New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HALL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-041-503, Claim No. 107826


Synopsis


Inmate claim of negligent supervision resulting in inmate-on-inmate assault is dismissed where claimant’s account of incident lacked credibility and claimant further failed to show that any negligence of defendant caused claimant’s injuries.


Case Information

UID:
2008-041-503
Claimant(s):
GARY HALL
Claimant short name:
HALL
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
107826
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant’s attorney:
GARY HALL, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Michael C. Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 16, 2008
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


Gary Hall (claimant) seeks damages for injuries he sustained as the result of an attack during which hot oil was thrown into his face on May 19, 2002, while he was an inmate at Clinton Correctional Facility (Clinton).

Returning from lunch at about 12:10 p.m. on May 19, 2002, claimant was assaulted on gallery 6 of C block. The basis of the claim is claimant’s assertion that defendant’s inadequate custodial supervision resulted in his assault, a byproduct of Correction Officer Fenton Thompson singularly overseeing the simultaneous return from lunch of both gallery 3 and gallery 6 of C company.

“Having assumed physical custody of inmates, who cannot protect and defend themselves in the same way as those at liberty can, the State owes a duty of care to safeguard inmates, even from attacks by fellow inmates” (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 252 [2002]). “This duty, however, is limited to providing reasonable care to protect inmates from risks of harm that defendant knew or should have known were foreseeable” (Di Donato v State of New York, 25 AD3d 944 [3d Dept 2006]). “The State . . . is not an insurer of inmate safety, and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the happening of an incident” (Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842, 843 [3d Dept 1994]).

In determining if the State provided reasonable care to protect an inmate from assault the court may consider whether the claimant had previous known encounters with his assailant or had listed his assailant on an “enemies list with the institution” (Elnandes v State of New York, 11 AD3d 828, 829 [3d Dept 2004]). The court may also consider whether the assailant was “a known dangerous prisoner” (Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929, 930 [3d Dept 1999]; see Wilson v State of New York, 36 AD2d 559 [3d Dept 1971]). Further, the court may consider whether “claimant was a known assault risk” (Stanley v State of New York, 239 AD2d 700, 701 [3d Dept 1997]).

The State’s potential liability for negligent supervision with respect to an inmate-on-inmate assault is not limited, however, to situations in which actual notice of a particular claimant's vulnerability or a particular assailant’s violent propensities can be shown. The State is also charged with the duty of protecting an inmate from reasonably foreseeable risks of harm based upon “what the State reasonably should have known--for example, from its knowledge of risks to a class of inmates based on the institution’s expertise or prior experience, or from its own policies and practices designed to address such risks” (Sanchez, 99 NY2d at 254).

The fact that a correction officer is not present at the exact time and place of an assault does not arise to an inference of negligence absent a showing that facility officials had notice of a reasonably foreseeable dangerous situation (Colon v State of New York, 209 AD2d 842 [3d Dept 1994]; Padgett v State of New York, 163 AD2d 914 (4th Dept 1990), lv denied 76 NY2d 711 [1990]).

A correctional facility superintendent has discretion to “provide for such measures as he may deem necessary or appropriate for the safety, security and control of correctional facilities” (see Correction Law § 137[2] and § 18[2]; see Matter of Shabazz v Portuondo, 260 AD2d 733 [3d Dept 1999], lv denied 94 NY2d 756). In general, courts should defer to prison authorities in matters of internal prison security (Matter of Blake v Selsky, 10 AD3d 774, 775 [3d Dept 2004]).

In addition to the testimony and demeanor of the claimant, the Court observed the testimony and demeanor of Captain Stephen Lacy, Correction Officer Thompson and Lieutenant Roland LaPier. Captain Lacy testified to the discretion given a correction officer in overseeing two galleries at one time. Correction Officer Thompson testified to the events of May 19, 2002, as he managed gallery 6 returning from lunch, and to procedures by which inmates receive hot water. Lieutenant LaPier testified to the results of the investigation he conducted concerning the circumstances of claimant’s assault. For reasons hereafter discussed, the Court, when presented with a series of conflicting accounts, credits the testimony of the correction officials and discredits the claimant’s testimony.

Simply stated, the claimant did not present as a credible witness. Initially, in an effort to buttress his claim of inadequate supervision, he testified that an entire gallery (up to 40 men) were permitted, at the same time, to crowd a narrow hallway and retrieve their own hot water from a slop sink, thus rendering officer supervision difficult. Correction Officer Thompson testified a “head feed-up guy” would, while the gallery went to lunch, fill the hot water pails of those inmates who had placed pails outside of their cells, making the filled water pails available to the inmates as they returned from lunch. The Court credits Correction Officer Thompson’s testimony on this point.

Claimant testified Correction Officer Thompson alone was overseeing the return of C Company, gallery 6 and gallery 3, from lunch. Correction Officer Thompson testified he was responsible for only gallery 6 on May 19, 2002 (a Sunday). Further testimony was heard that on weekends, two officers would cover two galleries and that one officer would not, in such a circumstance, oversee two galleries returning from lunch. The Court credits Correction Officer Thompson’s testimony.

Claimant testified that unknown assailants threw an unknown liquid in an unknown manner on his face, burning his eyes and his flesh. Although acknowledging the liquid was thrown from in front of him and thrown into the front of his face, he claims to have seen nothing prior to feeling the hot liquid on his face, and could provide no details of the attack. Without dispute, the liquid which burned claimant was ultimately determined to be hot oil.

Several documents were introduced which reflect that Correction Officer Thompson, upon interviewing claimant within minutes of the attack, reported in written form that claimant stated, “I drop my pail of water on the floor and the water splash on me.” Claimant denies ever having made that statement, argues the report account was fabricated and denies that is what occurred on May 19, 2002. The Court credits Correction Officer Thompson’s account.

Then Correction Sergeant LaPier conducted an investigation on May 19, 2002 and May 20, 2002 and concluded (Exhibit B) that the claimant was the victim of an attack by inmates Briscoe and Eldridge, in which hot oil was heated and thrown in claimant’s face. Both Briscoe and Eldridge were housed on C company, as was claimant. Eldridge, housed in C-6/29, was six cells from claimant, housed in C-6/23. Based upon his investigation, LaPier concluded the incident appeared to be gang-related, involving the “unauthorized gang known as the ‘Bloods’.”

Not only did claimant deny knowing inmates Briscoe and Eldridge, he even disclaimed knowing what the term “Bloods” meant, stating “Bloods, whatever that is.” The Court credits Lieutenant LaPier’s account.

The claimant’s account of the facts and circumstances surrounding his assault simply cannot, in any respect, be believed.

Moreover, the claimant acknowledged the attack occurred suddenly, and that he had never, prior to the assault, expressed any concern for his safety nor had he at any time sought protective custody. Finally, Lieutenant LaPier further testified that there were no prison records, prior to the attack, listing inmates Hall, Briscoe and Eldridge as “separatees,” to designate inmates potentially dangerous to each other. Accordingly, the attack was neither foreseeable, nor, in its suddenness, preventable.

To the Court’s mind, claimant clearly knew more about the facts and circumstances surrounding his attack, but chose to misrepresent those facts and circumstances, initially to correction officials immediately after the attack, and subsequently, in the prosecution of this claim. Moreover, even as described at trial, the claim must fail for all of the reasons set forth above. The claim is dismissed.

All motions not previously decided are hereby denied.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.


January 16, 2008
Albany, New York

HON. FRANK P. MILANO
Judge of the Court of Claims