New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BRAMBLE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-015-508, Claim No. 96348


To prevail upon a bailment theory for the loss of personal property an inmate must establish that the property came into the custody or possession of the Department of Correctional Services.

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Benjamin Joseph Bramble, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Timothy P. Mulvey, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 27, 2000
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This is a claim by an inmate appearing pro se to recover the sum of $38.58 as the reasonable value of three items of personal property allegedly lost through negligence of Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) employees.

Claimant testified that on May 10, 1996 while in his cell at Marcy Correctional Facility he was assaulted by his cell mate, inmate Cahill. In the course of the scuffle the two inmates exited the cell and wrestled on the ground in front of the correction officers' station. Correction Officer David Paden observed the fight and directed the inmates to stop, which they refused to do. Officer Paden called the facility response team which separated and subdued the two inmates.

Claimant testified that prior to being taken to the infirmary for treatment of his injuries he requested an unidentified correction officer to secure his personal property. Upon returning to his cell in order to pack his personal property for transfer to another dormitory claimant discovered that his stereo headphones and an extension cord for the headphones were missing. Claimant stated that he had purchased the stereo headphones one and a third years prior to the incident at a price of $17.99 and had purchased the extension cord for $8.75 approximately one and a third years prior to the incident. Subsequently, claimant discovered that a Superman comic book which he had purchased for $14.95 approximately nine months prior to the incident was also missing. Upon cross-examination, claimant conceded that his items of lost property were not secured in his cell at the time of the fight. He further admitted that a facility rule required that all inmates secure their property at all times. Claimant's administrative appeal was denied upon the ground that claimant had failed to submit any evidence that negligence on the part of DOCS employees had caused the loss of his personal property. At the close of claimant's case, the defendant moved for an order dismissing the claim for failure to establish a prima facie case of bailment in that there was no evidence that the State ever took possession of the lost items of property. Decision was reserved and the motion will now be addressed.

To establish a prima facie case of negligence in a bailment transaction the claimant must show that his property was deposited with the defendant and that the latter failed to return it (
Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). Claimant has not submitted any proof that the comic book, headphones and extension cord ever came into the custody of DOCS and has, therefore, failed to establish a prima facie case of bailment. In the absence of a bailment relationship, an inmate may recover the reasonable value of items of personal property lost when DOCS negligently failed to secure the area of an inmate's cell (Foy v State of New York, 182 AD2d 670). However, an inmate's recovery will be denied upon a demonstration that his own culpable conduct in failing to secure his locker and property caused the loss (Matter of Harrison v State of New York, 262 AD2d 833). An inmate can establish his lack of comparable negligence by testimony that he secured his property in his locker prior to leaving his cell (Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906). Here, claimant conceded upon cross-examination that there was a facility rule that all inmates secure their personal property prior to leaving their cells and that his property wasn't secured in such a manner. Coupling that testimony with the lack of evidence that DOCS employees had any reasonable opportunity to prevent the loss of the property compels the Court to hold that claimant has not established a prima facie case of negligence. The motion of the defendant for an order dismissing the claim due to the failure of the claimant to establish a prima facie case must be granted.
The Clerk is directed to enter a judgment in accord with this decision.

April 27, 2000
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims