New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

UNDERWOOD v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-011, Claim No. 91865, Motion No. M-60875


Pro se inmate alleged improper confinement in Special Housing Unit. Claim was dismissed.

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):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
William Mingues Underwood
Defendant's attorney:
James E. Shoemaker, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 19, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim was tried on March 21, 2000 at Sullivan Correctional Facility.
Pro se claimant William Underwood alleges that he was improperly confined at Sullivan Correctional Facility. Underwood testified on his own behalf. Defendant called no witnesses.
Pending at the time of trial was motion M-60875, defendant's motion to dismiss on the grounds that it had never been served with the claim.

Underwood testified that on July 12, 1993, while at Sullivan Correctional Facility, he was confined, apparently in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), based on six misbehavior reports which were ultimately dismissed. He asserts that the reports were false and were filed against him because correction officers in the "Special Needs Unit" where he was assigned as a counselor wanted him out of that unit. He explained that the Special Needs Unit is for inmates with special problems and added that he had started a program there called "Down With Violence."

Claimant recounted that at the hearings on the disciplinary tickets, each ticket was dismissed; the hearings had begun on July 12, 1993 and ended some 50 days later.

Underwood's claim is for 60 days during which he was confined for 23 hours a day, apparently in either keeplock status, SHU or administrative segregation. According to claimant, he stayed in the SHU for an additional 13 days after the hearings on his disciplinary tickets, until there was room to put him in the general population. It was unclear whether these 13 days were part of the 60 days of which Underwood complained.

With regard to service, Underwood testified that he served a notice of intention (perhaps actually referring to his claim) by certified mail, return receipt requested. He contended that if it did not reach defendant, this was because he had to send it through the same officers who allegedly wanted him out of the Special Needs Unit. Claimant explained that the procedure for an inmate to have an item sent out by certified mail, return receipt requested was to put a disbursement form on the envelope requesting that it be so sent, indicating that it was legal mail. The envelope is then given to the officers in the SHU who send out correspondence. Asked whether the certified mail charge would appear on his inmate account, claimant responded that it was impossible to determine because at the time, he was involved in seven or eight other litigations.

On cross-examination, claimant testified that he never received an answer from defendant. Asked whether he ever got a green certified mail receipt, claimant recounted that numerous pieces of his mail were lost between the end of 1993 and most of 1994 when he was frequently going to court and was transferred between correctional facilities several times.
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The failure to carry out an inmate's directions on mailing, if proven, will prevent the state from raising the defense of improper service. Espinal v State of New York, 159 Misc 2d 1051, 1054-5, 607 NYS2d 1008, 1010 (Ct Cl 1993). But claimant provided no supporting evidence that he had instructed the facility to send his claim to the Attorney General by certified mail. For example, as set forth above, he provided no inmate account records showing a deduction for the cost of certified mail around the time the claim was filed. Nor did he provide any details as to the loss of his mail. In view of the evidence presented in the parties' motion papers and at trial, I cannot find that defendant was served with this claim.
"It is well established that compliance with sections 10 and 11 of the Court of Claims Act pertaining to the timeliness of filing and service requirements respecting claims and notices of intention to file claims constitutes a jurisdictional prerequisite to the institution and maintenance of a claim against the State, and accordingly, must be strictly construed . . ."
Byrne v State of New York, 104 AD2d 782, 783, 480 NYS2d 225, 227 (2d Dept 1984), lv denied, 64 NY2d 607, 488 NYS2d 1023 (1985) (citations omitted).
In short, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Underwood's claim. However, even assuming,
arguendo, that Underwood's claim had been served on the Attorney General, he failed to prove defendant's negligence with regard to his confinement. For example, he provided no documentation as to the dates and circumstances of his confinement. Nor did he present any evidence that any Department of Correctional Facilities policies had been violated.
For the foregoing reasons, having heard the testimony at trial and having reviewed the parties' submissions on M-60875[1]
, Underwood's claim is dismissed.

April 19, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]The Court reviewed defendant's notice of motion and affirmation and affidavit in support with exhibit A, along with claimant's "Traverse in Opposition" with Exhibits A and B.