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.
, claimant was transferred from Mid-Orange to Clinton Correctional Facility
after being issued a tier 3 ticket for what he characterized as a "frivolous"
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
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
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
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
, 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:
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
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
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED