New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

REYES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-031-522, Claim No. 106351


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 29, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, Jose Reyes, filed claim number 106351 against the State of New York on July 12, 2002, alleging that he incurred personal injuries when the door of his cell closed on his hand. The incident in question occurred at Five Points Correctional Facility (“Five Points”) on April 22, 2002. I conducted the trial of this claim on July 27, 2006, at Auburn Correctional Facility.
Claimant testified that, on April 22, 2002, his cell door was opened to permit him to exit the cell and attend a program. According to Claimant, an inmate going to program will generally have his cell door held open for approximately 10 minutes to give him time to exit the cell. On this particular day, as Claimant exited the cell, the cell door began to close and Claimant’s right index finger was caught between the cell door and the wall. Claimant stated that he did not believe that the door malfunctioned, but that the person operating the door was negligent in closing the door before Claimant had an opportunity to exit his cell.
With regard to damages, Claimant testified that his fingers were bandaged for a period of six weeks but that he still is constantly in pain and takes ibuprofen daily. I note that Claimant’s exhibit 1, a letter from R. Mitchell Rubinovich, M. D., a specialist to whom Claimant was referred, indicates that Claimant has a “persistent Sprain of the PIP Joint of the 5th Finger secondary to repeated injuries.”
On cross-examination, Claimant conceded that he had been residing in the same cell at Five Points for approximately four months prior to the incident and that he was familiar with the facility rules and procedures for entering and exiting one’s cell. He indicated that he was aware that inmates are not permitted to interfere with the opening or closing of their cell doors.
Defendant called Correction Officer R. Wagner to testify concerning the incident. Officer Wagner stated that the cells are opened and closed remotely by an officer, the console officer, who is located in the center of the cell block. He testified that, when the time comes for inmates to go to program, the doors are opened for approximately 35 to 45 seconds and inmates are instructed to exit immediately and to not interfere with the operation of the door. He stated that sometimes, when inmates are not yet ready or willing to leave, they wait until the last second and as the cell door is closing, try to squeeze through the opening. He compared this to a car speeding up as it approaches a yellow light at an intersection. According to Officer Wagner, inmates are instructed not to do this. If for some reason they are unable to exit their cells in the 35 to 45 seconds provided, they are to call out to one of the officers who will radio the console officer to open the cell again.
Defendant also called Don Ellsworth, a general mechanic in the maintenance department at Five Points. Mr. Ellsworth testified about the mechanics of the cell doors and how they open and close. Mr. Ellsworth stated that he is responsible for the upkeep and repair of the cell doors at Five Points. 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 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.
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 if he was unable to exit his cell in the time provided, he was to contact one of the officers on the cell block. He was also aware that he should not attempt to exit the cell as the door was closing. There is no indication in the record before me that any agent of Defendant was aware that Claimant’s hand 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 hand. 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).
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 29, 2006
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims