New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WHARTON v. CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, #2000-014-521, Claim No. 101124, Motion No. M-61457


Synopsis


Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim on the ground that it does not adequately describe the location of the underlying incident or the manner in which it occurred is denied. The statement that "the claimant was caused to trip and fall due to a dangerously- placed obstacle on the floor" sufficiently describes the nature of the claim, as required by Court of Claims Act §11(b), although the Court had previously determined, in connection with the claimant's application for permission to file a late claim, that the same statement, without amplification, did not demonstrate that the claim appeared to be meritorious for the purpose of Court of Claims Act §10(6).

Case Information

UID:
2000-014-521
Claimant(s):
PATRICIA WHARTON
Claimant short name:
WHARTON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
101124
Motion number(s):
M-61457
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
S. Michael Nadel
Claimant's attorney:
Goldstein & Goldstein, P.C.By: Mark I. Goldstein
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Lois Booker-Williams, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 18, 2000
City:
New York
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:
affirmed, 2nd Dept., 10/15/01, 731 NYS2d 650
See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The following papers were read on the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim: Notice of Motion, Affirmation in Support and Exhibits annexed; Affidavit in Opposition. Filed papers: Claim, Answer.


The defendant moves on its Fourth Affirmative Defense to dismiss the claim on the ground that it does not satisfy the requirements of Court of Claims Act §11(b) because it fails to "include an adequate description of the location of the incident alleged in the claim or the manner in which the incident occurred." Answer, ¶6.

The claim alleges that the underlying incident occurred in Room 311 at Medgar Evers College. No support has been provided for the assertion by the defendant that the stated location of the incident, a particular room, is inadequate. The issue presented, therefore, is whether the statement in the claim that "the claimant was caused to trip and fall due to a dangerously- placed obstacle on the floor" in that room, adequately sets forth the "nature" of the claim as required by §11(b).

Previously, by Order filed April 11, 1999 (Claim No.97641, Motion No. M-58644, Cross Motion No. CM-58732), the Court dismissed a claim arising out of the same incident, for the reason that although it had been timely served upon the defendant, it was not timely served upon the Attorney General. At the same time, the Court denied the claimant's application for permission to file a late claim (Court of Claims Act §10[6]), noting that the claimant had not demonstrated the appearance of merit, and that the phrase "dangerously placed obstacle" was insufficiently specific to establish that the claim appeared to be meritorious. Subsequently, by Order filed September 10, 1999 (Claim No. 97641, Motion No. M-59801), upon renewal, the Court granted the claimant's application to file a late claim based upon an additional submission which, the Court found, was "sufficient to demonstrate the appearance of merit."

The defendant, in reliance upon the Court's initial determination which denied the claimant's application to file a late claim, asserts that in failing to include a more specific description of the "dangerously placed obstacle" in the claim herein, the claimant has not satisfied the requirements of Court of Claims Act §11(b).

But the conclusion that the allegation that the claimant's accident was caused by a dangerously placed obstacle, without further description, was insufficient to demonstrate the merit of the claim, for the purposes of Court of Claims Act §10(6), does not necessarily compel the conclusion that the same allegation insufficiently states the nature of the claim, for the purposes of Court of Claims Act §11(b).

The specificity required by §11(b) is not the same as the detail required in order to enable the Court to assess the appearance of merit in connection with an application for permission to file a late claim.[1] Although only one of the six factors the Court must consider, the appearance of merit has consistently been regarded as the most significant to be considered upon an application for permission to file a late claim. McCarthy v New York State Canal Corporation, 244 AD2d 57, lv denied, 92 NY2d 815; Klingler v State of New York, 213 AD2d 378; Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254; Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729. Section 11(b), on the other hand, does not require that a claim be stated in sufficient detail to demonstrate its merit.

Rather, the requirements of §11(b) have consistently been applied in the context of their purpose, which is to enable the defendant to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its own liability. Sega v State of New York, 246 AD2d 753, 755. "All elements of the claim need not be set out with formalistic rigidity, but it must convey notice to the [defendant] to enable it to properly investigate, defend, and/or settle the claim [citation omitted] . . . ." Harper v State of New York, 34 AD2d 865.

"What is required is not absolute exactness, but simply a statement made with sufficient definiteness to enable the [defendant] to be able to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances. The statement must be specific enough so as not to mislead, deceive or prejudice the rights of the [defendant]. In short, substantial compliance with section 11 is what is required [citations omitted]." Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767, at 767-768; see also, Sheils v State of New York, 249 AD2d 459; Schneider v State of New York, 234 AD2d 357; Riefler v State of New York, 228 AD2d 1000, 1001.

By the foregoing standard, the claim herein satisfies the requirements of Court of Claims Act §11(b).[2] As stated by the Court in Heisler v State of New York, supra, at 768: "The manner in which claimant was injured and how the defendant was negligent were stated or can be reasonably inferred [citation omitted]."

In accordance with the foregoing, the defendant's motion is denied.


August 18, 2000
New York, New York

HON. S. MICHAEL NADEL
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] Perhaps the clearest example of the difference concerns claims alleging medical malpractice, where it has been held that an application for permission to file a late claim must include the affidavit of a medical expert. See, e.g., Schreck v State of New York, 81 AD2d 882. No such requirement exists with respect to a timely filed claim.
[2]Indeed, although the defendant argues that the language in the claim is insufficient, it has not, in support of this motion, suggested any way in which its ability to investigate the circumstances of the claim has been impaired.