New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GRIFFITH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-044-015, Claim No. 109351


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: Carol A. Cocchiola, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
October 1, 2008

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, brings this claim against defendant State of New York (defendant), alleging that he was assaulted on January 20, 2004 by a fellow inmate due to negligent supervision by the Department of Correctional Services at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira). Trial of the matter was held in the Binghamton District on July 31, 2008.
At trial, claimant testified that after he had performed his usual job working in the mess hall at Elmira on the date of the incident, he was playing cards while seated in Mess Hall 2. He said that an unknown inmate approached him from behind and slashed him across the face. He put his hand up to protect himself, and he was also cut on the wrist. Claimant was taken to the infirmary, where he was treated with 16 sutures to close a 4½-inch laceration to his right cheek, and 3 sutures to treat a 1-inch laceration to his right wrist. Claimant waived protective custody (Defendant’s Exhibit A), and was then placed in either administrative segregation or involuntary protective custody (IPC)
pending a hearing.
Claimant testified that he had previously been put into IPC on January 5, 2004. Claimant testified that he was confined at that time after prison officials received a note indicating his life was in danger. On cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that he had come to his program activity that day with a laceration to the head which took four sutures to close. Claimant said that he had received the injury during a recreational basketball game several days prior to that. Claimant admitted that he received a misbehavior “ticket” for failure to report the injury. However, claimant continued to cite his belief that prison officials had received “a note or whatever”
indicating a threat to claimant as their basis for putting him in IPC. Claimant also admitted that, when a protective custody hearing was held on or about January 5, 2004, claimant stated that he did not believe he was in danger and did not want to be placed in protective custody. Claimant was apparently released back into general population, where he subsequently received the injuries underlying this claim.
Lieutenant Thomas Evans
also testified at trial. He stated he had a fairly good recollection of investigating this incident. After receiving a tip from a confidential informant regarding the identity of the assailant, he presented claimant with a photographic lineup. Claimant identified his assailant from the lineup.
Evans confirmed that his investigation revealed that claimant had been put into IPC on January 5, 2004. However, contrary to claimant’s testimony, Evans stated that the reason claimant had been put into IPC was because prison officials were uncertain whether he had received his injury from a fight or from a collision during a basketball game. He said that claimant told his block officer that he might have been in a fight, but did not remember. Claimant was issued a misbehavior report for failure to report an injury. After the IPC hearing, claimant was released back into general population.
Evans also testified that Correction Officer (CO) Squires was on duty in the mess hall and scullery on January 20, 2004, when claimant was attacked. Evans said that Squires was making his rounds at the time of the assault, consistent with his duties.
The State must provide inmates with reasonable protection against foreseeable risks of attack by other inmates (Blake v State of New York, 259 AD2d 878 [1999]). Despite this obligation, however, the State is not the insurer of the safety of inmates, and the fact that an assault occurs does not give rise to the inference of negligence (Sebastiano v State of New York, 112 AD2d 562 [1985]). In order to establish that the State is liable for such an assault, an inmate claimant must allege and prove that the State knew or should have known that there was a risk of harm to the claimant which was reasonably foreseeable and inadequately addressed (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247 [2002]; see also Flaherty v State of New York, 296 NY 342 [1947]).
The only evidence presented at trial that defendant knew or should have known that claimant was at risk of harm was claimant’s own testimony that prison officials had received “a note or whatever” indicating that claimant was in danger, thus precipitating claimant’s placement in IPC on January 5, 2004. However, this testimony was sharply contradicted by claimant’s own admission on cross-examination that he had come to his program activity (working in the mess hall) on January 5, 2004 with a laceration to his head, and that he received a disciplinary ticket for his failure to report the injury. This letter testimony was consistent with Evans’ testimony that claimant was placed in IPC on January 5, 2004 because prison officials were uncertain how claimant received the injury with which he appeared in the mess hall on that day. There was no other evidence which might have confirmed claimant’s contention that prison officials had received a note indicating claimant was in danger.
The Court finds that events transpired exactly as testified to by Evans: that claimant was somehow injured on or before January 5, 2004, and when he appeared in the mess hall with the injury giving contradictory explanations regarding how he received it, he was placed in IPC pending a hearing. Claimant’s own testimony at that hearing, as confirmed by him at trial, was that he received the injury in a basketball game. Accordingly, there was no need to keep him in IPC, and further, no basis for defendant to believe claimant was in any danger. Moreover, claimant’s testimony that prison officials had received “a note or whatever” indicating that claimant was in danger was not consistent with the rest of claimant’s testimony, and his testimony on that point was not credible. Claimant has not shown the element of notice of foreseeability of harm necessary to prove his claim.
Claimant also contended that if CO Squires had been physically present in the room at the time, the attack could have been prevented, or at the very least, CO Squires could have identified the assailant.
Obviously, these arguments are merely speculative, and there is no guarantee that the attack could have been prevented if CO Squires had been present.
The absence of a correction officer in the mess hall is insufficient to support a finding of negligence in and of itself, without a showing of foreseeability. Because claimant did not meet his burden of proof regarding foreseeability, 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.

October 1, 2008
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. Claimant’s Exhibit 5 is an IPC recommendation form, which indicates that claimant was placed in IPC. However, Claimant’s Exhibit 2, a “To-From” memo from Sergeant Evans, who testified at trial, indicates that claimant was actually recommended for administrative segregation. At trial, Evans indicated that he originally recommended IPC, but that the recommendation had been changed by his watch commander to administrative segregation. Despite the lengthy discussion of the two types of custody, however, the Court finds that the nature of the confinement used by prison officials after the assault on claimant is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
[2]. All quotes herein have been taken from the Court’s recording of the proceedings, unless otherwise noted.
[3]. At the time of the incident, Evans was a sergeant, and was in charge of the mess hall.
[4]. Claimant ultimately identified his assailant, so whether CO Squires could have identified the assailant at the time of the assault is irrelevant.