297 A.2d 561 (N.J. 1972), Harris v. State

Citation:297 A.2d 561, 61 N.J. 585
Opinion Judge:[9] Jacobs
Party Name:Frank W. HARRIS, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. STATE of New Jersey et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Attorney:[6] Mr. Stephen Skillman, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for the appellants (Mr. George F. Kugler, Jr., Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney; Mr. Bertram P. Goltz, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Case Date:December 04, 1972
Court:Supreme Court of New Jersey

Page 561

297 A.2d 561 (N.J. 1972)

61 N.J. 585

Frank W. HARRIS, Plaintiff-Respondent,


STATE of New Jersey et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Supreme Court of New Jersey.

December 4, 1972

Argued Oct. 25, 1972. [61 N.J. 586]

Stephen Skillman, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendants-appellants (George F. Kugler,

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Jr., Atty. Gen., attorney; Bertram P. Goltz, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen., on the brief). [61 N.J. 587]

Benjamin Edelstein, Asbury Park, for plaintiff-respondent (Edelstein & Edelstein, Asbury Park, attorneys).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


While the plaintiff was a prisoner at the Rahway State Prison he was assaulted by a fellow prisoner and suffered injuries to his person. He filed a complaint in the Law Division against the State of New Jersey, the Prison Superintendent, a Deputy Keeper and a Wing Keeper. His complaint was grounded on negligence and he sought compensatory damages for his injuries. Depositions were taken of the plaintiff and the individual defendants; thereafter the defendants moved for summary judgments which the Law Division entered in their favor. On appeal, the Appellate Division sustained the summary judgment in favor of the State but ordered a plenary trial with respect to the plaintiff's claims against the individual defendants. 118 N.J.Super. 384, 288 A.2d 36 (1972). We granted certification on the petition of the individual defendants (60 N.J. 469, 291 A.2d 19 (1972)); there was no cross petition by the plaintiff.

The basic facts may be gathered from the depositions and there is no material dispute in this proceeding with respect to them. On April 6, 1967 the plaintiff returned to his cell at the Rahway prison after mess. His cell along with the 31 other cells on the third tier were locked through a master control operated by the defendant Wing Keeper Rafferty. According to the plaintiff's testimony, Rafferty was about 'three-quarters of the way down the tier' when the cells were locked and from his spot Rafferty could not see into the plaintiff's cell. As the plaintiff entered his cell he noticed that his bed had been pushed out of place but he did not notice his fellow prisoner Brown who had apparently secreted himself in the cell. Brown repeatedly struck plaintiff with a ten-inch reamer which Brown had evidently taken from the prison machine shop. The plaintiff [61 N.J. 588] received medical attention and was later transferred to the Trenton State Prison for further examination and treatment.

The prison records contain no indication of any prior prison incident involving Brown and the defendants testified that they had no prior information which would lead them to believe that Brown was any special threat to the plaintiff or other prisoners. The plaintiff testified that he hardly knew Brown and had no reason to anticipate an assault by Brown; but he further testified that he had received an unsigned note, which actually came from Brown, requesting sexual relations which he thereafter rejected. The plaintiff unequivocally acknowledged that he did not at any time prior to the assault tell any of the defendants or anyone in authority about the note or about any incident or encounter with Brown.

The defendant Pinto testified that he is Superintendent of Rahway State Prison and is charged with general supervision of the operation of the institution. He received a report of the assault on the plaintiff but had no prior indications of threat or danger. He described the security measures at the prison machine shop where Brown had been assigned to work and stated that when prisoners were leaving the shop they were subjected to random searches for tools and other implements. He also described the security measures when prisoners were returning to their cells and expressed the hope that each of his Wing Keepers would know all of the inmates in his wing, though he acknowledged that he 'wouldn't say that for sure because we have new officers from time to time who naturally would not know the inmates, unfortunately.' He testified that all prison employees receive copies of the

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'Manual of Operations & Procedures' which contains instructions with respect to the supervision of prisoners in and out of their cells, the maintenance of records with respect to tools in the prison shops, etc. See 118 N.J.Super. at 387--388, 288 A.2d 36. [61 N.J. 589]

The defendant Olden is a Deputy Keeper at Rahway State Prison. He testified that he is third in command and is in charge of the correctional force at the prison. He had no knowledge of prior incidents involving Brown but acknowledged that in a maximum security institution such as Rahway it might be...

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