New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-015-164, Claim No. 100059, Motion No. M-63350


Claimant's motion seeking in camera examination of alleged assailant's institutional file and release of information contained therein tending to prove notice to State of assailant's dangerous propensities granted except as to records containing medical or psychiatric information relative to diagnosis and treatment of such individual. State to provide record within 45 days of service of decision and order.

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:
Andrew Plasse, P.C.By: Andrew Plasse, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Dennis M. Acton, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 10, 2001
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant's motion for disclosure of his assailant's psychiatric records and institutional file following an in camera inspection by the Court and the anticipated redaction of privileged matter is granted to the limited extent set forth below. The claim seeks to recover money damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by claimant on March 31, 1997 at Great Meadows Correctional Facility, Comstock, New York when he was attacked by a fellow inmate identified as P. Perkins (DIN # 95 A 8588). The claim alleges that inmate Perkins attacked claimant with a weapon causing an 8 inch cut to claimant's face and neck for which he seeks $225,000.00 in damages. Claimant alleges that his assailant was a dangerous individual whose vicious propensities were known or should have been known by DOCS personnel and that he, the assailant, should have been segregated from the general prison population. The claim alleges that the State was negligent in failing to take adequate precautions to prevent the carrying of weapons by inmates, in failing to adequately monitor inmate movement and in failing to intervene and/or failing to protect claimant during the attack.

On the motion claimant's attorney alleges that the assailant's psychiatric records and security status records maintained by DOCS from the date of his initial incarceration through March 31, 1997 are material and necessary for the prosecution of this matter. Claimant's attorney requests that Perkins' entire DOCS file from the date of his placement with DOCS to the date of the incident together with the records of disciplinary or criminal charges resulting from this incident be provided to the Court for an in camera inspection and judicial determination as to what portions should be provided to claimant's attorney.

The defendant opposed the motion primarily on the grounds that pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law § 33.13 (c) (1) clinical records of patients shall not be released except "pursuant to an order of a court of record requiring disclosure upon a finding by the Court that the interests of justice significantly outweigh the need for confidentiality..." Defendant's attorney alleges that claimant has not demonstrated a good faith basis for the belief that the alleged assailant has any psychiatric history or any condition relevant to the incident giving rise to the claim. Defendant further sought to limit disclosure of disciplinary records to one year or less prior to the incident and to prevent disclosure of information pertaining to the alleged assailant's medical, dental or personal property records which may be contained in the alleged assailant's complete institutional file.

The law is settled that records concerning an inmate's behavior during confinement may be disclosed as necessary and material to the prosecution of a claim alleging the State was negligent in failing to segregate an attacker with a known dangerous propensity (Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559). After Wilson the rule evolved that in cases where a claimant seeks medical records of an alleged assailant from the State, he or she is entitled to receive records relating to the assailant's criminal record and behavior in confinement prior to the assault but is not entitled to records pertaining to the inmate's prognosis and diagnosis (see, Homere v State of New York, 41 AD2d 797). Stated differently, claimant is entitled to discover non-medical information, including institutional disciplinary records, contained in the alleged assailant's institutional file which "relates to any prior assaults or similar violent behavior, to aid plaintiff in establishing knowledge on the part of the defendants" (Moore v St. John's Episcopal Hosp., 89 AD2d 618, 619).

The determination of what information shall be disclosed is to be made by the Court after an in camera inspection of the records (Villano v State of New York, 127 Misc 2d 761; Brier v State of New York, 95 AD2d 788). In conducting such an inspection the Court shall be guided by the Appellate Division, Second Department's decision in Brier v State of New York, supra, which said:
In the process of redacting the hospital record the court shall exclude therefrom (1) all reports and references concerning physical and psychological examinations, the results thereof, prognosis, diagnosis and treatment, (2) any entry where a doctor, nurse or other medical personnel refers to a prior assault or act of violence between the patient and another as a starting point for that entry, or such entry that is made as the basis for their interviewing and/or treating the patient and (3) any entry by medical personnel concerning treatment of the patient for the specific incident which was the basis of his referral to them. The court shall include in the redacted copy of the hospital record to be furnished to the claimants (1) all reports and references made, regardless of author, concerning any assaultive or violent behavior between the patient and another, including the time and place and surrounding circumstances, the date the information came within the knowledge of defendant, and any subsequent action, such as a transfer within the institution taken by institution personnel, the police department, the courts, etc., where such action was predicated upon the aforesaid behavior, and (2) the number of times the patient was confined to defendant's institution and the length of each stay thereat.
The alleged assailant's institutional file, other than the disciplinary records treated above, shall be supplied to the Court within 45 days of the date of service of this decision and order by the Clerk. Upon its review the Court will determine what portions, if any, are subject to disclosure and will direct that defendant serve copies of any such materials upon the claimant's attorney.

July 10, 2001
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

1. Notice of motion dated April 6, 2001;

2. Affirmation of Andrew F. Plasse, dated April 6, 2001 with exhibits;

3. Affidavit of Dennis M. Acton sworn to April 13, 2001.