New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SEASE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-030-006, Claim No. 111456


Inmate claimant failed to establish after trial that correction officers at Green Haven Correctional Facility used more force than was necessary to subdue him, as he engaged in violent fisticuffs with one or more officers. Did not establish that medical care received inadequate. Court is not obligated to accept claimant’s testimony when he is the only witness, because a court is always required to assess the credibility and consistency of any witness offered, and has done so in this case finding claimant not credible

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:
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 3, 2008
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


John Sease alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents at Green Haven Correctional Facility [Green Haven] used excessive force against him amounting to a battery, and thereafter failed to provide adequate and timely medical care. A unified trial of the matter was held on March 20, 2008.

At the trial, Mr. Sease testified that on December 12, 2004 a fellow prisoner, inmate Ibnbrodie, got into a discussion concerning behavior on the chow line with one of the correction officers - Officer Burch - on the way to the noon meal. The correction officer had been telling the group to quiet down and such, and inmate Ibnbrodie pointed out to the officer that they were “allowed to talk”, as long as they used a “low tone.” [1]

When Mr. Sease and the others later returned from the chow run at about 12:30 p.m., two or three officers pulled inmate Ibnbrodie out of the company for what appeared to be a routine pat/frisk, placing him against the wall to perform the task. At the time the other inmate was pulled from the company, Mr. Sease had been walking toward the back some distance away. As Mr. Sease “walked” up to the area where the other inmate was being searched, claimant asked the inmate if he “was all right and what was going on.” Claimant testified that for a routine pat/frisk there would not normally be so many officers involved, which caused him concern. The inmate responded that he was “all right.” Correction officers told claimant to mind his own business. Claimant responded by saying that he was.[2]

Mr. Sease testified that he then observed an officer strike the other inmate on the head, and Mr. Sease made an outcry of some kind such as “what are you doing?” and then was struck himself with a baton by “Officer Booth.” There was a “little struggle. Officer Meano also gets involved with Officer Booth” and Mr. Sease, and they “struggled.” Mr. Sease said: “somehow we ended up switching places, where I was where Ibnbrodie was and he was where I was - catty-cornered - a response team came, and started doing the things that they do, and I was subdued down on the ground . . . subjected to kicks, stomps, and twists what have you . . . ” Mr. Sease said he was “laid down, handcuffed, shackled, thrown up into the corner.” He was then taken to the special housing unit [SHU]. He testified that it was as a result of this incident, that he sustained the injuries alleged in his claim.

Mr. Sease testified that he suffered injury to his “ACL and LCS damage to [his] right knee”, and seeks damages in the amount of two million dollars.

Claimant submitted some medical records [Exhibit 1]; photographs of his injuries taken at the time of the incident [Exhibit 2]; and some documents concerning the misbehavior report issued and its resolution. [Exhibit 3].

On cross-examination claimant conceded he received a misbehavior report as a result of this incident, a hearing was held, and he was found guilty of violent conduct [7 NYCRR §270.2 [B] [5] [ii] 104.11], creating a disturbance [7 NYCRR §270.2 [B] [5] [iv] 104.13], assault on staff [7 NYCRR §270.2 [B] [1] [ii] 100.11] , interference with an employee [7 NYCRR §270.2 [B] [8] [i] 107.10] and refusing a direct order [7 NYCRR §270.2 [B] [7] [i] 106.10]. He confirmed he was sentenced to ninety (90) months in SHU. When he appealed the sentence, it was modified to seventy-two (72) months, and the charge of refusing a direct order was dismissed. Read the text of the misbehavior report, however, Mr. Sease insisted the events had not occurred as described therein.

The misbehavior report, written by correction officer L. Serrano states:
“At approximately 12:15 PM on 12-12-04 on the flats of A-Block you inmate J. Sease . . . did assault C.O. J. Burch and A. Meano. You used a closed fist to punch C.O. Burch in his face. This blow caused C.O. Burch to lose control of his baton. You then grabbed his baton and struck C.O. Burch several times to his upper torso area. These blows staggered C.O. Burch. You then used this baton to [strike] . . . C.O. Meano several times to his upper torso and head as he was struggling with inmate Ibnbrodie . . . Your actions were violent in nature and caused serious injuries to both C.O. Burch and Meano. The injuries were serious enough to cause both C.O.s Burch and Meano to receive outside medical assistance at St. Francis Hospital. Further your actions caused a disturbance to the proper order of this facility for approximately three hours.” [Exhibit 3].

Mr. Sease argued on redirect that there were inconsistences about the charges, particularly the fact that the officer writing the misbehavior report, L. Serrano, describes claimant’s use of a baton to strike Correction Officer Burch, yet did not charge claimant with using a weapon: “another DOCS violation.” Additionally, he testified that in sworn testimony at the disciplinary hearing - one page is included in Exhibit 3 - Officers Burch and Meano stated that claimant did not possess or use a baton. Claimant indicated that the other inmate involved, Ibnbrodie, also testified at the disciplinary hearing, and “took responsibility that he was the one who had the baton and struck Officer Burch.”

No other witnesses testified.

A report of inmate injury form for the incident, completed by medical personnel at Sullivan Correctional Facility [Sullivan] when claimant “reported for medical treatment” on December 14, 2004 after his transfer to that facility’s SHU, notes that the claimant was “being restrained” at the time of the injury. [Exhibit 1]. The physician’s assistant notes the injury occurred at Green Haven A-Block on December 12, 2004, and that claimant’s “[right] knee twisted, [left] ankle twisted [and right] ankle twisted.” [Exhibit 1]. The court notes that the information contained in notes from Sullivan would have been reported by the claimant himself, not any medical personnel immediately examining claimant at the time of this incident.

The balance of the medical records submitted by claimant concern later treatment commencing in January 2005, and ending with what appear to be surgical suggestions or reports dated June 2005. [Ibid.]. A consulting orthopedic surgeon’s report to medical personnel at Upstate Correctional Facility, dated March 3, 2005, references injury to claimant’s knee “about a year ago . . . [that] was aggravated in an altercation with the corrections officer when they twisted his knee.” [Ibid.].

Black and white photographs, apparently taken by facility personnel at the time of this incident and submitted by claimant do not show the extent of his injuries because they are simply too fuzzy. [See Exhibit 2].

The only excerpt from the testimony at the disciplinary hearing offered in evidence contains the following colloquy:

“INMATE JOHN SEASE: Could you ask him if at any time was the baton used?

HEARING OFFICER DROWN: At any time, CO Meano, did you see a baton being used?


INMATE JOHN SEASE: No further questions.” [Exhibit 3].
With regard to the asserted claims of delayed or inadequate 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. Claimant has the burden of proof and must prove (1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice and (2) evidence that such deviation was the proximate cause of the injury or other damage. Significantly, a medical expert’s testimony is necessary to establish, at a minimum, the standard of care. Spensieri v Lasky, 94 NY2d 231 (1999).

If a claim can be read to allege simple 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).

In this case, only the testimony of the Claimant has been presented in support of any claim of malpractice or neglect. No competent medical evidence was presented, through a treating physician or an expert witness whose opinion was based upon the available medical records, to support the allegation of medical malpractice. There is thus no proof that accepted standards of care were not met.

Even if claimant did, for some reason, not receive appropriate testing or treatment immediately, absent any showing of increased harm, no cause of action for delayed treatment or ministerial neglect is made out. From this record there is no indication that the actions of medical caregivers amounted to simple negligence or ministerial neglect. Coursen v New York Hosp.-Cornell Med. Ctr., supra; Kagan v State of New York, supra. To the extent the claim can be read to assert such theories, any cause of action for negligence or ministerial neglect is also dismissed.
Use of physical force against an inmate is governed by statute, regulation, and the attendant case law. The statute provides in pertinent part “. . . [w]hen any inmate . . . shall offer violence to any person, . . . or resist or disobey any lawful direction, the officers and employees shall use all suitable means to defend themselves, to maintain order, to enforce observation of discipline,[and] to secure the persons of the offenders . . . ” Correction Law §137(5). As set forth at 7 NYCRR § 251-1.2 (a), an officer must use “. . . [t]he greatest caution and conservative judgment . . . in determining . . . whether physical force is necessary; and . . . the degree of such force that is necessary.” Once an officer determines that physical force must be used, “. . . only such degree of force as is reasonably required shall be used.” 7 NYCRR § 251-1.2(b). The State may be liable for the use of excessive force by its employee - constituting a battery - under the concept of respondeat superior. See Jones v State of New York, 33 NY2d 275, 279 (1973); Court of Claims Act §8.
To assess whether force was necessary, or whether the particular degree of force used was reasonable, “. . . a Court must examine the particular factual background and the circumstances confronting the officers or guards (see e.g., Lewis v State of New York, 223 AD2d 800; Quillen v State of New York, 191 AD2d 31; Brown v State of New York, 24 Misc 2d 358). . . [T]he credibility of witnesses will be a critical factor in these determinations (Davis v State of New York, 203 AD2d 234; McKinley v State of New York, decision, Claim No. 97500 & 97648, dated Sept. 22, 2000, Lebous, J.).” Kosinski v State of New York, UID # 2000-028-0012, Claim No. 97581 (Sise, J., Nov. 30, 2000 ).

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, assessing the internal consistency of their accounts, and the court is never bound to credit a particular fact. Indeed, “. . . ‘[i]f everything or anything had to be believed in court simply because there is no witness to contradict it, the administration of justice would be a pitiable affair’ (Punsky v. City of New York, 129 App Div 558, 559; Matter of Nowakowski, 2 NY2d 618).” Brennan v Bauman & Sons Buses, 107 AD2d 654, 655 (2d Dept 1985); accord, Lucks v Lakeside Mfg., Inc., 37 AD3d 666 (2d Dept 2007); see 1A PJI 3d 1:41, at 55-56 (2006).

In this case, the only witness to testify concerning the incident was Mr. Sease. Certainly the court is not obligated to accept his testimony, because a court is always required to assess the credibility and consistency of any witness offered, and has done so in this case.

The court also notes that this incident did not occur in a vacuum, but in a prison setting. There are always more inmates than correction officers in any given location, and it is noted that most of the case law describing events resulting in violent conduct - whether it is between correction officers and inmates, or among inmates alone - involve the particularly precarious time when men are being moved from one location to another. In order to maintain order in this volatile setting, outnumbered correction officers cannot be required to be answerable to inmates for a decision to select one inmate out of the line for a pat/frisk. Officers attending to inmate Ibnbrodie, were not required to answer to Mr. Sease upon his inquiries. They were allowed to “struggle” with Mr. Sease when he persisted in his interference as he himself described his own actions. This is not a setting where the players are equal. Based upon the other contemporaneous accounts submitted by claimant in evidence, this “little struggle” involved at least four officers and shut down the entire facility for more than three (3) hours. [See Exhibit 3].

The testimony of the claimant, who impressed the court as an intelligent and resourceful individual, was simply not credible, from his assertion that his inquiries about inmate Ibnbrodie’s welfare were but mild chatter, that he “walked” forward to make these mild inquiries, to his minimization of the situation he created as a “little struggle.” He generalized the actions of Officers Burch and Booth into one officer he called Booth at first, and then called Burch. The contemporaneous reports filed by those with a business duty to make such reports confirm the scenario presented on December 12, 2004 as a very significant disturbance to the order of a facility housing dangerous individuals. [See Exhibit 3].

There was no evidence, other than the self-serving testimony of the claimant, that any force was used after he was restrained. His own direct examination showed that when claimant was under control, officers escorted him out of the area. Indeed, the version presented by claimant describes physical actions taken by the correction officers consistent with standard “take-down” maneuvers. No contemporaneous medical evidence was submitted to substantiate injury. The amount of force used was what was reasonably necessary to restrain an otherwise agitated and belligerent inmate. Cf. Lewis v State of New York, supra.

When cross-examined claimant confirmed that he was charged as described in the misbehavior report, convicted, and acknowledged that he was given a very long sentence of over seven (7) years in SHU. Even after modification of the appeal of this sentence, the administrative tribunal confirmed all but one of the charges, and maintained a very long sentence of six (6) years in SHU.

Mr. Sease confirmed that he engaged in violent fisticuffs with one or more officers. While admitting to some of the behaviors, he maintained that he did not utilize a baton as was charged. Any failure to charge claimant with an additional facility rules violation - within the discretion of the charging officer - does not support a version of events in which claimant’s role is minimized, and Inmate Ibnbrodie confesses to the use of a baton. Similarly, the minimal colloquy presented in the partial transcript offered by claimant, taken out of context and without foundation, is not persuasive. Moreover, whether claimant did or did not use a baton is not the issue. The question is whether he was subjected to force that was not commensurate to the violence he himself offered. At trial, he did not deny that he struck officers, nor did he deny a struggle, although he attempted to minimize it.

Accordingly, as the trier of fact and law, charged with assessing the credibility of witnesses and evaluating the evidence, the court finds that the testimony offered by claimant, measured against his demeanor as he testified, as well as all contemporaneous accounts of the incident he placed in evidence, was not credible, and claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the State of New York should be held vicariously liable for the conduct of its agents in using more than the force necessary to subdue him.

Claim Number 111456 is hereby dismissed in its entirety.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

April 3, 2008
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All quotations are to trial notes or audiorecordings unless otherwise indicated.
[2]. The court notes that defendant voiced “a standing objection to the hearsay” at this point in the testimony. Although same was duly noted, clearly a large part of this testimony was part of the res gestae and therefore not hearsay in any event.