New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HAMILTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-015-500, Claim No. 112080


Pro se inmate claim alleging injuries resulting from an inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed following a trial.

Case information

UID: 2010-015-500
Claimant short name: HAMILTON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 112080
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Claimant's attorney: Abdel Hamilton, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Kent Sprotbery, Esquire
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: January 12, 2010
City: Saratoga Springs
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, a pro se inmate, alleges the defendant was negligent in failing to protect him from an assault by another inmate. The claim proceeded to trial on September 9, 2009.

Claimant testified that he was threatened by inmate Ronald Mask during "chow" on May 23, 2005 at approximately 5:00 p.m. According to the claimant, Mask became aware that he was the subject of ridicule and, believing claimant to be the source, threatened him and advised him to bring a knife to recreation that evening. During the call-out for recreation at approximately 6:40 p.m., claimant advised a correction officer of the threat and requested to speak with a supervisor. Claimant exited his cell and was escorted by two correction officers located approximately four to five feet behind him. As they approached the company gate where two additional correction officers were stationed, Mask stabbed claimant from behind. The wounds required 13 sutures to close. The Unusual Incident Report received in evidence as claimant's Exhibit 1 reflects that the claimant was the victim of an assault by another inmate on May 23, 2005.

On cross-examination claimant testified that Mask was known to have psychological problems so he was uncertain whether or not the threat was a serious one. Nevertheless, he informed the correction officer at the time of the recreation call-out that Ron in cell number 24 had threatened to stab him. Although attendance at evening recreation was not required, claimant opted to take the opportunity to speak with a supervisor regarding the threat which had been levied against him. Claimant admittedly could have remained in his cell and spoken with a correction officer during the evening rounds at 10:00 p.m. As claimant approached the gate, escorted by the two officers behind him, he observed Mask standing near the gate. Claimant neither identified Mask as the individual who threatened him nor otherwise requested permission to return to his cell. Instead, he walked past Mask and was attacked from behind.

Defendant called Thayne Preve who was a Correction Officer at Great Meadow Correctional Facility when the assault occurred. Officer Preve testified that inmates are returned to their cells after the evening meal and are "locked-in" for approximately 1 to 1 hours prior to recreation. Inmates are required to sign-up for recreation but can decide not to attend without penalty. The cell doors are opened for 6 to 10 seconds at which time the inmates exit their cells and line up at the end of the block. Hourly rounds are performed by the Block officer and two correction officers accompany the inmates down the tier to recreation. Officer Preve testified that if a threat had been made known to him, he would have returned the inmate to his cell. No such threat had been communicated to him, however. The witness was stationed at the front of the gallery near the "bubble" on the evening of the occurrence. He observed the claimant come through the gate and enter the stairwell at which time inmate Mask came "flying" through the door and attacked the claimant in the stairwell. The witness and another correction officer were just outside the gate when the incident occurred and the inmates were immediately directed to stop fighting. The incident happened "very fast", according to the witness.

On cross-examination, the witness testified that Mask was housed in cell number 24 and the claimant was housed in cell number 32. Thus, in order for Mask to get behind the claimant, he must have stopped or slowed down. Officer Preve testified that prior to the assault, Mask walked past him in order to reach the claimant. Officer Preve testified that inmates generally walk at their own pace and are not required to line up until they reach the bottom of the stairs. Although the witness was unsure where the two escort officers were at the time of the attack, he testified that they may have been performing an inmate count. This concluded the trial testimony.

"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]; see also Vasquez v State of New York, 68 AD3d 1275 [2009]; Di Donato v State of New York, 25 AD3d 944 [2006]). This duty does not require "unremitting surveillance in all circumstances," nor does it cast the State in the role of an insurer of inmate safety (Sanchez, 99 NY2d at 256; see also Auger v State of New York, 263 AD2d 929 [1999]). Rather, the scope of the duty is limited to risks of harm that are reasonably foreseeable, which includes not only what the defendant knew but what it should have known (id. at 253, 255-256; see also Smith v County of Albany, 12 AD3d 912 [2004]; Elnandes v State of New York, 11 AD3d 828 [2004]). In limiting the State's duty to foreseeable risks of harm, the Court in Sanchez acknowledged that assaults can and will occur despite proper supervision, stating:

"When persons with dangerous criminal propensities are held in close quarters, inevitably there will be some risk of unpreventable assault, a risk the State cannot possibly eradicate. The mere occurrence of an inmate assault, without credible evidence that the assault was reasonably foreseeable, cannot establish the negligence of the State" (Id. at 256).

In the Court's view, the evidence adduced at trial fails to establish that the assault upon the claimant was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's negligence. While the claimant testified that he informed correction officers of the threat made by inmate Ron, whose last name he did not then know, he also admitted that he failed to identify the inmate or point him out to the escort officers as they approached the gate for evening recreation. Notably, claimant testified that even he was uncertain whether or not Mask's threat was a serious one and the correction officers present at the time of the assault appeared "shocked". Crediting the testimony of Correction Officer Preve that the assault occurred "very fast" and that the correction officers present acted expeditiously to stop it, the Court cannot conclude that the injuries sustained by the claimant were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's negligence.

Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the claimant failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the defendant was negligent in the supervision of inmates in its control. Accordingly, the claim is dismissed.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

January 12, 2010

Saratoga Springs, New York


Judge of the Court of Claims