New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2001-010-032, Claim No. 94220


Inmate on inmate assault. Claimant failed to show notice of negligent supervision.

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):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Michael Zeytoonian, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 14, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for the personal injuries he sustained on April 13, 1996 when, during his incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), he was attacked by a group of inmates. Claimant alleges that defendant is liable for the attack because it failed to provide claimant with adequate supervision. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
Claimant testified that at approximately 3:30 p.m. on April 13, 1996, he was returning from Muslim studies at the Sing Sing chapel to Housing Block B (T:25).[1] There was a loud "commotion" on the first floor of B Block with inmates running back and forth obstructing access to the building (T:30-31). Claimant's cell was located on the fifth floor of B Block in Z Gallery. Claimant and other inmates were unable to ascend the stairs due to the activity (T:32). Lieutenant Satterfield directed that claimant and the other inmates be escorted upstairs to their cells (T:33).
According to claimant, the escort officer walked behind
claimant as he proceeded upstairs and, when they reached the fifth floor, claimant noticed Correction Officer Eugene Brown at the top of the stairs (T:34, 36). Gallery Officer Stanton was locking cells and leaving Z Gallery through the end gate. When claimant reached his cell, it was locked. Brown approached claimant and claimant reported that his cell was locked (T:38). Brown did not have the key. Brown directed claimant to wait in front of his cell and Brown yelled to the escort officer to obtain the key (T:38-39). The escort officer left and, according to claimant, Brown walked away and looked past claimant (T:39, 40). Claimant turned to see what Brown was watching and claimant observed 12 to 14 Hispanic inmates approaching from the end gate (T:40). Claimant heard someone shout, "there's one" (T:40). Claimant looked back toward Brown, but he was gone (T:40). The group proceeded toward claimant and they repeatedly punched and stabbed claimant until he screamed and fell to the ground bleeding. The attackers then stomped on claimant and walked away (T:45). Claimant stated that there were no correction officers in sight. However, within a short time, several correction officers came to claimant's assistance. Neither Brown nor Stanton responded to the scene (T:46-47).
Claimant testified that he had not had any problems or prior altercations with any other inmates; he had no enemies or an enemies list, and he had no reason to believe that he would be attacked (T:72-73). He further stated that, prior to the incident, he was not aware of any friction between Muslim and Hispanic inmates (T:74-75).
Correction Officer Eugene Brown testified that he was directed to escort claimant to his cell; however when he and
claimant reached the cell, it was locked (T:79, 85). Brown explained that Gallery Officer Stanton was the only one who had the key for individual cells and that he was not in sight (T:82-83). Brown assumed that Stanton was in the adjacent housing unit. Brown, who was at a distance of approximately 10 feet from claimant, estimated that they had been waiting approximately 30 to 55 minutes for Stanton to return, when a group of six to eight inmates calmly approached (T:91, 93-94, 100-01). Brown did not perceive the group to be threatening and Brown had no reason to believe that claimant was in danger (T:91).
As the inmates walked in front of Brown, he heard one of them say "that's one of them" (T:92). Brown did not think that the group was referring to
claimant because there were other inmates in the area. Within less than a minute from the time Brown first observed the group, they suddenly threw claimant on the ground and starting kicking him (T:94, 98). Brown explained that he did not take any steps to prevent the attack because it was unanticipated (T:94, 107). Brown stated that the incident unfolded quickly and that he took immediate action to stop the attack by raising his baton and chasing the inmates away from claimant (T:97, 106). Within seconds, three officers responded to the scene and went after the assailants (T:97). Brown remained with claimant until Stanton arrived, three to five minutes later, and radioed for further assistance (T:97, 116). Claimant was subsequently taken to the infirmary.
It is well settled that the State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from the foreseeable risk of harm (
see, Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). This includes the risk of attack by other prisoners (see, Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833). However, "[t]he State is not an insurer of inmate safety; its duty is to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable attacks by other inmates." (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 at 914). To establish liability, clamant must demonstrate one of the following: (1) the State knew that claimant was at risk of being assaulted and yet failed to provide claimant with reasonable protection (see, Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562); (2) the assailant was particularly known to the State to be prone to perpetrating such an assault and the State did not take proper precautionary measures (see, Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559); or (3) the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene but did not act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
The mere occurrence of an unprovoked, unexplained attack by a fellow inmate, with whom claimant had no prior contact, does not give rise to an inference of negligence, absent a showing that prison officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation (see, Stanley v State of New York, 239 AD2d 700; Roudette v State of New York, 224 AD2d 808; Leibach v State of New York, 215 AD2d 978; Padgett v State of New York, supra). Similarly, merely because a correction officer may not have been present when the assault occurred does not give rise to such an inference (see, Leibach v State of New York, supra; Padgett v State of New York, supra).
Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that
the credible evidence established that defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances presented. There was a commotion on the first floor of B block and Correction Officer Brown was directed to escort claimant to his cell on the fifth floor. There was no evidence of any disturbances on the fifth floor. Additionally, claimant himself testified that he had: no known enemies; no enemies list; no history of any threats or altercations prior to this incident; no knowledge of any friction between Muslim and Hispanic inmates; and no reason to believe he would be the subject of an assault. Accordingly, there is no basis for finding that defendant had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Indeed, Brown testified that the group approached calmly and that the incident accelerated rapidly into physical violence.
Merely because an officer did not prevent or timely stop an attack does not establish negligence (
see, Pierrelouis v State of New York, 255 AD2d 824 [claimant failed to establish that defendant breached a duty to claimant to prevent or timely stop the fight from occurring and failed to demonstrate a lack of reasonable care]). In fact, Brown took immediate steps to stop the attack and chased away the attackers. In sum, the Court finds that Brown had no reason to believe that claimant was about to be attacked and that Brown's actions in attempting to stop the assault were appropriate (see, Schittino v State of New York, 262 AD2d 824 [inmate fight escalated quickly and was not reasonably foreseeable; court rejected claim that correction officer's failure to intervene was negligent]).
Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.

. 94220.

May 14, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] References to the trial transcript will be preceded by the letter "T."