New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

THOMAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-067, Claim No. 98947


Following trial, pro se inmate was awarded damages for wedding band found missing after cell search.

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

Signature date:
August 28, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Horace Thomas alleges negligence by the defendant for allowing his personal property to be stolen or confiscated during a cell search and brings this claim to recover damages for the loss of his wedding band. This claim was tried at Sullivan County Correctional Facility on June 22, 2000. Claimant testified in support of his action. On its case, defendant called Sergeant James Dunn to the stand.

At approximately 9:45 A.M. on June 12, 1998, Thomas was directed, along with the other inmates in the B-North housing unit at Sullivan Correctional Facility, to exit his cell for a fire drill. The inmates left the housing unit under the supervision of a correction officer. While the inmates were away from the housing unit for the fire drill, the correction officers conducted a K-9 frisk of the individual cells (see claimant's Exhibits 6 and 7). According to Thomas, upon returning from the fire drill, he found that his wedding band was missing from his cell.[1]

It is well recognized that an inmate may recover the reasonable value of items of personal property lost when the correctional facility negligently fails to secure the area of his cell. See
Foy v State of New York, 182 AD2d 670, 582 NYS2d 262 (2d Dept 1992); Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906, 569 NYS2d 770 (3d Dept 1991). Upon assessing the evidence together with the testimony offered at trial, the court finds the claimant is entitled to recover damages for the lost wedding band.
The main issue to be determined in this matter is the amount that claimant is entitled to recover for the loss of his ring. He is seeking to recover $150, which would be the maximum amount available: the Local Permit authorizing the claimant to have the wedding band within the facility set a value limitation of $150. See claimant's Exhibit 3 and NYCRR §724
et seq. However, the Local Permit, which was signed by claimant, estimated the value of the band at $45. Although the claimant testified that the value of the band was greater than the $45 noted on the Local Permit, he was unable to provide a receipt or any other evidence that would demonstrate the true value of the ring.
The Permit itself provides that if an "item is received without a receipt, a value will be placed on [it] as determined by the Deputy Superintendent of Security or from the previous permit."
In addition, a procedure exists for an inmate to contest a value determined by the facility when there is no receipt. While Thomas' situation is not an unsympathetic one, I am constrained to limit his recovery to $45.
As to the cause of action for mental anguish or emotional distress, claimant did not, by testimony or other evidence, set forth a basis for recovery. Such recovery must "generally be premised upon a breach of a duty owed directly to the plaintiff which either endangered the plaintiff's physical safety or caused . . . fear for his or her own physical safety" (
Brown v New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., 225 AD2d 36, 44, 648 NYS2d 880, 885 [2d Dept1996]), or where the emotional distress was intentionally or recklessly inflicted by outrageous or extreme conduct (Howell v New York Post Co., Inc., 81 NY2d 115, 596 NYS2d 350 [1993]).
In view of the foregoing, I find that Horace Thomas is entitled to an award of $45, with interest from June 12, 1998.


August 28, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]After discovering that his wedding ring was gone, claimant immediately notified correction officers and filed an inmate grievance complaint. On June 15, 1998, claimant filed an inmate claim form relating to the loss of the wedding band. See claimant's Exhibit 5. The inmate claim was ultimately disapproved by the Deputy Superintendent for Administration at the Sullivan Facility.