New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEYERS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-010-083, Claim No. 100129


Inmate claimant caught fingers in feed slot of cell door. No showing of negligence by defendant.

Case Information

JANICE MEYERS The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the only proper party defendant.
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: John Healey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 21, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for injuries she sustained on February 23, 1999, during her incarceration at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility ("Bedford"), when she caught the tips of her second and third fingers of her left hand in the feed slot of her cell door.
Claimant contends that, after a heated argument with Correction Officer Ruth Leslie, Leslie closed the feed slot intentionally on claimant's hand to end a verbal discourse. Leslie denied any intention to hurt claimant, and maintained that she closed the slot, without awareness of claimant's proximity to the hinged door, and did so because claimant had been spitting and throwing things at Leslie through the slot and had threatened to throw toilet water at Leslie. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
Claimant was serving a sentence for a term of three to six years. During her incarceration, except for approximately six months, claimant was housed in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") because of her repeated drug and disciplinary problems. Claimant stated that she had " a lot of disturbances and drug charges" at Bedford.[1]
On February 23, 1999, after being with an outside visitor,
claimant was found to be in possession of narcotics and a cigarette lighter. Accordingly, claimant was transferred from SHU to the Satellite Unit. The Satellite Unit houses inmates with mental and behavioral problems including drug abusers (Ex. 6, p. 22). Claimant was placed in an observation cell with a solid steel door. The lower part of the door had a hinged feed slot that measured approximately 18 x 6 inches and opened down and out into the corridor.
conceded that she was acting in an uncooperative manner and described her mental state as agitated, upset, and frustrated. She testified that she was kneeling on the floor with her hands resting on the open feed slot. Correction Officer Ogglesby attempted to calm claimant by speaking to her through the slot. Thereafter, Correction Officer Leslie arrived. Claimant testified that she had no prior relationship with Leslie. Although claimant could not recall specifics, she stated that she and Leslie engaged in a heated argument and claimant admitted cursing at Leslie. According to claimant, the argument ended when, without warning, Leslie, who was at a distance of two feet from the feed slot, closed the slot on claimant's hands. Claimant was able to pull her right hand away, but the door caught the tips of claimant's second and third fingers of her left hand. Claimant screamed and Leslie immediately opened the slot.
At claimant's examination before trial, she testified that the argument stopped when claimant threatened to throw toilet water on Leslie and Leslie responded by closing the feed slot. At trial, claimant denied making any threats.
Leslie testified that she has been employed as a correction officer at Bedford for 13 years. On February 23, 1999 at 6:16 p.m., Leslie conducted her first round on the Satellite Unit. She
observed some liquid in front of the observation cell and heard claimant screaming and banging the feed slot. Claimant yelled, cursed, spit and threw wet paper at Leslie through the feed slot. Leslie reported the events to her supervisor and continued her rounds.
At 6:35 p.m., as Leslie made her second round, claimant continued to "throw stuff," "spit," and threatened to throw "s*** water" from her cell through the feed slot. On the third round at 7:00 p.m., Leslie observed claimant get up and move toward the toilet in her cell. Leslie reacted by closing the feed slot to prevent claimant from throwing anything else. As Leslie attempted to bolt the feed slot shut, she heard claimant return to the door and a splash. Leslie felt pressure from the other side of the door, but could not determine what was happening. Upon hearing
claimant say she was hurt, Leslie immediately opened the slot and observed claimant's blood. Leslie summoned medical assistance for claimant.
Leslie maintained that she tried to close the slot while claimant was headed toward the toilet. Leslie denied becoming agitated by claimant's cursing and yelling and described such activities as an everyday occurrence in the Satellite Unit.

Upon listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, the Court finds that claimant's testimony strains credulity and that
claimant failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that Leslie acted either intentionally or negligently in closing the feed slot. Accordingly, the claim is dismissed.

December 21, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to the trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.