New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

YOUNG v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-037-508, Claim Nos. 106546, 106548


Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
106546, 106548
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Rushawn Young, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
New York State Attorney General
By: Joseph F. Romani, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 26, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Rushawn Young, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 106546 and Claim Number 106548 that he was assaulted by a hearing officer and correction officers (COs) following a disciplinary hearing and was then denied adequate and timely medical treatment for his resulting injuries while he was in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira). Trial of the matters was held at Elmira on March 30, 2006, where Claimant testified on his own behalf and Defendant called three witnesses: Captain Daniel J. Sullivan (Capt. Sullivan); Sergeant John Volker (Sgt. Volker); and Nurse Mary Anne Perry (Nurse Perry), all employed by DOCS. As set forth below, Claimant alleges that he was assaulted on May 28, 2002, without provocation, while DOCS agents maintain that reasonable force was used to restrain him following Claimant’s assault of Capt. Sullivan.
Claimant alleges in both claims and testified that on May 28, 2002, at approximately 10:51 a.m., following the adjournment of his Tier II disciplinary hearing, he was assaulted by the hearing officer, Lieutenant (now Capt.) Sullivan, and by COs English and Williams sustaining injuries for which he was denied prompt and proper medical treatment. Specifically, he testified that he was hit in the throat, choked, thrown to the floor and forcefully handcuffed by Capt. Sullivan who then directed COs English and Williams to continue the assault while they escorted him to the Special Housing Unit (SHU). As a result of this incident, he claims to have suffered injuries to his neck, face, head and wrists for which he requested and was denied immediate medical attention. Claimant alleges that the assault was in retaliation for his testimony at the hearing which was critical of the conduct of the hearing officer and the COs who filed a misbehavior report against him on May 16, 2002. No other witnesses testified for Claimant and he did not submit any medical evidence to support his claim for personal injury.
Capt. Sullivan, employed by DOCS for twenty-three years, testified that on May 28, 2002, he was a Lieutenant (Lt.) assigned to Elmira and was acting as the hearing officer for a Tier II disciplinary hearing involving an Inmate Misbehavior Report filed against Claimant on May 16, 2002. At the conclusion of the hearing, he opened the hearing room door in order to move Claimant to an adjacent holding area when Claimant suddenly lunged at him striking him in the face. After a brief struggle, Capt. Sullivan wrestled Claimant to the floor and subdued him by placing mechanical restraints on his wrists. Following the incident, Capt. Sullivan prepared and filed a Use of Force Report (Defendant’s Exhibit A) which corroborates his testimony.
Sgt. Volker, a twenty-seven year employee of Elmira, testified that on May 28, 2002, he was the inmate grievance and program sergeant at Elmira and in that capacity he interviewed then Capt. Sullivan and Claimant regarding the Use of Force incident. The written report prepared and filed by Sgt. Volker following the interviews (Claimant’s Exhibit 1) confirms that the statements made by Capt. Sullivan at the time of the incident are consistent with his testimony at trial.
Sgt. Volker testified that Claimant was interviewed in his cell in SHU after he was examined by the medical staff as required following a use of force occurrence. Claimant stated that Capt. Sullivan was not following proper procedure in conducting the hearing and was exhibiting a racist attitude toward him. He also alleged that Capt. Sullivan initiated the assault and then struck himself in the face to create the impression that he was assaulted by Claimant. However, Claimant did not report the alleged assault by COs English and Williams which would have resulted in further investigation. Sgt. Volker stated that he did not see any sign that Claimant suffered a physical injury and he did not complain to him about the lack of medical attention.
Nurse Perry, a registered nurse for eight years and employed by DOCS at Elmira for six years, testified that on May 28, 2002, at approximately 11:15 a.m., she was called to conduct a medical examination of Claimant following a use of force incident. Claimant complained of injuries to his left ear, cheek, and wrist and indicated he was in pain. Nurse Perry stated that she did not observe any injury to his left ear or cheek, but did note a slight swelling of the lateral aspect of the left wrist which would be consistent with the application of mechanical restraints. Since there was no necessity for emergent medical care, Tylenol was administered for pain and Claimant was directed to follow up at sick call. Following the examination, Nurse Perry prepared a written report which is consistent with her testimony (see Defendant’s Exhibit A).
Correction officers are charged with the responsibility of maintaining order and discipline in correctional facilities under stressful circumstances (Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 [1988]). It is well settled that correction officers may use physical force to maintain order and discipline in correctional facilities, but “only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used” (7 NYCRR 251-1.2[b]). The limited circumstances in which use of force is permitted by correction officers are set forth as follows:
“[a]n employee shall not lay hands on or strike an inmate unless the
employee reasonably believes that the physical force to be used is
reasonably necessary: for self-defense; to prevent injury to person or
property; to enforce compliance with a lawful direction; to quell a
disturbance; or to prevent an escape.” (7 NYCRR 251-1.2[d]).
In situations involving inmate allegations of excessive force by correction officers, the credibility of the witnesses is often the dispositive factor (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234 [1994]). To determine, in a given instance, whether use of force was necessary and, if so, whether the force used was excessive or unreasonable, a court must examine the specific circumstances confronting the officers (see e.g. Wester v State of New York, 247 AD2d 468 [1998]; Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800 [1996]; Quillen v State of New York, 191 AD2d 31 [1993]; Arnold v State of New York, 108 AD2d 1021 [1985], app dismissed 65 NY2d 723 [1985]).
While there is clear conflict in the testimony, the Court finds the preponderance of the credible evidence to be that the use of force in this instance was in self-defense and in response to an attack upon Capt. Sullivan initiated by Claimant. The force used was not excessive in relation to the purpose of restraining Claimant and the medical report makes it clear that there was no significant injury to his head or body. The Court does not find Claimant’s allegations that the attack was unprovoked and initiated by Capt. Sullivan to be credible.
In summary, the Court finds that the force exerted by the officer in this matter was reasonably necessary under the circumstances and was not excessive and, as a result, no liability attaches to the Defendant arising out of this incident (see Passino v State of New York, 260 AD2d 915 [1999], lv denied 93 NY2d 814 [1999]).
Additionally, the evidence is contrary to Claimant’s assertions that he was denied medical attention. Immediately following the incident, Claimant was given a medical evaluation and treatment by Nurse Perry as documented in the Use of Force Report (Defendant’s Exhibit A).
It is “fundamental law that the State has a duty to provide reasonable and adequate medical care to the inmates of its prisons,” including proper diagnosis and treatment (Rivers v State of New York, 159 AD2d 788, 789 [1990], lv denied 76 NY2d 701 [1990]; Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7 [1996]). Further, it is the State’s duty to render medical care “without undue delay” and, therefore, whenever “delays in diagnosis and/or treatment [are] a proximate or aggravating cause of [a] claimed injury,” the State may be liable (Marchione v State of New York, 194 AD2d 851, 855 [1993]).
In a medical malpractice action, the Claimant has the burden of proof and must prove (1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice and (2) evidence that such deviation was the proximate cause of the injury or other damage. A cause of action is premised in malpractice when it is the medical treatment, or the lack of it, that is in issue. A claimant must establish that the medical care giver either did not possess or did not use reasonable care or best judgment in applying the knowledge and skill ordinarily possessed by practitioners in the field. The “claimant must [demonstrate]...that the physician deviated from accepted medical practice and that the alleged deviation proximately caused his...injuries” (Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929, 931 [1999], citing Parker v State of New York, 242 AD2d 785, 786 [1997]). Without such medical proof, no viable claim giving rise to liability on the part of the State can be sustained (Hale v State of New York, 53 AD2d 1025 [1976], lv denied 40 NY2d 804 [1976]). A medical expert’s testimony is necessary to establish, at a minimum, the standard of care (Spensieri v Lasky, 94 NY2d 231 [1999]).
Whether the claim is grounded in negligence or medical malpractice, “[w]here medical issues are not within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons, expert medical opinion is a required element of a prima facie case” (Wells v State of New York, 228 AD2d 581, 582 [1996], lv denied 88 NY2d 814 [1996]; see Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, 654 [1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 810 [1998]). With it evident that Claimant is contending that the failure to promptly treat his condition contributed to a period of discomfort, the failure to present any testimony on the effects the alleged delay had on his condition is fatal since such facts are outside the ordinary experience and knowledge of a layperson; Claimant’s speculation as well as his conclusory statements are inadequate (Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817 [2005]).
In these cases, only conclusory statements of the Claimant have been presented in support of his claims of malpractice. No competent medical evidence was presented, through a treating physician or an expert witness whose opinion was based upon available medical records, to support the allegation of medical malpractice. There is no medical evidence on any medical issue and thus no proof that accepted standards of care were not met. The fact that discomfort persisted for some time after the alleged injury does not establish that somehow the treatment given was below the accepted standards of care. Claimant does not rebut the showing by Defendant that there was acceptable treatment, or that any treatment or failure to treat is a proximate cause of the injuries alleged. Therefore, the claims of inadequate or improper medical care must be dismissed.
Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate that the actions of medical care givers amounted to simple negligence or ministerial neglect (see Coursen v New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, 114 AD2d 254, 256 [1986]; Kagan v State of New York, supra). To the extent the claims can be read to assert such theories, any cause of action for negligence or ministerial neglect must also be dismissed.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss the claims for failure to establish a prima facie case, upon which decision was reserved at trial, is granted and Claim Number 106546 and Claim Number 106548 are dismissed in their entirety.

May 26, 2006
Buffalo, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims