New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

THOMAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-029-018, Claim No. 94335


Prisoner - Assault - No notice to State, no opportunity to intervene, no liability. Dismissed.

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

Signature date:
September 12, 2000
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant brings this action for negligent supervision against the State as a
pro se prisoner who sustained injuries when assaulted by another prisoner. Claimant alleges that the State failed to provide reasonable supervision to protect him. On motion by the Attorney General, this matter was bifurcated and trial was held on August 17, 2000 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereinafter Sing Sing). This decision addresses only the issue of liability.
Claimant testified as follows: On April 13, 1996, at about 9:30 a.m., a group of Latin inmates attacked and stabbed a Muslim inmate. At approximately 3:30 that afternoon he was part of a group of 20-30 inmates entering the housing block for purposes of the afternoon count. Claimant's group of inmates had to pass a group of Latin inmates who were standing around the gate area. As claimant attempted to pass this group of Latin inmates, a fight broke out among the Latin and Muslim inmates. Claimant testified that one of the Latin inmates identified him as a Muslim and he was then attacked and stabbed by a Latin inmate. After he was stabbed he sought assistance from correction officers and was taken to the Sing Sing infirmary and then to

St. Agnes Hospital for treatment.
Claimant asserts that, because a Muslim inmate was attacked by a Latin inmate earlier on the same day, the State was on notice and it was foreseeable that there would be further hostilities between Muslim and Latin inmates.

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).
At trial, claimant offered no proof that he was a known risk, nor did he identify his assailant, other than as a "Latin prisoner". Thus, there is no evidence that his assailant was a known dangerous prisoner. On these facts, we find no basis for liability under
Sebastiano, (supra) or Wilson, (supra).
We turn now to consideration of the Huertas element, to wit, that the State had ample notice and the opportunity to intervene and failed to do so. It is claimant's theory that the earlier assault on a Muslim inmate by a Latin inmate imposed a duty upon the State to increase its awareness of security throughout the correctional facility as the prior attack created a serious potential for further violence at Sing Sing.
In support of this theory, claimant submitted into evidence, as Exhibit 3, copies of memoranda from six separate correction officers to their supervisors regarding events that occurred at Sing Sing on April 13, 1996.

Based upon the information contained in the memoranda which comprise Exhibit 3, it appears that the State was on notice that an altercation had occurred on S-North gallery between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. on April 13, 1996. It further appears that at about 12:50 p.m., a correction officer was informed that the altercation in the morning involved a Muslim and Latin inmate and that there would be retaliation. It also appears that at about 1:40 p.m., a different correction officer was informed there would be a problem in the yard between Muslim and Latin inmates.

While this information established that the State was aware of the morning assault of a Muslim inmate by Latin inmates, the information did not indicate that
claimant would be the subject of an assault or was within any foreseeable zone of danger. Claimant himself testified that he had no involvement in the morning incident. There was no evidence submitted at trial to establish that the State had, or should have had, notice of a risk of harm to claimant with any opportunity to intervene to prevent the assault. More generally, no evidence was presented to establish that any of the individuals involved in the morning assault were the same individuals involved in the afternoon altercation. No evidence was presented showing any linkage whatsoever between the groups of combatants other than the generalized identification as "Muslims" and "Latins". No evidence was presented to establish that it was possible to keep every member of these "groups" separated from one another absent a complete lockdown of the entire facility. Further, the decision regarding proper actions to be taken after the morning incident is properly within the discretion of the facility and will not be reviewed by this Court in the absence of unusual circumstances not present at bar. "Because of the problems of maintaining security and discipline within correctional facilities, the discretion delegated to the employees and officers is necessarily comprehensive and calls for the exercise of judgment under widely varying conditions" (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 218-219).
While the Court agrees with claimant's basic assertion that, in certain circumstances, an "elevated" duty can arise from prior incidents, we conclude that claimant failed to establish such elevated duty was owed to him under the generalized facts presented here. Therefore, based upon the foregoing, the Court finds and concludes that claimant failed to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the serious injuries he sustained as a result of being assaulted were caused by the State's negligence. This claim is hereby dismissed. The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

September 12, 2000
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims