New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
RICHINS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-038-103, Claim No. 125525

Synopsis

Case information

UID: 2020-038-103
Claimant(s): TROVER RICHINS
Claimant short name: RICHINS
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125525
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DeBOW
Claimant's attorney: TROVER RICHINS, Pro se
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES, Attorney General
of the State of New York
By: Heather R. Rubinstein, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: January 16, 2020
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an individual incarcerated in a State correctional facility, filed this claim seeking compensation for injuries he suffered when he allegedly contracted H. pylori from the drinking water at Green Haven Correctional Facility (CF) in 2014. The trial of this claim was conducted by videoconference on December 5, 2019, with the parties appearing at Green Haven CF in Stormville, New York and the Court sitting in Albany, New York. Claimant presented his own testimony and offered two exhibits that were received into evidence. Defendant called no witnesses and did not offer any documentary exhibits. After listening to and observing claimant's demeanor as he testified, and upon consideration of his testimony and all the other evidence received at trial, the applicable law, and the arguments of the parties at trial, the Court concludes that defendant is not liable to claimant for his injuries.

FACTS

Claimant testified that he arrived at Green Haven CF in August 2013 and that a few months later he began experiencing ulcer-like stomach problems. Claimant testified that tests confirmed that he was infected with H. pylori. The Court received into evidence a clinical report that reflects that claimant's stool tested positive for the H. pylori antigen on May 29, 2014 (see Claimant's Exhibit 1 [5/29/14 Clinical Report]). Claimant testified that he was medically treated and that he later tested negative for H. pylori. The Court received into evidence a clinical report that reflects that claimant's stool tested negative for the H. pylori antigen on October 3, 2014 (see id. [10/3/14 Clinical Report]). Claimant testified that he suffered stomach pain for more than a year after his exposure to H. pylori, as well as gastroenteritis and acid reflux.

Claimant testified that he believed that he contracted H. pylori from the drinking water at Green Haven CF because the water at the facility was "filthy at times"(1) and they did not announce boil water warnings. Claimant further testified that it was his understanding that the drinking water had been a problem at Green Haven CF "for years." Claimant testified that his doctor told him that there were "many places" within Green Haven CF from which he could have contracted H. pylori, especially since it had a large population confined within a small area.

On October 17, 2014, claimant filed a grievance with Green Haven CF seeking to have the drinking water treated to eliminate H. pylori (see Claimant's Exhibit 2, at p. 2 [Inmate Grievance Complaint No. 78096-14]).(2) The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (IGRC) responded to claimant's grievance on November 5, 2014 by noting that claimant "tested negative but water should continue to be treated" (id. at p. 3 [11/5/14 IGRC Response]). On November 7, 2014, claimant appealed the IGRC response to the Green Haven CF Superintendent, who affirmed the IGRC's decision on December 19, 2014, noting that "the facility's water is tested at least monthly by an independent laboratory" and that the facility's "water quality is in compliance with all New York State Health Department standards and applicable state drinking water operating, monitoring and reporting requirements" (id. at p. 4 [12/19/14 Superintendent Response]). On December 22, 2014, claimant appealed the Superintendent's decision to the Central Office Review Committee (CORC) (see id.), which upheld the Superintendent's determination on March 25, 2015, noting that Green Haven CF's "water is tested on a regular basis, is safe to drink, and the results are monitored by the NYS Department of Health" (id. at p. 5 [3/25/15 CORC Determination]).

DISCUSSION

After claimant rested his case, defendant moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that claimant failed to adduce expert proof in support of his claim. Claimant argued that this was a simple claim that did not require expert proof. Defendant renewed its motion to dismiss after it rested its case, and claimant opposed the motion. The Court reserved decision on both motions.

As an initial matter, claimant has failed to prove that he contracted H. pylori from the drinking water at Green Haven CF. Indeed, claimant testified that his doctor told him that there were "many places" within Green Haven CF from which he could have contracted H. pylori. Further, the evidence establishes that the drinking water was treated and tested at least monthly, and other than claimant's surmise and conjecture, there was no evidence adduced that the drinking water at Green Haven CF had tested positive for the presence of H. pylori. Even assuming that claimant did contract H. pylori from the Green Haven CF drinking water, claimant has not proven that Green Haven CF officials breached a duty of care to claimant. Rather, the evidence adduced by claimant establishes that the drinking water at Green Haven CF was tested at least monthly and complied with New York State Department of Health standards, and claimant has offered no proof - expert or otherwise - that Green Haven CF officials violated any standard of care in the monitoring and treatment of the facility's drinking water. Lastly, even had claimant proved that he contracted H. pylori from the Green Haven CF drinking water and that Green Haven CF officials violated a standard of care in its monitoring and treatment of the drinking water, in the absence of expert proof, claimant failed to establish prima facie that his injuries were caused by exposure to H. pylori (see Fulghum v State of New York, UID No. 2012-049-110 [Ct Cl, Weinstein, J., Sept. 4, 2012] ["As a general rule, a claimant cannot prevail on the basis of lay testimony when the question at issue is not 'a matter of common knowledge' . . . or 'within the ordinary experience and knowledge of lay persons' "], quoting Duffen v State of New York, 245 AD2d 653, 653 [3d Dept 1997] and Tatta v State of New York, 19 AD3d 817, 818 [3d Dept 2005]; see also Sawyer v Dreis & Krump Mfg. Co., 67 NY2d 328, 334 [1986] ["most medical conditions" and "beyond the understanding of laymen," requiring expert proof]).

CONCLUSION

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim at the conclusion of claimant's case is GRANTED, and claim number 125525 is DISMISSED. Any motions not previously ruled upon are hereby DENIED.

The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

January 16, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are to the audio recording of the trial of this claim.

2. The record is not consistent with respect to the filing date of claimant's grievance. The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (IGRC) indicated that it received claimant's grievance on October 17, 2014 (see Claimant's Exhibit 2, p. 1 [Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee Acknowledgement of Receipt]), but the grievance bears a stamp dated October 21, 2014, and the IGRC later indicated that the grievance was filed on October 21, 2014 (see id. at p. 4 [12/19/14 Superintendent Response]). On appeal, the Central Office Review Committee (CORC) indicated that the grievance was filed on October 17, 2014 (see id. at p. 5 [3/25/15 CORC Determination]).