New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DOUGLAS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-018-539, Claim No. 103395


The claim is dismissed. It was Claimant’s choice to climb over the locker to clean behind it that was the sole proximate cause of his injury

Case Information

1 1.The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
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 York
By: JOEL L. MARMELSTEIN, ESQUIREAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
November 30, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant was injured on September 8, 2000, while an inmate at Riverview Correctional Facility. He testified that on that date he was assigned to dormitory C1, bunk 45T. Around 10:45 that morning, Correction Officer (hereinafter CO) Thomas Questal told him that his “cube”[2] had been searched. The CO advised Claimant that the area under the lockers and beds was extremely dirty and Claimant was directed to clean it. Claimant said he was given a direct order to clean it even though he was not a porter.[3] While trying to go behind and clean under one of the large lockers, Claimant cut his knee open. He was taken to the infirmary and then sent to an outside hospital for sutures.

It is Claimant’s contention that he was not responsible for cleaning his cube and he was not given any instruction on how to do it safely. He complied with the order to clean his cube because the CO said he would issue a misbehavior report if he didn’t do so. He claimed that the order was cruel and inhuman treatment and that it violated his rights.

The State called CO Thomas Questal. He testified that the inmates are responsible for keeping their living areas clean and neat pursuant to 17 NYCRR 270.2(B) 19(viii)(118.30). On September 8, 2000, Claimant’s cube was selected for the daily search for contraband. During the search, CO Questal noticed a significant amount of dirt and debris under both Claimant’s and his cube mate’s locker and their bunk bed. He directed Claimant’s cube mate to clean under his locker and around the bed. As Claimant was returning to his cube from programs, he walked by CO Questal sitting at his desk. CO Questal testified that he told Claimant to clean under the lockers and the bed and assist his cube mate in cleaning the cube. During the search, CO Questal had moved the lockers out and tilted them back about five inches so he could look under them. CO Questal left Claimant’s cube mate’s locker pulled out from the wall for easier access. The CO observed Claimant helping his cube mate clean. He also saw Claimant climb over his cube mate’s locker to clean. It was then that Claimant cut open his leg. He was sent to the infirmary and then for sutures at an outside hospital.

Unlike Claimant’s contention that it is the porter’s responsibility to clean the inmates’ living space, CO Questal testified that porters clean only the common areas of the prison. CO Questal testified there was no indication that either Claimant or his cube mate had any disability that would prevent them from cleaning the area.

Claimant alleges that the order directing him to assist in cleaning around his cube mate’s locker was cruel and inhuman treatment. Claimant also alleges that CO Questal knew that the lockers were too big and heavy to be moved, and Claimant did not have the proper tools for cleaning, yet, the CO failed to direct the inmate porters to clean up the area or assist in the movement of the lockers which resulted in Claimant’s right leg being injured.

Defendant made a motion to dismiss the portion of the claim based upon cruel and inhuman treatment on the grounds that the criteria set forth in Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, were not met. In Brown, the Court of Appeals recognized, when certain specific criteria are established, a State Constitutional tort cause of action is actionable in this Court. However, where another common law or statutory remedy is available to address the alleged injury, there is no need to resort to a constitutional tort cause of action (Id. at 191). Here, Claimant has brought a separate negligence cause of action for the same underlying conduct evincing the potential viability of a common law remedy. Defendant’s motion is granted.

As for Claimant’s negligence cause of action, Claimant’s proof failed to establish a breach of Defendant’s duty of care. Defendant owes a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the inmates in its facilities (Callahan v State of New York, 19 AD2d, 437, affd 14 NY2d 665). It was entirely appropriate for CO Questal to order Claimant and his cube mate to clean their living quarters. Claimant was provided with the necessary cleaning equipment, and the CO had moved the locker away from the wall to facilitate cleaning behind it. The locker was readily moveable, as CO Questal moved both lockers by himself. Under these circumstances, the State’s order directing Claimant to clean around and under the lockers did not place Claimant in a dangerous situation, rather it was Claimant’s choice to climb over the locker to clean behind it that was the sole proximate cause of his injury. “Where an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, he or she is required to take some responsibility for his own or her own negligence [citations omitted]” (Martinez v State of New York, 225 AD2d 877, 878).


November 30, 2006
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[2]. A “cube” is an inmate’s living area, including two large lockers, bunk beds and two small gray lockers.
[3].A porter is an inmate whose prison job is to clean various areas.