New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GAINES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-029-008, Claim No. 94719



Prisoner - Assault by unidentified inmate. No liability.

Prisoner - Bailment - loss of boots - liability damage $70.00

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:
Michael GainesPro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Elyse Angelico, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 15, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


These two claims by claimant, a
pro se prisoner, seek recovery from defendant for damages which claimant alleges (1) was the result of negligent supervision of inmates by the Department of Correctional Services (Claim No. 94916), and (2) was the result of the State's negligence in losing or destroying claimant's personal property (Claim No. 94719). The Court, upon the consent of the parties, joined these claims for trial (CPLR § 601). The trial was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereinafter Sing Sing) on August 3, 2000.
Claimant testified that on March 19, 1996, while on his way to breakfast at 7:45 a.m. in the A-Block Housing Area at Sing Sing, he was attacked by several inmates that he is unable to identify. Claimant asserts he was assaulted due to the fact a correction officer was not at his assigned post.

Despite claimant's assertion that the correction officers at Sing Sing did not follow proper State guidelines for safety at the facility on March 19, 1996, claimant submitted no specific rule or regulation which he asserts was violated. Further, by claimant's own testimony, the inmates who engaged in the assault upon claimant were unknown to him at the time and remain unknown to him as of the date of trial.

While the State must provide inmates reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates,
(Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562) the State is not an insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to the inference of negligence (Sebastiano v State of New York, supra).
In order to establish liability on behalf of the State, an inmate claimant must allege and prove 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, supra); (2) the State had notice that the assailant was dangerous and refused to take the proper precautions (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 the latitude to mediate and failed to act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
In view of claimant's own testimony that: (1) the assault occurred without warning, and (2) it occurred at the hands of unknown assailants, it is impossible to find that the claimant was a known risk, that the assailants were dangerous, or that the State had notice that the attack would occur or was likely to occur.

The case law with respect to the State's duty to protect its inmates has been quite clearly distilled. Absent evidence that the attack was foreseeable or that segregation of the assailant was warranted under the prison rules, the State is not liable to an inmate for damages incurred as a result of an unprovoked attack by a fellow inmate (
Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711). Absent any evidence of improper supervision or a threat to claimant, an assault upon an inmate by unknown assailants neither establishes defendant's breach of duty nor a duty owing to claimant (see, Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). We find no State negligence as unremitting supervision is not required (Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842, 844).
Based upon the evidence presented, we find and conclude that while claimant was assaulted and sustained various injuries, he has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the State was negligent in failing to properly supervise the inmates. Claimant offered only his bare belief that Department of Correctional Services regulations were violated by the officers on duty, and such belief is insufficient to establish liability. Thus, Claim No. 94916 is dismissed.

We now turn to claimant's second claim (Claim No. 94719). Claimant testified that following the assault he was transported to St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains and that prior to leaving Sing Sing certain items of clothing, specifically underwear and boots, were taken from him and he was given State clothing. He further stated that when he returned from the hospital, he did not receive his clothes or boots. Evidence received at trial contains a copy of the Department of Correctional Services Claim Investigation Report (Exh. A., unnumbered, p 6) which states that claimant's property was destroyed "due to blood saturation". The document further recites that claimant's inmate claim was rejected for failure to provide receipts.

On a review of the proof submitted at trial, we find and conclude the existence of a bailment has been proven. Further, we note that the State produced no witnesses to explain or justify the admitted destruction of claimant's property. We find that the documentary evidence and claimant's credible trial testimony established that claimant possessed the underwear and boots on March 19, 1996 and that they were confiscated and destroyed by Sing Sing personnel. The State's refusal or inability to return the bailed item on demand creates a presumption of negligence by the defendant, a presumption the State has failed to rebut (
Singer Co. v Stott & Davis Motor Express, 79 AD2d 227; Brisbane v State of New York, Claim No. 88588, filed 6/25/96, Benza, J.). We further find and conclude that claimant's unrefuted credible testimony established that the value of the boots at the time they were destroyed was $70.00. Claimant offered no proof as to the value of the other destroyed property and, in any event, the Court finds the value of such items to be nominal, at best.
Accordingly, we find and conclude that claimant is entitled to judgment in Claim No. 94719 in the sum of $70.00, inclusive of interest, the value of the lost property as determined by the Court.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgments accordingly.

August 15, 2000
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims