New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

COLEY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-028-0008, Claim No. 96478


Prison – inmate assault – risk was not foreseeable.

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
BY: Glenn King, Esq. Staff Atorney
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 29, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim arose on August 1, 1995 at Coxsackie Correctional Facility when claimant was assaulted by another inmate. At trial, claimant testified that he and approximately 30 to 40 other inmates of the A-1 Division housing unit were lined up in a hallway, preparing to go into the recreation yard. Claimant, who was at the front of the line, was suddenly attacked from behind, without any warning, and his face was cut with a sharp instrument. Immediately after the attack, claimant was taken to the facility medical unit for treatment, and he was later transferred to Albany Medical Center where he received approximately 70 stitches on the right side of his face and neck. In addition to the very visible scar, which is clearly permanent, claimant also testified that he continues to experience numbness in his right ear.
Claimant was not aware of his assailant's identity at the time of the incident, nor did he learn it afterwards. While being treated at the facility medical unit, claimant was shown a number of photographs by correction officers, but he had too little impression of the person to make even a tentative identification. The Unusual Incident Report of this event (Exh. 1) indicates that officers became aware of the assault when they heard a "commotion" coming from the front of the line. They were not able to locate a weapon or identify the perpetrator, although a box-type razor blade was subsequently found in the yard located outside the corridor window. The other inmates who had been in line were escorted back to their cells and, at the time the report was given, the investigation was continuing. The assailant was never identified.

The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risk of harm (Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342), including the foreseeable risk of attack by other inmates (Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its inmates (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). The standard of care is that of reasonable supervision (see, Castiglione v State of New York, 25 AD2d 895), and factors to be considered include whether there was a history of animosity between a claimant and his attackers, of which the State was or should have been aware (see, Hull v State of New York, 105 AD2d 961; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559; Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605, 608-609) and whether correction officials had an opportunity to intervene in a way that would have prevented assault but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
Claimant presented no evidence from which the Court could conclude that prison officials were or should have been aware of any heightened risk of harm to claimant and, therefore, that they should have taken some steps to provide greater-than-usual protection for his safety. There was no evidence of any history of animosity between claimant and any other inmate, nor was there any obvious risk in a routine transfer of prisoners from the same housing unit from cellblock to recreation yard. While it is true, as claimant argues, that the attack might not have occurred if an officer were standing immediately beside the front of the line, there was at the same time no obvious need for extremely tight security for what was a familiar and routine operation. Prison administrators--charged with the responsibility "to secure their institutions against escape, to prevent the transfer or possession of contraband, and to protect the safety of inmates and prison employees"--are faced with the formidable task of managing the "daily activities of a large number of inmates who have been confined due to their criminal, and often violent conduct" (
Matter of Rivera v Smith, 63 NY2d 501, 512). Thus, decisions such as those regarding where and how many correction officers to place at various locations within a prison are matters to be determined by correction officials, who are vested with broad discretion to accomplish their duty to maintain the necessary order and discipline.
After reviewing the trial testimony and evidence, along with the relevant law, the Court concludes that claimant failed to meet his burden of proving, by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, that the State was negligent in such a way as to be a proximate cause of his injuries. The claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

November 29, 2000
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims