New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

EMORY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-063, Claim No. 98466


Inmate claims laundry was discarded by correction officers/awarded $105 plus interest.

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:
George Emory
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: James E. Shoemaker, AAG
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 16, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

George Emory brought this claim for lost property when his laundry was not returned to him at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, Sullivan County. The case was tried at Sullivan Correctional on June 22, 2000.

On the morning of December 31, 1996, Emory took a bag to the laundry containing one set of sheets, five shirts, a pair of shorts, some underwear and socks. Emory testified that his name and an ID number were on his laundry bag, which he handed over to inmate Corey Jones behind the counter. The laundry was staffed by two civilian employees and about 20 inmate employees. Personal laundry at Woodbourne was dropped off and done by the employees there; the inmate receiving one part of a ticket to enable him to retrieve the laundry when it is cleaned.

Upon Emory's return later in the day, a Sgt. Kunze told him that he threw his clothes in the garbage. Claimant recalls that a Lt. DeBarotlo was present. Emory lamented: " They said my clothes [were] out in the dumpster, and I looked from the laundry window and they were out in the clothing was in the garbage ..."

The defendant called as a witness Sgt. James Smith, who had served at Woodbourne since 1989 and stated he was familiar with laundry procedures there. Smith signed an investigative report (def exh A), but does not recall speaking to claimant about the matter. The text of the report, in its entirety, provides:
During a random search in the laundry, illegal laundry contracts were found. State issued clothes went to State shop. Blankets [and] sheets that were [S]tate were kept in laundry. All other items were confiscated because they were unlabeled (no names or #s on clothes). Owners could not be found. Items were destroyed as contraband. No payment should be made.
The "illegal laundry contracts" reference was mystifying enough to have been a misprint, but at trial Sgt. Smith read the report aloud: that's what it said, and no explanation was offered. Nor for that matter did Smith elaborate on the random search – were the authorities looking for more traditional contraband than dirty laundry? The plural "owners" suggests a larger undertaking and the seizure of the property of more than one inmate.
The state contends that: i) there was no way to identify whose property Emory's bag was; and ii) the bag was held for a time and no inmate came forward because of the fear of punishment.
However, neither (i) or (ii) receives much support from the evidence. I find claimant's testimony that his name and identifying number were on the laundry bag to be credible. Initially defendant, through its witness Sgt. Smith, maintained that inmates had to have identification on their personal items of clothing, as distinguished from their prison greens. However, Smith could point to no rule, directive or practice confirming same, and Emory testified otherwise. Ultimately, Smith effectively conceded that he could not account for how a laundry bag lacking ID was accepted in the laundry room:
The Court: Why would a civilian employee... take a laundry bag without a number on it?

Smith: I don't believe that occurred. But I can't answer for that employee.

Court: Sgt. Smith do you know what the policy is?

Smith: The civilian... has inmate laborers or workers who would probably take that bag from that inmate

Court: But would he reject it or not if [there were] no label?

Smith: He should if he was doing his job correctly.
Morever, the defendant's exhibits belie its contention that ID on the laundry bag only -- and not each item of clothing or bedding -- was insufficient. While of very recent vintage, exhibit C was offered by defendant. It is a regular laundry schedule for a week in May of 2000; this warning appears : "make sure your laundry bags have your laundry number on it."[1]
The inmate grievance response form (def exh B) gives as the reason for disposing of Emory's bag that there was no identification on the "articles or bag to determine ownership" (emphasis added).
* * * *
In any event, defendant maintains that even without sufficient ID, the clothes would not have been disposed of. Their owner would have been afforded an opportunity to come forward. In Smith's imprecise surmise: "But Emory, I believe, did not want to claim that right away because there would be tickets excuse me that's wrong..a misbehavior report would have been issued...possibly a keeplock. So no one claimed property that day; he waited a couple of months later..weeks later whatever to put his claim in when it was safe for him to do that."

I find claimant's assertion that he returned the same day to be more credible. His story was detailed as to
who was present and his demeanor was not unpersuasive. Sgt. Smith, while the signatory of the investigatory report, had a more remote connection to events. Granted, personnel who were at the scene have apparently retired and are unavailable; Smith at many places in his testimony could only respond in a general fashion.
Moreover, even were Emory in fact subject to some kind of discipline, his state of mind is what matters where the argument is made that he did not immediately retrieve his laundry for fear of punishment. I do not regard claimant as comfortable enough with administrative and legal procedure to accept Sgt. Smith's hypothesis,
namely, that Emory let things cool down, and then filed a claim "when it was safe for him to do that." More pointedly, Emory submitted his departmental claim on January 6, the first Monday after his loss (see box 5 of def A).
Significantly, the defendant proffers no citation of just what it was Emory did wrong. In my
review of the Standards of Inmate Behavior set forth in 7 NYCRR §270.2 covering dozens of transgressions, the closest one is from Rule Series 113 - Contraband, specifically Rule113.20, which provides in part that inmates "shall not possess State clothing or bedding in excess of authorized issue" – and that's not terribly close.
While the official rule covering "Property last in control of the department"[2] ordinarily comes into play in bailment cases arising from inmate transfers, its relevant provisions bear recitation here:
When an inmate's property was last in the control of the department...and the department fails without good explanation to deliver it [to the inmate]...then there is a rebuttable presumption that the department is negligently responsible for the loss...To rebut the presumption of negligence, the reviewer must determine that all department staff who had a duty to protect the inmate's property carried out their duties in an acceptable way.

In view of the foregoing, I find the defendant
fully liable for the loss of the items George Emory delivered to the laundry room on December 31, 1996.
Claimant valued the loss at $135.50, an amount based on the cost of each item when new. His two most valuable items, the sheets and a red shirt, were several months old as of December 31, 1996. All of his lost items were sheets and clothing, which do not have the longevity, for instance, of durables. I find the total to be $105, representing a loss in value from the purchase cost of less than one-fourth. Accordingly, the claimant is
awarded $105, with interest from December 31, 1996 to June 30, 1997 and from June 15, 1998 to date of Decision and thereafter to entry of Judgment.

August 16, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] The warning is part of only the entry for Thursday, but a fortiori that day includes laundry for items which have inmate ID affixed --"general population greens".
[2] 7 NYCRR §1700.7(b).