New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JOSEPH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-031-519, Claim No. 106047


Claimant failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent in the manner in which it operated Claimant’s cell door. Claim dismissed

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):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
New York State Attorney General
BY: TIMOTHY P. MULVEY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 26, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Fravlin Joseph, filed claim number 106047 against the State of New York on May 10, 2002 alleging that he incurred personal injuries when his cell door closed on his head. The incident in question occurred at Five Points Correctional Facility (“Five Points”) on April 6, 2002. I conducted the trial of this claim on July 27, 2006, at Auburn Correctional Facility.
Claimant testified that on April 6, 2002, the group of cells in which he housed (called a “gallery”) was taking part in a general cleanup. Both parties agree that, during such times, it was customary for the doors of each cell in the area being cleaned to be “cracked open” approximately 8 to 10 inches. The purpose of this is to enable the inmates to pass cleaning materials in and out of their cells. Both parties also agree that inmates are not permitted to leave their cells or extend any body parts through the opening when the cell doors are cracked. Despite this understanding, Claimant alleges that he placed his head through the opening as he was speaking with a porter. While his head was in the opening, the correction officer operating the cell doors closed the doors in the gallery, including Claimant’s, which had been opened as described above. According to Claimant, the door closed on his head causing him injury.
Claimant complained of swelling and headaches but, on cross-examination, he conceded that he was seen at the facility infirmary the day after the incident and that the nurse who evaluated him found no apparent injuries.
Defendant called Correction Officer R. Wagner to testify concerning the incident. Officer Wagner described the procedure stating that several cells are cleaned at one time and that the doors of the cells are opened and closed remotely. He testified that inmates are instructed not to extend any part of their bodies through the opening in the cell door. Officer Wagner testified that, generally, the opening and closing of cells is controlled by the console officer. The console officer is stationed in the center of the block approximately 30 feet from Claimant’s cell and he is instructed to open and close cells by radio. For cell cleaning, porters hand out mops, brooms and cleaning materials. Cell doors are cracked 8 to 10 inches for the purpose of passing out these cleaning supplies. Five to seven cells are cracked open at a time. Inmates that do stick their heads, arms or legs out of the cell are breaking the rules and may be given an inmate misbehavior report. As the cleaning progresses, the console officer often opens and closes cells in two or three galleries at a time. After each group of five to seven cells is cleaned, the console officer closes all of the cells in that group at one time.
Defendant also called Don Ellsworth, a general mechanic in the maintenance department at Five Points. Mr. Ellsworth stated that he is responsible for the upkeep and repair of the cell doors at Five Points. Mr. Ellsworth testified about the mechanics of the cell doors and how they open and close. He stated that the cell doors have an electronic switch which controls the pressure with which the doors close. According to Mr. Ellsworth, the doors close with a pressure of 40 to 45 pounds per square inch. If the door encounters an obstruction while it is closing, a limiting switch on the electric motor will stop trying to close the door when it meets resistance of more than 40 to 45 pounds. According to Mr. Ellsworth, this prevents people from being injured because the door will not exert enough pressure to cause serious injury. He stated that the pressure of the door could cause a bruise, but could not seriously harm someone. He stated that he has often stopped the door with his foot or his hand. He described this process as similar to putting one’s hand on an elevator door except that, although the cell door stops, it does not open back up when it meets the obstruction.
Upon reviewing the entire record before me, I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate that Defendant was negligent in any manner relating to the incident. Claimant was aware that he should not place his head through the 8- to 10-inch opening in the cell door and nonetheless chose to do so. There is no indication that any agent of Defendant was aware that Claimant’s head was in the door when the console officer closed it, and certainly no evidence that the console officer intentionally closed the door on Claimant’s head. The incident was due solely to Claimant’s negligence. When an inmate fails to use ordinary care and pursues a dangerous course of conduct, he must take responsibility for his own negligence (Carter v State of New York, 194 AD2d 967). Fortunately for Claimant, it appears that his injuries were quite minor.
For the reasons set forth above, I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate a prima facie cause of action for negligence. Accordingly, his claim is dismissed. All motions on which I previously reserved decision are hereby denied.

September 26, 2006
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims