New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DAWKINS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2007-044-021, Claim No. 104222


Claim for injuries incurred in inmate-on-inmate assault dismissed, where claimant made no showing that the attack was foreseeable

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: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
November 19, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, a former inmate proceeding pro se, brings this claim against defendant State of New York (defendant), alleging that he was assaulted on April 27, 2000 by a fellow inmate at Woodbourne Correctional Facility (Woodbourne) due to negligent supervision by the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). Trial of the matter was held in the Binghamton District on November 7, 2007.

At trial, claimant testified that on the date of the incident, he worked in Woodbourne's mess hall. He said that his supervisor had previously told him not to give more than one piece of turkey ham to any inmate, as there was not enough to go around.[1] During “early chow,”[2] Inmate Mantz passed through the line, and asked claimant for an extra piece of turkey ham, which claimant refused to give him. Claimant was acquainted with Inmate Mantz due to Mantz's position as a mess hall worker. He indicated that they had been on friendly terms prior to this altercation.

Slightly more than an hour later, claimant was in the mess hall on an errand.[3] Claimant said that Mantz gestured to him to come over to the table where Mantz was sitting. He said he expected Mantz to apologize for giving him a hard time about the turkey ham. Mantz instead stood up and hit claimant, which claimant stated came as a complete surprise. The altercation was broken up by correction officers and claimant was escorted to the infirmary, where he was treated for cuts inside his mouth. He did not require any follow-up treatment.

Claimant was thereafter put into keeplock and a misbehavior charge was filed against him for fighting in the mess hall. He was initially found guilty and given 30 days in keeplock. However, on appeal the finding was reversed. While he was in keeplock, claimant lost money due to being unable to work at his job in the mess hall, and further lost property when it was packed up from his cell for storage.

Officer DePaolo testified on claimant's behalf. He said that claimant regularly brought coffee for the staff, and was never hostile or disrespectful. He did not witness the assault. He said that assaults in the mess hall at Woodbourne were extremely rare, and that in fact, this was the only one he could recall. He was not aware of any dispute between claimant and Mantz, and had no idea that an attack was pending. He said that claimant had not advised him that claimant was in danger.

Officer Rogerson also testified. He recalled the incident, which occurred while he was posted at the mess hall. He indicated that claimant was not the aggressor, that Mantz clearly assaulted claimant, and that claimant responded by putting his hands up to protect himself. He said that claimant was never violent, disrespectful or a troublemaker. He did not know how many times Mantz hit claimant. Rogerson and two other officers responded and ordered Mantz to stop hitting claimant, which he immediately did. Rogerson did not recall claimant's physical condition after the assault. He said he was not aware of any problems between claimant and Mantz, and was not aware that an assault would take place. He also said there were very few fights in the mess hall at Woodbourne.

Sergeant Cohn testified for claimant as well. He remembered investigating the assault. He said that he only became aware of the problem between claimant and Mantz when he conducted the investigation. He corroborated the other officers' testimony that claimant was never violent or disrespectful. He indicated that the misbehavior report initially filed against claimant was eventually dismissed, although he did not recall why. He did remember claimant being escorted to the infirmary after the assault, and thought claimant might have had a cut on his lip. He was not aware that there was a problem between Mantz and claimant until after the fight.

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.

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 Mantz prior to the discussion about the turkey ham approximately one hour before the assault. Claimant testified that Mantz must have come back into the mess hall after eating his meal at early chow. He stated that it is against regulations for an inmate to re-enter the mess hall after having eaten. His contention was that the correction officers inappropriately allowed Mantz to re-enter the mess hall, which led to the assault. There was no testimony whatever that anyone - including claimant himself - anticipated that Mantz would assault claimant.

Claimant himself was clearly a model inmate, at least while he was at Woodbourne, and certainly did nothing to provoke the attack, other than follow the directions of his supervisor regarding the turkey ham. That the incident happened at all is unfortunate. However, Mantz's presence in the mess hall, approximately an hour after both his meal and the discussion between

claimant and Mantz, 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 upon which the Court previously reserved or which were not previously determined at trial are denied.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

November 19, 2007
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. Conversely, the claim states that DOCS rules prohibit inmates from having more than one portion of any item.
[2]. All quotes are taken from the Court's recording of the proceedings.
[3]. Claimant apparently routinely served coffee to the correction officers.