New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEDINA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-030-520, Claim No. 97932


Inmate's claim alleging negligent failure to protect him from assault by fellow inmates dismissed for failure to establish a prima facie case. No foreseeable risk. Claimant gratuitously stabbed while assailant attacking another

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:
Defendant's attorney:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 11, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Steven Medina, the Claimant herein, alleges that while incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing), on August 17, 1997 at approximately 7:00 pm he was assaulted by a fellow inmate due to the State's negligence. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on August 14, 2001.

Claimant relied upon the factual allegations contained in his claim, as well as his own testimony at trial. He testified that he had been playing handball on the A-Block recreational yard when a fight broke out between other inmates in the area, involving the use of weapons. The fight spilled over to the handball courts. Somebody stabbed him in the left side of his chest with a "seven inch piece of sharpened steel. One correction officer came and tried to grab the weapon"[1]
from Claimant's attacker, and it was "thrown out of the yard." This was the only correction officer on duty in the yard.
Claimant stated his injuries "required open heart surgery" since the weapon "pierced" his heart and "hit an artery, causing internal bleeding."

Although he did not name the particular inmate at trial, Claimant stated that an individual involved in the fight - though not specifically the inmate who stabbed him - had been involved in "three prior incidents" as the victim of an assault. This individual had been "released from ‘cell confinement' a mere fourteen (14) days prior to the assault on Claimant." [Claim Number 97932; Page 3, Paragraph 3].
Claimant testified that no one was searched on the way to the yard. The inmate who he felt precipitated the assaultive conduct by his presence in the general population was able to come on the yard with the protective gear of a hooded sweater stuffed with magazines. Those who had weapons were not deterred either because of the failure to search.
Claimant asserted that "three officers" were "assigned" to the A-Block yard "to supervise in excess of... 300 inmates." [Claim number 97932, Page 2, Paragraph 2].They "were not positioned in strategic areas throughout the yard, nor were they in a continuous observation motion." [
Ibid.] These staffing limitations, Claimant alleged, are common knowledge, and thus no deterrent to illicit activity. Stationary guard stations have no "clear and direct view" of the hand ball courts. [Ibid.]
No other witnesses testified.

While the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates, [
Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878 (3d Dept. 1999); Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562 (3d Dept. 1985)], the State is not the 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 the State's part, 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 (3d Dept. 1995); Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559 (3d Dept. 1971)]; or (3) the State had notice and the opportunity to intervene to protect the inmate victim and failed to act. Smith v State of New York, ___AD2d___, 728 NYS2d 530 (3d Dept. 2001). The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and place of an assault does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept. 1994); Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept. 1990), lv. denied, 76 NY2d 711 (1990).
In this case, Claimant has testified that an unknown fellow inmate almost gratuitously stabbed him while in the throes of a collective assault against a different "victim/inmate." The inmate being assaulted had been returned to the general population some fourteen days previously, and served as a catalyst, Claimant asserted, to the assaultive conduct. Claimant did not offer any evidence, other than his own opinion testimony, that this inmate's presence created an "especially dangerous situation," resulting in a foreseeable risk of harm to the Claimant.
Padgett v State of New York, supra, at 915 . There was no indication that Claimant himself was a target, or that he had ever expressed unease at the inclusion of the "victim/inmate" in general population. When the assault began, the Claimant's own testimony establishes that the available correction officer responded appropriately.
The Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to establish a
prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved at the time of trial, is hereby granted, and Claim Number 97932 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.
The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

October 11, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise noted.