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RANGOLAN v. COUNTY OF NASSAU

May 28, 1999

NEVILLE RANGOLAN AND SHIRLEY RANGOLAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE COUNTY OF NASSAU AND THE NASSAU COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

On March 9, 1996, Neville Rangolan (the "plaintiff" or "Rangolan") was assaulted by another inmate while in custody at the Nassau County Correctional Center ("NCCC"). Steven King, the inmate who assaulted Rangolan, was in custody as a result of Rangolan's cooperation with the Nassau County Police in connection with a "controlled buy" of crack cocaine. Due to Rangolan's cooperation that led to King's arrest, a computer entry was placed in the Housing and Assignment Department of the NCCC stating that the two inmates were not to be housed in the same jail area. Despite this express notification, King and Rangolan were permitted to be in the same "jail pod," and in close enough proximity for Rangolan to be assaulted by King and seriously and permanently injured.

As a result of this incident and the injuries he suffered, Rangolan filed a complaint that sets forth two causes of action. First, that the Nassau County Sheriff's Department violated his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the "Section 1983 claim") based on the deliberate indifference of the defendants. The second cause of action, a New York State common law claim, asserted that the defendants were negligent in permitting the two inmates to be housed in the same jail area notwithstanding the express warning noted in the computer. In addition, Rangolan's wife, Shirley, was named as a plaintiff in a derivative action seeking damages for the loss of services of her husband.

At the close of the evidence, the Court granted the defendant's motion for a judgment as a matter of law as it pertained to the Section 1983 claim. The Court held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the County was "deliberately indifferent" in permitting the two inmates to be housed together. In particular, the plaintiffs failed to prove that anyone at the NCCC actually knew that the two inmates were housed together. With regard to the negligence cause of action, the Court granted judgment as a matter of law, in favor of Neville Rangolan with respect to negligence and proximate cause. This was based, in part, on the admission by Correction Officer Donald Sherlock that he inadvertently failed to see the entry in the computer that indicated that Rangolan and King were not be housed in the same "jail pod."

After these decisions, the only remaining issues for the jury to decide, in the common law negligence cause of action, was (1) whether Rangolan was contributorily negligent; (2) if so, whether Rangolan's contributory negligence was also a proximate cause of his injuries; and (3) the amount of damages.

On April 27, 1999, the jury found that although Rangolan was contributorily negligent, his negligence was not a proximate cause of his injuries. In addition, the jury awarded damages to Neville Rangolan for his injuries and his past pain and suffering in the amount of $300,000 and $1,250,000 for future pain and suffering. The jury also awarded $60,000 to Shirley Rangolan for loss of services of her husband.

Pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the defendant made a timely motion for a new trial on the liability issues and on the issue of damages with respect to all three awards. The Court denied the defendant's motion based on an alleged inconsistent verdict as to the contributory negligence issue. Based on the evidence, the Court ruled that a reasonable jury could have determined that there was contributory negligence on the part of Rangolan, but that the vicious nature of the attack by King was the sole cause of the injuries.

The Court also denied the defendant's motion with respect to the jury award to Neville Rangolan in the sum of $300,000 for his injuries and past pain and suffering. However, the Court reserved decision with regard to the award of $1,250,000 for future pain and suffering and the $60,000 award to Shirley Rangolan for loss of her husband's services. The only issues presently before the Court, therefore, are whether the $1,250,000 award to Neville Rangolan for future pain and suffering and the $60,000 award to Shirley Rangolan's for loss of her husband's services deviate materially from what would be considered reasonable compensation for the injuries and residuals suffered.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the testimony adduced at the trial. Neville Rangolan is currently 36 years of age, and has a 39 year life expectancy. He was born in Jamaica, attended school to the sixth grade, and in 1980, at the age of 18, came to the United States. At this time, Neville Rangolan apparently is an illegal immigrant and is incarcerated while awaiting a deportation hearing scheduled for August, 1999. Neville and Shirley Rangolan were married in 1987 and have three children. In 1988, Neville began engaging in criminal activity involving the sale of cocaine and crack-cocaine. In 1990, he was arrested in Florida and extradited to New York where he plead guilty to attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree. Rangolan was sentenced to 6½ months.

After being released, Rangolan was arrested on a marijuana charge by Detective Charles App, a Nassau County Detective. At the suggestion of Detective App, Rangolan was enlisted as a confidential informant and made a "controlled-buy" from Steven King, which led to King's subsequent arrest. Despite his cooperation agreement, Rangolan apparently continued his criminal behavior. Shortly after assisting in the arrest of King, Rangolan was himself arrested for the sale of a controlled substance and plead guilty on August 8, 1996 to attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fifth degree. He was sentenced to 2-4 years on this charge. When Rangolan was arrested, Detective App informed Investigator Kenneth Williams in the NCCC that informant Rangolan and King must be housed separately. Williams prepared a memorandum stating that the two prisoners must be housed separately, and an entry was placed in the computer system with the same warning.

Correction Officer Donald Sherlock was assigned to the Housing and Assignment unit. His duty was to check and verify all admissions and reassignments of inmates and decide where they should be housed, based on the past history of the inmate and any other relevant factor that would necessitate the separation of inmates. There was no issue at trial that the computer used at the Housing and Assignment unit contained an entry that specifically warned that King was not to be housed with Rangolan. There was also another entry that King was not to be housed with another inmate named Jackson. According to Sherlock, when he looked at the computer entry, he saw that King and Jackson were not to be housed together. He testified that he was then distracted by a phone call and never saw the second entry that indicated that King and Rangolan must be kept apart. He testified that he just "missed" the King-Rangolan computer warning. Sherlock admitted that if he saw the computer entry he would have separated King and Rangolan. In addition, Sherlock indicated that at the time, he was the only correction officer who had access to the computer

As a result of Sherlock's admitted negligence, Rangolan and King were placed in the same location on March 8, 1996. Although there was a conflict in the testimony as to where Rangolan was assaulted and whether he was hit by King with a broom handle, it was not disputed by the defendant that on March 9, 1996 Rangolan was severely beaten by King while both men were housed together contrary to the express instructions in the computer. As a result of ...


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