New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HOLDER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-032-535, Claim No. 103458


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:
Clarence Holder, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Michael Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General,Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 31, 2003

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant Clarence Holder filed this pro se claim on December 4, 2000, alleging that he contacted ATinea Versicolor@, a skin fungal disease, from the poor water filtration units at Clinton Correctional Facility. He further alleged that he was never given adequate medical treatment for that condition or for an eye condition. Claimant also alleged dental malpractice, relating to an improperly extracted tooth and delay in treatment to correct that error. Those portions of the claim seeking punitive damages and injunctive relief were dismissed prior to trial (Motion No. M-66747, UID # 2002-032-050, June 11, 2003, Hard, J.)
Negligent Maintenance of Clinton Water System: Claimant alleges that long term exposure to the water system at Clinton caused him to contract "tinea versicolor."[1] He submitted a Safe Drinking Water Information System violation report, apparently obtained from the website of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, purportedly showing the history of Clinton's violations of its duty to provide safe, clean water. (Court's Exhibit 1, p. 9). Claimant did not provide any other written or testimonial evidence and thus failed to make out a prima facie case that the State was negligent in such a way as to cause claimant to contract the disease.
Delay/Denial of Medical Care: In his claim, claimant alleged that he did not receive medical treatment for his medical condition, tinea versicolor, from March 16, 2000 through September 26, 2000 and that he was never referred to a dermatologist for treatment of this skin condition. At trial, he testified that he was diagnosed with tinea versicolor on January 18, 2000 (Exhibit 2, p. 7), at which time he was prescribed hydrocortisone cream. The medical records substantiate that this was not effective, so on March 1, 2000 he was prescribed Sporonax to help treat the condition. Claimant was transferred to Eastern Correctional Facility shortly thereafter, and his medical records indicate that on March 16, 2000 he was again examined for the skin condition and was prescribed a cleansing lotion. He was seen for blood work in June and had a physical performed in August 2000, but the records contain no mention of the skin condition on either of these occasions. On October 16, 2000 claimant was given Lachydrin lotion and Selsun shampoo to help with the skin problem (Exhibit 2, p. 5). On September 26, 2000, claimant asked to be referred to a dermatologist but there is no indication that any such referral was made. Ms. Lynne Kahn, a registered nurse at Clinton Correctional Facility, testified that the treatment claimant received was the normal course of treatment for this condition, prior to resorting to strong antibiotics.
Claimant also testified that he has had an eye condition known as strabismus since 1988, caused by a severe head trauma which occurred two years before he was incarcerated. Despite this history, claimant testified that he was not referred to an ophthalmologist until June of 2003. The ophthalmologist has since referred him to a neurosurgeon for possible corrective measures. Other than his medical records, claimant did not provide any other written or testimonial evidence in an effort to further prove this cause of action, and the medical records give no indication that there was any deviation from the accepted standard of medical practice in the treatment he received for this condition.

Dental Malpractice: The claim also alleges that a dentist at Clinton extracted the wrong tooth and then failed to correct the error, necessitating further surgery and causing nerve damage. At trial, claimant testified that on July 20, 1999 he was examined by the prison dentist, Dr. Ranjit Chandhoke, after complaining of pain on the left side of his mouth (Exhibit 3, p. 5). The examination revealed decay in tooth number 17, a lower left molar, for which Dr. Chandhoke installed a temporary filling for that tooth. On September 30, 1999, claimant was again examined by Dr. Chandhoke after complaining of severe sensitivity and the inability to chew in that area.
On November 8, 1999, after Dr. Chandhoke examined claimant and received claimant's written consent (see Exhibit 3, p. 10), she extracted tooth number 17, a lower left molar (Exhibit 3, p. 7). Claimant was prescribed Ibuprofen for the pain.
Claimant stated that upon returning to his cell he noticed that tooth number 17 had been extracted instead of tooth number 18. He asked for a follow-up appointment, which he received on November 15, 1999.
Dr. Chandhoke testified that claimant was complaining of pain from the sharpness of the bone that had held tooth number 17. She filed the bone down, prescribed him Ibuprofen and gave him six cans of Ensure, a nutritional drink, so he did not have to chew food. Dr. Chandhoke testified that claimant never complained to her that the wrong tooth had been extracted.
Upon his transfer to Eastern Correctional Facility, claimant alleged that he was treated for an infection in the lower left region of his mouth caused by the extraction of tooth number 17. He testified that this infection caused the subsequent extractions of teeth numbers 18 and 19 in 2002. The damages sought in this cause of action are for the pain of the infection and subsequent extractions.

Applicable Law
It is undisputed that a prisoner who must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs has a fundamental right to reasonable and adequate medical care (Powlowski v Wullich, 102 AD2d 575, 587 [4th Dept 1984]). Further, it is the State's duty to render medical care without undue delay and, therefore, whenever delays in diagnosis and/or treatment are a proximate or aggravating cause of a claimed injury, the State may be liable (Marchione v State of New York, 194 AD2d 851, 855 [3d Dept 1993]). As a dependent of the State, an inmate is only entitled to receive essential, although not necessarily optimal care (Matter of Jarvis v Pullman, 297 AD2d 842, 843 [3d Dept 2002]), and there is no obligation to provide inmates with medically unnecessary services (Matter of Smith v Alves, 282 AD2d 844, 845 [3d Dept 2001]).
When medical malpractice involves patient treatment, three component duties are owed by the physician to the patient: (1) the duty to possess the requisite knowledge and skill such as is possessed by the average member of the medical profession; (2) a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the application of such professional knowledge and skill; and (3) the duty to use his best judgment in the application of this knowledge and skill (Littlejohn v State of New York, 87 AD2d 951, 952 [3d Dept 1982]). As with any defendant, the State cannot be liable for a mere mistake in professional judgment that is reached after careful examination of the patient (see Schrempf v State of New York, 66 NY2d 289, 295 [1985]; Sciarabba v State of New York, 182 AD2d 892, 893-894 [3d Dept 1992]), but liability can ensue if the medical judgment is not based upon intelligence and thus there is a failure to exercise any professional judgment (Bell v New York City Health and Hosps. Corp., 90 AD2d 270 [2d Dept 1982]).
The burden is on an inmate to demonstrate that the State was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need
(Matter of Moore v Leonardo, 185 AD2d 489, 490 [3d Dept 1992]). "[T]o succeed in a medical malpractice action, a plaintiff must demonstrate, [usually by expert testimony], that a physician deviated or departed from accepted practice and that such a departure was a proximate cause of injury or damage . . ." (Giambona v Stein, 265 AD2d 775, at 776 [3d Dept 1999] [emphasis in original; citations omitted]). "While the State has a duty to render adequate medical services to inmates without undue delay, in order for the State to be liable it must be shown that the delays in diagnosis and/or treatment were a proximate or aggravating cause of the claimed injury. . ." (Marchione v State of New York, 194 AD2d 851, supra, at 854-855 [3d Dept 1993] [citation omitted]).
As noted above, claimant failed to provide any evidence that purported problems with the water filtration system at Clinton Correctional Facility had, or could have had, any role in his acquiring tinea versicolor. In addition, from the time that claimant was diagnosed with this disease in January of 2000, he received numerous forms of treatment at varying intervals. Although the Court notes the absence of treatment from March 16, 2000 until September 26, 2000, it also takes notice that claimant never made complaints related to that condition during this period of time, although he was seen for other purposes. Furthermore, claimant's testimony was the only evidence that the lack of treatment during this six-month period was an aggravating factor in the spread of his skin ailment, and claimant's unscientific conclusions can carry no weight on this issue, as it is not something that lies
within the experience and observation of the average person (Lyons v McCauley, 252 AD2d 516, 517 [2d Dept 1998], citing Koehler v Schwartz, 48 NY2d 807, 808 [1979]).
With respect to the allegations of dental malpractice, in this case claimant provided no evidence of any kind that Dr. Chandhoke did not possess the requisite credentials of a licensed dentist in New York State. There was also no evidence that Dr. Chandhoke failed to exercise ordinary and reasonable care and use of her best judgment in the treatment of claimant. Again, claimant would have to introduce expert testimony to show that Dr. Chandhoke deviated from accepted standards of dental care.
Inasmuch as claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence any of the causes of action set forth in his claim, the Chief Clerk is hereby directed to enter a judgment for the defendant, dismissing the claim.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

December 31, 2003
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Tinea Versicolor is a common skin condition due to overgrowth of a skin surface yeast. This overgrowth results in uneven skin color and scaling that can be unsightly and sometimes itch.