New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JARVIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-009-123, Claim No. 101049


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
BY: Timothy P. Mulvey, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 2, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In this claim, claimant seeks to recover damages for personal injuries suffered by him on September 27, 1997, when he was assaulted by fellow inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility, where he was then incarcerated. The claim alleges that the State was negligent in failing to take appropriate measures to protect claimant from the foreseeable risk of attack by fellow keeplock inmates. The trial of this claim was bifurcated and this decision addresses solely the issue of liability.

The essential facts of this claim are not in dispute. Claimant testified at trial that on September 27, 1997, while incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility, he was restricted to "keeplock"[1]
status, in which he was confined in his cell for 23 hours each day, and allowed one hour of outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation was restricted to the "cage", a fenced-in area of the prison yard. Claimant testified that at approximately 9:00 a.m. on the day of the incident, he was escorted from his cell to the cage by two correction officers for his outdoor recreation time. When he was removed from his cell to go to the cage, he was "pat frisked" and also searched with an electronic wand metal detector. When he arrived at the recreation cage, he was again frisked and subjected to another search by a wand metal detector. A short time after he entered the cage, claimant was attacked by several other inmates, some of whom used metal, razor-like blades to inflict cuts on claimant's face as well as other parts of his body. Correction officers responded to the attack and the assault ended upon verbal orders from these officers.
Claimant testified, upon cross-examination, that he had never requested protection prior to this incident, and that at no time prior to the attack did he have any fears of being assaulted, nor was he aware of any known enemies within the facility. It is evident from claimant's testimony that there was no prior warning, threat, or any confrontation prior to this attack.

Correction Officer Ray Vanfleet was also called to testify. Officer Vanfleet was on duty, and was stationed outside the fenced-in recreation yard on the day of this incident. Officer Vanfleet, however, had no recollection of this assault, and his memory could not be refreshed even after reviewing his report of the incident. His testimony was therefore limited to the procedures followed by officers in searching inmates who are restricted to "keeplock" status before they are permitted entry into the fenced-in recreation yard.

Captain John Rourke, another correction officer at the facility, also testified. He provided testimony as to the specific security procedures utilized at Auburn Correctional Facility in September, 1997. He testified that correction officers utilized a system of both pat-frisks and metal wand searches for "keeplock" inmates as they were let out of their cells and were escorted to the fenced-in recreation yard. His testimony was consistent with claimant's testimony as to the searches that he was subjected to on that day.

There was no testimony to establish whether these procedures were followed with respect to each and every inmate allowed into the restricted recreation yard on that day, nor, on the other hand, was there any testimony that correction officers deviated from these security procedures on that day.

It is claimant's contention that the "keeplock" status of these inmates (i.e., restricted cell confinement imposed as punishment for violations of prison rules or regulations), in combination with the prior disciplinary history of these inmates, constituted sufficient notice to the State that these inmates were prone to perpetrating assaults, and that the safety procedures implemented by the State, in response, were insufficient to protect against this risk of assault.

It is well settled that the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (
Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurred does not, in and of itself, give rise to an inference of negligence (Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711).
In claims involving an inmate-on-inmate assault, the State can be held liable if it had notice that the assailant was particularly prone to perpetrating such an assault, and failed to take proper precautionary measures to prevent such assault (see,
Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559). Recently, the Court of Appeals expanded the test of foreseeability in inmate assault cases to encompass circumstances which should reasonably be perceived, as well as those actually known to the State (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247).
In this case, and as stated above, it is claimant's contention that the status of claimant's assailants as "keeplock" inmates, combined with their past criminal and prison disciplinary records, provided the State with either actual or constructive notice that this class of inmates was more prone to perpetrating an assault than those inmates in the general population.

Testimony established, however, that the State utilizes additional security measures, by conducting pat-frisks and using electronic wand metal detectors, to search "keeplock" inmates before they are allowed into their restricted-access recreation yard, and that such prisoners are not allowed contact with general population inmates during their recreation period. Unfortunately, these measures unquestionably failed in this incident, as evidenced by the razor-like weapons utilized by the assailants in their attack on claimant. However, there was no testimony or any other evidence presented at trial to establish that these additional security precautions were violated on the day of the incident (
Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562), nor was any expert testimony presented to establish that such measures were unreasonable, even though they failed in this particular instance.
Sanchez v State of New York, supra, the Court of Appeals, although potentially expanding the scope of liability in inmate assault cases by recognizing a constructive notice standard, reaffirmed the well established body of case law which has established the principle that the State cannot be held liable in each and every inmate assault that occurs within its correctional facilities. With respect to this claim, the Court cannot find that the State had either actual or constructive notice that an assault against this claimant was reasonably foreseeable, based solely on the "keeplock" status of these assailants and their prior criminal and prison disciplinary histories. To find otherwise in this factual context would, in effect, hold the State strictly liable for each and every assault instigated by any inmate restricted to "keeplock" status.
Accordingly, based upon the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that the attack upon claimant was not reasonably foreseeable, and the State cannot be held liable. The claim must therefore be dismissed.

Any motions not heretofore ruled upon are hereby denied.

December 2, 2003
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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