New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SANCHEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-030-008, Claim No. 101494


Claim that Defendant's agents negligently failed to protect him from an assault by fellow inmates

dismissed for failure to establish a prima facie case. No foreseeable risk

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:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 19, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Mark Sanchez, the Claimant herein, alleges Defendant's agents negligently failed to protect him from an assault by fellow inmates while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on December 20, 2001.

Claimant testified that "on November 16, 1999, at approximately 2:30 PM while working in mess hall area, I was attacked by inmate Alexander and inmate Thomas. The officers witnessed this altercation in some part...While this physical altercation was taking place, I recalled somebody shouting out ‘the police is coming'. At that time the 2 individuals who were attacking me attempted to get away so when I got up I went at one of the attackers and before I knew it the officer was right there, talking about ‘Sanchez, get on the wall.'...."[1]
He was then escorted to "5-Building" where he was pat frisked and handcuffed, and escorted up to the emergency room.
At the facility emergency room, he told the nurse there was nothing wrong. He alleged that "photographs were taken," and an officer asked if claimant wanted protective custody. Claimant didn't want protective custody because he "knew...[he] would have to give up names in order to be accepted into protective custody." The "...attackers were taken up to the ‘er' also, at the same time." Claimant stated "it wasn't up to me to tell them I had a fight, when the officers already had the knowledge." The officer who came upon the altercation, he urged, knew that Claimant, and inmate Alexander had been fighting.

The Ambulatory Health Record (hereafter AHR) for November 16, 1999 indicates that claimant reported "...‘C.O. said I was fighting', Inmate denied fighting; denies bodily discomfort at present. Small bleed fr...(
illegible) upper lip & Inmate stated- ‘not my blood.'..." [Claimant's Exhibit "4"].
Claimant was temporarily held in his cell and thereafter released by the facility sergeant, who told claimant not to go back to the mess hall that evening.

A memorandum from "R. Krusen, Sergeant" to "B. Gladden, Lieutenant" referencing "Alexander 98a1013 HBA J-40 [and] Sanchez 94a4619 5 Bldg. C-63" and dated November 17, 1999 states: "...This is to advise you that on Tuesday November 16, 1999 there was a report of a fight in the Sing Sing Messhall [
sic] involving the two above named inmates. Sgt. Pfranger was the supervisor on scene and due to the fact that no one witnessed the altercation, it was determined that no misbehavior reports would be issued. The inmates were offered protective custody, which they refused, and were seen by medical staff. I am not aware of any other action taken." [Claimant' Exhibit "1"].
On November 17, 1999 Claimant was in the facility yard, and approached the other inmates in an attempt to "resolve" the matter. The Claimant noted that the other inmates were from A-Block. He said that to get from A-Block to the facility yard "you had to go through a metal detector." It was agreed that the matter was over. At the end of the recreation period, Claimant was returning from the yard up the "school corridor" when he saw "Alexander and another dude" walking in front of him. He "didn't pay it any mind because the matter was over." At that point, "something hit me in the back - and I knew inmate Thomas was directly behind me, inmate Thomas stabbed me in my back, then the other inmate turned around and stabbed me in the stomach." Other inmates stabbed him in his side, and placed a hood over his head.

Claimant asserted that it was the officers' obligation on November 16, 1999 to do more than tell him not to go to work the next day. He stated that they knew he had been in a fight on November 16, and should have "investigated it", based upon their own observations of "blood on...[his] face", regardless of Claimant's denials that he was in a fight, and failure to make a statement. He maintained that to this day he suffers emotional distress because of the November 17, 1999 attack, because others view him as an informer.

While the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates, [
Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878 (3d Dept. 1999); Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562 (3d Dept. 1985)], the State is not the insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to the inference of negligence (Sebastiano v State of New York, supra.). In order to establish liability on the State's part, an inmate claimant must allege and prove one of the following grounds: (1) the victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection (See, Sebastiano v State of New York, supra.); (2) the State had notice that the assailant was dangerous and refused to take the proper precautions [See, Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833 (3d Dept. 1995); Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559 (3d Dept. 1971)]; or (3) the State had notice and the opportunity to intervene to protect the inmate victim and failed to act. Smith v State of New York, 284 AD2d 741, 728 NYS2d 530 (3d Dept. 2001). The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and place of an assault does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept. 1994); Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept. 1990), lv denied, 76 NY2d 711 (1990).
Additionally, the court must consider whether there was information which would trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any "suspicious" behavior such as an individual leaving an assigned work post, or stuffing magazines in his shirt to avoid injury - to alert correction personnel of a specific danger brewing.
See, e.g., Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept. 1981).
Even an inmate's request for protective custody may not necessarily trigger a specific duty to protect, if the inmate does "...not alert the interviewing...[correction officers] of his past problems, a specific hazard or a particular urgency to his situation."
Roudette v State of New York, 224 AD2d 808, 809 (3d Dept. 1996).
Additionally, the fact that officers may not have been present at the precise time and place of the assault, does not give rise to liability.
Colon v State of New York, supra; Padgett v State of New York, supra. "...[U]nremitting supervision..." is not required. Colon v State of New York, supra, at 844.
The fact that there had been some sort of altercation between this Claimant and others the day before the assault at issue, doesn't render the State liable. There was no evidence that officers witnessed the assault beyond the Claimant's conjectures, nor was there evidence that Claimant advised personnel of known enemies' names. He refused to admit to "fighting" to medical, or other, personnel. In the volatile environment of a prison, the State cannot be held liable where the Claimant does not provide it with necessary information to distinguish the gravity and likelihood of the potential for harm. Indeed, the evidence confirmed that although he was offered protective custody after the November 16, 1999 incident, he refused it. In the face of Claimant's failure to provide personnel with pertinent information, the suggestion that Claimant remain in his cell and avoid the mess hall, is a reasonable one. When the assault occurred, it was dealt with in a comprehensive and appropriate fashion, and immediate medical care was given.

Based upon this record, Claimant has failed to establish that the State failed to provide him with reasonable protection against a foreseeable risk of harm. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to dismiss, based upon Claimant's failure to establish a
prima facie case, reserved on at the time of trial, is hereby granted, and Claim Number 101494 is dismissed in its entirety.
Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

February 19, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.