New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
REMELT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-015-515, Claim No. 113319A

Synopsis

Pro se inmate claim alleging negligent security resulted in inmate-on-inmate assault was dismissed following trial.

Case information

UID: 2010-015-515
Claimant(s): MICHAEL REMELT
Claimant short name: REMELT
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 113319A
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: Michael Remelt, 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 17, 2010
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, a pro se inmate, seeks damages for injuries allegedly sustained in an inmate-on-inmate assault. The claim proceeded to trial on July 15, 2010.

In his claim Mr. Remelt alleges he was injured when he was attacked from behind by another inmate at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. In relevant part the claim asserts the following:

"While enroute to the messhall to eat, while being escorted by security staff, Claimant Remelt was assaulted by another inmate, causing Remelt to be knocked to the floor and cutting his face on a metal garbage can. The laceration to Remelt's face was above his right eyelid and required 20 stitches to close . . .

Prior to being escorted to the messhall, claimant Remelt had spoke with security staff, indicating that there was unrest in the housing unit and that he had feared for his safety because 'the word was out' that a particular inmate who also housed in the OMH unit, was going to assault Remelt . . ."

At trial the claimant testified that on January 17, 2006, while in the messhall at Great Meadow, Inmate Roy Ide told Mr. Remelt that he was God and that he was going to kill him. Claimant did not report the threat made against him to correction officers or any other prison official. On January 19, 2006 the claimant was attacked from behind while in the "messhall line" by Inmate Ide. Claimant concluded it was Inmate Ide who had attacked him because he observed the inmate in line behind him prior to the assault. Claimant was knocked to the ground and sustained a cut above his right eye when his head struck a steel garbage can.

On cross-examination claimant reiterated his prior testimony on direct examination that Inmate Ide had threatened to kill him on January 17, 2006. Claimant did not inform authorities regarding the threat because, in his words, "I didn't think I had nothing to worry about".

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".

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 [2002] [citation omitted]).

Here, the claimant failed to establish by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the risk of harm posed by Inmate Ide was reasonably foreseeable. No evidence establishing the defendant knew or should have known of the risk of harm to the claimant was presented at trial. In fact, claimant himself testified that he did not inform correction officials of the threat made against him because he did not think he had anything to worry about. Absent notice of the risk of harm, the Court cannot conclude that the assault on the claimant was a foreseeable result of any breach of duty on defendant's part (see Di Donato v State of New York, 25 AD3d 944 [2006]). 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 17, 2010

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims