New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

VALLE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-031-505, Claim No. 105715


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: JAMES L. GELORMINI, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 17, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Waldermar Valle ("Claimant") filed claim number 105715 on March 8, 2002. Claimant demands damages for an assault that he claims was perpetrated upon him by correction officers while Claimant was an inmate confined at Attica Correctional Facility (Attica), and for his allegedly illegal confinement. I held a trial in this matter on September 9, 2003.

According to Claimant, on April 9, 2001, while on his way to the C-block recreation yard at Attica, he was called out of line and ordered against the wall. He testified that, while against the wall, he was assaulted by several correction officers including: Officers Gebler, Valentino, Heltz, and Warren. He also testified that Sergeant Bartella witnessed the entire incident without intervening. During this assault, Claimant alleges that he suffered injuries to his head, nose, back, buttocks and right leg. He also alleges a loss of visual acuity in his right eye.

Claimant further testified that he received an Inmate Misbehavior Report ("IMR") relating to this incident, which he alleges contained bogus charges of disobeying a direct order and assaulting an officer. He alleges that this IMR was written to cover up for the assault. Apparently he was found guilty of these charges in a Tier III disciplinary hearing, but after serving eight months, the charges were administratively reversed.

On cross-examination, Claimant stated that he believed the assault was retaliatory in nature as he heard one of his assailants say "so, you like to assault guards?" Claimant admitted, however, that the most recent incident that involved an assault on guards had occurred in 1992, nine years before this incident. Claimant also admitted that he had suffered a previous injury to his right eye while playing handball in 1992.

Defendant called Correction Officer Gebler who testified that Claimant had been called out of line as part of a routine frisk. He stated that he did not know Claimant prior to this incident. According to Officer Gebler, Claimant "came off the wall" or came out of the required position while being frisked. This, in itself, is a violation of frisk protocol and is perceived as a hostile act by correction officers. Officer Gebler further testified that Claimant turned around and struck Officer Gebler on the left side of his face with his elbow. In response to this attack by Claimant, Officer Gebler grabbed Claimant's arm and, with the help of another officer wrestled Claimant to the floor. Officer Gebler fell on top of the Claimant when they went to the floor.

At this point, Officer Gebler saw blood on the floor from Claimant's nose and mouth area, but as Claimant continued to struggle, Officer Gebler had no choice but to continue to attempt to subdue Claimant, thereby exposing himself to Claimant's blood. As a result of his exposure to Claimant's blood, Officer Gebler was required to take a course of medication every four hours for two weeks. He described this procedure as unpleasant and "very disturbing."

I admitted Officer Gebler's written report concerning the incident into evidence as exhibit B. Officer Gebler's testimony was consistent with this report.

Defendant also called Correction Officer Gene Heltz to testify. Officer Heltz was present at the time of the incident and assisted Officer Gebler in subduing Claimant. He observed Claimant strike Officer Gebler and otherwise testified consistently with Officer Gebler's account of the incident. I admitted Officer Heltz's report of the incident into evidence as exhibit C.

Correction Officer Thomas Valentino then testified that he, too, witnessed and was involved in the incident. He had tried to assist in subduing Claimant when Claimant kicked him in the knee. Officer Valentino suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament when Claimant kicked him and had to undergo two reconstructive surgeries as a result. He, too, had to undergo the course of medication described above as a result of his exposure to Claimant's blood.

Finally, Defendant called Sergeant Gary Bartella. Sergeant Bartella testified that, at the time of the incident, Claimant was unknown to him and that he had randomly selected Claimant for a frisk. He stated that, during the frisk, Claimant "came off the wall" and attacked Officer Gebler. In his view, the actions taken by the correction officers to subdue Claimant were reasonable and consistent with the proper use of force in such instances.

Correction officers are charged with the unenviable task of maintaining order and discipline in correctional facilities under stressful circumstances (
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212). It is well-settled that correction officers are entitled to use physical force in order
to achieve this goal, but "[o]nly such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used" (7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [b]). The limited circumstances in which the use of force is tolerated by correction officers are set forth as follows:
"[a]n employee shall not lay hands on or strike an inmate unless the employee reasonably believes that the physical force to be used is reasonably necessary: for self-defense; to prevent injury to person or property; to enforce compliance with a lawful direction; to quell a disturbance; or to prevent an escape."

(7 NYCRR 251-1.2 [d]).
In situations involving inmate allegations of excessive force by a correction officer, such as here, the credibility of the respective witnesses is often the dispositive factor (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234). To determine, in a given instance, whether use of force was necessary and, if so, whether the force used was excessive or unreasonable, a Court must examine the specific circumstances confronting the officers or guards (see e.g. Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800; Quillen v State of New York, 191 AD2d 31; Brown v State of New York, 24 Misc 2d 358).
I find that the Claimant's theory that the guards assaulted him in retaliation for an incident that occurred nine years before strained, at best. By contrast, I find that the testimony of all the officers and Sergeant Bartella to be very credible and consistent. I find that Claimant disobeyed a direct order, came off the wall and assaulted Officer Gebler. The force used by the officers responding to Claimant's attack was required and quite reasonable.

Finally, with regard to his allegation that he was illegally confined, Claimant testified that the Inmate Misbehavior Report he was issued was bogus and written in an attempt to cover up an alleged assault upon him by correction officers. As set forth above, I do not find that Claimant was assaulted. In any event, the actions of prison personnel involving inmate disciplinary matters are generally quasi-judicial and, unless they exceed the scope of their authority or violate applicable rules, are afforded absolute immunity (
Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212; Davis v State of New York, 262 AD2d 887, lv denied 93 NY2d 819). The fact that the disposition from a disciplinary hearing is later reversed does not necessarily remove the matter from the blanket of immunity (Arteaga v State of New York, supra; Bonacorsa v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 31, 1994 [Claim No. 86522], Bell, J.). I find that Claimant failed to establish that Defendant violated any of its own rules concerning appropriate due process during the disciplinary hearing related to the incident at issue.
At the close of Claimant's proof, the State moved to dismiss for failure to prove a
prima facie case. That motion is now granted.
Accordingly, Claim No. 105715 is hereby DISMISSED. Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied.


March 17, 2004
Rochester, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims