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$95,000 Awarded After NY Court Officers Fail to Transmit Protective Custody Order to DOC and Rape Occurs

The Supreme Court of New York held that the Court of Claims erred when it dismissed a prisoner’s damages claim for injuries suffered when he was not placed in protective custody as had been ordered by the Criminal Court.

Kenneth H. was arrested on September 15, 1998 for grand larceny; he was arraigned in the Criminal Court of New York. Unable to post bail, he was remanded to the New York Department of Corrections (DOC) and placed in general population at the Manhattan Detention Center (MDC), where he was sexually assaulted by another prisoner several times between September 16 and 18, 1998.

At a September 18 court hearing, Kenneth’s attorney asked that he be placed in protective custody. The court wrote “Protective Custody” on Kenneth’s “Record of Court Action.”

However, upon his return to MDC on September 21, Kenneth was again sexually assaulted by the same prisoner. He complained to his attorney that he had not been placed in protective custody. On September 24 or 25, 1998, he was finally transferred out of general population.

Kenneth filed a claim against the state due to the failure to timely place him in protective custody. It was determined that court officers had the ministerial duty to process such special court orders and transmit them to the DOC, but that the order for Kenneth did not arrive until September 24. The Court of Claims denied Kenneth relief on the grounds that he had failed to show how the state officers had erred.

On review, the Supreme Court distinguished “discretionary acts” from “ministerial acts.”
The former involve an exercise of reasoned judgment while the latter require strict adherence to a governing rule with a compulsory result. In this case, the record indicated that a strict procedure and duty devolved from standing court procedures to transmit a protective custody order to the DOC. There was no discretion involved. As a result of the failure to perform their ministerial duty, the court officers were liable for the injuries suffered by Kenneth.

Accordingly, Kenneth’s damages claim was reinstated, liability against the state was established, and the matter was remanded for trial to determine damages. See: Kenneth H. v. State of New York, 36 A.D.3d 511, 828 N.Y.S.2d 355 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., 2007).

On remand, following emotional testimony by Kenneth regarding the sexual abuse he endured, the Court of Claims awarded him $95,000 in damages on June 18, 2008. See: Kenneth H. v. State of New York, Court of Claims (Albany, NY), Claim No. 101841. The damages judgment in this case is posted on PLN’s website.

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Kenneth H. v. State of New York

Kenneth H. v. State of New York