New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MATAGRANO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-015-050, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-61531


Synopsis


A motion for permission to file a late claim will be denied when that relief is not necessary.

Case Information

UID:
2000-015-050
Claimant(s):
MATTHEW JOHN MATAGRANO
Claimant short name:
MATAGRANO
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
None
Motion number(s):
M-61531
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Matthew John Matagrano, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
No Appearance
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 13, 2000
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


There being no opposition, the application of movant for an order pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) permitting him to serve and file a late claim is granted to the extent of permitting movant to serve and file a claim within sixty days of the date of filing of this decision and order setting forth a cause of action to recover $100.00 as the reasonable value of items of personal property allegedly stolen from the movant as a result of the negligence of employees of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) on December 31, 1999, and in all other respects the motion is denied. Movant, a former inmate appearing pro se, was incarcerated at the Elmira Correctional Facility serving a sentence of one and a half to three years upon a conviction of grand larceny at the time the instant motion was made. The proposed claim is eighteen pages long, contains one hundred and thirty-six numbered paragraphs seeking to recover money damages for a litany of wrongs allegedly committed by DOCS' employees and is supported by a one inch thick stack of supporting exhibits. These documents have been closely scrutinized in an attempt to ascertain the causes of action movant is attempting to assert and whether they are susceptible of late claim relief.

Movant states that he has a history of mental illness and a bilateral hearing impairment requiring a hearing aid in each ear. On June 28, 1999, claimant was transferred to Mid- State Correctional Facility from Woodbourne Correctional Facility and on July 1, 1999 requested reasonable accommodations with respect to his hearing impairment. This request was the alleged beginning of a series of incidents resulting in this motion. Paragraph 2 of the proposed claim states:
2. This claim is for negligence of State for allowing Correction Officer Chandler to assault claimant; for allowing medical staff to deny needed medical services for claimant's bi lateral hearing impairment; for verbal sexual harassment; for allowing other inmates to steal claimant's property; and for intentional interference of claimant's access to the courts. [sic]
Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) provides in pertinent part that "[t]he claim shall state the time when and place where such claim arose, the nature of same, and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed". A proposed claim submitted in support of a late claim application pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) must contain all of the information required in section 11 (b) as it would be reversible error to grant the motion if the proposed claim fails to show a potentially meritorious cause of action (Davis v State of New York, 28 AD2d 609, 610), and a failure to comply with the stringent pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11 will render the pleading jurisdictionally defective (Schmidt v State of New York, 181 Misc 2d 499, 506). While the failure of the State to oppose the motion requires that all of the allegations in the moving papers be deemed to be true (Schweickert v State of New York, 64 AD2d 1026), a late claim motion will be denied when such relief is unnecessary because the moving party may still timely serve and file a claim (Blatnicky v State of New York, 206 Misc 787).

The first theory of recovery raised in the proposed claim is that DOCS denied movant proper treatment and accommodation for his hearing problem and subsequently failed to provide appropriate mental health counseling after movant's suicide attempt of January 6, 2000. A related theory of recovery is that DOCS unlawfully segregated movant after the suicide attempt instead of placing him in protective custody as he requested. The cause of action for intentional interference with movant's access to the Courts referred to in paragraph two of the proposed claim concerns DOCS' alleged failure to deliver legal mail to movant on February 6, 2000, resulting in a seven day delay in receiving that mail. The motion record before the Court establishes that late claim relief is not necessary with respect to claimant's theories of denial of mental health counseling, improper segregation after the January 6, 2000 suicide attempt and improper medical care with respect to movant's hearing problems because movant timely and properly served upon the Attorney General a notice of intention to file a claim with respect to those theories of recovery thereby extending movant's time to serve and file a claim. In particular, paragraph 134 of the proposed claim alleges:
134. On the 15 day of March, 2000, claimant served upon the Office of Attorney General N.Y.S. with the Notice of Intention to file a claim with the verification by certified mail return receipt requested # Z P537767964 for the incident of 12/31/99, January 6, 2000, January 12, 2000, and February 6, 2000. (Exhibit ii) [sic]
The notice of intention served by movant on March 15 is annexed as an exhibit to the proposed claim and states that movant intends to bring a claim for "[d]enial of mental health counseling despite a long history of such problems, discipline for cutting the left arm, and failure to provide me with a hearing aid despite documented need for the same".

Court of Claims Act § 10 (3) provides that with respect to negligence or unintentional tort causes of action a claimant who serves the Attorney General with a written notice of intention to file a claim within 90 days of accrual is provided two years from the date of accrual within which to serve and file a claim. The allegations concerning the denial of mental health counseling and the failure to provide adequate medical care sound in negligence and are encompassed by Court of Claims Act § 10 (3). The allegations concerning denial of access to the Court and improper discipline after movant cut his left arm involve intentional acts covered by Court of Claims Act § 10 (3-b) which provides that if a notice of intention is filed within 90 days of the accrual of the claim the time in which to serve and file a claim is extended for one year after accrual. Here, the moving party states in paragraph 134 of the proposed claim that on March 15, 2000 he served a notice of intention to file a claim by certified mail, return receipt requested, upon the Attorney General with respect to the incidents occurring on January 6, 2000, January 12, 2000 and February 6, 2000. That allegation must be deemed to be true for the purpose of the motion. Furthermore, the notice of intention to file a claim annexed as an exhibit clearly covers the theories of recovery relating to improper medical care, denial of proper mental health counseling, and improper discipline following the incident of January 6, 2000. Consequently, movant may still timely serve and file a claim with respect to those causes of action and late claim relief is, therefore, unnecessary. Moreover, even if such relief was appropriate with respect to the alleged improper medical treatment for claimant's hearing and mental problems, that motion would be denied as a physician's affidavit or affirmation was not submitted in support of the medical malpractice theories (Jolley v State of New York, 106 Misc 2d 550).

As to the cause of action premised upon the interference with claimant's access to the Courts by the failure to promptly deliver his legal mail, such a cause of action is based upon a violation of the Federal Constitution and must be pursued pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 (Chriceol v Phillips, 169 F3d 313 [5th Cir 1999]; Salahauddin v Jones, 992 F2d 447 [2nd Cir 1993]; Washington v James, 782 F2d 1134 [2nd Cir 1986]; Breazil v Bennett, 1999 WL 603851 [W.D.N.Y., 1999]). There is no recognized claim against the State of New York in this Court for an alleged violation of 42 USC § 1983 (Zagarella v State of New York, 149 AD2d 503; Davis v State of New York, 124 AD2d 420, 423), and as a consequence late claim relief may not be accorded upon a cause of action for which the Court of Claims lacks jurisdiction (Board of Educ. of City of N. Y. v State of New York, 88 AD2d 1057, affd 60 NY2d 716).

The proposed claim seeks recovery for alleged verbal sexual harassment and an assault upon claimant by Correction Officer Chandler which occurred on November 14, 1999. Paragraph 133 of the proposed claim alleges:
133. On the 18th day of January 2000, claimant served upon the Office of the Attorney General N.Y.S. with the Notice of Intention to file a claim with a verification dated January 7, 2000 by Certified mail return receipt requested # Z484 516 209 (Exhibit i) for the incidents of 11/8/99 & 11/14/99. [sic]
The notice of intention to file a claim dated January 7, 2000 relating to the incident of November 14, 1999 was not annexed as an exhibit to the motion papers. However, deeming the allegations set forth in paragraph 133 to be true, as the Court must do upon this motion, it is clear that a timely notice of intention addressed to the November 14, 1999 assault and verbal harassment was properly served upon the Attorney General on January 18, 2000, within 90 days of the accrual of that claim as required by Court of Claims Act § 10 (3-b). As a consequence, movant has one year from November 14, 1999 in which to serve and file his claim with respect to the assault and sexual harassment causes of action and late claim relief must be denied as unnecessary.

The proposed claim seeks to recover the reasonable value of four packs of tobacco, a bag of candy, and a burgundy bath towel allegedly stolen from movant on November 8, 1999. Movant's administrative appeal to recover for the loss was denied in a final determination dated December 3, 1999. According to paragraph 133 of the proposed claim a notice of intention related to the November 8, 1999 incident was timely and properly served upon the Attorney General on January 18, 2000. Since the provisions of Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) are not to be applied to inmate property damage claims arising prior to its effective date of December 7, 1999 (Mathis v State of New York, Ct Cl, July 13, 2000, [Claim No. 102059, Motion No. M-61437], Collins, J.; 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) the notice of intention served on January 18, 2000 extended movant's time to serve and file a claim with respect to the November 8, 1999 property loss until two years from the date of the claim's accrual. Once again, late claim relief must be denied.

The last incident for which movant seeks a recovery is for the loss of seven cassettes, four packs of Newport cigarettes and candy stolen from him on December 31, 1999. As the cause of action arose after December 7, 1999 the provisions of Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) apply. That subdivision states:
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.
Movant's administrative remedy was exhausted by the denial of his administrative appeal on February 24, 2000. Thereafter, claimant had 120 days to serve and file his claim, a time period which expired during the pendency of this motion. The remaining issue for determination is whether late claim relief should be accorded for the property loss allegedly sustained on December 31, 1999.

Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the state; and, whether the claimant has any other available remedy".

The first issue for determination upon a late claim motion is whether the application is timely. Since the proposed claim asserts a negligence cause of action, the three year Statute of Limitations set forth in CPLR § 214 applies and the motion is properly before the Court.

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965), and the statutory factors are not exhaustive or one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254).

The excuse advanced for the failure to timely serve and file a claim with respect to the December 31 property loss is movant's ignorance of the applicable legal requirements. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse (Griffin v John Jay College, ____ AD2d ____, 697 NYS2d 278).

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice to the State will be considered together. The specifics concerning the movement of movant's property are memorialized in documents within the defendant's possession thus negating prejudice (Remley v State of New York, 174 Misc 2d 523, 524), and movant reported the incident to DOCS' employees within a week of the occurrence. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the factors of notice, opportunity to investigate and lack of prejudice favor granting the motion.

As to the appearance of merit, the movant must only demonstrate that the proposed claim is not "patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective" and "there is a reasonable cause to believe a valid cause of action does exist" (Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967, 969, 970). In the Court's view, movant has met that burden.

As to the final factor, it does not appear that movant has any other remedy with respect to his property loss as his administrative appeal was denied.

A review of the motion record and the statutory factors leads the Court to determine that late claim relief may be granted only with respect to the property damage loss allegedly occurring on December 31, 1999.


July 13, 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 28, 2000;
  2. Affidavit of Matthew John Matagrano sworn to March 28, 2000;
  3. Proposed claim with supporting exhibits.