked candor. The court found credible the testimony of Deputy Superintendent Greene that the incident occurred in a 15-person cage. Furthermore, no convincing proof was presented that defendant engaged in negligent conduct by placing Quinones in the 15-person cage. The evidence failed to establish that it was incumbent upon defendant to place Quinones in a single-person cage.

Although the assault upon claimant was unfortunate, the proof presented does not establish a basis for finding culpability by defendant. Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which the court reserved, is now granted.

The claim is dismissed and the Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

June 15, 2000
Plattsburgh, New York

HON. JOHN L. BELL
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
The claim mistakenly identified the incident as occurring at Clinton Correctional Facility. Claimant was permitted to amend his claim at the commencement of trial to reflect the correct facility.
[2]
Quinones also had Tier 2 determinations against him. Tier 2 violations are less serious in nature and the ones of which Quinones was found guilty have little relevance to the case before the court.