New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MARTINEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-044-006, Claim No. 109221


Notwithstanding the complete lack of credibility of defendant’s witness, claimant was unable to establish that defendant could reasonably foresee the attack on him by an unknown assailant. Defendant’s motion after trial to dismiss for failure to set forth a prima facie case is granted.

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:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Geoffrey B. Rossi, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 1, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, brings this claim against defendant State of New York (defendant), alleging that he was assaulted on October 18, 2003
by an unidentified fellow inmate due to negligent supervision by the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira). Trial of the matter was held at Elmira on January 25, 2007.
At trial, claimant testified that on the date of the incident, he worked in Elmira’s Mess Hall 4, which he described as essentially a large, square, open room. On that day, he was cleaning up after the inmates' evening meal, at around 5:30 to 5:45 p.m. Correction Officer David Carpenter, the correction officer supervising the mess hall, had locked the front door to the mess hall after the inmates finished their meal and left, as was normal practice. Claimant stated that Carpenter then exited through the back door of the room. Claimant did not know where Carpenter went.
At the time of the assault, claimant was wiping off a counter, standing approximately 2 to 3 feet in front of the back door to the mess hall, and 8 to 10 other inmates were also present in the room performing their clean-up chores. Claimant testified that at some point after Carpenter left, an unknown assailant entered the room through the door at claimant's back, slashed him on the right side of the face with a sharp instrument, and ran out the door, slamming it behind him. Because the door had a “slam lock,” claimant could not exit the room to seek help. Claimant said he reported the incident to Carpenter when he returned, 20 to 25 minutes later. In the meantime, claimant held rags to his face in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Claimant received an approximately seven-inch long laceration to his face, which was closed in the facility's infirmary with nine stitches and ten steri-strips.
Claimant offered no other witnesses, and rested his case at the close of his testimony. Defendant then moved to dismiss the claim for failure to establish a prima facie case and, in particular, for failure to show that the incident was reasonably foreseeable, upon which motion the Court reserved decision.
CO Carpenter testified on behalf of defendant. He said he never left the mess hall, that claimant did not report his injury until approximately 6:50 p.m., and that he never saw claimant being assaulted. He said there were approximately 50 inmates in the room as clean-up was over and the inmates were gathering there prior to returning to their cells. Defendant's counsel renewed the motion to dismiss at the close of defendant's case.
It was patently obvious, due to both the nature of his testimony and his demeanor, that Carpenter was not present in the mess hall when the attack occurred. Unfortunately for claimant, however, Carpenter’s complete lack of credibility has no effect on the outcome of the case. Consequently, the Court will not set forth his numerous self-serving statements and inconsistencies. Suffice it to say that Carpenter’s testimony was incredible in every respect.
In Sanchez v State of New York (99 NY2d 247, 255-256 [2002]), the Court of Appeals stated:
[t]he State owes a duty of care to inmates for foreseeable risks of harm; and that foreseeability is defined not simply by actual notice but by actual or constructive notice - by what the “State knew or had reason to know”, what the State “is or should be aware” of . . . 
Finally, we underscore that the State's duty to prisoners does not mandate unremitting surveillance in all circumstances, and does not render the State an insurer of inmate safety. When persons with dangerous criminal propensities are held in close quarters, inevitably there will be some risk of unpreventable assault, a risk the State cannot possibly eradicate. The mere occurrence of an inmate assault, without credible evidence that the assault was reasonably foreseeable, cannot establish the negligence of the State

(citations omitted; emphasis in original).

Claimant himself testified that he did not know an attack was pending, or that he was in danger from another inmate, and stated he had no known enemies. He contends that if Carpenter had been present, the attack could have been prevented, or at the very least, Carpenter could have identified the assailant. Obviously, these arguments are merely speculative, and there is no guarantee that the attack could have been prevented if Carpenter was present.
The absence of a correction officer in the mess hall is insufficient to support a finding of negligence in and of itself, without a showing of foreseeability. Because claimant raised no issue of foreseeability whatsoever, the claim must be dismissed.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss is hereby granted, and all other motions on which the Court previously reserved or which were not previously determined at trial are hereby denied.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.

March 1, 2007
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1].Although claimant states in his claim that the assault took place on October 18, 2003, the prior decision and order in this matter (Martinez v State of New York, Ct Cl, Mar. 19, 2004, Lebous, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-68029 [UID # 2004-019-529]) and all supporting documents and exhibits refer to an assault date of October 17, 2003.