MURRAY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-040-021, Claim No. 108470
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.
Footnote (claimant name)
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name)
CHRISTOPHER J. MCCARTHY
Joel Murray, Pro Se
ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General of the State of
New YorkBy: Michael C. Rizzo, Esq., AAG
February 4, 2009
See also (multicaptioned
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.
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 ;
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 ; Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997, 998 ;
Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241 ; 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
; 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
Claimant did not establish his cause of action regarding the September 16, 2003
move to the annex. Claimant’s Exhibit 2 (p.
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
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
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
The Court will now address Claimant’s second cause of action regarding
the September 26, 2003 fall. Claimant’s Exhibit 2, p.
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.
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
HON. CHRISTOPHER J. MCCARTHY
Judge of the Court of
.This document is also contained in Ex. 4. It
is p. 2 of that Exhibit.
.This document is also contained in Ex. 5. It
is page 2 of that Exhibit.