New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-031-501, Claim No. 96595


Claimant failed to demonstrate State was negligent in preventing his assault by another inmate. Claim 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:
New York State Attorney General
BY: GREGORY P. MILLER, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
January 13, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant Mark Williams filed claim number 96595 on July 14, 1997, alleging that the State of New York was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault by another inmate. I conducted a trial of this matter on October 21, 2002, at Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende").

Claimant testified that, on March 18, 1997, he was assaulted by inmate Donald Boykin (94-A-3553) while lying in bed in his open cell in Wende's C-Block. According to Claimant, he had been working as a clerk in the C-Block lobby and was told to return to his cell by Sergeant Timothy Jeziorski. Claimant returned to his cell, but did not close the cell door and lay in his bed waiting to be called back out to work. Shortly thereafter, Correction Officer Territo opened the cell of keeplock inmate Boykin. Although Boykin was a keeplock inmate, he was permitted to leave his cell every other day at approximately the same time for the purpose of taking a shower. Boykin left his cell and proceeded in the direction of Claimant's cell. This was in the opposite direction of the showers. Officer Territo testified that he saw Boykin heading in the wrong direction and called out to him with words indicating that the showers were in the other direction. Officer Territo testified that he assumed that Boykin was going to borrow soap, shampoo or some similar item from another inmate. According to Territo, this was not unusual and was not cause for him to become alarmed.

Approximately 20 seconds after leaving his cell, inmate Boykin entered Claimant's cell and attacked him with a razor blade type weapon. The attack lasted 20 to 30 seconds. Claimant received 81 stitches to 4 different areas of his face. He testified that it was a "surprise attack" with "no apparent motive." Claimant asserts that Defendant is liable for negligently permitting inmate Boykin to assault him.

Defendant concedes that Correction Officer Territo sent inmate Boykin for a shower and that he observed Boykin go down the hall in the direction opposite the showers. Defendant argues, however, that the attack was unforeseeable and that there was no time within which to intervene and prevent the assault. Officer Territo's testimony indicates that he was unaware that anything was wrong until he saw that inmate Boykin was able to gain access to Claimant's cell. He testified that Boykin entered Claimant's cell and came out again approximately 20 seconds later, followed by Claimant, who was bleeding. He called for assistance, however, as he was in possession of all the keys to the cell block, he was prohibited for security reasons from personally assisting Claimant.

Both Officer Territo and Sergeant Jeziorski testified that Claimant had been given a direct order to lock into his cell and that his failure to do so was the key factor that enabled Boykin to commit the assault. The reports of the incident prepared by each of these individuals (Exhibits D and B, respectively) support this contention. Claimant disputes this fact, asserting that he was merely directed to return to his cell. He asserts that the assault was foreseeable, as Boykin was known to be dangerous and assaultive and that his confinement to keeplock and his previous disciplinary history (Exhibit 1) support this conclusion.

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 attacker 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; Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605, 608-609). In claims arising from inmate assaults, the central issue is whether the State had notice of the risk of harm and an opportunity to intervene in a way that would have prevented the assault, but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650).
Inmate Boykin's disciplinary history does indicate that he had been involved in several previous violent altercations. However, he had no previous contact with Claimant and there was no reason to believe that he presented a specific threat to Claimant prior to the attack. The issue is whether Defendant's generalized understanding of Boykin's violent history should have provided notice to Defendant that Claimant was in danger when Boykin was released from his cell, thereby making the assault foreseeable.
As this Court stated in Mercer v State of New York (Ct Cl, July 22, 1996 [Claim No. 90188], Corbett, J.), " [L]iability may be based either on defendant's failure to protect claimant from a known dangerous prisoner or to use adequate supervision to stop that which was foreseeable in an immediate or proximate sense, rather than in some generalized way." (See also Spadaro v State of New York, 38 Misc 2d 489, affd 28 AD2d 604).
I find that Claimant was ordered to lock into his cell by Sergeant Jeziorski. But for Claimant's failure to follow this order, the attack could not have occurred. The correction officers present were reasonable in assuming that Claimant followed Sergeant Jeziorski's direction and that, therefore, releasing Boykin for his shower presented no threat to Claimant.

For the reasons stated above, Claimant has failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from the attack of inmate Boykin. The claim is dismissed.


January 13, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims