New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

COOKE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-031-504, Claim No. 109415


Claimant failed to demonstrate that State was negligent in preventing assault upon him by other inmates. Claim dismissed

Case Information

1 1.The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only proper Defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only proper Defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Defendant’s attorney:
New York State Attorney General
BY: BONNIE GAIL LEVY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 26, 2008

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, Jamel Cooke, filed claim number 109415 on May 28, 2004, alleging that the State of New York was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault. I conducted a trial of this matter on May 27, 2008, at Auburn Correctional Facility (Auburn).

Claimant testified that on April 19, 2004, while he was incarcerated at Auburn, he was assaulted by other inmates as he was returning to his cell after breakfast. Mr. Cooke testified that, as he left the mess hall that morning, a number of other inmates got up with him. According to Claimant, these inmates were all members of a prison gang known as the “Bloods.” They pushed him along out of the mess hall and into the recreation yard. He was surrounded so he rushed back into the D Block corridor, where he was followed and assaulted. He stated that the Bloods had heard that his father was in the music business and they were trying to extort money from him. The primary assailant was an inmate he identified as Ramel, also known as “Fingers.” During the assault, Claimant was slashed on the left side of his face, and is left with a permanent scar.

According to Claimant, he met this Ramel approximately two days before the assault. He was approached and was asked for money. Claimant stated that the day before the accident he wrote to the Deputy Superintendent for Security and a Sergeant Kuela informing them that he feared for his safety. He also stated that one of the officers in his company had asked him what was going on between him and the Bloods prior to the assault.

On cross-examination, Claimant admitted that there was no mention of the Bloods in his claim and that, in his claim, he indicated that he did not know why he was assaulted but believes it was to rob him of a chain or because they thought he was someone else.

Also on cross-examination, Claimant indicated that he had only been at Auburn for a very short period of time prior to the assault. Upon arrival at Auburn, Claimant had indicated that he had no known enemies at Auburn and that, to his knowledge, he did not need protection and there was no reason he could not be in general population.

Defendant called Lieutenant Michael Ouimette in defense of the claim. Lieutenant Ouimette was the watch commander, or ranking officer in charge of the facility, at the time of Claimant’s assault. He testified that, although Claimant claimed that the assault occurred at 8:00 a.m., he did not report the incident to staff until approximately 1:00 p.m. that day. He indicated that he could find no evidence that Claimant had given any notice that he was in danger, written or otherwise, to any member of the Auburn staff prior to the incident. He also indicated that there are always officers stationed throughout the block and in the yard any time there are inmates moving from the mess hall. According to Lieutenant Ouimette, Claimant’s testimony that no officers were present would be impossible, as the officers were necessary to open the various gates to let inmates back onto their respective companies.

The State is required to use reasonable care to protect the inmates of its correctional facilities from foreseeable risks of harm (Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342), including the foreseeable risk of attack by other inmates (Dizak v State of New York, 124 AD2d 329; Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562). The State is not, however, an insurer of the safety of its inmates (Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, lv denied 76 NY2d 711; Casella v State of New York, 121 AD2d 495), and negligence will not be inferred from the mere happening of an incident (Mochen v State of New York, 57 AD2d 719; Van Barneveld v State of New York, 35 AD2d 900). The standard of care is that of reasonable supervision (see Castiglione v State of New York, 25 AD2d 895), and factors to be considered include whether there was a history of animosity between a claimant and his attackers of which the State was or should have been aware (see Hull v State of New York, 105 AD2d 961; Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559; Hann v State of New York, 137 Misc 2d 605, 608-609).

In claims arising from inmate assaults, the central issue is whether the State had notice of the risk of harm and an opportunity to intervene in a way that would have prevented the assault, but failed to do so (Huertas v State of New York, 84 AD2d 650). In Sanchez v State of New York (99 NY2d 247), the Court of Appeals explained that the State can be liable if the assault upon an inmate was reasonably foreseeable and the State failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the assault.

In this instance, Claimant failed to demonstrate that the State had notice that a dangerous situation existed prior to the assault. Absent such notice, unremitting supervision was unnecessary (see Hirsh v State of New York, 8 NY2d 125; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914, supra; Carlino v State of New York, 30 AD2d 987, 988).

I find that Claimant has failed to demonstrate that his assault was reasonably foreseeable or that Defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from the unexpected and unprovoked assault. Additionally, when the only allegation relating to notice is that Claimant had trouble with a gang rather than specific known individuals, the State cannot be held liable (Savoca v State of New York, Ct Cl, December 3, 2003 [Claim No. 98982], Ruderman, J., UID No. 2003-010-037).

Accordingly, claim number 109415 is hereby DISMISSED.

Any and all other motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined are hereby denied.


September 26, 2008
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims