New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LAYOU v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-009-049, Claim No. 109621, Motion No. M-71825


Synopsis


Defendant’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

Case Information

UID:
2006-009-049
Claimant(s):
MICHAEL LAYOU
Claimant short name:
LAYOU
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109621
Motion number(s):
M-71825
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant’s attorney:
LYNN LAW FIRM, LLP
BY: Patricia A. Lynn-Ford, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Edward F. McArdle, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 25, 2006
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Defendant has brought this motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim pursuant to CPLR § 3212.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with this motion:
Notice of Motion, Attorney Affirmation, Affidavit of Cynthia Ervolina, Affidavit of David R. Welch, and Exhibits 1,2,3,4


Defendant’s Memorandum of Law in Support 5


Affirmation in Opposition, with Exhibit 6

Claimant’s Memorandum of Law in Opposition 7

In this claim, claimant seeks damages for personal injuries resulting from an incident which occurred on December 2, 2002, at Cayuga Correctional Facility, where claimant was then incarcerated. On that date, claimant was preparing to perform his daily task of transferring hot coffee from a 10-gallon urn to a 5-gallon urn, when the top of the larger urn came loose, causing the hot coffee to come spilling out. When the coffee began to spill, claimant ran, but slipped and the coffee landed on him, causing serious burns to his lower extremities.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment dismissing the claim, contending that the State has not breached any duty to the claimant, and that his injuries were caused solely by his own negligence or carelessness in pouring the coffee.

It is well settled that summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361) and should be granted only when it has been established that there is no triable issue (Moskowitz v Garlock, 23 AD2d 943). The role of the Court, therefore, on a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve material issues of fact, but instead is to determine whether any such issues exist (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395). If such material issues of fact exist, the motion for summary judgment must be denied (Rotuba Extruders v Ceppos, 46 NY2d 223).

The proponent of a summary judgment motion, in this case the defendant, must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering evidence sufficient to demonstrate the absence of any material issues of fact (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Center, 64 NY2d 851; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557). Once the proponent of summary judgment has made a prima facie showing, however, the burden shifts to the opposing party to produce evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to demonstrate the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial (Zuckerman v City of New York, supra; Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320).

In support of its motion, defendant relies primarily on a recent Third Department case, Spiratos v County of Chenango (28 AD3d 863), which, apparently under similar facts, reversed a lower court and granted summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint.

In Spiratos, an inmate was transferring boiling water from a 1-gallon container into a distribution container, and he suffered burns to his right thigh when he lost his grip on the larger container containing the boiling water. The Appellate Division, Third Department, concluded that the defendants’ “duty to plaintiff did not extend to an accidental dropping of a container of hot water” and plaintiff failed “to identify a valid, existing hazardous condition which caused his injury”.

In this matter, and relying on the Spiratos decision, defendant has submitted the affidavit of David R. Welch, Food Administrator II with the State Department of Correctional Services. Mr. Welch is in charge of food operations at Cayuga Correctional Facility, and was in charge of the mess hall on the day that claimant sustained his burns. In his affidavit, Mr. Welch stated that the process used by claimant to transfer the coffee from the 10-gallon urn to the 5-gallon urn was the standard process used by inmates assigned to that duty. Furthermore, Mr. Welch stated that he had “no reason to believe that the urns used by Claimant ... were not in proper working order.” (See Welch Affidavit, Item 4, par. 10).

It is well settled that the State has a duty to provide its inmates engaged in work programs with reasonably safe equipment and training (Kandrach v State of New York, 188 AD2d 910; Maldonado v State of New York, 255 AD2d 630). The State, however, is not an insurer of inmate safety, and negligence is not to be inferred solely from the happening of an incident (Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929; Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842).

In response, however, claimant has submitted affidavits from several of claimant’s fellow inmate workers (previously provided to the defendant in claimant’s response to defendant’s discovery demands). In particular, the Court has read and reviewed the affidavit of Alban Johnson, who was working in the mess hall on December 2, 2002 and witnessed this incident.

In his affidavit, Mr. Johnson states that the top of the 10-gallon coffee dispenser was not secure, and that there were no clasps on the container to secure the top. He further stated that prior to this incident, complaints had been made to the civilian cooks, as well as to Mr. Welch, regarding the condition of these containers.

Claimant had also submitted affidavits from other coworkers regarding the condition of the containers, although these coworkers did not witness the incident on which this claim is based.

Claimant has therefore raised a material issue of fact as to the condition of the 10-gallon coffee urn at the time of this incident, and specifically whether the clasps on this dispenser were all present and in good working order at that time. The Court has therefore been presented with conflicting theories as to whether this incident was caused solely by the carelessness or negligence of the claimant, or rather was caused by broken or missing clasps on the 10-gallon coffee urn.

Additionally, claimant has also raised a material issue of fact as to notice, since there are indications that the State had been placed on notice of the dangerous condition of these containers prior to the incident.

Although summary judgment was granted in Spiratos, (previously discussed herein), in this claim claimant has submitted sufficient evidence to suggest that his injuries were caused by defective or faulty equipment, an issue which was not present in Spiratos.

The Court therefore finds that material issues of fact exist in this matter bearing directly on the issue of proximate cause. These issues of fact can only be resolved at trial, precluding this Court from granting summary judgment.

Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, it is

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-71825 is hereby DENIED.


September 25, 2006
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims