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Iannelli v. County of Nassau

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

December 20, 2017

Carol Iannelli, et al., respondents,
v.
County of Nassau, et al., appellants. Index No. 600/13

          Argued - October 13, 2017

         D54141 O/hu

          Carnell T. Foskey, County Attorney, Mineola, NY (Robert F. Van der Waag of counsel), for appellants.

          Buttafuoco & Associates, PLLC, Woodbury, NY (Ellen Buchholz and Jin Kim of counsel), for respondents.

          WILLIAM F. MASTRO, J.P. L. PRISCILLA HALL ROBERT J. MILLER VALERIE BRATHWAITE NELSON, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for personal injuries, etc., the defendants appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Feinman, J.), dated March 7, 2016, which denied their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

         ORDERED that the order is affirmed, with costs.

         The injured plaintiff, and her husband suing derivatively, commenced this action against the County of Nassau and the Nassau County Police Department (hereinafter together the defendants), inter alia, to recover damages for personal injuries after the injured plaintiff, while detained at the Seventh Precinct station house, jumped out of the second floor window in an attempt to commit suicide. The complaint alleged causes of action to recover damages for negligence, assault and battery, civil rights violations pursuant to 42 USC § 1983, and loss of consortium. The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that they had no knowledge of the injured plaintiffs risk of suicide. The Supreme Court denied the motion, and the defendants appeal.

         The Supreme Court properly denied the defendants' motion. The County owes a duty of care to protect its prisoners, even from self-inflicted harm (see Gordon v City of New York, 70 N.Y.2d 839, 840; see generally O 'Grady v City of Fulton, 4 N.Y.2d 717). However, the County is not an insurer of prisoner safety and negligence cannot be inferred merely because an incident occurred (see Sanchez v State of New York, 99 N.Y.2d 247, 256; Barnette v City of New York, 96 A.D.3d 700, 701; Smith v County of Albany, 12 A.D.3d 912, 913; Wilson v Sponable, 81 A.D.2d 1, 7). Rather, the County's duty is limited to providing reasonable care to protect prisoners from risks of harm that are reasonably foreseeable, i.e., those that the County knew or should have known (see Matter of Bezio v Dorsey, 21 N.Y.3d 93, 104-105; Sanchez v State of New York, 99 N.Y.2d at 253, 255; see generally Palsgraf v Long Is. R.R. Co., 248 NY 339, 344).

         Here, the defendants, as the parties seeking summary judgment, bore the burden of establishing that the injured plaintiff's attempt to commit suicide was not foreseeable (see Sanchez v State of New York, 99 N.Y.2d at 254-255; Brown v City of New York, 95 A.D.3d 1051, 1052; Smith v County of Albany, 12 A.D.3d 912, 913; Serpa v County of Nassau, 280 A.D.2d 596; see generally Stukas v Streiter, 83 A.D.3d 18, 24-25). Both the injured plaintiff and her husband, Louis Iannelli (hereinafter Mr. Iannelli), testified at their respective depositions and the General Municipal Law § 50-h hearings that Mr. Iannelli told one of the detectives at the time of the injured plaintiff s arrest that the injured plaintiff had been hospitalized recently for attempted suicide. The plaintiffs also both testified that the injured plaintiff told another detective that she needed her prescription medication but the detective would not permit her to bring it to the station house. The injured plaintiff testified that while she was being placed by the arresting detectives in a second floor holding cell at the station house, she told the detectives that she suffered from claustrophobia and anxiety and had just gotten out of the hospital. During the 40-minute period she was in the holding cell, she was crying and begging for someone to open the cell door. Someone unlocked the cell door. She was able to wiggle her hands out of the handcuffs and push the door open. She ran to an open window directly across from the cell door and jumped out. The injured plaintiff further testified that as she lay injured on the ground, some unidentified police officers kicked her in the back and accused her of trying to escape. The defendants' submissions failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to whether the defendants knew or should have known that the injured plaintiff posed a risk of harm to herself and whether the defendants ''failed to use adequate supervision to prevent that which was reasonably foreseeable" (Colon v State of New York, 209 A.D.2d 842, 843; see Sanchez v State of New York, 99 N.Y.2d 247; Serpa v County of Nassau, 280 A.D.2d 596; Blake v State of New York, 259 A.D.2d 878). Moreover, the defendants' submissions failed to eliminate triable issues of fact as to whether they violated 42 USC § 1983 by depriving the injured plaintiff of her Fourteenth Amendment right to adequate medical care (see Andrews v County of Cayuga, 142 A.D.3d 1347, 1349), whether they committed assault and battery (see Holland v City of Poughkeepsie, 90 A.D.3d 841, 846), and Mr. Iannelli's claim for loss of consortium (see Millington v Southeastern El. Co., 22 N.Y.2d 498, 502; Rakich v Lawes, 186 A.D.2d 932, 934-935; cf Briggs v Butterfield Mem. Hosp., 104 A.D.2d 626). Since the defendants failed to meet their initial burden, the Supreme Court properly denied their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, regardless of the sufficiency of the papers submitted in opposition (see Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 N.Y.2d 851, 853; Brown v City of New York, 95 A.D.3d at 1052).

         The defendants' remaining contention is without merit.

          MASTRO, J.P., HALL, MILLER and BRATHWAITE ...


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