New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-028-0011, Claim No. 95019


Synopsis


Prison – theft of property from inmate's locker – the State is not an insurer of inmates are their property and claimant failed to prove that decision to assign one roving guard to a housing unit was unreasonable.

Case Information

UID:
2000-028-0011
Claimant(s):
ALEXANDER R. WILSON
Claimant short name:
WILSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
95019
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
RICHARD E. SISE
Claimant's attorney:
ALEXANDER R. WILSON, pro se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: Glenn King, Esq. Staff Attorney
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 30, 2000
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
This claim arose on July 31, 1996 at Greene Correctional Facility when property was removed from two lockers assigned to claimant in the G1 housing unit. Claimant testified that he locked up his personal belongings prior to going to the recreation yard. At the time that he would have normally returned from the yard, he was injured when another inmate attempted to cut him. When he finally returned to his room, he discovered that the bedding had been stripped and all his personal belongings taken from his lockers. The combination locks securing the lockers had been forcibly opened.

Correction Officer Adopo testified that he was on duty in the G1 housing unit on the day in question. His duties included patrolling the television room, the laundry room and other rooms, in addition to the dormitory room. Undoubtedly the theft from claimant's lockers occurred sometime when the officer was in another part of the unit.

This is not an action for bailment, where property is delivered from one person to another "for a particular purpose under the express or implied contract with the understanding that it shall be redelivered to the person delivering it, or kept until he reclaims it after fulfillment of the purpose for which it was delivered" (9 NY Jur 2d, Bailments and Chattel Leases, ¶ 1, p 9). In this instance, the property that was lost was in claimant's possession and control and was apparently stolen by a third party. It is necessary, therefore, for him to prove that the State was negligent and that that negligence allowed others to break into the lockers and commit the theft.

The State's principle duty in supervising its prisons is to
exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances" to protect against foreseeable harm (Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). Prison administrators are given a wide range of discretion in carrying out their multiple responsibilities "to secure their institutions against escape, to prevent the transfer or possession of contraband, and to protect the safety of inmates and prison employees" and to manage the daily activities of the inmates (Matter of Rivera v Smith, 63 NY2d 501, 512). Decisions regarding placement and duties of prison guards are matters of judgment, and claimant has failed to prove that the decision to have a single housing unit officer patrol various areas, rather than assigning multiple guards to constantly monitor each area, was unreasonable under the circumstances. The State is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates or their property (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).
Accordingly, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.


November 30, 2000
Albany, New York

HON. RICHARD E. SISE
Judge of the Court of Claims