New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-009-165, Claim No. 106558


Synopsis


This claim seeking damages for personal injuries suffered in an inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed following trial.

Case Information

UID:
2006-009-165
Claimant(s):
ANDREW WILLIAMS
Claimant short name:
WILLIAMS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
106558
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant’s attorney:
ANDREW WILLIAMS, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
December 21, 2006
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
Claimant, an inmate appearing pro se, seeks damages for injuries suffered by him in an assault committed against him by another inmate on November 1, 2001, at a time when both inmates were incarcerated at Marcy Correctional Facility. Claimant alleges that the State was negligent by failing to protect him from a foreseeable risk of harm, and also alleges that the State was negligent in placing him in the dormitory area where the assault occurred. A trial was held on this claim at Marcy Correctional Facility, at which claimant and Correction Officer Stephen A. Ray both testified. Correction Officer Ray testified that on November 1, 2001, he was on duty at the “B-2" Housing Unit of Marcy Correctional Facility when he witnessed an inmate (identified as inmate Gonzalez) assault claimant in a sudden and unprovoked attack, striking claimant in the neck area. As set forth in his written report of this incident (see Defendant’s Exhibit A), he attempted to prevent claimant from retaliating against inmate Gonzalez, and then Correction Officer Ray pursued inmate Gonzalez, who was running away from the scene. Although he was not able to recover any weapon from inmate Gonzalez, it was evident to Correction Officer Ray that a weapon had been used in this attack, based upon the injuries suffered by claimant, who suffered a laceration on the right side of his face which required 14 sutures (according to the allegations set forth in the claim herein).
Officer Ray testified that inmate Gonzalez had not given correction officers at the facility any reason to suspect that he might carry out this sudden and unprovoked attack upon claimant. He further testified that there was no record of claimant being the object of any prior threats, either from inmate Gonzalez or any other inmate. Accordingly, according to Officer Ray, there was no basis, prior to this incident, for claimant to be placed in involuntary protective custody. Furthermore, Officer Ray testified that there was no record of claimant ever requesting protective custody prior to this incident.
Claimant testified that he did not know why inmate Gonzalez attacked him on that date. He confirmed that he had not made any complaints regarding inmate Gonzalez, or reported any threats made against him, prior to the incident, and in fact testified that he had never even met inmate Gonzalez prior to the assault on November 1, 2001.
According to his claim and trial testimony, claimant contends that he was improperly placed in the “B-2" Housing Unit on October 28, 2001, a few days prior to the assault. As set forth in his claim, claimant states that prior to October 28th, he had been confined to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) following a misbehavior report, with his confinement to SHU supposedly to run from October 27, 2001 through November 4, 2001. Additionally, and as also set forth in his claim, claimant states that he was required to submit to a urine test while confined to SHU, and that as a result of the test, he was charged with drug use, found guilty, and sentenced to 90 days of confinement in SHU, with such penalty to run from October 24, 2001 through January 31, 2002. Claimant apparently contends that but for his release from SHU on October 28, 2001 and resulting placement in the “B-2" dorm, this assault would not have occurred.
First of all, the Court notes that aside from his testimony at trial and the allegations in his claim, claimant has submitted no documentary evidence to support his contentions that he was to be confined at SHU at the time the assault occurred. Similarly, claimant has not submitted any evidence to establish, or let alone indicate, that his release from SHU was the result of some administrative error. Without such evidence, the Court must defer to the judgment and discretion of correctional facility officials in their decision regarding the placement and housing of inmates (see Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212; Papadopoulous v State of New York, Ct Cl, December 18, 2001, Minarik, J., Claim No. 103653, Motion No. M-64137, [UID #2001-031-004])
[1]
.
Furthermore, and most importantly, claimant, by his own admissions, was not placed in SHU as the result of any concerns regarding his safety, or out of any perceived need to segregate claimant from inmate Gonzalez (or any other inmate, for that matter). In other words, the decision to place claimant in SHU resulted solely from claimant’s own misconduct at the facility, and was not intended to protect claimant from the risk of any assault.
Therefore, this claim must be adjudicated pursuant to the well-settled law applicable to inmate-on-inmate assaults.
In this regard, the State is required to use reasonable care to protect inmates of its correctional facilities from the foreseeable risk of harm (see Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342; Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). Foreseeable risk of harm includes the risk of attack by other prisoners (see Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833). The duty to protect inmates from the risk of attack by other prisoners, however, does not render the State an insurer of inmate safety (see Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247). The scope of the defendant’s duty of care is to exercise reasonable care to prevent attacks which are reasonably foreseeable (Sanchez v State of New York, supra). The test for liability has evolved from the strict requirement of specific knowledge to encompass not only what the State knew, but also “what the State reasonably should have known - for example, from its knowledge of risks to a class of inmates based on the institution’s expertise or prior experience, or from its own policies and practices designed to address such risks” (Sanchez v State of New York, supra at 254 [emphasis in original]). Accordingly, “[t]he mere occurrence of an inmate assault, without credible evidence that the assault was reasonably foreseeable, cannot establish the negligence of the State” (Sanchez v State of New York, supra at 256).
In this claim, all of the testimony (including that of the claimant) unequivocally established that the assault by inmate Gonzalez upon claimant was a sudden, unprovoked assault, with no indication that this assault was in any way reasonably foreseeable. There is no evidence before the Court to even remotely suggest that the defendant had any notice that claimant was in any danger prior to the assault, and claimant in fact admitted at trial that he did not even know inmate Gonzalez prior to this sudden attack.
Based on the foregoing, therefore, the Court must find that claimant has failed to establish that this assault was reasonably foreseeable, or that the defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from this unexpected and unprovoked assault.
Accordingly, this claim is hereby dismissed.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.


December 21, 2006
Syracuse, New York

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




[1]. Unpublished decisions and selected orders of the Court of Claims are available via the Internet at http://www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us/decisions.