New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

VALDES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-015-569, Claim No. 99793


Pro Se inmate failed to prove State's negligence caused injury to hand while unloading truck, or caused injury resulting from fall from upper bunk. He likewise failed to demonstrate DOCS employees violated applicable statutes or regulations in issuance of misbehavior reports. Absent such proof actions of DOCS are absolutely immune.

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:
John Valdes, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Edward F. McArdleAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 27, 2002
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

The trial of this pro se inmate claim was held at a term of Court at Marcy Correctional Facility on May 13, 2002. Elsa Magasis acted as a Spanish interpreter at trial[1]
Claimant testified[2]
as follows through the interpreter. He came to Mid-State Correctional Facility in 1997 and upon his arrival showed Mid-State personnel paperwork regarding a declaration of disability from the Social Security Administration. Mid-State personnel allegedly told him that the determination of disability had no meaning within the facility and that claimant would be assigned work detail unless the medical staff determined that he was unable to work. Claimant testified that he was forced to shovel snow and while doing so he fell down and hurt his right hand. When claimant tried to again bring his disability to the attention of DOCS personnel he was either forced to work or issued a ticket for refusing to work.
On February 21, 1998 claimant was required to shovel snow and load a truck with heavy boxes. He alleged that DOCS personnel failed to provide him with winter gear such as gloves and a hat. On March 4, 1998 he was placed in group #4 and group #2 and told to load a truck with heavy boxes during a snow storm without being given winter gear. While attempting to move the boxes one fell on his hand injuring it. He reported to the infirmary where he was given a medicated cream for his hand but was denied a requested medical excuse from work detail. This denial was included in a grievance allegedly filed by him. According to the claimant he was required to work under the same conditions for the next 90 days (without hat or gloves).

The witness testified without reference to time or place that if he complained about his disabling condition an officer would attempt to humiliate him. Ultimately claimant was taken for X rays of his hand and back. The X rays were negative and he was told there was nothing wrong with him. He testified that his back was X rayed because during that time he also fell from an upper bunk. He believed that three or four X rays were taken and all were negative. He stated that ultimately the medical administration at Mid-State changed and he was given a medical excuse from work dated January 26, 1999.

Claimant then alleged that he was never scheduled for an MRI even though unspecified medical personnel on some nonspecific occasion recommended that he obtain one. Claimant further testified that on July 24, 1998 he was ordered to work and refused to do so because of his disability. His refusal resulted in the issuance of a misbehavior report (Exhibit 6). Moreover, on October 8, 1998 a correction officer ordered him to work, checked with the medical department and advised claimant he had no medical excuse on file. That officer then issued a misbehavior report.

Defense counsel chose not to cross-examine the claimant and proof was closed upon the conclusion of claimant's testimony. No oral motions were made on the record.

It is established that the Court of Claims does not have subject matter jurisdiction over claims sounding in violations of the United States Constitution (including those based upon 42 USC § 1983
see, Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 185). The instant amended claim asserts that it is brought pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. To the extent that claimant seeks recovery on that basis the Court is without jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim.
Mindful of the fact that this claim has been brought by a pro se inmate with limited use of the English language the Court has looked beyond the obvious citation to the U.S. Constitution to determine whether the claim states and whether the proof in admissible form offered at trial has established any cause of action against the defendant.

Even viewed in the light most favorable to the claimant the proof offered at trial failed to establish any act of negligence or medical malpractice on the part of DOCS employees which would permit a finding of liability. With regard to medical malpractice, claimant asserts that the Mid-State medical staff repeatedly refused his requests to issue a medical excuse relieving claimant of work duties despite a purported disability determination of the Social Security Administration which allegedly found claimant eligible for supplemental social security income.

It is clear that "an administrative determination under one statute is not binding on another agency when the same question arises under another statute" (
Matter of Dickstein v State Tax Comm., 67 AD2d 1033, 1034; see also, Keller v Regan, 212 AD2d 856; Kurzyna v Communicar, Inc., 182 AD2d 924, lv denied 80 NY2d 754). Despite claimant's contention to the contrary DOCS medical personnel were not duty bound to accept a determination of disability, assuming that such a determination was in fact made, and were not obligated to issue claimant a medical excuse relieving him from work details within the facility based upon the Social Security Administration determination. The medical staff at Mid-State was free to determine the claimant's fitness for work in the exercise of discretion bounded by reason and reasonable medical judgment. The issuance of a medical excuse on January 26, 1999 by a member of the staff does not prove that an excuse should have been issued on any prior occasion and does not provide a basis to impose liability against the State for medical malpractice for its prior denials to issue a work excuse. Moreover, claimant offered no expert medical proof in this case to demonstrate that DOCS medical personnel at any time deviated from good and accepted standards of medical care (see, Leonard v Kinney Systems, Inc., 199 AD2d 470; see also, Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD3d 653, lv denied 91 NY2d 810). The same must be said for claimant's allegation that he was not scheduled for an MRI after the test was allegedly recommended by an unspecified physician.
Nor does claimant's proof at trial support a finding of liability with regard to claimant's
allegations of negligence. Claimant neither alleged nor proved any specific breach of defendant's duty of reasonable care in the operation of the correctional facility resulting in injury. Neither the truck loading incident nor claimant's fall from the upper bunk were premised upon any particular act or omission of DOCS employees except the purported failure to provide claimant with winter gear. Even if proven the alleged failure of DOCS to issue claimant a hat and gloves prior to March 4, 1998 (see, Exhibit 2) cannot be found to have been a proximate cause of the accident involving a falling box, at least upon the testimony offered. Likewise there is no proof of any act or omission by DOCS employees which may be found to have been a substantial factor in causing claimant's alleged fall from his bunk.
Finally, "[i]t is well settled that actions of correctional facility employees with respect to inmate discipline matters [i.e., the filing of misbehavior reports] are quasi-judicial in nature and, unless the employees exceed the scope of their authority or violate the governing statutes and regulations, the State has absolute immunity for those actions (
see, Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214)" (Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765). The instant claimant neither alleged nor proved that the misbehavior reports of which he complained were issued without authority or in violation of any statute, rule or regulation. Accordingly, the preparation and issuance of such reports are subject to the absolute immunity recognized in Arteaga (supra) and cannot provide a basis for liability against the defendant.
Claimant has not met his burden of establishing the defendant's liability and accordingly the claim must be and hereby is dismissed.

The Clerk shall enter judgment in accordance with this decision.

August 27, 2002
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]Ms. Magasis swore to provide a true and accurate translation.
[2]The synopsis of the trial testimony comes from the Court's notes and from the tape recording made of the trial.