New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JOHNSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-019-007, Claim No. 94340


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:
BY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General,of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 12, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Lawrence Johnson, an inmate appearing
pro se, alleges among other things that he was denied proper medical care; that he was improperly removed from the hospital area of the Elmira Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Facility"); and that he was placed into a non-handicapped accessible cell in the Special Housing Unit (hereinafter "SHU"), at said Facility, all to his physical and emotional detriment while in the custody of correction officials at the Facility. The trial of this Claim was held at the Elmira Correctional Facility on April 30, 2002.

Claimant testified that on May 17, 1996, he was removed from a hospital isolation cell at said Facility to SHU as a result of a disciplinary violation. Claimant testified that he was medically disabled; was a candidate for knee surgery; was suffering from chest pains, and should have been allowed to stay in the hospital isolation cell as opposed to being transferred to SHU. He further testified that he was told at the time of the transfer that the cell he was being transferred to was handicap accessible, however upon arrival at SHU he alleges the cell was not accessible and that there were no grab bars; no trapeze over his bed; no suitable bed for back and leg disorders; and that the toilet in said cell was not handicap accessible. He further alleges that during the first three days of residence in SHU he was denied his medication resulting in constant pain; was unable to walk, and therefore was not able to get out of bed. Claimant testified that he remained in this SHU cell for sixty days. Claimant alleged that immediately prior to his transfer he was complaining of chest pains, but after being seen by the Facility hospital nurse and physician he was approved for transfer from the hospital to SHU. Claimant was highly disturbed that both the nurse and the doctor believed he was "faking"[1]
his illnesses and referred to him as a malingerer.

On cross-examination Claimant confirmed that he was removed from the isolation cell in the hospital to SHU as punishment for taking medication prescribed for another inmate. He reiterated that because of knee problems as well as lower back pain, his movement was extremely limited and he should not have been removed from the hospital cell unless he was taken to a handicap accessible cell. He further acknowledged that he has since refused his knee surgery and has filed various grievances against the Facility, none of which have been found in his favor. After Claimant spent sixty days in SHU he was returned to the hospital isolation cell. Claimant offered no other proof.

On its case, the State called Cheng Yin, M.D., a clinical physician employed by the Facility. He has been employed by the Department of Correctional Services for the last ten years. He testified that in May of 1996 he saw the Claimant, who was complaining of knee pain, and treated him with steroid injections. Claimant was referred to an orthopod who confirmed that the Claimant was a candidate for a total knee replacement. Upon review of the Claimant's medical chart on May 16, 1996, the doctor concluded that there was no reason for the Claimant not to be placed in SHU as a result of Claimant taking the medication of another inmate. He confirmed that the Claimant was a good candidate for surgery, and that his knee disorder would cause painful walking or pain after walking, but other than that inconvenience he was not so injured as to being unable to walk or function normally within the confines of the SHU. The witness testified that the Claimant could move around without great difficulty, did not need a wheelchair, and that all of his complaints were purely subjective. He concluded that Claimant could be transferred to SHU and serve and function there without any difficulty.

The State also called Anne Rabideau, who was employed at the Facility as the scheduling nurse and responsible for staff oversight at the hospital infirmary. She testified that she was familiar with Lawrence Johnson and aware of his situation on May 16, 1996. She confirmed, based upon her review of his medical chart and contact with the Claimant, that there was no reason why the Claimant could not be moved to SHU for his sixty-day sentence.

No further proof was offered by either side.

It is well-settled "[t]hat the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons." (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789, lv denied 76 NY2d 701). Generally, simple negligence is the appropriate theory to pursue when the alleged negligent act or omission is readily determinable by the trier of fact based on common knowledge. (Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Med. Center, 114 AD2d 254 [leaving postoperative patient unattended]). However, if a patient's treatment or lack thereof is in controversy, then the case is more appropriately premised upon the more particularized theory of medical malpractice. (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804). A person asserting medical malpractice has the burden of proving a deviation from accepted practice and evidence that such deviation was a proximate cause of the injury sustained. (Macey v Hassam, 97 AD2d 919). Moreover, a claimant must establish the medical provider either did not possess or did not use reasonable care or best judgment in applying the knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by practitioners in the field. (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025, lv denied 40 NY2d 804).

Here, Claimant alleges various misdeeds by Facility medical personnel including, but not limited to, improperly moving him into a non-handicapped accessible cell in SHU despite his medical complaints; failure to treat his various ailments; and a denial of medication. In this Court's view, all of Claimant's allegations are better suited to a medical malpractice theory inasmuch as they relate to his medical treatment which are not matters within the common knowledge of this Court, namely his alleged medical need for a handicapped accessible cell; denial of medical care; and denial of medication.
(Scott v Uljanov, 74 NY2d 673; Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, lv denied 91 NY2d 810). As such, in order to be successful on a medical malpractice claim, Claimant was required to present expert medical testimony in support of his claim. (Macey v Hassam, 97 AD2d 919). Rather, Claimant offered only his subjective opinion as to what medical treatment should have been provided by the Facility. In short, in the absence of any testimony from a medical expert, Claimant has failed to establish a prima facie case of medical malpractice, since the Court is not permitted to speculate about medical matters where no expert proof has been offered. (Macey v Hassam, 97 AD2d 919). Quite simply, in the absence of any testimony from a medical expert that the medical treatment and care that Claimant received was improper, the Court has no proof from which it might conclude that accepted standards of care were not met; that any medical provider that treated Claimant did not possess the requisite knowledge and skill; that any medical provider did not use reasonable care; or that any treatment rendered or denied harmed Claimant in any respect. In fact, to the contrary, this Court found the testimony of Dr.Yin and Nurse Rabideau to be most credible in their assessment of Claimant as a malingerer who, among other things, has continually refused knee replacement surgery in order to maintain access to special medical attention at the Facility. In sum, the Court finds that Claimant has received proper medical care and that Claimant's allegations of medical malpractice are totally without merit.

To the extent that this Claim could also be construed to contain allegations based upon medical negligence, this Court also finds the proof lacking in this regard as well. There was nothing from this record from which the actions of the medical care givers could be construed as negligent.

Accordingly, the State's motion to dismiss made at the conclusion of the trial is now granted and Claim No. 94340 is DISMISSED.


June 12, 2002
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the Court's trial notes.