New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HOLMES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-010-042, Claim No. 111167


Inmate claimant seeks damages for injuries allegedly sustained when he was attacked by another inmate. Claim is dismissed as there was a lack of evidence sufficient to meet claimant’s burden of proof.

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):

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: Elyse Angelico, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 4, 2007
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained on May 7, 2005 during his incarceration at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (Sing Sing), when he was attacked by another inmate.
Claimant testified that he was transferred from Clinton Correctional Facility to Sing Sing to effectuate his presence at his mother’s funeral. Claimant maintains that, without having been cleared by a sergeant, claimant was permitted to go to the A block yard. While talking on the telephone in the yard, claimant was attacked by two inmates, Johnson and Griswold. Claimant was charged with fighting and, after a disciplinary hearing, he was found guilty and spent 15 days in keeplock. According to claimant, he sustained injuries to his eyelid, knees, elbow and temple, which resulted in permanent scars. Claimant maintains the State is responsible for the attack because claimant was never interviewed by a sergeant and cleared to go into general population.
Correction Officer William Casanas testified that he was the Officer-In-Charge of the A block yard at the time of the incident. Casanas responded to the three inmates fighting. Casanas escorted claimant out of the yard and noted that claimant “looked fine.”

Casanas explained that when inmates are transferred to Sing Sing for funeral visits, they are placed in 5 building and are considered in “draft mode” until cleared by a sergeant, which usually occurs within 24 to 72 hours of the inmate’s arrival at Sing Sing. The sergeant interviews the inmate and examines his known enemies list. A slip confirming that this procedure has been completed is attached to the inmate’s movement card (Ex. A). Casanas did not know if claimant had been cleared to go into general population, but Casanas assumed that claimant had been since he was in the yard. Casanas noted that neither of claimant’s assailants was on claimant’s enemies list (Ex. A).
Correction Officer Jeffrey DeLoatch testified that he is the legal liaison at Sing Sing. DeLoatch’s responsibilities include researching facility files for judges and the Office of the Attorney General. DeLoatch was familiar with the procedures for funeral visits. He testified that claimant’s presence in the yard indicated that he had been cleared for general population. DeLoatch explained that an interview sheet is prepared by the sergeant and attached to an I.D. card when the inmate leaves the facility. Those records are only kept for 90 days and, therefore, are no longer available for the period in issue.
Dr. John Perilli testified that he has been the medical director at Sing Sing since December 1999. He reviewed claimant’s medical records and noted an entry on May 7, 2005, which indicated minor injuries as a result of a fight and that there was no further follow-up.
It is well settled that the State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risks 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 risks of harm include the risk of attack by other prisoners (see Littlejohn v State of New York, 218 AD2d 833). That duty, however, does not render the State an insurer of inmate safety (see Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247). The State’s duty is to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable attacks by other inmates (see Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914). The test for liability has evolved from the strict requirement of specific knowledge to encompass not only what the State actually 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]).
To establish liability in an inmate assault case, claimant must demonstrate one of the following: (1) the State knew or should have known that claimant was at risk of being assaulted and yet failed to provide claimant with reasonable protection; (2) the State knew or should have known that the assailant was prone to perpetrating such an assault and the State did not take proper precautionary measures; or (3) the State had ample notice and opportunity to intervene but did not act (id.). “The State will be liable in negligence for an assault by another inmate only upon a showing that it failed to exercise adequate care to prevent that which was reasonably foreseeable” (Wilson v State of New York, 303 AD2d 678, 679). Notably, neither of claimant’s attackers was on his enemies list and claimant did not testify that he had reason to believe he would be subject to attack in the Sing Sing yard.
The Court finds that, upon consideration of all the evidence, including listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so, there is a lack of evidence sufficient to meet claimant’s burden of proof.

January 4, 2007
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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