New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GOODSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-015-076, Claim No. 115196, Motion Nos. M-75125, CM-75198


Claimant alleges causes of action arising from the State's failure to implement a therapeutic diet prescribed by medical personnel. Constitutional claims were dismissed as was the claim based on the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLVIPA). Claim for ministerial negligence was sustained.

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:
Jeffery Goodson, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Belinda A. Wagner, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:

Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, moves "for an order pursuant to 3211 (b), dismissing defendant's defense contained in their [sic] Answer." Defendant cross-moves for an order granting summary judgment dismissing the claim on the ground that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the claim. Claimant alleges that he is a member of the religion of Islam and that "[t]he one common ground is, Allah is God, and no eating of the pig or hog" (see claim, p. 3). In addition to the religious prohibition against eating pork, the claimant alleges he is allergic to eggs and unable to eat red meat because it makes him sick. As a result of these dietary constraints, on February 26, 2008 he was prescribed a therapeutic diet requiring "[m]oderate protien [sic], low sodium / potassium / phosphorus" [Exhibit A annexed to Claim, Therapeutic Diet Request Form and Attendance Agreement). Claimant alleges he was threatened and harassed by the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility Food Services Manager beginning on or about February 27, 2008, the date when he first provided the manager with the Therapeutic Diet Request Form. He alleges the following in this regard[1]:
4. On or about February 27, 2008, claimant showed his Therapeutic Diet paper (please see exhibit) to the food service manager, Mr. Flecther, and upon leaving the messhal, over heard Mr. Flecther, state to the other food service personel. "If he (claimant) miss one meal, write his ass up". Thereafter, harrassment, mistreatment and interfacing with claimant's medical treatment, which continue for approximate one (1) month. For example; poorly prepared food, forgetting to bring Therapeutic Diet, (on or about March 13, 2008). There were other times, claimant received, 1 slice of white bread, 8 slices of carrots, 2 or 3 table spoons of rice and some red meat. Other times claimant received about a ½ lb of cooked rice, with extra water. All the time, consistently being asked, when am I going to get off the diet?

Claimant alleges that because he was the only inmate on a therapeutic diet "this was making extra work for the food service personel" (claim, ¶ 5) and that the "fraudulent policy or custom, under which unconstitution practices occurred . . . caused stree and depression to the point that claimant was forced off the Therapeutic Diet" (claim, ¶ 6). Claimant alleges that he was forced to discontinue the therapeutic diet on March 24, 2008 and that the State was negligent in "interfaring with medical treatment" (claim, ¶ 2) . As the result of this conduct the claimant alleges he was caused to suffer stress and depression and the loss of eight to ten pounds.
Claimant also alleges that he consumed Shrimp Cup of Soup purchased from the commissary which, unbeknownst to him, contained pork. He alleges that it was the practice of prison personnel to notify inmates of products containing pork but that no such notification was made with respect to the Shrimp Cup of Soup until April 16, 2008[2]. Claimant alleges that this "act of gross negligence by the defendant, which caused a gross violation within claimant's religion, which cause claimant, the consumption of the forbidden food (pork)" (claim, p. 3-4). Claimant alleges that as the result of this conduct he "can not enjoy his rights under the State of New York Constitution, to exercise his Religion" (claim, p. 5).

In support of his motion to dismiss defendant's defense the claimant attempts to argue the merit of his claim but fails to support dismissal of any one of the five defenses raised in the answer. Accordingly, claimant's motion is denied.

Defendant's cross-motion asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claims alleging a violation of the New York State Constitution to the extent they do not arise under either the equal protection clause or the search and seizure provisions thereof. The defendant also alleges the Court lacks jurisdiction over any claim under the United States Constitution, including one alleging a violation of the claimant's right to exercise his religious beliefs.

To the extent this claim alleges causes of action under the New York State or the United States Constitution, the Court agrees that the claim must be dismissed. Although it is settled that a violation of the New York State Constitution may give rise to a cause of action in tort, the right is a narrow one and may not be invoked where there is an alternative avenue of redress (Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83 [2001]). Here, an alternative avenue of redress clearly existed. Correction Law § 610 (1) entitles inmates to "the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference" and § 610 (3) requires that an aggrieved inmate "institute proceedings in the supreme court . . ., which is hereby authorized and empowered to enforce the provisions of this section" (see e.g. Matter of Cancel v Goord, 278 AD2d 321 [2000]; Green v State of New York, UID # 2008-037-020, [Ct Cl, May 13, 2008] Moriarty, J.; Gill v State of New York, 13 Misc 3d 1223 [A] [2006]). The availability of the express remedy provided in the Correction Law makes recognition of a constitutional tort cause of action unnecessary to vindicate claimant's rights. To the extent a cause of action under the New York State Constitution can be inferred from the claim, it must therefore be dismissed.

To the extent a cause of action under the United States Constitution is alleged, it too must be dismissed. It is well settled that the State is not a "person" subject to suit under 42 USC § 1983 (see Will v Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 US 58 [1989]; Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172 [1996]; Welch v State of New York, 286 AD2d 496 [2001]). Because a cause of action under the federal constitution may not be brought in the Court of Claims, this cause of action must be dismissed. The claim also makes mention of a violation of the "Religious Land Use" statute, apparently referring to the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). This statute provides, in part, that “[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . .” (42 USC 2000 cc-1 [a]). A claim under RLUIPA, which was effective September 22, 2000, falls under none of the enumerated types of actions that can be brought in the Court of Claims (see Court of Claims Act § 9; Green v State of New York, supra; Gill v State of New York, supra). Thus, the Court lacks jurisdiction over this claim.

Affording this pro se inmate's claim the benefit of a liberal construction, it alleges damages arising from the ministerial neglect of food personnel in failing or refusing to implement the therapeutic diet prescribed by medical staff at the prison. With respect to this cause of action, defendant failed to establish its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment. The claim sufficiently alleged that a therapeutic diet had been prescribed (7 NYCRR 1704.8) and that facility food personnel failed to provide the prescribed diet resulting in damages to the claimant (see generally Kagan v State of New York, 221 AD2d 7 [1996]). Defendant failed to negate these allegations by tendering evidence in admissible form demonstrating the absence of a material issue of fact (Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320 [1986]; Friends of Animals v Associated Fur Mfrs., 46 NY2d 1065 [1979]). Accordingly, defendant's cross-motion is denied to the extent it sought dismissal of claimant's cause of action for ministerial neglect arising from the defendant's alleged failure to implement the therapeutic diet prescribed by prison medical staff.

Based on the foregoing, claimant's motion to dismiss defendant's defenses asserted in its answer is denied and the defendant's cross-motion to dismiss the claim is granted in part and denied in part in accordance with this decision.

Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion filed June 10, 2008;
  2. Affidavit of Jeffery Goodson sworn to June 3, 2008 with exhibits;
  3. Notice of cross-motion dated July 3, 2008;
  4. Affirmation of Belinda A. Wagner dated July 3, 2008 with exhibits.

[1].All quotes are taken directly from the claim.
[2].The date the claimant consumed the Shrimp Cup of Soup was not alleged in the claim.