New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MITCHELL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-005-008, Claim No. 101155


The Defendant is not answerable in negligence for disposing of property that was grossly contaminated by feces and urine thrown into Claimant's cell by a fellow inmate.

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:
Darrel Mitchell
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Timothy P. Mulvey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 17, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant is an inmate under the custody and control of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and at all pertinent times herein was housed at the Auburn Correctional Facility (Auburn). He alleges negligence in this claim.

On September 4, 1999, Claimant had feces and urine thrown at him in his cell by a neighboring inmate. Claimant then retaliated by throwing feces and urine back at the offending inmate. Claimant and the offending inmate were removed from their cells and taken to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) and all of Claimant's property was permanently disposed of. Claimant brings this claim of negligence against the State of New York for the failure of the correction officers to recover and return any of his property. He alleges that not all of his property was contaminated and that the State was negligent in not salvaging the uncontaminated property. Claimant alleges mental anguish, permanent damage, pain and suffering as a result of this negligence.

Draft Processing Officer McCormick who was called to pack Claimant's cell, assessed the situation and determined that the cell was "grossly contaminated" and that all of its contents had to be disposed of. This officer testified at trial that he remembered this incident, even though it occurred several years ago, because only twice in his two year tenure as a draft processing officer did he face a situation where nothing could be salvaged, and this was one of them.

Captain O'Rourke testified at trial that the State does not purposely put its employees in an area where there is gross contamination, for safety and health reasons. The judgment of the Draft Processing Officer was that this was a gross contamination and for that reason everything had to be disposed of.

There is no question that the actions of the correction officers here were reasonable and necessary for the safety of inmates and staff at Auburn. Furthermore, I find that Claimant has failed to show that any of his property was not contaminated, and his testimony in that regard is wholly speculative. Regardless, he has also failed to establish that the State had a duty to send any of its employees into a "grossly contaminated" area, to sift through his property and try to isolate any non-contaminated property. I find the State's policy of disposing of property that is grossly contaminated, whether it be state-issued or personal property, to be reasonable and necessary for the health and safety of State employees and inmates who might come in contact with such contamination.

Claimant has failed to establish that the State was negligent in the handling of his property.

The claim is dismissed. All motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

July 17, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims