Pro se inmate's claim alleging negligent security procedures in prison resulted in injuries sustained by claimant in an inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed following trial.
|Claimant short name:||GOETHE|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :||The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.|
|Judge:||FRANCIS T. COLLINS|
|Claimant's attorney:||Andre Goethe, 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:||September 15, 2010|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Claimant, a pro se inmate, brings this claim for injuries sustained when he was assaulted by an inmate at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. The claim proceeded to trial on July 15, 2010.
The claim filed on February 2, 2007 alleges, in pertinent part, the following:
"One [sic] the 26th day of December 2006, at approximately 12:30 p.m. the claimant was cut on the ear and pushed down the stairs by a Known Enemy, who is on the claimants Seperation [sic] "enemy" list, due to claimant and him having a prior altercation on the 26th day of January of 1998, which resulted in the claimant recieving [sic] a new sentence".
At trial Mr. Goethe testified that in January, 1998 he assaulted Victor Rosario in the holding area of Bronx Supreme Court. As a result of the assault claimant received a new, additional sentence of four to nine years upon his plea of guilty. Claimant testified that it was Victor Rosario who attacked him at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in December 2006. Claimant received a cut on his left ear which required three stitches to close.
On cross-examination the claimant admitted that he was processed into DOCS custody in July, 1998. During the intake process he was interviewed regarding family, health and other matters, including any enemies he may have within DOCS' facilities. Claimant did not, at that time, indicate he had any such known enemies. Furthermore, claimant confirmed on cross-examination that at no time between his intake processing in July 1998 and the assault which is the subject of this action in December 2006, did he inform DOCS personnel that Victor Rosario was an enemy or otherwise posed a threat to his safety.
The defendant called Timothy Lyman. Mr. Lyman testified that he is a supervising correctional counselor employed by the Department of Correctional Services, and that as part of his duties he is able to access and review various databases maintained by the Department. In this regard Mr. Lyman testified that he reviewed the claimant's separation list at the request of defense counsel prior to testifying in Court. The separation list (Exhibit A) is a two-page document, the first page of which lists the names and current status of individuals identified as persons to be kept separate from the claimant. At the time the exhibit was produced Richard Rosario was identified as a separatee of the claimant. Page two of Exhibit A, which provides various information underlying the inclusion of Mr. Rosario on claimant's separation list, indicates Mr. Rosario's name was added to the claimant's separation list and became effective on January 10, 2007. The general comments section on page two indicates that Mr. Rosario was added to claimant's separation list after the claimant identified Rosario as the individual who attacked him on December 26, 2006 at Great Meadow.
On cross-examination Mr. Lyman testified that he could not recall experiencing any problems or issues in his interaction with the claimant during 2006.
It is well settled that the State has a duty to safeguard inmates from attacks by fellow inmates. As stated by the Court of Appeals in Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247, 252 (2002):
"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. That duty does not, however, render the State 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" (Citations omitted).
In Sanchez, the Court of Appeals made clear that foreseeability is to be determined not only by what prison officials actually knew (actual notice), but also by "what the State reasonably should have known" (constructive notice) (Sanchez at 254, emphasis in original). "Although the precise manner in which the harm occurred need not be foreseeable, liability does not attach unless the harm is within the class of reasonably foreseeable hazards that the duty exists to prevent" (Sanchez v State of New York, 99 NY2d 247  [citation omitted]). Here, the proof failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that Inmate Rosario posed a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to the claimant.
The evidence adduced at trial indicates the defendant was not informed of the potential risk of harm posed by Inmate Rosario until after the assault on the claimant occurred. Claimant admittedly did not inform DOCS that Inmate Rosario posed a threat to his safety when he was processed into its custody in July 1998, or at any other time prior to the subject assault. In this regard, Mr. Lyman testified that Richard Rosario(2) was added to the claimant's separation list only after the assault occurred (see Exhibit A). To the extent the claimant relies upon the Inmate Status Report For Parole Board Appearance (Exhibit A, pp. 2 and 3) in which an assault by the claimant on another inmate is noted, his reliance is misplaced. Inmate Rosario is not identified in the report as the individual claimant assaulted. While the report does note that the claimant secreted a razor in his anal cavity in January 2003 because he felt threatened, the identity of the individuals posing the threat were not identified. Absolutely nothing in the report apprised correction officials of a threat posed by Inmate Rosario. Absent evidence that the defendant knew or should have known of the risk of harm posed by Inmate Rosario, the Court cannot conclude that the assault on the claimant was a foreseeable result of any breach of duty by the defendant. Accordingly, the Court concludes that claimant failed to prove negligence by a preponderance of the credible evidence.
Based on the foregoing, the claim is dismissed.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.
September 15, 2010
Saratoga Springs, New York
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims
2. While the claimant asserts both in his claim and at trial that he was assaulted by Victor Rosario, according to DOCS' records, he identified Richard Rosario as his assailant (see Exhibit A, p. 2).