New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DOWLING v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-013-507, Claim No. 97153


Incarcerated claimant failed to establish either that a rule violation allowed another inmate to assault him or that the State had any reason to anticipate trouble between these two inmates. Claim is dismissed.

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:
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: WENDE E. MORCIO, ESQAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February , 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant alleges that on September 23, 1997, when he was incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility (Wende), he was assaulted by another inmate.

Claimant testified that the assault occurred as he was returning to his cell from the package room. Claimant, a general population prisoner who was returning to his cell area on a pass, was walking through a housing unit that he had to pass through to get to his cell when he encountered a small group of keep-locked prisoners who were being escorted in the opposite direction. The correction officer in charge of those prisoners first directed Claimant to wait to the side and then told him to go ahead, directing him walk past the prisoners along the corridor, which Claimant estimates to be approximately eight feet wide. As he did so, one of the inmates he was passing jumped out and grabbed and struck him. Claimant stated that he lost consciousness when he was hit but was later told by the officer who had been escorting the other inmates that he had been dragged down the corridor by his assailant. The officer also told him that he (the officer) was initially unable to help him because he was the only officer present and he had to control the other inmates.

Claimant recognized his assailant and was surprised because it was someone he knew, an L. Taylor, and someone with whom he had had no problems in the past. While they were both waiting to be taken for medical attention, according to Claimant, the assailant told Claimant that he thought he was someone else. Claimant was initially charged with fighting, but he was later found not guilty at the disciplinary hearing, upon a finding that he "appears to have been more the victim of an assault rather than a willing participant in a fight" (Exhibit 5). Claimant asserts that the correction officer escorting the keep-locked prisoners violated several rules regarding inmate movement, specifically the requirement that there are to be no general population inmates in the corridor at the same time there are keep-locked inmates.

Sgt. John Snyder, who testified on behalf of Defendant, stated that he happened to be moving from one area of the prison to another when he observed what initially appeared to be an altercation between Claimant and inmate Taylor. He saw Claimant walking toward him, passing the line of inmates headed in the other direction, preparing to go to sick call. One of the inmates in that line grabbed Claimant by his shoulder, spun him around, and struck him in his mouth with a fist. Sgt. Snyder stated that these events happened instantaneously, with no words exchanged. Claimant fell to the ground in a seated position, and Sgt. Snyder ordered Taylor to "break it up." At that point Taylor grabbed Claimant by the shirt collar and began dragging him down the corridor. After about ten feet, Taylor complied with the order to surrender. He estimated that the entire incident lasted about four to five seconds. Both inmates were then handcuffed and Claimant was sent to the infirmary for treatment.

When asked about any regulation requiring keep-locked and general population inmates from being in corridors at the same time, Sgt. Snyder stated that Wende had a policy that within a housing unit that when a keep-locked inmate is initially released into the gallery from his cell, no other inmates on that gallery are to be out of their cells. This, he stated, was based on the institution's experience that if keep-locked individuals, already established as "bad actors," are going to cause trouble, they are most likely to do so when they are first released from their cells. Once the inmate is released and moved from the gallery, however, he may move through the facility on the main corridors under escort, but he is not prohibited from being in a corridor with other inmates. Sgt. Snyder stated that the incident in which Claimant was injured occurred in the main corridor, not in the gallery or housing area. When asked whether it is the general practice for officers escorting a group of keep-locked individuals to require others in the corridor to wait until his charges go past, Sgt. Snyder stated that that would be entirely up to the officer "based on any of a hundred variables."

Several months after this incident, Claimant was added to inmate Taylor's enemies list (Exhibit A), but he was not on that list at the time of the incident. Sgt. Snyder generated an Inmate Misbehavior Report charging Claimant with fighting (Exhibit 4), but the narrative of that report contained no reference to any misbehavior on Claimant's part, and, as noted above, Claimant was found not guilty at the disciplinary hearing that resulted from this report.

The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risk of harm (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342), including the foreseeable risk of attack by other inmates (Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its inmates (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). The standard of care is that of reasonable supervision (see, Castiglione v State of New York, 25 AD2d 895), and factors to be considered include whether there was a history of animosity between a claimant and his attackers, of which the State was or should have been aware (see, Hull v State of New York, 105 AD2d 961; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559) and whether correction officials had an opportunity to intervene in a way that would have prevented assault but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
In the situation presented here, there was no history of animosity between Claimant and his assailant and, in fact, it appears that there was no animosity between them. Claimant has made no showing that his assailant was an unusually dangerous individual who should have been in a more restrictive housing situation. Furthermore, I am satisfied that Sgt. Snyder reacted as quickly as possible when he intervened to stop the attack and, in fact, it was quite fortunate that he happened to be passing through the area. Claimant has pointed to no statutory or regulatory authority for the rule that he contends was violated, and I am persuaded by Sgt. Snyder's testimony and by the documentary evidence, which contains no mention of any possible rule violation, that it was entirely proper for a general population inmate to be in the same corridor with keep-locked inmates as long as the latter's escort does not give contrary directions.

Because the State had no rules that, if followed, would have prevented this assault, and because there was nothing to alert the State to anticipate trouble between the two inmates, I conclude that it cannot be held liable for Claimant's injuries, and the claim must be dismissed. This does not in any way minimize the unfortunate sequence of events or the fact that Claimant appears to have been entirely innocent of any wrongdoing in this situation.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment dismissing the claim.

All motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.


February , 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims