New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MADDOX v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-038, Claim No. 108867


Synopsis


Pro se inmate’s claim alleging causes of action for battery and medical malpractice dismissed after trial. Court not convinced that anything other than an accident, or actions on the part of claimant himself, caused claimant to be caught at gate and suffer injury. No showing of inadequate medical care or showing that there was deviation from accepted standards. No expert testimony.

Case Information

UID:
2007-030-038
Claimant(s):
BRUCE MADDOX
Claimant short name:
MADDOX
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
108867
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
BRUCE MADDOX, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: BARRY KAUFMAN, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 21, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Bruce Maddox alleges in his claim that one of the correction officers at Green Haven Correctional Facility deliberately caused him physical injury on February 9, 2003. Trial of the matter was held on July 20, 2007.

Claimant testified that on that date at 7:55 p.m. he was in the west recreation yard when there was an announcement for an “early go-back”, that is the “thirty or so” inmates were to return to their housing areas because of the cold weather and ice in the yard.[1] As he approached the door to A-block from the yard, he “heard one officer say to another ‘watch me burn this

one.’ ” Claimant added that it was a more senior officer who was talking to a “new jack.” Claimant then tried to enter the building - he was one of the last of the inmates approaching - and Officer Tatarka, the senior officer, pushed the door shut, in what appeared to be an effort to prevent claimant from entering. At that point, Claimant’s body was already “half-way inside the building.” He became wedged between the yard and the building against his right shoulder, as the officer kept pushing the door on claimant’s shoulder. Claimant was “forced to go back into the yard.” Once in the yard he went to another officer, indicating he wanted to go to “emergency sick call.” That officer escorted him to the facility hospital where Mr. Maddox reported the incident and received treatment.

While in the facility hospital, he asked for x-rays of his shoulder, because he “was in a lot of pain. They did not do x-rays.” On February 12, 2003 he filed a grievance, and then “got the x-rays . . . [he] had been asking for.” The report rendered concerning the x-ray states:
“Exam right shoulder 2 views shows mild narrowing & productive change in AC joint. No other bone, joint or soft tissue abnormality seen. IMP: MILD DEGENERATIVE RIGHT AC JOINT DISEASE. REMAINDER RIGHT SHOULDER STUDY UNREMARKABLE.” [Exhibit 1, page1].
Mr. Maddox testified that a recommendation by a consultant for diagnostic testing was denied by the Green Haven medical director, though it was indicated that should his condition worsen he would receive further testing. On June 2, 2003, Dr. Bendheim, the facility physician, ordered x-rays and a report was generated. [Exhibit 1, page 1].

Mr. Maddox testified that as a result of the injuries he suffered because of the incident of February 9, 2003, it was recommended that he receive “epidural shots.” [Exhibit 1, page 4]. He received them on January 22, 2004. [Exhibit 1, page 3].

Because of this incident, he stated, he continues to need medication for pain, has suffered from sleeplessness and anxiety and takes medication for mental health issues, and can no longer do exercise, or play drums. He said that during the month of July every year he would earn money playing drums in a band at the Budweiser music festival, at a rate of $500.00 per day.

The total amount of damages sought is $20,000.00, representing $5,000.00 for his mental anguish; $5,000.00 for future pain and suffering; and $10,000.00 for twenty (20) days at $500.00 per day for his drumming earnings (“for the month of July in any given year as a musician”). Mr. Maddox testified: “I had a right to return to the housing unit - the actions of this officer were clearly deliberate.”

On cross-examination, Mr. Maddox conceded that the grievance he wrote did not indicate any statement to the effect that Officer Tatarka said “I’m gonna burn this guy,” nor is there an indication that the officer deliberately closed the door on claimant’s shoulder. [See Exhibit 1, page 2]. Instead, the grievance indicates that the officer “refused to permit me to return to my cell from the yard during the early go-back by pushing the A-Block door leading to the yard against my right shoulder causing an injury and severe pain.” [See id.]. The grievance complaint goes on to state:
“Officer Tatraka [phonetically spelled], refused to permit me to enter the block and return to my cell merely because I wasn’t on the ramp when he opened the door to let the inmates in to return to their cell. The injury caused by Officer Tatrka resulted in having to seek medical attention, and possible medical treatment.” [Id.].


Mr. Maddox also agreed that the top part of the DOCS request and report of consultation form contains the request made by the initial examining physician, while the bottom contains the report of the specialist consulted. [See Exhibit 1, page 4 ]. He agreed that nothing prevents a consultant from making a recommendation, regardless of what the facility physician may say in limitation when referring the patient. Thus, a review of this form shows that while the portion of the form completed initially by Dr. Bendheim making the request for consultation is partly deleted, with new information added, this does not prevent a consultant from writing, as this consultant did, “trial of tins in physical therapy if helpful issue personal unit. if no improvement, consider epidural steroid injection.” In the consultant’s section, too, there is a notation in medical shorthand “(+) symptom amplification” which claimant would not agree meant that one impression the examiner had was that the patient was exaggerating his symptoms.

After denying any prior issues with his right shoulder, claimant was shown a portion of his ambulatory health record [AHR] dated December 16, 2002. [Exhibit A]. In that entry, medical personnel note that claimant’s subjective complaints on that day were “. . . [Right] shoulder stiffness and mild pain . . . [for] week.” [Ibid.].

Claimant agreed that in his present claim he is alleging that he suffers from back pain as a result of this incident. Prior to this incident, claimant had been treated for back pain and, indeed, wore a back brace he conceded. He did not recall being issued a “tins unit” before. No documentation of being issued a “tins unit” as a result of this incident was submitted, however.

Asked to explain the incident further, he was asked “when you got to the door, and you saw it was closing, did you try to push your way through?” He emphatically answered “No, I did not.”

He admitted it had been 22 years since he had worked as a drummer, but Claimant said “it will happen in the future hopefully.” Claimant presented no documentation of mental health treatment related to this incident, nor did he recall that medical personnel had noted in the AHR for February 10, 2003 that no marks were seen on his shoulder, although when the court reviewed the AHR it can be clearly seen that medical personnel wrote: “[no] marks or open areas noted,” Mr. Maddox maintained that is not what is noted. [Exhibit B].

He admitted that in the past, he had suffered a bullet wound in the chest area. He would not agree, however, that his back issues related to that wound and would not agree that he had a back brace issued prior to this incident.

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was admitted on Claimant’s direct case. Officer Tatarka testified briefly on behalf of defendant. He recognized claimant at trial, and recalled being given the “yard door assignment” at Green Haven in February 2003. With regard to the incident, he testified that after the announcement for “early go-back” came, he recalled seeing the claimant talking to another inmate elsewhere in the yard, while inmates lined up. He said “Maddox was in the sidewalk off to the side as were other inmates.” Asked to explain what the term “early go-back” meant, Officer Tatarka said it allows inmates to go back to their cells halfway through the recreation time if they wish. Not all the inmates go back. He explained:
“After the last inmate was through my yard door, I started to close the door, when inmate Maddox tried to run through the door into the block. He thrust his foot and shoulder through the door. I did not see him put his foot and shoulder through the door. I saw him running toward the door. When I felt resistance at the door, I stopped closing it, ordered the inmate to step back from the door, and then told him early go backs were over, and then shut the door.”


Mr. Maddox did not complain of any injury nor did he ask for any medical treatment at the time, Officer Tatarka said. “He just walked away. That was the end of the incident.” He said that at no time did he make any declaration that he would “burn” the inmate.

On cross-examination, Officer Tatarka agreed that he saw claimant run toward the door. He reiterated, however, that he did not see him thrust his foot and shoulder through the door. In the grievance response Officer Tatarka wrote:
“On Sunday February 9, 2003. . . I . . .was opening the yard door to permit the yard early-go back into the Block, After the last inmate was thru the yard door
I . . . closed the door. Inmate Maddox was talking to another inmate on the sidewalk and off to the side, when he saw that I was closing the door. At this time the inmate ran to the door and thrusted his shoulder and foot into the block, at that time I stopped closing the door and ordered the inmate to back away from the door. The inmate asked why and was told that the go-back was over. At no time did I intentionally try to hurt this inmate.” [Exhibit C].


Officer Tatarka was asked if he remembered claimant going to the medical unit “ten minutes later.” He said that he did not remember that. Asked why he did not write a misbehavior report, Officer Tatarka testified: “I did not feel one was warranted.”

Other portions of claimant’s AHR document complaints of back pain, the use of a back brace as well as prescription of various pain relievers for same, and complaints of insomnia in May, June, July and August of 2002, well prior to the incident alleged. [Exhibit D].

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 closing arguments, claimant indicated that the “medical records speaks for itself.” He said “they show that prior to this incident I did not suffer from the conditions I suffer from today. I did not have a ‘tins’ unit or a back brace prior to this incident. It was issued as a result of this incident.” As noted, he claimed he was deliberately injured by the officer, and he claimed indifference to his medical needs.

Generally, battery is the intentional physical contact with another person without that person’s consent. Coopersmith v Gold, 172 AD2d 982, 983 (3d Dept 1991); Mason v Cohn, 108 Misc 2d 674 (New York Co. Sup Ct 1981); see Clayton v Keeler, 18 Misc 488 (New York Co. Sup Ct 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).

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 under either cause of action claimed.

First, the court is simply not convinced that anything other than an accident, or actions on the part of claimant himself, caused him to be caught in the door. As noted by both claimant and the officer, claimant held back until what he perceived as the last minute to take advantage of the go-back. Although the officer admitted that he saw the inmate running toward the door, it would be the inmate who then controlled whether he should proceed further. Officer Tatarka credibly explained that he did not see claimant in the door, and that when he felt resistance he immediately stopped, instructed the inmate to step back, and advised him that the go-back was over. It is unclear from the testimony what kind of a door was involved. If it was an electric one, for example, there might be a delay between the officer’s attempt to stop the closing process, and the door actually stopping. Similarly, if it was particularly heavy, such a delay might occur as well. Claimant did not establish how the door operated, except to say it opened in a particular direction that suggested less visibility for the officer rather than more visibility.

Claimant’s grievance document also does not mention any verbal interchange between two officers prior to this incident, suggesting that the trial testimony is an embellishment. The contemporaneous AHR notation for claimant’s visit to the facility hospital does not document the type of injury that might follow from being jammed in a door deliberately. Medical personnel did not note any marks in the applicable area of claimant’s body.

With regard to any claims of inadequate medical treatment, claimant received medical attention. There is no indication that the attention received was inadequate and he continued to receive medical attention. Even if claimant did, for some reason, not receive appropriate diagnostic testing immediately, absent any showing of increased harm no cause of action for delayed treatment or ministerial neglect is made out. Claimant did not establish that there was any deviation from accepted medical standards of care, through expert testimony, in any event.

Accordingly, the court is not convinced that a battery occurred, and that the State of New York should be held liable for this unfortunate accident.

Claim number 108867 is in all respects dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

September 21, 2007
White Plains, New York

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




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