New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MATHIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-015-044, Claim No. 102059, Motion No. M-61437


Synopsis


Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) will not be applied retroactively to inmate property bailment claims that arose before the July 7, 1999 effective date of the subdivision.

Case Information

UID:
2000-015-044
Claimant(s):
TERRY B. MATHIS
Claimant short name:
MATHIS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
102059
Motion number(s):
M-61437
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Terry B. Mathis, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Timothy P. Mulvey, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 28, 2000
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


The motion of the defendant for an order dismissing the claim due to the failure of claimant to exhaust his administrative remedy pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) is denied. This is a claim by an inmate appearing pro se to recover the sum of $517.03 as the reasonable value of items of personal property allegedly lost through the negligence of employees of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) during the period of July 19, 1997 to July 31, 1997 while the property was being transferred from Mohawk Correctional Facility to Oneida Correctional Facility. The defendant seeks dismissal based upon subdivision (9) of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act which provides:
A claim of any inmate in the custody of the department of correctional services for recovery of damages for injury to or loss of personal property may not be filed unless and until the inmate has exhausted the personal property claims administrative remedy, established for inmates by the department. Such claim must be filed and served within one hundred twenty days after the date on which the inmate has exhausted such remedy.
Defense counsel argues that on July 31, 1997 claimant filed an administrative inmate claim form at Auburn Correctional Facility to recover the value of the items of personal property which are the subject of the claim herein. On December 9, 1997, the head account clerk at Oneida Correctional Facility wrote to the claimant at Southport Correctional Facility informing him:
I have had your inmate claim investigated both at Mohawk Correctional Facility and at Oneida Correctional Facility and cannot find anything to prove that you were missing property. If you have any documentation that will prove the property in question was missing when you arrived at Oneida, such as an I-64 noting missing property, please send it to me by December 19, 1997 and I will reopen the investigation. If not, this claim will be closed for lack of proof of loss.
Claimant contends that he failed to comply with the above directive because the letter was forwarded to another inmate at Southport with the same last name and was not actually received by claimant until December 17, 1997. Defendant argues that since claimant did not pursue his administrative remedy to a final determination the claim must be dismissed pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (9).

Subdivision 9 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act was added by chapter 412 of the Laws of 1999 which became law on August 9, 1999. Section 4 of part D of chapter 412 provides:
This act shall take effect 120 days after it shall have become a law and shall remain in full force and effect until December 31, 2002, when upon such date it shall expire and be deemed repealed.
Prior to the enactment of subdivision 9, the failure of an inmate to exhaust an administrative remedy was not a defense to a claim to recover the value of items of personal property allegedly lost or damaged through the negligence of DOCS employees (London v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 22, 1999 [Claim No. 99928, Motion No. M-59416], J. Collins, unreported ; Diaz v State of New York, Ct Cl March 9, 2000 [Claim No. 99673, Motion No. M-60865], J. Collins, unreported; copies of which are annexed). The issue before the Court is whether Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) will be applied retroactively to a cause of action accruing more than two years before the subdivision was added to the Court of Claims Act.

"As a general rule statutes are to be construed as prospective only in the absence of an unequivocal expression of a legislative intent to the contrary". (Murphy v Bd. of Educ. of North Bellmore Union Free School Dist., 104 AD2d 796, 797). This is particularly so where retroactive application of a statute would act to "...affect, or interfere with, antecedent rights, or impose an unexpected liability (McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes, § 53; Knapp v Consolidated Rail Corp., 171 Misc 2d 597). Even a remedial statute, will not be applied retroactively if doing so would act to impair rights already vested (McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 1, Statutes, § 54 [a]; Sapper v St. Vincent's Hosp. & Med. Ctr. of N.Y., 190 AD2d 549, 551). Finally, "postponement of the effective date of a statute, as in this case, is some evidence that the Legislature never intended it to be retroactive" (Matter of Mulligan v Murphy, 14 NY2d, 223, 226).

Here, the claimant possessed a vested cause of action sounding in negligence to recover the value of his items of personal property almost two years prior to the enactment of subdivision 9 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act (Periconi v State of New York, 91 Misc 2d 823, 827, 828). Nothing in the language of the statute indicates that the Legislature intended that it would be applied retroactively to causes of action arising before the effective date of the amendment. In fact, the postponement of the effective date of the statute from August 9, 1999 to December 7, 1999 constitutes some evidence that the Legislature never intended that the statutory amendment be given a retroactive application.

For the reasons cited herein, the Court finds that Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) is inapplicable to causes of action accruing prior to its effective date (Stroud v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 27, 2000, [Claim No. 101957, Motion No. M-61384], McNamara, J., unreported; Scott v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 15, 2000, [Claim No. 101879, Motion No. M-61385], Lane, J., unreported). As a result, the defendant's motion to dismiss based upon the claimant's failure to exhaust his administrative remedy is denied.


June 28, 2000
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated March 22, 2000;
  2. Affirmation of Timothy P. Mulvey dated March 21, 2000, with exhibits;
  3. Claim filed on March 6, 2000;
  4. Affidavit of Terry Mathis sworn to March 30, 2000.