New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GRAVES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-031-502, Claim No. 99312


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent in preventing assault upon him 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: WENDY E. MORCIO, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
January 7, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant Freddie Graves filed claim number 99312 on November 7, 1998, alleging primarily, that the State of New York was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault by another inmate. Claimant also alleged that, after this assault, he did not receive appropriate medical care for his injuries. Finally, Claimant alleges what purports to be a cause of action for the negligent denial of meaningful access to the court system. I conducted a trial of this matter on October 21, 2002, at Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende"). Upon motion by Defendant at the conclusion of the trial, I dismissed Claimant's cause of action sounding in medical malpractice or medical neglect. I now address Claimant's remaining causes of action.

Claimant testified that, at approximately 1:00 p.m. on November 23, 1996, he was working as a "food runner" in the B-Block Mess Hall at Wende. His duties as a "food runner" included bringing food from the cooking area to the service line as well as entering the dining area to deliver water or utensils to the tables. According to Claimant and the other witnesses who testified, the B-Block Mess Hall is basically shaped like a square and is divided into two areas, the kitchen or food service area and the dining area. As in many cafeterias, these areas are divided by the serving line. At this line, booths holding the food are set along a metal rail upon which inmates place their trays while being served their food. B-Block Mess Hall also shares a common wall with the A-Block Mess Hall. In this wall, a door connects the two mess halls, and near this door a guard is generally posted. This was the case on the day of Claimant's incident.

Generally, at mealtime, inmates enter the mess hall and proceed to the service line. Here they pick up their trays and eating utensils and traverse the length of the metal rail while obtaining their food. They then proceed to the tables in the center of the room to eat their meals. Near the end of this service line is a two to three-foot open area that permits access behind the line so that food runners can go back and forth between the two areas. Both parties agree that, generally, only inmates who work in the Mess Hall are permitted to cross the service line into the kitchen area where the food is prepared. Claimant testified, and Defendant concedes, that the assault occurred on the kitchen area side of the service line, and that Claimant's assailant, Mr. Ricky Gardner (83-A-0060), should not have been in this area.

Claimant testified that this was the Claimant's first altercation of any kind with Mr. Gardner. In fact, he did not know his attacker prior to the assault. He also testified that the attack was sudden and unprovoked. Claimant did not see inmate Gardner cross over the line, but was attacked without warning as he worked behind the line. Claimant was stabbed in the neck with a pen by inmate Gardner. The tip of the pen became lodged in Claimant's artery. Claimant was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. He returned to Wende approximately two weeks later. Claimant maintains that as a result of the assault, he suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Defendant called Lieutenant Sandra Amoia (a Sergeant at the time of the incident) who testified that she was present in Mess Hall B and witnessed the assault. At that time, lunch was being served to approximately 200 inmates. Four to six correction officers were overseeing this process. Lieutenant Amoia testified that this level of supervision is normal. She then described the layout of A-Block Mess Hall and how the inmates proceed through the service line. At the time of the incident, Lieutenant Amoia was stationed at one end of the service line and Claimant was working near the other end, approximately 15 feet away. Another Officer, Officer Richard O'Brien, was stationed approximately six feet from Claimant at the door that connected A and B Mess Halls. The door was three feet behind the service line. Lieutenant Amoia faced the inmates coming into the mess hall as they lined up to receive their food. She testified further that she did not see what precipitated the fight between the two inmates. She first observed the two inmates as they were fighting behind the service line. She acted immediately to separate the fighting inmates and, upon seeing Claimant's wound, to administer first aid to Claimant. The entire altercation lasted only a matter of seconds. Claimant himself testified that Lieutenant Amoia's quick actions probably saved his life.

Defendant then called Correction Officer James Whalen, another witness to the altercation. Officer Whalen stated that he was also stationed along the service line a few feet from Lieutenant Amoia, with Lieutenant Amoia between him and Claimant. He also did not notice inmate Gardner cross the service line. He first noticed inmate Gardner when he was fighting with Claimant. According to Officer Whalen, the fight broke out suddenly and without warning. He immediately assisted in separating the two inmates.

Finally, Defendant called Correction Officer Richard O'Brien. Officer O'Brien was nearest to Claimant at the time of the incident. He testified that he was stationed at the "crossover door" (the door that connected Mess Halls A and B) and that he was probably four to six feet from Claimant when the assault occurred. He testified that he turned his back briefly to open the door between the two Mess Halls for one of the cooks. This was a normal occurrence and a normal part of his duties. The fight between the two inmates erupted during the four to five seconds that his back was turned. Officer O'Brien, too, immediately assisted in separating the two inmates.

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 attackers 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).
Claimant does not contend that Defendant had notice that the attack might occur. He does not allege a history of animosity between himself and his attacker. He does not allege that the attack was in any way foreseeable. Rather, Claimant asserts that Defendant is liable because his attacker was permitted to cross the service line and attack him in an area that should have been secure. Such an argument might have merit if any significant length of time had elapsed between inmate Gardner's crossing the service line and the assault. One could then argue that inmate Gardner's being out of place should have prompted intervention from the correction officers prior to the assault. However, inmate Gardner's crossing the line and his assault upon Claimant appear to have been virtually simultaneous events and the Correction Officers had no opportunity to intervene or prevent the assault.

Claimant has failed to show that the supervision of the B Mess Hall at the time of the incident was inadequate. Indeed, I find that it was adequate and that the Officers' response to the attack upon Claimant was quick and decisive and most probably saved Claimant's life. The fact that Claimant's attacker was able to jump across the serving line and attack Claimant in the few seconds that Officer O'Brien turned his back does not indicate negligence on Defendant's part. The State had no notice that a dangerous situation existed in the B Mess Hall prior to the assault. Absent such notice, unremitting supervision is unnecessary (
see Hirsh v State of New York, 8 NY2d 125; Padgett v State of New York, supra; Carlino v State of New York, 30 AD2d 987, 988). Claimant did not know, and had no prior dealings with his assailant. The assault came suddenly and without warning. Even Claimant was taken completely by surprise. Given these facts, I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from the assault by inmate Gardner.
Finally, with regard to Claimant's allegations that he was denied access to the courts, I find that Claimant offered no evidence which would support such a contention. In any event, an action for denial of access to the courts is premised upon a violation of the Federal Constitution, and must be pursued in Federal Court (
Davis v State of New York, 124 AD2d 420). This Court, therefore, lacks subject matter jurisdiction over such a claim. (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 184).
For the reasons stated above, the claim is dismissed. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.

January 7, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims