New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MURRAY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-040-021, Claim No. 108470


Synopsis


Claimant-prisoner failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that State was negligent in connection with a housing transfer and a fall while he was carrying property bags.

Case Information

UID:
2009-040-021
Claimant(s):
JOEL MURRAY
Claimant short name:
MURRAY
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
108470
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
CHRISTOPHER J. MCCARTHY
Claimant’s attorney:
Joel Murray, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: Michael C. Rizzo, Esq., AAG
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
February 4, 2009
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, Joel Murray, has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the State of New York was negligent in connection with a housing transfer, and injuries he allegedly sustained in a fall when he was carrying his property bags while incarcerated at Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone, New York (“Bare Hill”). The trial of the Claim was held by video conference on November 14, 2008, with the parties at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, and the judge at the Court of Claims in Saratoga Springs, New York. There were two witnesses: the Claimant and Nurse Maribeth J. Warner.


On August 7, 2003, Claimant was informed that he would be transferred from the G-1 Dorm at Bare Hill (see Ex. 1, p. 21). Claimant asserted he had been placed in the G-1 Dorm for medical reasons and filed a grievance protesting the transfer. He further asserted that the Inmate Grievance Review Committee (“IGRC”) rendered a “Deadlocked Decision.” One committee member did recommend “as [Claimant] was placed in Dorm G-1 based upon his medical condition, that he should not have been moved from that dorm unless so directed by medical” (Ex. 3, p. 2). However, on September 25, 2003, the Acting Superintendent of Bare Hill denied the grievance on the basis that the G-1 Housing Unit is not a medical dorm or infirmary (Ex. 3, p. 3).

Claimant stated that he was not transferred at that time but that, on September 16, 2003, he was told he was being transferred from the G-1 Dorm to the M-2 Dorm, which is in the annex part of Bare Hill (see Ex. 1, p. 22 and Ex. 2, p. 4). Claimant stated he was improperly transferred because a facility doctor had ordered that he be housed in the main part of the facility, not the annex, on account of medical issues (see Ex. 2, p. 4). He maintains that again he protested, but that a sergeant who had been present at the first grievance stated that Claimant’s medical records did not indicate that reasonable accommodation with respect to housing was required. Claimant asserts that, when he went to sick call on two occasions, the nurse said that he had to be housed in the main facility. On September 26, 2003, he was moved back to a dorm in the main facility. Claimant says that the officer in charge at Dorm M-2 required Claimant to carry his own, very heavy, bags, although he protested that he was restricted from heavy lifting by the doctor. While attempting to carry a duffel bag weighing approximately 100 pounds, Claimant fell and struck his head (see Ex. 2, p. 11).

On cross-examination, Claimant was referred to his Department of Correctional Services (“DOCS”) medical records (Ex. A). Those records include a copy of the Inmate Injury Report for Claimant’s September 26, 2003 fall. Under the heading “Inmate’s Statement” is written:
“‘I had a seizure ‘cause I was stressed,’ I had a seizure because the Doctor told me due to my high blood pressure and stress” (Ex. A, p. 2).
Claimant stated the Nurse at the infirmary told him to write that statement. He did not know what happened. The inmate who was helping him carry his property to his new housing assignment told him his knees buckled, he fell and hit his head (see also Ex. 2, pp. 16, 20).

On cross-examination, Mr. Murray testified that he has taken anti-seizure medicine at times, but that he had stopped taking it at the time of the accident because he asserted the medical staff was “harassing” him. On redirect examination, Claimant stated that he had a big lump on the back of his head as a result of the fall and that an ice pack was applied to it.

The State called Maribeth J. Warner, R.N., as a witness. Nurse Warner testified that she has been a registered nurse since 1983, has been employed by DOCS since 1990 and works at Bare Hill. On September 26, 2003, she was the nurse on duty when Claimant was brought to the infirmary a little after 10:00 a.m. Nurse Warner testified that any statement noted on the Inmate Injury Report (Ex. A, p. 2) under the heading “Inmate’s Statement” that is within quotation marks are the inmate’s own words. She recorded under the heading “Nature of Injury” that Claimant complained he was not able to carry his own property from one dorm to another; that he was stressed and claims he “hit back of head during ? [questionable] seizure – no masses palpated.” She stated that there was no indication in the report that Claimant had a problem with his back or legs. She also testified that the documentation does not indicate that an ice pack was necessary or used since no lumps were detected on Claimant’s head.

Nurse Warner further testified that she never conspired with security staff to have Claimant moved to a new housing unit. She stated she is not involved with the movement of inmates.

The Amended Claim sets forth two causes of action: (1) for injuries suffered when Claimant was moved from the main facility to the annex on September 16, 2003 in violation of regulations and medical department instructions; and (2) for injuries suffered when Claimant was forced to carry a heavy bag on September 26, 2003 and, as a result, fell and hit his head.

To establish a prima facie case of negligence, Claimant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the credible evidence that: (1) Defendant owed Claimant a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) Defendant’s breach of duty was a substantial factor in the events that caused the injury suffered by Claimant (see Derdiarian v Felix Constr. Co., 51 NY2d 308, 315 [1980]; Kampff v Ulster Sanitation, 280 AD2d 797 [3d Dept 2001]; Patrick v State of New York, 11 Misc 3d 296, 320 [Ct Cl 2005]; PJI 2:10, 2:70).

The State has a duty to maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances (Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 513 [1984]; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998 [1983]; Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 [1976]; Bowers v State of New York, 241 AD2d 760 [3d Dept 1997]). The State, however, is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850 [1985]; Muhammad v State of New York, 15 AD3d 807 [3d Dept 2005]; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874 [3d Dept 1993]).

The Court has considered all evidence, including a review of the exhibits and listening to the witnesses testify and observing their demeanor as they did so. The witnesses provided generally sincere and forthright testimony. Nevertheless, the Court finds that Claimant did not meet his burden of proof and failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that Defendant was negligent.

Claimant did not establish his cause of action regarding the September 16, 2003 move to the annex. Claimant’s Exhibit 2 (p. 10)[1] is a copy of the Bare Hill Superintendent’s decision, dated December 24, 2003, in connection with Claimant’s grievance regarding the dorm move. The Superintendent stated in his decision:
“It appears the medical staff was contacted by Sgt. I. prior to you being moved from G1 to the Annex with no apparent documentation restricting this move.

When you chose to attend the messhall for your meals, the duration of time it took you to walk from your housing unit to the messhall was so lengthy that upon your arrival the serving lines were broken down thus resulting [in] you being afforded a bag meal to be consumed at your leisure, upon your return to your housing unit.

Upon receiving your letter of complaint, your medical folder was reviewed and it was found that in fact you had a medical restriction to remain in the Main Compound and you were subsequently moved back to the Main on September 23, [sic] 2003, addressing your medical needs.

There was no evidence that this action of you being moved was done through malicious intent. It appears an error was made when reviewing your medical records originally, and was corrected as soon as it was brought to our attention.”
The Superintendent denied Claimant’s grievance.

Claimant’s Ambulatory Health Record (AHR) entry for October 8, 2002 (contained in Defendant’s Exhibit A) confirms that a doctor directed that Mr. Murray be transferred to the main facility and further indicates that the program committee was so notified. AHR records, dated September 18, 2003 and September 25, 2003, likewise, bolster Claimant’s contention that nurses told him on two occasions that he was supposed to be housed in the main facility (see Ex. A).

The Court concludes that Claimant has established that Defendant owed him a duty of care and that it appears that duty was breached by his September 16, 2003 transfer. Claimant has failed to establish, however, that Defendant’s breach of duty was a substantial factor in any injury suffered by Claimant. The September 18, 2003 AHR entry notes that Mr. Murray was upset because he had been moved to the annex, but the only treatment indicated was a prescription for medication to address acid reflux. The September 25, 2003 AHR entry states that Claimant had been denied his special diet because he was unable to get from the annex to the mess hall in time. The Court notes that the original Claim asserted a cause of action for physical injuries caused by Claimant’s inability to obtain his special diet it for a period of time. Claimant was permitted to file an Amended Claim, however, in which, among other things, he elected not to pursue that branch of his original Claim (see Murray v State of New York, Ct Cl, Claim No. 108470, Motion No. M-74070, November 30, 2007, McCarthy, J. [UID No. 2007-040-063]). In any event, Claimant failed to establish what injuries, if any, he suffered to the extent he was unable to adhere to his special diet during the period he was housed in the Bare Hill annex. Therefore, the Court finds that Claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence a case of negligence for this cause of action.

The Court will now address Claimant’s second cause of action regarding the September 26, 2003 fall. Claimant’s Exhibit 2, p. 19[2] is a copy of the decision of the Bare Hill Superintendent, dated December 1, 2003, regarding Claimant’s grievance for being forced to carry heavy bags from the annex to the main building. The Superintendent stated in pertinent part:
The officer provided a written statement that you were assigned to move from the Annex to the Main housing. There were no carts available. You did not inform him of any medical restriction. He told you to have another inmate friend help you carry your property. He had discussed the matter with a supervisor.

The Sergeant reported that after you fell on the blacktop, you were transported to the Infirmary accompanied by medical staff.

There was a medical note dated 10/3/03, signed by a physician providing a 20 lb. restriction and that you cannot sit for more than one hour. There was no restriction note for 9/26/03. There was no evidence that staff acted inappropriately toward you. Staff provided proper direction to have you complete your housing unit move based upon the circumstances at that time.

Grievance denied.
Claimant included as part of Ex. 1 (pp. 33, 35) copies of an October 8, 2003 Memorandum from Linda Turner, Deputy Superintendent/Programs, to Claimant and an October 3, 2003 Memorandum from the Medical Department to the Program Committee, signed by a physician, each of which state that Claimant cannot lift items over 20 pounds or sit for periods longer than one hour. Claimant’s medical records also include another Memorandum from the Medical Department to the Program Committee, signed by the same physician, on October 8, 2002. That memo, dated nearly a year before Claimant’s fall, likewise, states that Mr. Murray cannot lift items over 20 pounds or sit for periods longer than one hour (see Ex. A). Thus, the Court determines that the Bare Hill Superintendent was mistaken when he asserted that there was no restriction note in effect on September 26, 2003.

Accordingly, the Court concludes that Claimant has established that Defendant owed him a duty of care and that it appears that duty was breached when Mr. Murray was forced to carry a heavy bag on September 26, 2003. Claimant has failed to establish, however, that Defendant’s breach of duty was a substantial factor in any injury suffered by Claimant. After Mr. Murray fell, he was taken to the infirmary and evaluated. Claimant’s AHR for that date confirms that nurse Warner evaluated him and recorded his vital signs. She testified that her notes indicate that Claimant’s vital signs were stable and that his neural status was within normal limits. She recorded that “no symptoms/signs of post-seizure activity [were] noted.” The entry also states that “no treatment [was] needed” (see Ex. A). Claimant’s medical records further indicate that he received regular medical attention in the weeks following his fall. Aside from a few stray subjective complaints by Mr. Murray that his back and head hurt after the incident, nothing in those records establish, or even corroborate, that Claimant suffered any injuries that can be attributed to his fall. Moreover, the record is not clear whether the fall itself occurred because Claimant’s legs buckled under the heavy load he was carrying, or because he suffered a seizure that may have been provoked by his election to stop taking his anti-seizure medicine. Claimant himself cannot recollect the incident.

Therefore, Claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence a case of negligence for this cause of action.

The Court finds that Claimant has failed to establish his Claim by a preponderance of the credible evidence. All motions and cross-motions made at trial are now denied as moot. Any objections upon which the Court reserved decision during trial, and not addressed herein, are now overruled.
The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment dismissing the Claim.


February 4, 2009
Albany, New York

HON. CHRISTOPHER J. MCCARTHY
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1].This document is also contained in Ex. 4. It is p. 2 of that Exhibit.
[2].This document is also contained in Ex. 5. It is page 2 of that Exhibit.