New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RODRIGUEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-030-020, Claim No. 106307


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:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 28, 2004
White Plains

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See also (multicaptioned case)

Arnaldo Rodriguez, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 106307 that Defendant's agents failed to protect him from an assault by a fellow inmate while he was incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Downstate). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on April 23, 2004.

Claimant testified that on May 29, 2001 at approximately 4:45 p.m. he was "cut by another inmate" while he was "in population at Downstate."[1]
At the time he was not familiar with this inmate and learned his name later. Claimant stated that he was in the middle of the line coming back from the mess hall when his assailant came up from behind him with a "box cutter" and cut him. There was only one correction officer on duty "on the back of the line." The correction officer did not notice Claimant was injured until he fell back from his position on the line and the officer asked him what he was doing out of place.
Claimant's ambulatory health record (hereafter AHR) from the facility and medical records from St. Luke's Hospital confirm that Claimant was injured after an assault, suffering a 12-inch-long laceration on the right side of his face, and required stitches. [Exhibit 1].

On cross-examination Claimant admitted he did not know the inmate who assaulted him, had never spoken with him, nor had he told anyone at Downstate that he was in fear for his safety while at Downstate. He first conceded that during processing, personnel had discussed with him the procedure for creating an "enemy list" and how he would be separated should he advise authorities of his enemies. Claimant then asserted that he was not familiar with that procedure before May 29, 2001. Claimant agreed that the correction officer was approximately 15 to 20 feet away when Claimant was assaulted, giving orders concerning getting in place, and also agreed that there were other officers gathered at the door of the mess hall.

No other witnesses testified on Claimant's direct case.

A document providing for Claimant's separation from Inmate Tolbert - the individual who he learned after investigation was his assailant - was also placed in evidence. [Exhibit A]. The document indicates that Claimant was assaulted by an Inmate Tolbert on May 29, 2001 and that as of May 30, 2001 the inmates were to be separated.

While the State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates [
Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878 (3d Dept 1999); Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562 (3d Dept 1985)], the State is not the insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to the inference of negligence [Sebastiano v State of New York, supra]. In order to establish liability on the State's part, an inmate claimant must allege and prove one of the following grounds: (1) the victim was a known risk and the State failed to provide reasonable protection [see Sebastiano v State of New York, supra]; (2) the State had notice that the assailant was dangerous and refused to take the proper precautions [see Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833 (3d Dept 1995); Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559 (3d Dept 1971)]; or (3) the State had notice and the opportunity to intervene to protect the inmate victim and failed to act [see Smith v State of New York, 284 AD2d 741, 728 NYS2d 530 (3d Dept 2001)]. More broadly, in order to establish liability on the State's part, an inmate claimant must allege and prove that the State knew or should have known that there was a risk of harm to the Claimant that was reasonably foreseeable and inadequately addressed [Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 253 (2002); see also Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 347 (1947)]. The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and place of an assault does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept 1994); Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept 1990), lv denied, 76 NY2d 711 (1990). ". . . [U]nremitting supervision . . ." is not required. Colon, 209 AD2d at 844. When the assault occurred, it was dealt with in a comprehensive and appropriate fashion, and immediate medical care was given.
Additionally, the court must consider whether there was information which would trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any "suspicious" behavior such as an individual leaving an assigned work post or stuffing magazines in his shirt to avoid injury - to alert correction personnel of a specific danger brewing.
See e.g. Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept 1981).
In this case, there has been no showing that the Claimant was known to be at risk either generally, or that his attacker was known for violent propensities. There was no prior notice of any antagonism between Claimant and his assailant, or any other evidence of motive. There was no record made to establish that the use of one or two correction officers to supervise the movement of inmates is against penological standards of care. More generally, the inherent risk of violent activity in a correctional facility housing dangerous individuals does not mandate imposition of liability for inmate-on-inmate assaults that are not reasonably foreseeable. Claimant has not sustained his burden of establishing by a preponderance of the credible evidence
that the State had actual or constructive notice of the harm that befell him.
Claim Number 106307 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

June 28, 2004
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.