Claimant, an inmate proceeding
, seeks compensation for the alleged negligent mishandling
of incoming mail, by Fishkill Correctional Facility (hereinafter "FCF") staff
members, in their failure to open privileged legal mail in his presence.
Claimant alleges a violation of his Fundamental Right to Privacy protected under
the Constitution. The trial of this matter was held at FCF on May 25, 2000.
Claimant was the sole witness who testified at trial. Defendant called no
Claimant testified that on May 16, 1998 he was called for legal mail and went
to the mail office to retrieve it.
He stated that he signed for the mail and subsequently discovered that the legal
mail had been opened, its contents had been examined, and the envelope had been
resealed. Claimant testified that written on the envelope were the words "Opened
in Error." Claimant testified that, after an initial inquiry on the opening of
the letter, he filed a grievance with FCF and subsequently discovered who was
responsible for opening the mail. At this point, Claimant introduced Claimant's
Exhibit 1 into evidence. Claimant's Exhibit 1 was identified by the court as
being; a letter from the Legal Action Center at 153 Waverly Place, New York,
N.Y., addressed to David Williams with the words "Legal Mail" in bold letters,
and containing the words "Opened in Error" written on its face. Claimant
testified that as a result of the grievance the administration came together and
accepted responsibility on the opening of the letter and admitted it had been
opened in error. Claimant testified that this was the only occurrence of such an
incident and that they have been more careful ever
Clearly, claimant's mail, a letter from a legal services organization, is
privileged correspondence under New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (herein
"7 NYCRR") §721.2 (b).
Being of a privileged nature, FCF is required to abide by the rules of incoming
privileged correspondence set forth in 7 NYCRR §721.3 (b) (1)(iii)
This court is convinced, and the evidence
clearly shows, that this mail was erroneously opened in the absence of the
claimant. The writing "Opened in Error" on the face of the envelope, coupled
with the evidence presented in the Investigation Report from the Inmate
Grievance Resolution Committee accepting responsibility, is sufficient to find
that the mail was in fact opened in the absence of the claimant by mistake.
Claimant has succeeded in making a valid claim up to this point.
However, in making a
case for negligence, claimant must also meet his
burden of proof on the issue of damages. Claimant failed to introduce any
evidence on his alleged claim of "conscious pain" or any other damages that he
may have suffered as a result of this incident. As a result, this court finds
that claimant has failed to demonstrate that he sustained any compensable damage
or measurable injury as a result thereof. If it is any consolation, claimant's
actions have at least resulted in increased awareness and have caused FCF staff
to be more careful with the handling of legal mail. Accordingly, the Clerk is
directed to enter judgment dismissing the claim.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.