New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BENJAMIN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-030-014, Claim No. 107380


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2006-030-014
Claimant(s):
DAVID BENJAMIN
1 1.The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
BENJAMIN
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended to reflect the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
107380
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
DAVID BENJAMIN, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERALBY: DEWEY LEE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
June 30, 2006
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision
David Benjamin alleges in Claim Number 107380 that he was assaulted in his cell at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven) and caused serious injury due to the Defendant’s failure to protect him, and/or because of a conspiracy to cause him injury between certain correction officers and other inmates. Trial of the matter was held at Green Haven on April 21, 2006.
Claimant testified that “on Saturday, December 21, 2002 and then again on Sunday, December 22, 2002 at about 11:00 a.m. on the go round”
[2]
he had asked the correction officer at the gate to go to the yard, but the gate was not opened for him. On both days, however, “at about 1:30 p.m. the officer allowed an inmate from another cellblock to enter the gate”, Claimant’s cell was opened, and “the strong stranger” entered Claimant’s cell and assaulted him. On the Saturday, the stranger took a cane and beat him up. Claimant screamed for help, and his assailant threw the cane at him. On the Sunday, the stranger took some kind of narrow, sharp plastic object, “like a broken mirror”, and announced that “he had come to finish the job.” As he moved to attack Claimant, Mr. Benjamin put his right hand on his chest, and raised his left hand up defensively to avoid a blow. The object stabbed his left hand “about two inches”, between the third and fourth fingers. Claimant screamed because he was in so much pain, and the assailant ran away with the object.
Claimant covered his hand with a handkerchief because he was bleeding, there was blood on his cane and “all over his belongings” but no one came in response to his screams. When “the 2 o’clock officer came around, he saw . . . [Claimant’s] hand was bleeding and that the handkerchief was bloody”, and then took him out of the cell to the front of the block where Sergeant Hillman was waiting. They then escorted him to the facility emergency room where he was “cleaned up” by Nurse Figueroa. The nurse found a two-inch hole or laceration between the two fingers of Claimant’s left hand. Transport to St. Agnes Hospital to determine if there was any further injury was arranged. While waiting to be moved to St. Agnes, Sergeant Hillman brought in “books” of pictures of inmates. “After 30-40 minutes”, Claimant named his assailant from the pictures, asking that his information be kept confidential. He gave his assailant’s name, and was told his nickname. Claimant explained that he “does not have contact with the inmates, [he] is just doing his time . . . The inmates have “rules” that he does not follow.”
After x-rays were taken at St. Agnes, there were “no foreign bodies found.” He was given “nine stitches and they closed the wound.”
Mr. Benjamin said that “2 ½ months later [he was] in protective custody in A-1.”
Documents admitted in evidence on consent, including an Inmate Injury Report and other medical records, an Unusual Incident Report, and records from the St. Agnes Hospital emergency room, confirm that Mr. Benjamin was assaulted and injured on December 22, 2002, and received treatment at Green Haven and at an outside hospital, including sutures. [Exhibit 1]. Photographs taken by facility personnel also show his injured hand. [Exhibit 2].
The Unusual Incident Report reporting an incident dated December 22, 2002, indicates that Mr. Benjamin “reported to C.O. J. Cook that he had a cut on his . . . [left] hand between the 3rd & 4th fingers.” [Exhibit 1]. The Report continues “. . . inmate escorted to clinic, seen by Nurse J. Figueroa, who used tele-med to determine the cut was through the tendon. Inmate sent to St. Agnes Hospital . . . During interview with Sgt. Hillman inmate stated he was attacked by an unknown inmate who entered his cell, hit him with a cane & cut him with an unknown/unrecovered weapon. Benjamin’s cell was searched . . . recovered one cane with blood on it. Cane was placed in the contraband locker . . . 12/22 Benjamin . . . [returned from] St Agnes Hospital & placed in IPC [involuntary protective custody]. 12/23 discharged . . . [from involuntary protective custody] to A4/181 cell.” [ibid.]. There is no indication on the documents submitted that any assailant’s name was reported or recorded.
No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.
In order to establish liability on the State’s part in a case involving an inmate upon inmate assault, a Claimant must allege and prove that the State knew or should have known that there was a risk of harm to the inmate Claimant that was reasonably foreseeable and inadequately addressed. Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 253 (2002)
[3]
; see also Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342, 347 (1947). The Court must look to see if the actions taken by the State were reasonable under the circumstances. The duty of reasonable care does not, however, render the State the insurer of inmate safety. Sanchez v State of New York, supra. The mere fact that a correction officer is not present at the precise time and place of an assault, for example, does not give rise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that officials had notice - actual or constructive - of a foreseeable dangerous situation. Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 (3d Dept 1994); Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept 1990), lv denied 76 NY2d 711 (1990); Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650 (3d Dept 1981).
[4]
“. . . [U]nremitting supervision . . .” is not required. Colon v State of New York, supra at 844.
After carefully considering the evidence presented, including the testimony of Claimant and observing his demeanor as he did so, the Court finds parts of Claimant’s testimony credible, while other parts appear inconsistent with the record presented. While it certainly is established that Claimant was assaulted while in State custody, Claimant has not established that the State had any reason to know that Claimant was at risk of being assaulted and failed to provide him with reasonable protection. In this case, there has been no showing that the Claimant was known to be at risk either generally, or that his attacker was known for violent propensities, or any prior notice of antagonism between Claimant and his assailant, or any other evidence of motive. Indeed, although Claimant testified that he identified his attacker during a 40 minute review of inmate photographs, this is not borne out by any of the documentary evidence reporting the assault, the investigation and the medical treatment.
Claimant testified that he was assaulted on two successive days. This version of events is not supported by the documentary record Claimant himself submitted either. Moreover, Mr. Benjamin was at pains to convey that he did not mingle with other inmates, and was unfamiliar with their “rules.” It is unclear how he would know one way or the other whether an inmate “belonged” on his block, or not, nor is this aspect of his claim established by the equivocal testimony he gave of the circumstances leading up to being stabbed with a plastic object of some kind. He claimed he was not allowed out to the yard, but a stranger was let in on two successive days at the same time. The court simply cannot credit his testimony, except where it is substantiated in the documentary record he presented. All that has been established, therefore, is that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by an unknown assailant in a prison setting.
It is difficult to contemplate how this unfortunate event would have been avoided. More generally, the inherent risk of violent activity in a correctional facility housing dangerous individuals does not mandate imposition of liability for inmate-on-inmate assaults that are not reasonably foreseeable. The State is entitled to deference in managing the safety and order of its facilities. See Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 216 (1988). Claimant has not sustained his burden of establishing that the State had actual or constructive notice of the harm that befell him by a preponderance of the credible evidence.
Accordingly, Claim Number 107380 is hereby dismissed in its entirety for a failure of proof.
Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

June 30, 2006
White Plains, New York

HON. THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims




[2].All quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.

[3]. In Sanchez v State of New York, supra, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division - which had affirmed a Court of Claims dismissal on summary judgment of the Claimant’s negligent supervision claim - finding that there was a triable issue of fact as to the foreseeability of an attack upon Claimant that was as much a surprise to him as it allegedly was to the State.
[4]. Another example might be whether there was information which would trigger any heightened awareness of a risk to this inmate - any “suspicious” behavior such as an individual leaving an assigned work post, or stuffing magazines in his shirt to avoid injury - to alert correction personnel of a specific danger brewing.