New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LAMOUNTAIN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-007-535, Claim No. 99167


Claimant seeks compensation for personal property purportedly damaged by water leaking from a broken pipe into his cell at Clinton Correctional Facility. Defendant found liable and claimant awarded damages.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

John L. Bell
Claimant's attorney:
Ronnie LaMountain, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General (Michael Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel)
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 1, 2000

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Claimant seeks compensation for personal property purportedly damaged by water leaking from a broken pipe into his cell at Clinton Correctional Facility (hereinafter Clinton).

On May 28, 1998, claimant left his cell in lower H block at approximately 7:30 a.m. to attend his prison work program. He returned to his cell for lunch at about 11:30 a.m. and discovered his "cell flooded with water."[1]
Claimant testified that the water had damaged various items of his personal property, including a cassette player, laundry detergent, medical and legal documents, and legal file folders. Claimant stated that he reported the situation to a correction officer on H block and that an inmate plumber was sent to work on the problem. According to claimant, the leak persisted throughout the night and the pipe was not fully repaired until about 4:00 p.m. on May 29.
Charles Layhee, a maintenance supervisor at Clinton, was called as a witness. Mr. Layhee acknowledged that the various water pipes at Clinton are not routinely inspected. He explained that it would require the full time attention of an employee to inspect the large network of pipes on a monthly basis. Accordingly, the maintenance department responds when a leak is identified, but no routine inspections are conducted of the pipes. Claimant also introduced into evidence interrogatories reflecting, consistent with Mr. Layhee's testimony, that there were no regularly scheduled inspections of the water pipes at Clinton.

The State, as the owner of property, is subject to the same rules as a private landowner (
see, Miller v State of New York, 62 NY2d 506, 511). An owner of real property is not strictly liable for every leak that occurs in water pipes located at the property (see, Berliner v Kacov, 51 AD2d 962, 963; see also, Shinshine Corp. v Kinney Sys., 173 AD2d 293). Where, however, an owner is in exclusive possession and control of the portion of the property in which the pipes are located, the facts and circumstances developed at trial may implicate liability (see, Swain v 383 W. Broadway Corp., 216 AD2d 38; cf., De Witt Props. v City of New York, 44 NY2d 417, 426). Here, it is uncontested that defendant exercised total control over the interior of the maximum security prison. There was no evidence that inmates had access to the area of the prison where the relevant pipes were located. Defendant's policy of responding to plumbing concerns on an "as needed" basis was understandable and a prudent use of resources. Indeed, it appears that in most instances such a
policy would result in a repair being completed before significant damage occurred within the facility. The evidence in the current situation, however, reflects that, before the condition was discovered, considerable leakage had occurred and some of claimant's personal property had been damaged. The court concludes that under the prevailing circumstances defendant is liable to claimant for the items of his personal property that were damaged by water leaking from the pipe.
As the court indicated to claimant at trial, determining fair compensation for his damaged legal documents is difficult (
see generally, Erdheim v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 22, 2000 [Claim No. 97545], Bell, J., at 3-5). Claimant produced a host of receipts and letters in an effort to establish the value of the lost documents. After weighing and considering the evidence presented, the court finds that an award of $375.00 adequately compensates claimant for the damage to his medical and legal documents, as well as his legal file folders. Claimant testified that he believed the depreciated value of his cassette player was $25.00 and that his lost laundry detergent had a value of $3.00. The court accepts claimant's values regarding the cassette player and detergent and therefore his total award is $403.00. The evidence at trial failed to sustain any other remedy or damages for claimant.
The Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed to enter judgment against defendant in the amount of $403.00, together with interest at the legal rate from May 28, 1998 to the

date of decision and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment.

December 1, 2000
Plattsburgh, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the court's trial notes.