New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BARRATT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-016-099, Claim No. 100407


Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
Caption has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Alan C. Marin
Claimant's attorney:
Herman Barratt
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney GeneralBy: Mary Kavaney, Esq.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 16, 2000
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This is the decision following the trial of Herman Barratt's claim for property that was lost upon his move from one State prison to another. The case was tried at the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility on August 2, 2000.

In the summer of 1998[1]
, claimant was transferred from Mid-Orange to Clinton Correctional Facility after being issued a tier 3 ticket for what he characterized as a "frivolous" report.[2] Barratt left Mid-Orange with six bags of personal items, but since he could only take four with him, the other two bags were mailed. The two bags were packed up, and Barratt paid $18.28 in postage, which was deducted from his inmate account (cl exh 2). Claimant's exhibit 2 is the disbursement form signed by claimant, containing an entry that it covers two bags of personal items.
Only one of the two bags arrived at Clinton. The missing bag contained a fan, skillet, lamp and assorted pots, foodstuffs, and clothes. Claimant valued his loss at $52.40, slightly less than cost for each item, except the canned food. (Cl exh 1, p.2).

In addition to claimant, there was one other witness, who was called by the defendant: Juan Hodelin, a senior counselor at Mid-Orange, who was also in charge of the mail room. Claimant objected to this witness, most vigorously in a correspondence following the trial (dated August 7, 2000).
In any event, Hodelin was properly called by the defendant; he was not for example an expert witness nor an eyewitness for whom some form of notice would have been required.[3]
Hodelin testified regarding Mid-Orange policy as well as the results of his own investigation of Barratt's complaint. Inmate property that may not be personally taken to another facility is either sent home or mailed to the receiving facility.
The bags are packed up and taken to the prison mail room where they are weighed and third class postage affixed. Hodelin explained that Mid-Orange uses the same scale as the United States Postal Service, but the Postal Service rechecks the postage and if incorrect, will return the property to the facility. The bags are loaded onto a truck and driven to the post office by a Mid-Orange employee.
Hodelin stated that his investigation of Barratt's claim showed that his

property bore postage and was sent out through the US mail. Once inmate property is delivered to the US Postal Service for mailing, "beyond that point, [the facility is] no longer responsible" for any loss. Odom v State of New York , Ct Cl filed 8/14/2000 at p.2, Ruderman, J. (unreported, cl no 93187). Barratt did not challenge the assertion by Hodelin that his property was turned over to the US Postal Service. In fact, Barratt's own exhibit -- his internal claim form – contains this response from the head account clerk: "Staff at Mid-Orange mailed packages as requested" (cl exh 1 at p. 2). Nonetheless, claimant insisted that his distance from the actual mailing process somehow absolved him: "I never made any transaction with the Postal Service...DOCS made the transaction with the Postal Service, not me."
At trial, claimant's theory of recovery came down to his contention that he was not informed of the option of insuring his mail; nor was there any other notice, for example, in a directive setting out the policy. The $18 Barratt paid was for regular, uninsured, third class
postage. Hodelin explained that "it is customary at anytime that anything is mailed from the facility that the individual is asked – do you want to insure or not?"
Hodelin had no direct information that Barratt was so advised. Nor were there forms in use that would have a box checked when an inmate declined insurance. Moreover, claimant noted that the correction officer who packed him up did not mention the possibility of insuring such items. With Hodelin on the stand, claimant inquired as to the duties and knowledge of the officer on the scene:
Barratt: Did you ever go over to the box and inform anyone of the policy?

Hodelin: [It's] not my job to go to the box and pack inmates and inform them.

Barratt: [Did] anyone send you over to give such information?

Hodelin: No, [it is] not my job; [it's the] CO's assist and direct you in packing.


Claimant's burden in prosecuting this lawsuit is to prove by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence that defendant has violated a duty owed to claimant, and that such was a substantial factor in causing his property losses.
(See PJI 1:23; 2:10 and 2:70). Claimant has made no showing that the facility had a duty to inform him that US mail could be insured. He is unable to point to any rule or written directive thereon. The compiled State rules and regulations deal extensively with inmate mail, but the subject at issue here is not touched upon. See 7 NYCRR Parts 720, 721, 724 and especially, Part 722. In addition, it is speculative that had he known, claimant would have insured his bags. Finally, in view of the testimony taken as a whole, considerable doubt attaches to Barratt's assertion that he was not asked about insuring his property, or otherwise placed on actual or constructive notice of the availability of such insurance.
In view of the foregoing, the claim of Herman Barratt (no. 100407) is


November 16, 2000
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Precision on the dates is lacking. The disbursement form (cl exh 2) has a handwritten date of July 31, 1998; there is also an August 12, 1998 stamped date of indeterminate origin. Claimant submitted an I-64 form dated July 31, 1998 as his exhibit 3. On his inmate claim form (cl exh 1), Barratt stated "I receive[d] one bag on August 26, 1998 and was told that my other bag was not here," presumably that same day.
[2] Quoted testimony is taken from the tape recording of the trial.
[3] On experts, see CPLR 3101 (d); on eyewitness disclosure, see Siegel, New York Practice, §349 3d ed.