New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GRIFFITH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-015-512, Claim No. 110936


Claim for injuries sustained in inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed after trial. Claimant failed to establish negligent supervision.

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:
Joseph Griffith, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Stephen Maher, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 7, 2009
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The trial of this matter was held on November 6, 2008. The claim alleges the following:
"On the 26th day of March, 2005 at 3:35 p.m., at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in the City of Comstock, County of Washington, New York, an unknown inmate assaulted the claimant with an unidentified sharp instrument in E–block tunnel at Great Meadow Correctional Facility."

The claimant testified at trial that on March 26, 2005 he was assaulted and slashed from behind in the E-block tunnel at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. Claimant was returning from the facility recreation yard and contends that no correction officers were present in the E-block tunnel at the time of the incident. According to the claimant the incident would not have happened had the E-Block tunnel been properly supervised. Claimant sustained a four-inch scar on the left side of his face and a two-inch scar behind his left ear. His wounds required 39 stitches.

On cross-examination the claimant confirmed that he did not know the identity of the individual who attacked him and that he refused protective custody following the incident.

The defendant called Correction Officer Philip Smith to the stand. Officer Smith testified that on March 26, 2005 he was on duty in the corridor at the end of the E-block tunnel. At that time he observed a fight between the claimant and another inmate while a group of inmates were returning from the recreation yard. Inmates returning from the yard enter a rotunda and then a tunnel approximately 50 feet long which leads to E-block.

While on duty the officer observed the claimant and another inmate fighting. He instructed all of the inmates in the area to place their hands on the wall and directed the claimant and the other inmate to cease fighting. Claimant and the inmate were put on the wall and the witness observed that the claimant had been cut. Officer Smith testified that he was approximately twenty feet from the claimant when he first observed the fight and had an unobstructed view of the area although he did not observe how the fight started.

On cross-examination the witness testified that he was stationed in the doorway located at the entrance to E-block near the end of the E-block tunnel.

A hearing transcript was received in evidence as Exhibit 1. An Unusual Incident Report was received as Exhibit A. At the conclusion of the hearing claimant was found guilty of violent conduct and assault on another inmate.

"Having assumed physical custody of inmates . . . [defendant] owes a duty of care to safeguard inmates, even from attacks by fellow inmates" (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 252-253 [2002]). The duty imposed is not one of unremitting supervision as the State is not an insurer of inmate safety. "Like other duties in tort, the scope of the State's duty to protect inmates is limited to risks of harm that are reasonably foreseeable", including both risks of which the State is aware as well as those of which it should reasonably have been aware based upon its institutional expertise and experience (Id. at p. 253).

At trial the claimant testified that he was attacked by an unknown assailant. The defendant, however, produced the testimony of Correction Officer Smith who credibly testified that on the date in question he observed claimant engaged in a fight with another inmate in the E-block tunnel. Officer Smith testified that he was stationed at the entrance to E-block at the end of the tunnel, approximately twenty feet from the place where the fight occurred. As Correction Officer Smith was posted at the end of the E-block tunnel in close proximity to the location where claimant was injured it cannot be said that there was a failure to properly supervise the area. The fact that Officer Smith did not observe the fight until after it had started does not require a contrary finding. There was no proof prior assaults in the area required that additional steps be taken to provide inmates such as the claimant reasonable protection. Nor is there proof that the claimant was known to be at risk of assault or that the other inmate involved, if he was in fact the attacker, was known to be dangerous.

Based upon the proof received at trial the claimant failed to establish that the defendant was negligent by a preponderance of the evidence. As a result, the claim is dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 7, 2009
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims