New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

REYNOLDS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-039-064, Claim No. 108744


Claimant Roy Reynolds seeks damages for injuries he allegedly sustained when he fell from his top bunk while incarcerated at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Claimant asserts, among other things, that defendant failed to implement a medical order changing his assignment to a bottom bunk. A trial was conducted on June 21, 2007, and the Court now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

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):

James H. Ferreira
Claimant’s attorney:
Gary E. Divis, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Dennis ActonAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
February 21, 2008

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


During July 2001, while claimant was incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility, his request for a lower bunk was granted by prison officials based upon the existence of a medical condition (Claimant’s Ex “11”; T 134).[1] Claimant was subsequently transferred to Coxsackie Correctional Facility during May 2003 where, following a medical record-screening review to determine claimant’s placement in a double cell, medical personnel for the Department of Correctional Services (hereinafter DOCS) concluded that there were “known medical indications [- back problems -] requiring him to be placed in a bottom bunk bed” (Claimant’s Ex “10”).Claimant’s medical records reveal that he was seen by Dr. Robert Chaloner on May 6, 2003 at Coxsackie Correctional Facility (Claimant’s Ex “13.2”). Dr. Chaloner’s notes reveal that claimant suffers from a preexisting degenerative disc condition, and that Chaloner provided him with a prescription for percogesic which was to be taken by claimant as needed (Claimant’s Ex “12” and “13.2”). On June 11, 2003 claimant was transferred to Dorm 1of the prison mess hall where he was assigned a top bunk in cube 9 (Claimant’s Ex “8”; T 53, 139). That same day, claimant informed a DOCS officer that “he cannot be on [the] top bunk” whereupon claimant was advised by the DOCS officer that he would need to sign up for sick call in the morning (Claimant’s Ex “20.1”; T 148-150). Claimant was taken to sick call on June 12, 2003 at 7:10 AM where he was seen by nurse Joan Sperry (Claimant’s Ex “13.2”; T 77, 150). Sperry testified that claimant’s exhibit “14” contained the policy for placing inmates in lower bunks at the time of claimant’s accident (T 71). The policy stated that inmates requesting placement in a lower bunk “must meet or have one of [various] clinical criteria” including “[d]ocumented back problems through physician review and approval (e.g., radiologic or surgical)” (Claimant’s Ex “14”). Sperry further testified that on June 12, 2003 she determined that claimant should be placed in a bottom bunk and notified the Locator of her determination (T 78). Although Sperry did not have an independent recollection of notifying the Locator, she testified that normally she would notify the Locator by telephone and send him a memorandum at the conclusion of sick call (T 78).

Claimant offered the testimony of Correction Officer James McKeown who worked in the Locator’s Office of Coxsackie Correctional Facility at the time of claimant’s accident (T 41-42). McKeown testified that sick call starts at 6:00 AM and, “on an average”, would end around 8:30 AM (T 57-58). He testified that the Locator’s responsibility is to monitor inmates’ movements in and out of the facility, including facility transfers, daily counts and the transfer of inmates to different cells, such as the mess hall (T 42). The Locator is responsible for the assignment of bunks in two bunk cells, and that no distinction is made among inmates in making those assignments unless the Locator is notified by medical personnel that, based upon an inmate’s medical history, he must be placed in a bottom bunk (T 49-50). McKeown further testified that the Locator maintains a log of transmittals from the Medical Department with notations as to “first floor only or bottom bunk only” (Claimant’s Ex “8”; T 50). The procedure for bunk assignments was confirmed by Correction Officer Robert DiPrima, the second officer assigned to Dorm 1 at the time of claimant’s accident (T 99-101). A copy of the Locator’s log was admitted into evidence and reveals that on June 12, 2003 claimant was transferred from the top bunk of cube 9 to the bottom bunk of cube 9 within the mess hall (Claimant’s Ex “8”; T 53). The transfer from the top bunk to the bottom bunk was effective that date (Claimant’s Ex “8"). McKeown further testified that the housing officers were probably notified of claimant’s change from the top to the bottom bunk before 11:00 AM on June 12, 2003 (T 63).

Claimant testified that he did not actually move to a bottom bunk on June 12, 2003 but, rather, that he spent the night of June 12, 2003 on the top bunk (T 155, 192). Claimant’s testimony in this regard was not disputed. The next morning claimant reported to work in the mess hall (T 156). Shortly thereafter, following claimant’s refusal to obey an order from Officer DiPrima, he was directed to “pack up” and he returned to his cube (T 157, 172-173). Sometime after 8:00 AM, DiPrima observed claimant standing in his cube when he went to inform claimant that he was keeplocked as a result of a misbehavior report that had been written (T 112). Claimant packed his personal belongings and climbed onto the top bunk (T 158 ). Thereafter, DiPrima brought claimant a lunch tray (T 157-159, 229). When claimant attempted to descend from the top bunk to retrieve his lunch, he fell (T 159-165). In describing his fall, claimant testified, in relevant part, that he began his descent with his legs “facing the foot of the bed” and

“I put my left side over, my left leg, put it over the bed rail, right? Then it’s on - - it was on the bed, that one rail. Then I lowered it to the locker.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I got my [left] foot on the locker - -

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I tried to put my right leg over the rail, over the bed rail, the top. I grabbed and tried to slide it over, because I got to swing it over to get it back, and I caught a cramp in mid air, and I’m holding the bed with my left. I had my [left] foot down on the locker.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Left foot on the locker, and I’m holding the bed rail with my left hand, and I reached back and I grabbed my thigh when I caught a cramp, a Charlie horse, and I was in such pain and I was bouncing around, and then I lost my grip, felt kind of lightheaded, and my knee, my right knee, strikes the locker because my left leg gave out, couldn’t support myself. Then I said, oh, and I kind of pealed off of the small locker and that’s - - the thing fell, the locker fell down, the locker fell, and I fell against the - - where I slid off I fell and I felt like my head hit the radiator cover, shoulder. I was laying against it. It hit my buttocks or my lower back on a concrete floor, and I called for help.

It is well settled that “[t]he State owes a duty to provide for the health and care of inmates” (Levin v State of New York, 32 AD3d 501, 502 [2006]). “Nonetheless, ‘the scope of the State’s duty to protect inmates is limited to risks of harm that are reasonably foreseeable’ ” (id., quoting Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 253 [2002]). “Moreover, ‘[a]lthough the precise manner in which the harm occurred need not be foreseeable, liability does not attach unless the harm is within the class of reasonably foreseeable hazards that the duty exists to prevent’ ” (Levin v State of New York, supra, quoting Sanchez v State of New York, supra at 252). “[A] cause of action sounding in ordinary negligence” (Smith v State of New York, Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J., October 14, 2004, UID #2004-018-340, Claim No. 106573) may be premised upon the failure to abide by a “professional medical direction” (Mossman v Albany Med. Ctr. Hospital, 34 AD2d 263, 264 [1970]). Moreover, “[m]inisterial neglect may also be in issue where there is proof that the State failed to follow its established protocols” (Smith v State of New York, supra).

After considering the proof adduced at trial, and the demeanor of the witnesses called to testify, the Court concludes that defendant is 100% liable for the injuries sustained by claimant on June 13, 2003 when he fell from the top bunk of cube 9 at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Although the precise manner in which claimant fell may not have been foreseeable, claimant’s medical records and the directives by DOCS medical personnel assigning him to a bottom bunk establish that it was reasonably foreseeable that claimant would fall from the top bunk on June 13, 2003 (Claimant’s Ex “12” and “13”). The Court further concludes that defendant was negligent in failing to abide by the June 12, 2003 medical order to transfer claimant to a bottom bunk. Claimant demonstrated that the normal practice by DOCS medical personnel was to notify the Locator of a change in bunk assignment by telephone and to send the Locator a memorandum at the conclusion of sick call (T 78). Claimant went to sick call at 7:10 AM on June 12, 2003 where it was determined by DOCS medical personnel that he should be placed in a bottom bunk (Claimant’s Ex “13.2”; T 77-78, 150). Sick call concluded at approximately 8:30 AM (T 57-58). Claimant further demonstrated that the housing officers were probably notified of a change in claimant’s bunk assignment before 11:00 AM on June 12, 2003 (T 63). Moreover, the Locator’s log contains an entry indicating that on June 12, 2003, one day prior to claimant’s fall, he was moved to the bottom bunk of cube 9 (Claimant’s Ex “8”; T 53). Based upon the foregoing proof, the Court concludes that the Locator was aware of the change in claimant’s bunk assignment within a reasonable period of time prior to claimant’s accident.

Accordingly, the Court finds that defendant is 100% liable for claimant’s injuries, and the Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed to enter an interlocutory judgment in conformity herewith. Any motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED. The claim will be scheduled for trial on the issue of damages as soon as possible.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

February 21, 2008
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All page references, unless otherwise indicated, are to the single volume trial transcript and are preceded by “T”.