New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BENJAMIN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-030, Claim No. 109260


Inmate claimant alleges correctional facility personnel intentionally shut cell gate on his hand. Several causes of action asserted based on this event, including battery, indifference to medical needs, and discriminatory conduct in violation of federal and state constitutions. Claim dismissed after trial

Case Information

Claimant short name:
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Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

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Signature date:
July 18, 2007
White Plains

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See also (multicaptioned case)


David Benjamin alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven) deliberately closed a cell gate on his hand, causing him injury, verbally harassed him about participation in religious services and failed to provide him with timely medical care while he was an inmate there in and about February 2004. Trial of the matter was held on May 3, 2007.

Mr. Benjamin testified that on February 7, 2004 at approximately 8:55 a.m. his cell was opened for call-out to attend “Jewish Chapel.”[1] As he was walking out of his cell, “a correction officer also known as Wood” slammed the cell gate against claimant, injuring his left hand and fingers as it wedged between the cell gate and the gate’s metal frame. Simultaneously, this correction officer taunted “I don’t want you go to Jewish chapel.” Claimant said “it was very painful,” and there was “profuse bleeding from [his] left middle finger, and pain and discoloration in [his] left hand generally, and ring, middle and index fingers.” He said he suffered from “emotional distress from the anti-Semitic acts and speech.” The officer “laughed at . . . [him], rejoicing that . . . [he] would miss the Jewish service.”

Claimant said that “this had happened before, on October 10, 2003,” when he could not attend high holy days because he was keeplocked by this same officer.

On February 7, 2004, although he needed to go to the emergency room to get treatment for his finger, “they delayed 4 hours in giving . . . [him] a pass to the emergency room.” He “wrapped . . . [his] middle finger in a clean handkerchief.” Shortly before 1:00 p.m. he was “finally given a pass, seen and examined by doctors, given x-rays, and received treatment and medication.”

An inmate injury report from February 7, 2004 indicates that the claimant reported that he was injured when the cell gate door was closed and pinched his left hand and fingers. He described the incident then in this fashion: “At about 8:35 a.m. today . . . when Lt. “HENDERS?” came out of AI back door and passed my cell. Then c.o. Wood came to close my cell gate by saying ‘he does not want to go to jewish chapel’ and he stopped my cell gate which was so firmly that my 3 left fingers became injured and bled from lf. middle finger. All 3 nails became blue and Lt. noticed and SAW but HAD ignored me too from crying I became . . . (illegible) I waited 2½ hours to come to ER.” [Exhibit 1]. The notations by medical personnel, indicating that the notes were made at 11:00 a.m., describes the “nature of the injury” as “noted dried blood 3rd. . . [left] middle finger nail bed, tenderness upper knuckles of 2nd -3rd & 4th Lt. fingers.” [Ibid.]. The “Treatment Provided” was “Motrin 400 mg” and a referral to “Dr. Silver” for diagnosis and to rule out fracture. [Ibid.]. Claimant’s ambulatory health record [AHR] for the same time notes the examination by Dr. Silver, directs further pain medication, and x-rays. [Ibid.]. The AHR also contains the Claimant’s description of how he was injured as follows: “c/o all (lt) 3 fingers . . . [left] hand 2nd/3rd & 4th fingers closed in cell gate as he was coming out o cell . . . ” [ibid.]. The x-ray requisition and report shows that x-rays were taken, and that the history Mr. Benjamin gave at the time was that he “caught” his hand in closing the cell door. [Ibid.]. The radiologist report indicates that there was no fracture or dislocation. [Ibid.].

On cross-examination claimant agreed that the cell gate was normally opened electronically at a call-out time, and that within seconds, it is closed manually by the inmate. On February 7, 2004, he reiterated, the officer pushed the gate against him as he was coming out. Although the filed claim indicates that it was an “Officer Wood” who closed the gate on him, Mr. Benjamin explained that he thought that was the name at the time and only later learned that it was “aka Darby or Drabick”. He testified that he learned the Drabick name “several months or a year after” or “in 2006” - but conceded he never moved to amend his claim, or to correspond with the Attorney General or the Court about the different name. He said that most of the officers have nicknames and he thought it would make no difference since the officer “was here.” Claimant indicated that an officer who was sitting in the courtroom was the officer who he alleged closed the cell gate on his hand.

Mr. Benjamin also said that “when . . . [he] got a copy of the claim as a courtesy . . . [he] saw that the name Drabick was noted by hand in the corner so . . . [he] thought the court already acknowledged that.” This same officer issued him two (2) misbehavior reports. Mr. Benjamin said that this officer worked “occasionally” in the block in which claimant was housed, and he was “called Officer Wood.”

Claimant was shown copies of misbehavior reports from October 10, 2003 that had been issued to him by Correction Officer Drabick, and the entire disciplinary hearing packet for those reports. [Exhibit A]. These reports and the hearing dispositions of same contain not only the name of Officer Drabick, but also contain Claimant’s signature acknowledging receipt of the hearing disposition. [See ibid.].

Claimant repeated that this was the same person who slammed the gate on his hand on February 7, 2004. He had to agree that he was aware of the correction officer’s name from five (5) months before the February 7 incident when the misbehavior report was issued. Claimant reiterated that he saw the officer in the courtroom, and recognized him, as “Drabick also known as Wood.”

Claimant asked for $100,000.00 damages for the various alleged deprivations he for the most part described as having a constitutional dimension. He said, among other things, that he was “denied equal protection of the law because . . . [he] was discriminated against on the basis of his Jewish religion”; denied his rights under the United States and New York State Constitutions to be free of cruel and unusual punishment; and suffered degrading treatment in contravention of the correctional facility’s obligation not to harass or physically attack inmates.

No other witnesses testified on claimant’s direct case, nor was any other evidence submitted.

Officer Eric Wood - the correction officer Mr. Benjamin had identified in the courtroom as the person who wrote the misbehavior reports against him in October 2003, and also as the person who slammed the gate on claimant’s hand - testified. While indicating that 2004 was a “long time ago”, and confirming that he had reviewed his employment record in order to confirm it, Officer Wood said that on February 7, 2004 he was stationed at Green Haven working as “the number two officer in A-1-block” where protective custody inmates were held. Although A-1-block is in A-block, it is separated from the other inmate areas. On the day of trial Officer Wood did not recall offhand the name David Benjamin as a resident, although he did recognize claimant physically as “an inmate around the jail.”

Officer Wood indicated that the only name he himself is known by is Wood, and he is not known by any other name such as Drabick. His duties on February 7, 2004 would generally not have included opening and closing gates but rather “watching inmates.” His physical location in his station would be “positioned between A-1-block and A-block.” He said: “As you enter the front door of A-block, the A-1 protective custody area is on the right side of the block. There are gates at both ends of the galleries, and on the A-1 protective side there is also a locked door.”

As noted above, although the witness recognized claimant “from around the jail, to the best of . . . [his] recollection, claimant was not in protective custody on February 7, 2004.” Officer Wood was shown the disciplinary hearing packet from October 2003, and said he did not recognize the documents, nor had he seen the documents prior to the trial date. [Exhibit A]. He confirmed that he did not issue the October 2003 misbehavior reports, nor had he closed a cell gate on claimant’s hand on February 7, 2004.

On cross-examination, Officer Wood agreed that the blocks are all similar in the prison, and that there are different companies within the block. He agreed that there is a gate at the end of 4-company to 1-company that opens and closes on A-Block, but was not aware of whether officers went from 4-company to 1-company by that means. He said that the way rounds are run is usually through the front of the company - the front door to A-1. The witness did not remember if he had any part of opening gates; did not remember coming through 4-company and closing a gate against claimant.

On redirect examination, Officer Wood confirmed that on February 7, 2004 he did not close a cell door on claimant’s hand or say anything about Jewish services. He reiterated that while he was working on block A that day, he was working on A-1-block. Cell 181 is in A-block, but it is not in the area of A-1-block. They are on opposite sides of the block. In front of A-1-block is a locked door and a “lock end gate.” At the back there “are two end gates before you can get anywhere else in the facility. The A-1 area is entirely enclosed.”

On re-cross-examination, Officer Wood agreed that A-1-block is “connected to 4-company via two locked end gates.”

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

It is the Claimant’s burden to prove his claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence. Significantly, resolving issues of credibility is the province of this Court as the trier of fact. LeGrand v State of New York, 195 AD2d 784 (3d Dept 1993), lv denied 82 NY2d 663 (1993). An important part of that role is observing the behavior and demeanor of witnesses as they testify, and assessing the internal consistency of their accounts.

In his closing argument before the Court, claimant asserted various causes of action, all emanating from this incident he alleges occurred on February 7, 2004. As noted, he claimed a battery occurred, he claimed indifference to his medical needs and he claimed discriminatory conduct in violation of his federal and state constitutional rights.

Generally, battery is the intentional physical contact with another person without that person’s consent. Coopersmith v Gold, 172 AD2d 982, 984 (3d Dept 1991); Mason v Cohn, 108 Misc 2d 674 (Sup Ct NY County 1981); see Clayton v Keeler, 18 Misc 488 (Sup Ct NY Co 1896).

With regard to the asserted claims of delayed medical treatment, 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 (3d Dept 1990), lv denied 76 NY2d 701 (1990). A cause of action is premised in medical malpractice when it is the medical treatment, or the lack of it, that is in issue. A Claimant must establish that the medical caregiver 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.

If a claim can be read to allege simple negligence, or medical negligence, then the alleged negligent omissions or acts by the State’s employees can be readily determined by a fact finder using common knowledge without the necessity of expert testimony. Coursen v New York Hosp.-Cornell Med. Ctr., 114 AD2d 254, 256 (1st Dept 1986). Similarly, the State may be found liable for ministerial neglect if its employees fail to comply with an institution’s own administrative procedures and protocols for dispensing medical care to inmates. Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7, 10 (2d Dept 1996).

No cause of action against the State of New York exists for alleged violations of an individual’s rights under the United States Constitution [See Lyles v State of New York, 2 AD3d 694 (2d Dept 2003), affd 3 NY3d 396 (2004); Welch v State of New York, 286 AD2d 496, 498 (2d Dept 2001); Zagarella v State of New York, 149 AD2d 503 (2d Dept 1989; Davis v State of New York, 124 AD2d 420, 423 (3d Dept 1986)], in that the State is not a “person” amenable to suit pursuant to 42 USC §1983. Additionally, no cognizable constitutional tort claim under the New York State Constitution is made out here. See Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172 (1996). Only where it is necessary to ensure the effectiveness and promote the purposes of the allegedly violated provision will a constitutional tort remedy be implied. Brown v State of New York, supra at 191.

Most significantly, as the trier of fact and law, charged with assessing the credibility of the witnesses and evaluating the evidence, the Court finds that the Claimant has not established that the State of New York should be held vicariously liable for the conduct of its agents.

First, the court is simply not convinced that anything other than an accident, or actions on the part of claimant himself, caused his fingers to be caught in the cell gate. As noted by both witnesses, while the cell gate is opened electronically, it would be the inmate who controlled the manner in which it was shut during the course of a call-out. Claimant also gave somewhat inconsistent versions of how his injury happened, and appeared ready to “blame” any correction officer within his view. The written claim speaks of an Officer Wood, the inmate injury report in which his account of his accident is noted speaks of an Officer Wood again, as well as a Lieutenant Henders, and at trial Mr. Benjamin said that the officer who allegedly shut the gate on his hand and insulted him was the same one who had written misbehavior reports in October 2003 - an Officer Drabick - and that the Officer Wood who testified was the individual who wrote him up in October 2003.

Second, the court is not persuaded that any anti-Semitic commentary occurred as alleged, and indeed, finds that claimant was not credible in this regard either.

Third, claimant received medical attention, and there is no indication that the attention received was inadequate. Claimant was not consistent in connection with this issue either, in that he testified that he “waited four hours” and the documentary evidence indicates otherwise. Indeed, his own written statement on the inmate injury form - albeit also complaining of the alleged untimely care - alleges that he waited “2 ½ hours.” Even if claimant did, for some reason, not get to the facility emergency room immediately, absent any showing of increased harm, no cause of action for delayed treatment or ministerial neglect is made out.

Finally, the court is not convinced that any monetary recovery would further the purpose of the underlying constitutional provisions claimant asserts were violated, or indeed, make the Claimant whole.

Accordingly, while the Court is concerned that claimant suffered an injury when a door closed on his hand, the court is not convinced that the State of New York should be held liable for this unfortunate accident.

Claim number 109260 is in all respects dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

July 18, 2007
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

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