New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BECK v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-009-101, Claim No. 84780


Synopsis


This claim seeks damages for injuries resulting from an assault by another inmate. The Court found that prior to the incident, claimant did not know his assailant, did not seek additional protection, and had not asked to be segregated from the general population, and that claimant had therefore failed to establish any culpable conduct for negligence on the part of the defendant. The Court dismissed the claim.

Case Information

UID:
2001-009-101
Claimant(s):
BLYNN BECK
Claimant short name:
BECK
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
84780
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Nicholas V. Midey, Jr.
Claimant's attorney:
MICHAEL KUZMA, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Carla T. Rutigliano, Esq,Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 25, 2001
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
On December 6, 1991, claimant, an inmate, was attacked by another inmate at the Mohawk Correctional Facility. It is claimant's contention that the assault and his resulting injuries were caused by the State's negligence in failing to reasonably protect him from the attack and failing to provide adequate supervision.

This claim was ordered bifurcated at the beginning of the trial. This decision therefore deals solely with the issue of liability.

Claimant testified that while incarcerated at Mohawk Correctional Facility, and prior to the assault against him, he was a member and Vice President of the Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC). This committee is comprised of inmates who interact through a correctional facility sergeant with the administration of the facility on various issues that affect the inmates and their living conditions. According to claimant, allegations had surfaced that inmate funds had been misappropriated, and this generated internal conflict between members as to what action should be taken by the committee. The committee decided to send a letter to the Department of Correctional Services in Albany regarding this situation, and claimant disagreed with this approach. Eventually, during a meeting of the ILC on January 5, 1991, the President of the ILC was suddenly removed due to a "disturbance",[1]
and claimant, as Vice President, assumed leadership of the committee. Claimant testified that since he was a "dissenting voice" and had been appointed President of the committee, these changes placed him in "danger". Claimant testified that he wrote Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Perlman, and spoke with Sergeant John Croshier, expressing his concerns for his safety.
On the following day, December 6, 1991, while on a walkway which connects the commissary building and the prison yard, claimant was attacked by an unknown assailant. According to his testimony, claimant remembers hearing someone yell "Hey, ILC" immediately prior to being attacked from behind. Claimant sustained a severe beating and suffered serious head injuries from this assault.

Claimant testified that he did not see any guards monitoring the travel of inmates along this walkway, but also admitted that he did not recall actually looking for any such guards prior to the attack.

Immediately after the assault, claimant testified that he was assisted by other inmates to the mess hall, since that was the closest building. He was then taken to the infirmary and was ultimately transferred to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

In addition to Kenneth Perlman and Sergeant Croshier, Joseph E. McCoy, First Deputy Superintendent of the facility at the time of the incident, and Ernest E. Stevens, Jr., a correctional officer at the facility at the time, also testified. Each of these witnesses testified that they had no recollection of the claimant ever having presented to them any concerns which would have warranted any action to provide him with protection against the assault which occurred. They also testified that they had no recollection that the involvement of claimant with the ILC played any role in the attack. Correction Officer Stevens also testified that there are no mass movements of inmates on walkways without guards in place.

It is well settled that the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). 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 (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Schittino v State of New York, 262 AD2d 824, lv denied 94 NY2d 752).
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 (
Sebastiano v State of New York, supra); (2) the State had notice that the assailant was particularly prone to perpetrating such an assault and failed to take proper precautionary measures (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 an opportunity to intervene but failed to act (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650). Additionally, the mere fact that a guard may not have been present at a particular location is insufficient to support a finding that the State failed to exercise reasonable care, absent a showing that officials had notice of an especially dangerous situation at that site (Padgett v State of New York, supra).
In this claim, although claimant had expressed his concerns to certain prison officials that he was in danger due to his involvement with the ILC, claimant had not been threatened by anyone, nor had claimant made any request for special protection of any type, such as segregated housing, prior to the incident. Based on the testimony, the Court does not find sufficient evidence that claimant, through his position and involvement with the ILC, had become a known risk of an assault, or that such activities provided the State with ample notice and an opportunity to prevent the attack. The preponderance of the evidence indicates that claimant did not know of any individual or individuals who were threatening him, did not ask for any additional or different protection, did not ask to be segregated from the general population, and in fact, according to his testimony, did not know his assailant even after the assailant was identified to him following the incident.

Simply put, claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that there was any culpable conduct or negligence on the part of the defendant in connection with this unfortunate attack against him.

Accordingly, after considering all of the evidence presented herein, Claim No. 84780 is hereby DISMISSED.

All motions not heretofore ruled upon are denied.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


September 25, 2001
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY, JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court's trial notes.