New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PRIESTER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-010-018, Claim No. 98680


Synopsis


Inmate shower assault not foreseeable.

Case Information

UID:
2002-010-018
Claimant(s):
KARON PRIESTER
Claimant short name:
PRIESTER
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
98680
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
ANDREW F. PLASSE, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Vincent Cascio, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 4, 2002
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant seeks damages for injuries he allegedly sustained on October 20, 1997, during his incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing"), when he was taking a shower and was stabbed by another inmate. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this Decision pertains solely to the issue of liability.
On October 17, 1997,
claimant was in keeplock when a fire was started in his cell. Sergeant Hillriegel questioned claimant about the incident and claimant indicated that he did not have any enemies and did not know who had set the fire. Claimant then signed a Refusal of Admission to Protective Custody and acknowledged:
I do not believe that I am in any jeopardy by staying in general population, nor will I hold N.Y. State, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, or any of its employees responsible for any harm which might befall me while in general population. In addition, I understand that, if at any time I feel the need for Protective Custody, I may at that time request it
(Ex. C). At trial, claimant testified that he never refused protective custody. However, when confronted with his signed refusal, claimant acknowledged his signature, but stated that he probably never read the form.
Hillriegel recommended that
claimant be placed in Involuntary Protective Custody ("IPC")(Ex. 6) and claimant was transferred to Building 5, B Gallery. Claimant contends that when he arrived at his new quarters, he expressed to Sergeant Haase a general concern for his safety, but did not reveal any names to Haase. Sergeant Hasse testified that he was assigned to Building 5 one day a week and that, prior to the assault, he had not had any conversation with claimant.
B Gallery had 70 cells with one individual shower located behind a locked gate in the middle of the gallery. Inmates were permitted ten minute showers, three times a week. A correction officer escorted an inmate from his cell and then locked the shower for the allotted time period. The inmate was given a "two minute warning"[1]
before the end of the shower to permit him to rinse off and prepare to exit.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., on October 20, 1997, Correction Officer Wilson escorted
claimant to the shower and locked the gate pursuant to the customary procedure. After claimant heard the two minute warning, he felt the curtain pushed into the shower. As he pulled the curtain back, he observed an inmate armed with an ice pick. The intruder stabbed claimant in the side, arm, back, and chest. Wilson entered the shower and broke up the fight. The next day, claimant learned that the name of his attacker was John Balasz. Claimant testified at trial that he and Balasz had had a prior misunderstanding. There was, however, no testimony that claimant had ever reported this to defendant.
On October 21, 1997 a hearing was held to determine whether
claimant should remain in IPC based upon the fire in his cell. Claimant testified at the hearing that the fire had started accidently; he attributed it to a candle that had fallen on his bed.
Correction Officer Terrance Wilson testified that IPC inmate cells were opened so that these inmates could be taken individually to the showers, in succession, with an escorting correction officer. Inmates not in IPC remained locked in their cells. Wilson had just opened the cell of IPC inmate Balasz who was next due for a shower. Balasz's cell was directly opposite the shower. When Wilson opened the gate to remove
claimant from the shower, Wilson did not see Balasz approaching. Balasz pushed past Wilson, knocked claimant down, and stabbed him. Wilson activated his personal alarm and, with his baton, struck Balasz.
Wilson further testified that IPC inmates are not separated from each other unless there is a separation order directing that certain IPC inmates be kept apart. There was no separation order regarding
claimant or Balasz.
New York State Police Investigator Joseph Todaro investigated the attack on
claimant. In response to questioning, claimant stated: he did not have any enemies; he did not know why he was attacked; and he did not want to press any charges. When claimant was asked if he knew his assailant, claimant described the inmate by his cell number. Claimant never mentioned the fire in his cell to Todaro.
The mere occurrence of an unprovoked, unexplained attack by another inmate, with whom claimant had no prior confrontations, does not give rise to an inference of negligence, absent a showing that prison officials had notice of a foreseeably dangerous situation (
see, Stanley v State of New York, 239 AD2d 700; Roudette v State of New York, 224 AD2d 808; Padgett v State of New York; 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711). Further, while the State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from the foreseeable risks of harm (see, Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833; Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112AD2d 562), "[t]he State is not an insurer of inmate safety" (see, Padgett v State of New York, supra; Leibach v State of New York, 215 AD2d 978).
To establish liability, claimant must demonstrate one of the following (1) the State knew that claimant was at risk of being assaulted and yet failed to provide claimant with reasonable protection (
see, Smith v State of New York, 284 AD2d 741); (2) the assailant was particularly known to the State to be prone to perpetrating such an assault and the State did not take proper precautionary measures (see, Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559); or (3) the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene but did not act (see, Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
Claimant concedes that there was no basis for finding that defendant should have known that Balasz was prone to perpetrate such an assault. Claimant's contention in his post-trial memorandum that he told Sergeant Haase the names of two inmates he suspected of causing the fire is unsupported by the record and inconsistent with his testimony at the IPC hearing that the fire was an accident and he had no known enemies.
Under the circumstances presented, this Court finds that merely because
claimant was in IPC did not create a special duty owed to claimant. Claimant was treated according to prison procedures and in the same manner as other IPC inmates. The IPC inmates were segregated from other inmates, but not from each other and there was no basis for altering this procedure as it applied to claimant (see, Schittino v State of New York, 262 AD2d 824 [feed-up worker threw a five gallon urn of hot coffee on claimant; held claimant's testimony was insufficient to establish a prison regulation, policy or procedure requiring a correction officer to accompany a feed-up worker during the performance of his task]). There was no prior conflict between claimant and his attacker nor was his attacker known to be prone to such an assault (see, Pierrelouis v State of New York, 255 AD2d 824 [no evidence of any history between the two inmates that would lead defendant to believe that the inmate was a threat to claimant]; Roudette v State of New York, 224 AD2d 808, 809, supra [claimant in reception block was burned when a porter threw hot liquid in claimant's cell as he awaited a determination regarding his request for voluntary protective custody; defendant not negligent because inmate's generally expressed concerns failed to identify an imminently dangerous situation]).
In sum,
claimant has failed to establish that defendant was negligent.
Defendant's motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved, is now GRANTED.

LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED DISMISSING CLAIM NO. 98680.


April 4, 2002
White Plains, New York

HON. TERRY JANE RUDERMAN
Judge of the Court of Claims




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