New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SANTANA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-016-062, Claim No. 107304


Case Information

Infant, JASON SANTANA, by mother and natural guardian ELIZABETH CRUZ, and ELIZABETH CRUZ, individually
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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant’s attorney:
Joel J. Turney, LLCby: Mauricio Malagon, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney Generalby: Susan J. Pogoda, AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 22, 2006
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is the decision following the trial of the claim arising from an injury to Jason Santana while a resident - - or client - - at the Brooklyn Children’s Center, a facility of the State’s Office of Mental Health (OMH). On July 13, 2002, Santana, who was 13 years old at the time and lived in the Center’s community residence, had a physical encounter with a staff member, Timothy Rawleigh, and injured his wrist. At trial, claimant and Mr. Rawleigh took the stand.

Testimony of Jason Santana
Jason was playing basketball on the outdoor court that was part of the Center’s complex. At first, there were about ten other children playing, but they were called inside to go on a trip and ultimately claimant was left playing with one boy, Antonio G. Then Antonio was also summoned inside. Wanting to find out why he was not going, Jason went inside and asked a staff member, who directed him to go back outside and continue playing by himself.
Then Rawleigh, who had been sitting by the door, told Jason to go to his room. He complied and recalled that Rawleigh was walking behind him. Claimant turned around “at least three times” to ask why he wasn’t accompanying the others. Jason said he never got the answer and then after his second or third request, Rawleigh got angry and “was like forcing me as I was walking, pushing me to my shoulders.”
The last time he turned around, according to Jason, Rawleigh got very angry, grabbed hold of him, pushed him to the floor and fell on top of him. Rawleigh did not release the pressure of his weight right away.

Testimony of Timothy Rawleigh
As a mental hygiene therapy assistant (MHTA), Rawleigh helps the clients in their activities of daily living. On the day in question, the therapy assistant worked a 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. shift. There was one other staff person at the time, and she was with the other children. At about 4:30 in the afternoon, Rawleigh recalled that he was “standing outside the community residence in our back yard on the basketball court, on the sidelines,” watching Jason and Antonio play a one-on-one game.
Then, “I observed Jason Santana punch the other client for no apparent reason.” In order to separate the two, Rawleigh directed them to go to their own rooms. Antonio complied; Jason
was reluctant. When he got to his room, Jason said he did not want to sit there and he “kept trying to push past me to come out of his room.” Rawleigh told him to relax, have a seat and take a “timeout,” but to no avail:
He was very upset . . . He kept persisting trying to push past me. He flexed his shoulders as if he was going to hit me. I took a step back, and he kept coming towards me. He kept flexing his shoulders to hit me, and then he did hit me . . . He struck me across my face and wrist.

Rawleigh said he then stepped behind Jason and held him by the wrists, because “with him hitting me and pushing past me, I had no other choice.” Because Jason was struggling, they both fell to the floor. The witness said he did not throw or take down claimant to the floor and that he never pushed or struck Jason, nor did he at any time use excessive force on him.
On claimant’s case, it was alleged that there were inconsistencies between Rawleigh’s deposition and trial testimony. His deposition testimony included the following: “I went behind Jason to execute a one-man takedown.” But then Rawleigh said later in the deposition:
[I]t wasn’t planned for me to go down. I just wanted to hold him in place. For some reason or the other, I don’t know if we tripped or slipped. We started to go down. I don’t know if my feet slipped over his, his tripped over mine, but we fell down.

He then explained that “a one-man takedown is when I, the staff, reach behind and hold the client. I can stop there, or if the client is being aggressive and doesn’t stop, I can proceed to take him down.” Rawleigh contended that things happened so quickly he “didn’t have time to make a choice,” adding that with a one-man takedown, the intended result is for the client to end up on the ground, but on his side - - the therapy aide would not be on top.
Rawleigh, as of July 2002, had been employed by the Office of Mental Health for five years. Previously he had been employed with the Office of Mental Rehabilitation and Developmental Disabilities, but transferred to OMH so as to work at a facility closer to home. To make the transfer and change jobs from a disability aide to a MHTA, he took an examination, on which he achieved the maximum score. Rawleigh was trained to handle potential and actual physical altercations: how to prevent fights and stop clients from hurting themselves, other clients or staff. He indicated that therapy aides were trained to initially verbally placate a client who looked as if he was becoming aggressive.
Rawleigh’s demeanor on the stand was relaxed, even placid; he was not defensive about his testimony or what happened the day of the incident. As is evident from the excerpts above from his testimony, including the deposition, he was honest in recognizing that he did not quite understand how the incident evolved as it did.
At the time of trial, Jason was days short of his seventeenth birthday, but neither that fact nor his treatment at an OMH facility implicated his credibility. However, the burden is on a claimant to prove his case by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, which of course means that if the two versions are of equal weight, claimant cannot prevail. We heard only the two witnesses and there were no exhibits; claimant’s version of events was certainly no more worthy of belief than Rawleigh’s.
Moreover, claimant failed to submit any rules, regulations, or other authority governing the accepted procedures in this kind of encounter against which Rawleigh’s acts or omissions could be measured. Compare Patrick v State of New York, 11 Misc 3d 296, 806 NYS2d 849 (Ct Cl 2005) and Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800, 636 NYS2d 165 (3d Dept 1996).
In view of the foregoing, the claim of Jason Santana and, derivatively, that of his mother Elizabeth Cruz, is dismissed.

September 22, 2006
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims