New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WALLS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-030-541, Claim No. 100079


Claim that Defendant's agents negligently failed to protect him from an assault by fellow inmates dismissed for failure to establish a prima facie case. No foreseeable risk

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:
November 5, 2001
White Plains

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See also (multicaptioned case)

James Walls, the Claimant herein, alleges that the Defendant's agents negligently failed to protect him from assault by fellow inmates when he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on September 7, 2001.

Claimant relied on the factual allegations contained in his claim, and his own testimony at trial. He testified that "on March 11, 1999" he "was released from keep lock status and had to make a phone call."[1]
First he "worked out for about 20 minutes on the A-Block yard", then he "went over to the phone area" and "had to wait for about 5 minutes in order to get a phone." At approximately 7:20 p.m., as he was speaking on the population phone for about 15 minutes, he "felt something hitting...[him] in the back of the head."
Claimant asserted that no correctional personnel were in the immediate area, although the spot by the phone is supposed to be manned because of the potential for abuse of phone privileges
. He kept being attacked from behind with sharp pointed objects by one inmate. He started "tussling" with his attacker, and then "another inmate came to..[his attacker's] aid, and start[ed] swinging at...[claimant] with another blade or pick or something." Yet a third inmate came to join the attack from Claimant's left, hitting claimant on the "back of the head" with a "shank." He stated all three attackers were wearing masks. He pulled the mask down "during the tussle" on one of his assailants, then he "got the mask off" of "the guy he had been standing on". The third assailant then ran away, "because he sees the officers coming." Claimant "swung at the second guy, [getting the mask off] and see[ing] his face." He said he "must've been fighting for 15 an area open as a baseball diamond."
Three officers came to assist him. One correction officer chased the first assailant, Correction Officer Cook chased another, and Correction Officer Obie "grabbed the second guy." Meanwhile, Claimant had "managed to get out of the crowd and walked out of the area off to the far right hand side of the fence,...hanging on the fence....[he] realized he was hit...and asked Officer Obie to ‘get me out of the yard.'"

Claimant stated,
when officers did come to his aid, he was seriously hurt. He testified that he sustained multiple stab wounds in the back of his head, and a stab wound in his left arm. He was taken to the Sing Sing emergency room, then to St. Agnes Hospital. After his release from the hospital, he was placed in involuntary protective custody.
On cross-examination Claimant indicated he refused protective custody on his return to Sing Sing, and thus had to be placed in protective custody involuntarily, because he'd been on A-Block "for his entire bid," and "wanted an opportunity to get back at these people." He stated at first "I was angry....people stabbed me up. I calmed down. Scars started to heal...people telling him ‘Walls, it's not worth it, get yourself into more trouble', I tried to do things with a level head."

No other witnesses testified, and no other evidence was presented.

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, 284 AD2d 741, 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).
Additionally, the court must consider whether there was information which would trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any "suspicious" behavior - to alert correction personnel of danger brewing.
See, e.g., Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept. 1981).
In this case, Claimant has testified that unknown fellow inmates attacked him on March 11, 1999. He did not indicate that there had been prior incidents of which the State was aware, or that he had any known enemies. The fact that officers may not have been present at the precise time and place of the assault, does not give rise to liability absent notice of a foreseeably dangerous situation.
Colon v State of New York, supra; Padgett v State of New York, supra. "...[U]nremitting supervision...." is not required. Colon v State of New York, supra, at 844. When the assault occurred, it appears to have been dealt with in a comprehensive and appropriate fashion, and immediate medical care was given.
Based upon this record, without the requisite notice of the potential for harm, Claimant has failed to establish
prima facie, that the subject assault was a foreseeable risk for which the State should be held liable. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved at trial, is hereby granted and Claim Number 100079 is dismissed in its entirety.
Let Judgement be entered accordingly.

November 5, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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