New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WIGGINS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-009-008, Claim No. 90791


Claimant brought this claim alleging negligence against the State in failing to protect him from an assault by an inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility. The Court did not find any culpable conduct on the part of the State and dismissed the claim.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General
BY: Carla T. Rutigliano, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 27, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Carl Wiggins, seeks damages for personal injuries sustained by him on January 2, 1993, when he was assaulted by another inmate while incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility. Claimant alleges that the State was negligent in failing to protect him in this assault, and that it failed to use adequate supervision to prevent and/or stop this assault.

Claimant, a general population inmate, had been approved by facility officials to serve as an inmate barber. On January 2, 1993, claimant was taken by Correction Officer Thomas Gruver from his cell area to the Special Housing Unit (hereinafter "SHU") to provide haircuts to inmates in that unit. He was provided with a cart containing haircutting implements and was placed in "Tank H", which is a section located between the individual cells of SHU and the outer gate. Correction Officer Gruver remained outside this locked area. At some point in time, claimant proceeded to give a haircut to an inmate by the name of Hector Matos, who resided in SHU.

Claimant testified that after the haircut was finished, inmate Matos returned to his cell, closed his door, looked in his mirror, and then became angry about his haircut. Claimant testified that inmate Matos yelled and threatened claimant. Claimant further testified that Officer Gruver then allowed inmate Matos to come back out of his cell into Tank H to have his hair re-cut. Officer Gruver remained on the outside of Tank H while this was being done.

According to claimant, when he completed the task of re-cutting the hair of inmate Matos, he was assaulted by inmate Matos, who hit him in the face with his hand and also hit him with a barber stool. Claimant testified that immediately after he was struck by inmate Matos, he observed a razor in Mr. Matos' hand.

Claimant also testified that during this assault, Officer Gruver did not enter the cell block until he had backup from other officers, and that he could only shout at inmate Matos to stop the assault, but took no further action. By the time that additional officers arrived on the scene, Mr. Matos had finished his assault and returned to his cell.

Correction Officer Gruver testified that after escorting claimant to Tank H, he remained outside this section the entire time in order to supervise the haircuts given to residents of SHU. He testified that claimant had provided haircuts to other inmates on January 2
nd without any incident, prior to the altercation with inmate Matos. He testified that claimant was in his view the entire time that he was in Tank H.
However, Officer Gruver testified that inmate Matos never went back into his cell after receiving his initial haircut and prior to the attack upon claimant. Instead, he testified that when claimant completed his haircut, inmate Matos turned on claimant, hitting him with his hands, the stool, and possibly the barber's clippers.

Sgt. Mark Querns testified that according to facility procedures, an inmate in SHU must complete a 30 day adjustment period before they are granted certain benefits, including a haircut. Furthermore, he testified that inmates in SHU are only placed in restraints if there is such an order in effect. He further testified, however, that the only time an SHU inmate could be present in the tank area without being shackled was when the inmate was receiving a haircut from an inmate barber, unless there were two guards present in the area.

Finally, Sgt. Querns testified that since a cage officer controls the opening of an SHU inmate's cell, it would not have been possible for inmate Matos to return to his cell after his initial haircut, and then return to Tank H to a receive second haircut as testified to by claimant.

Claimant contends that by virtue of his residency in the SHU unit, inmate Matos was prone to violence, and that the State was obviously aware of this propensity. Furthermore, claimant contends that the State was negligent in permitting claimant and inmate Matos to be alone in Tank H, and that reasonable steps could have been taken to prevent this assault.

With regard to assaults by one inmate against another, the general law in this State is well settled.
The State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (see, Flaherty v State New York, 296 NY 342; Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault has occurred does not give rise to an inference of negligence (see, Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Roudette v State of New York, 224 AD2d 808).
Generally, in claims involving the assault against an inmate by another inmate, liability in a claim asserting negligence on the part of the State must be predicated upon one of the following grounds: (1) the victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection (see,
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 (see, Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559); or (3) the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene and failed to act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
In this case, claimant did not establish that he was at risk. He testified that he did not have any problems with any particular inmate in SHU, and that he had worked in SHU as a barber without incident prior to the date of this assault. Claimant also testified that he did not even know inmate Matos before the date of this incident.

Claimant contends, however, that the State should have been aware of Mr. Matos' violent propensities, simply because he was residing in SHU. However, there was no evidence of any animosity between claimant and his assailant prior to this incident, as claimant did not even know Mr. Matos prior to this assault. Additionally, according to the testimony of Sgt. Querns, since Mr. Matos was permitted to receive a haircut, he had therefore completed his 30 day adjustment period upon entering SHU. There was additional testimony indicating that inmate Matos was not subject to any restraint order. Accordingly, this Court cannot find that the State had any notice that inmate Matos was prone to such an assault against claimant, simply by virtue of his residency in SHU.

Additionally, this Court cannot find that the State had notice and an opportunity to prevent this assault. Claimant contends that Officer Gruver was aware that inmate Matos had become enraged following his initial haircut, and that after calming him down, he brought inmate Matos back out of his cell into Tank H to have his haircut redone, putting him in direct contact with claimant. It is well recognized that, by their very nature of being filled with 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). Correction officers are often required to make difficult decisions, in their discretion, under exceptionally trying circumstances with regard to the safety of inmates (see, Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 220). After having taken steps to pacify inmate Matos, Officer Gruver could not have reasonably foreseen that this inmate would then commence the assault upon claimant, with Officer Gruver standing nearby, in full view of the area. Even accepting claimant's version of the facts and assuming such a scenario, the Court cannot find that Officer Gruver was negligent in returning inmate Matos to the tank to have his haircut redone.
Accordingly, while the assault upon claimant was unfortunate, claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that there was any culpable conduct on the part of the State. Therefore, this claim must be and hereby is dismissed.


September 27, 2000
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims