New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GRIFFIN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-013-502, Claim No. 98455


The cause of action alleging liability for an assault upon Claimant by a fellow inmate is dismissed where it could not established that the State had prior notice of a foreseeable risk to Claimant.

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:
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBY: THOMAS G. RAMSAY, ESQ.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 4, 2005

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This vicious assault on Claimant occurred in the shower stall of B Block, 22 Company, at the Attica Correctional Facility (Attica) on September 6, 1997. The trial of this matter was bifurcated and this decision is limited to issues of liability.

The claim in sum alleges that the Defendant breached its duty of care to Claimant in its failure to provide adequate and proper supervision of Claimant and the shower area where he was assaulted.

The facts of the case are not complicated, belying the violent nature of this assault. Claimant, at the time of this incident, was an inmate on keeplock status in 22 Company, which was made up entirely of inmates restricted to keeplock. As such, they were confined to their cells 23 hours a day and allowed to shower three times a week. Each shower was limited to ten minutes, and only two inmates at a time are permitted to use the shower. The shower area is a converted cell at the front of the company and has two shower stalls, accessed only with the correction officer (CO) acting as the company officer unlocking the inmate's cell and the shower stall. The company officer is located behind a gate at the end of the company and has access to the "lockbox" which allows him to open each of the cells, as well as the shower. In addition, he has a full view of the 22 Company floor and is able to see inmate movement as the inmates proceed to and from the shower. Once inmates are in the shower, they must lock themselves in, with the second inmate pulling the door shut. At the end of the ten-minute shower time, the Officer on duty releases and opens the shower door by means of the lockbox located at his station.

Although Claimant disputes the sequence and timing leading up to the attack, I find that the convincing evidence before me establishes that he and his assailant, Alton Hutchinson, were released for their morning showers a little after 7:00 a.m. on the day of the assault. The facts estab- lish that both inmates entered the shower area at slightly different times, but, contrary to Claimant's testimony, not five to seven minutes apart. The general practice on such keeplock companies is that inmates are released two at a time for showers. There may be occasions when an inmate will initially refuse or decline to shower but then change his mind, so long as the shower is completed within the ten minutes allotted to him. However, I find that is not what occurred in this case.

Rather, it appears that the Claimant entered the shower area first, followed shortly after by inmate Hutchinson who then locked the door. Claimant and Hutchinson both agree that there had been no instances of hostile contact between the two of them prior to this assault, but disagree with regard to prior social contacts. Claimant maintained that he had had nothing to do with Hutchinson due to the latter's sexual orientation, while Hutchinson at his deposition (Exhibit 16, p. 20) stated that they had spoken in the past and they had been friendly.[1]

While Claimant denies any provocation on his part in these events, inmate Hutchinson states that when he entered the shower area and prepared to shower, Claimant made what he believed to be a threatening move toward him and only then did he draw his weapon, a homemade knife (Exhibit 1), and stab Claimant in several places on his body. Hutchinson continued to assault Claimant, who was attempting to defend himself, until correction officers arrived and disarmed him. While Claimant understandably describes the assault as occurring over an extended period of 15 to 20 minutes, the record clearly establishes that it was not that long before the correction officers responded to the fight.

Rather, it appears that Correction Officer Peter Rademacher,[2]
upon hearing banging coming from the shower, immediately called for assistance, which arrived shortly thereafter.[3] Officer Rademacher opened the shower permitting the assembled correction officers entry to the stall. (Exhibit 19, p. 28). When the officers entered the shower area, Correction Officer Fleckenstein ordered Hutchinson to drop the knife. When he failed to do so, the officer struck him on the wrist, knocking the weapon from his hand.[4] Officers then escorted both parties from the shower and brought them to the infirmary for treatment of their wounds. Claimant was later taken to the Erie County Medical Center for surgery and other medical treatment for his injuries.
Claimant stated that he had never had any problems with Hutchinson prior to this incident and did not feel threatened by him. He had not placed Hutchinson on an "enemies" list, and by all accounts, the assault was sudden and unprovoked, in spite of Hutchinson's assertion to the contrary.

While the State of New York has the duty to provide reasonably safe conditions for its inmates, it is not an insurer of their safety (
Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 256). The mere fact that an incident happens where one inmate is injured as a consequence of an assault does not, perforce lead to the conclusion that the Defendant was negligent, since the inmate has the burden of proving that such an assault was reasonably foreseeable by the Defendant (Sanchez v State of New York, supra; Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711). I find, based on the evidence before me, that Claimant has failed to meet his burden.
Claimant attempted to establish that, based upon Hutchinson's history of assaults, the Defendant knew or should have been aware of his purportedly violent proclivities (Exhibit 12, Inmate Hutchinson's disciplinary history). That disciplinary history revealed that over the four-year period prior to this incident Hutchinson had been involved in three disciplinary incidents: (1) on June 25, 1997 for possession of a weapon; (2) a September 16, 1994 incident for creating a disturbance, and (3) a March 18, 1993 incident for violent conduct and fighting.

However, that disciplinary history fails to disclose one other incident involving an altercation between Inmate Hutchinson and another inmate which allegedly occurred approximately 30 days prior to this fight with Claimant on September 6, 1997. I note that at the time of this assault on Claimant, Hutchinson was on keeplock status, apparently as a consequence of his possession of a weapon on June 25, 1997 (Exhibit 12).

While Claimant sought to establish that this information was readily available to the correction officers on duty, or should have been available to them, presumably providing knowledge of the violent propensities of inmates such as Griffin and Hutchinson, I do not find that to be the case. Rather, I find the testimony of Correction Officers Corcoran, Bayliss, Fleckenstein and Rademacher to be persuasive on this issue. Each officer indicated that the particulars of each inmate's confinement on keeplock are not maintained on the floor, but are available in the Administration Building if necessary. The officers also stated convincingly that the only record they have is the name of the inmate and his confinement period. If there had been an altercation between two inmates housed on the same keeplock company, the officers would be informed so that they could keep them separate when they took recreation or showers.

To hold the Defendant to the duty suggested by Claimant would exceed any presently required by law and would approach making the State of New York an insurer of this Claimant's safety. This record does not permit such a finding.

I find that this incident was a spontaneous assault that the Defendant had no reason to anticipate and could not have prevented. Perhaps stating the obvious, correctional facilities are dangerous places, inhabited with an inmate population of convicted felons who have criminal and often violent propensities. Consequently, the mere fact that one inmate assaults another is not enough to establish the Defendant's negligence. This is especially true when the assault is sudden, unprovoked and involves inmates who have had little or no prior personal contact. The fact that a weapon is involved in the assault does not, in my opinion, support a finding of negligence without more convincing proof than exists in this record.

To the extent that Claimant relies upon the theory that Hutchinson had such violent propensities and a disciplinary history to have put the State on actual or constructive notice to warrant his separation from other keeplock inmates, there is inadequate evidentiary support in the record to sustain liability. I have addressed this issue extensively above. I also find Claimant's own disciplinary record did not mark him as an inmate with a history of persistent violent rule infractions that would warrant his segregation from other inmates such as Hutchinson.

To the extent that Claimant relies upon a theory that Hutchinson was permitted to "walk" about the block for some five to seven minutes prior to entering the shower, his implication is that Hutchinson was simply meandering or wandering unsupervised, none of which is inferable from this record. I simply fail to see, even if such a period of time had elapsed before Hutchinson entered the shower room, how that delay permits an inference of negligence. The Defendant iterates that such a delay does not violate any rule, regulation, policy, procedure or directive. In any event, such a theory is unpersuasive because it was established that an inmate who at first declined the opportunity to shower during the allocated ten-minute shower period was permitted to change his mind and shower, provided that the shower was completed by the end of the initial ten-minute period. Thus, an existing practice and custom would have permitted the second inmate into the shower area at any time within the allotted ten-minute period. Even if I were to find that Hutchinson entered the shower five to seven minutes after he was called out to shower, this was still consistent with an established practice at Attica.

This holding is not meant to trivialize the severity of Claimant's injuries, injuries that were in fact severe and required him to undergo significant surgical procedures to repair the wounds inflicted on him. I am not unmindful that he will bear the scars of this vicious attack, both physically and mentally, for the remainder of his life. However, I am obligated to follow well-established principles of law and apply them to the facts of each case that comes before me. And in this case I find that Claimant has failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that Defendant breached any duty of care to the Claimant.

Defendant's motion to dismiss this claim at the close of proof, and upon which I reserved decision, is hereby granted and the claim is dismissed. All other motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied in accordance with this decision.


March 4, 2005
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]At the time of this incident, Claimant and Hutchinson were housed in adjacent cells on 22 Company.
  2. [2]He was the company officer on duty at the time of the assault.
  3. [3]According to Correction Officers Robert Bayliss and Dennis Fleckenstein, who were among those to respond to the call for assistance, they were on the floor within seconds after receiving the call.
  4. [4]Hutchinson stated at his deposition that he had secretly made the weapon in the facility shop.