New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BRYANT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-031-512, Claim No. 101757


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent or that he suffered injury related to his cell light being inoperable for 16 days. 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: WILLIAM D. LONERGAN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 28, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant Jonathan Bryant filed claim number 101757 on January 11, 2000, alleging that the State of New York was negligent in failing to provide him with a cell with a working light for a period of 16 days from November 1, 1999 to November 17, 1999. I conducted a trial of this matter on March 12, 2003 at Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende").

Claimant testified that on November 1, 1999, he was placed in cell number 42-10 within the Wende Special Housing Unit ("SHU"). At this time, he discovered that the light in his cell was not working. He alleges that, despite the fact that he reported this deficiency right away, the light was not fixed until November 17, 1999. Claimant testified that he was unable to see well enough to read or attend to his legal work. Claimant did not offer evidence, however, that his rights in any particular legal action suffered as a result of his cell light being out during this time. Claimant did admit that he was able to read in his cell when inmates in the neighboring cells had their lights on. Claimant also indicated that it was a rule in SHU that meals are not delivered to inmates who do not have their cell lights on.

On cross-examination, Defendant's counsel pointed out that Claimant's grievance relating to these events, filed on November 29, 1999, did not indicate that Claimant missed any meals. In this regard, I note that when Claimant specified his damages in his Verified Bill of Particulars, filed on February 7, 2000, Claimant did not indicate that he had been damaged by missing meals. In that document, on page 6, Claimant stated that he was injured by being "unable to read and write, and other things requiring [cell light]."

Additionally, Claimant's testimony was equivocal in this regard. His initial testimony implied only the potential for missing meals. He stated inmates without their cell lights on do not get their meals delivered. However, he did not specify that this had happened to him. It was only when I asked him directly if he had missed any meals that he responded with a simple "yes." In light of these facts, I find Claimant's testimony that he was denied meals less than credible.

Defendant offered the testimony of Larry Ryan, Maintenance Supervisor at Wende since April of 1997. Mr. Ryan is also Acting Plant Superintendent. Mr. Ryan testified that the work order for the Claimant's cell light was entered into the facility's computer on November 8, 1999, and that the repair, which took 2.5 hours, was completed on November 17, 1999. Mr. Ryan admitted that, as a general guideline, such work orders are supposed to be taken care of within 24 hours, but testified that this time frame can change depending on the priority of the repair and where within the facility the repair is needed. For instance, when a repair is needed in SHU, the stricter security requirements in this area dictate that an inmate worker not be permitted to perform the task. Therefore, the repair, which must be done by one of the civilian employees on the facility's staff, might have to wait until a civilian employee is available. Also, depending on what other work is needed around the facility, another project might take precedence over replacing a light bulb; a repair considered to be "low priority." Mr. Ryan stated that part of the reason for this "low priority" designation is the fact that the SHU hallway is well lit with florescent lighting and that windows permit sunlight in as well. It was his observation that Claimant had adequate lighting even though his cell light was not in working order.

Mr. Ryan also testified that the repair of the light in Claimant's cell was delayed by the Claimant's own acts. Mr. Ryan's records reflected that, on one occasion, when a civilian worker was available to fix the light, Claimant refused to leave his cell. He stated that, in SHU, an inmate must be segregated before the civilian worker can enter the cell and complete the repair. Due to Claimant's refusal, the repair was not completed on that day and had to wait until a civilian employee was again available.

Claimant denied that he had added to the delay in repairing the light in any way, or that he had refused to leave his cell. However, upon observing his hostile, threatening and disrespectful demeanor at trial, of which Claimant seemed completely oblivious, I find the testimony that Claimant was uncooperative in facilitating the repair quite credible.

Generally, living conditions and the quality of life within prison facilities are issues over which this court has no jurisdiction (
see e.g. Ford v State of New York, Ct Cl, August 30, 2000, [Claim No. 96731], Corbett, J., UID #2000-005-540). To the extent that Claimant asserts in his claim that his constitutional rights were violated as a result of his cell light being inoperable, that is a potential cause of action under the Federal Constitution and is not cognizable in this Court (see, Ferrer v State of New York, 172 Misc 2d 1, 5; Gill v State of New York, Ct Cl, January 10, 2001, Mignano, J., UID # 2001-029-042).
In any event, after reviewing the record, I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent relating to the length of time it took to repair his cell light. I further find that Claimant was not denied adequate lighting for any length of time and that any inconvenience to Claimant during the period in question was de minimus and at least in part, the result of Claimant's own actions.

For the reasons stated above, the claim is hereby dismissed. Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

May 28, 2003
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims