New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-018-013, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-61167


Synopsis


Motion pursuant to Court of Claims Act §10(8) seeking an order deeming the notice of intention the claim. Claimant filed and served a notice of intention and then within two years served but did not file the claim. Counsel for the parties entered into a stipulation agreeing to permit claimant to file a late claim. Parties continued with discovery during the next three years, although the claim was never filed. Upon resolution of the related Supreme Court action, claimant sought to file the note of issue in this action but was advised that no claim was filed. Court granted claimant's motion based upon the signed stipulation and equitable estoppel.

Case Information

UID:
2000-018-013
Claimant(s):
ANDREW WILLIAMS and JANICE WILLIAMS, Individually and As Parents and Natural Guardians of KINYATA WILLIAMS
Claimant short name:
WILLIAMS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
None
Motion number(s):
M-61167
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Claimant's attorney:
STANLEY LAW OFFICES By: ROBERT QUATTROCCI, ESQUIRE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: LOUIS J. TRIPOLI, ESQUIRE
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 18, 2000
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimants bring this motion seeking permission to treat the notice of intention as a claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §10(8). Defendant opposes the motion. The Court has considered the following documents:

Notice of Motion........................................................................................................1

Affirmation of Robert Quattrocci, Esquire, counsel for claimants,

with Exhibits A through P attached thereto................................................................2

Affirmation in Opposition of Louis J. Tripoli, Esquire,

Assistant Attorney General, with Exhibits A, 1 and 2, B, and C

attached thereto...........................................................................................................3


The attorney for claimant[1] asserts that claimant has a claim for malpractice for injuries she sustained as a minor, when she presented to the State University Health Science Center (hereinafter, SUNY) for complaints of headaches, vomiting and blurred vision on March 22, 1994. Claimant was discharged that date only to return on March 25, 1994 to be diagnosed with pseudo tumor cerebri, which has caused complete and permanent blindness. The substance of the claim is that had a timely diagnosis and treatment occurred when the claimant initially presented at SUNY on March 22, 1994, her blindness could have been prevented. A notice of intention was filed on June 13, 1994 with the Clerk of the Court[2] and was sent by certified mail to the attorney general on June 10, 1994. In February 1996 claimant personally served a claim upon the attorney general's office; however, no claim was ever filed with the Clerk of the Court, as is required by Court of Claims Act §10(3) and 11(a). The two years within which claimant had to file the claim expired on March 22, 1996. The attorney general's office interposed an answer to the claim and filed it with the Clerk of the Court on May 1, 1996.

It is asserted by claimant's counsel that a motion for permission to file a late claim was prepared in May of 1996 but never filed, because defendant's counsel had no objection to claimant's filing of a late claim. In fact, a stipulation was signed by the attorneys to that effect, agreeing that a claim would be filed within 20 days after the filing of the executed stipulation (herein referred to as Stipulation One).[3] The parties intended that this stipulation would be signed by the judge assigned to the case and made an order. Along with this stipulation, counsel also entered into a "Stipulation and Conditional Order of Dismissal" (herein referred to as Stipulation Two) with the Assistant Attorney General agreeing that the claim, once filed, would then be dismissed subject to being reactivated after the resolution of a pending related Supreme Court action. The claimant's attorney signed Stipulation One on July 16, 1996, and Stipulation Two on July 15, 1996. Both stipulations were also signed by the Assistant Attorney General, but not dated. Copies of both were attached to claimant's moving papers. (Exhibit E) Also attached to claimant's moving papers is the letter dated July 19, 1996, from the Assistant Attorney General to the Court submitting the stipulations for the judge's signature and filing with the clerk. There is no indication however that either stipulation was ever signed by a judge or filed with the clerk. Claimant submits, in addition to the signed stipulations, discovery responses and correspondence between the Assistant Attorney General and claimant's attorney which supports claimant's position that the parties had agreed to the late filing of the claim. On October 4, 1996, after the statute of limitations would have expired pursuant to CPLR 214-c, the Assistant Attorney General wrote to claimant's attorney stating:
Please be informed that the State has no objection to allowing the plaintiffs to amend the complaint for service of a late claim on behalf of the parents in this matter. It is my understanding that the Stipulation in this regard has been forwarded to the Court for filing. However, as of this date, I have no information as to whether or not it has actually been filed. We are attempting to determine the status of the stipulation, and I will advise accordingly.[4] (Exhibit K)


The next exhibit is a letter dated February 8, 1999, from the assistant attorney general to claimant's counsel indicating that discovery in the Court of Claims action should proceed despite the action being discontinued pending resolution of the Supreme Court action. (Exhibit L) The letter notes that claimant has not yet complied with a Demand for a Verified Bill of Particulars or various discovery demands and no deposition of claimant had yet occurred in the Court of Claims action. The letter advises that claimant's counsel should contact the assistant attorney general to arrange mutually convenient times for the completion of discovery. Following that correspondence, depositions of claimant and her mother were conducted on May 24, 1999. (Exhibit M) Subsequently a letter dated June 24, 1999 was sent by the Assistant Attorney General, wherein he requests a written summary of claimant's position in the Court of Claims case to substantiate claimant's settlement demand, and advising claimant's counsel that upon receipt of this summary settlement discussions could be conducted. (Exhibit N)

When the Supreme Court action was finally resolved in December 1999, claimant's attorney sent supplemental responses to the defendant's demands for disclosure and Verified Bill of Particulars and also forwarded a note of issue and certificate of readiness to the Assistant Attorney General for the Court of Claims action. At that point, defendant's counsel sent a letter to claimant's counsel advising that since no claim had ever been filed with the Clerk of the Court, and the time to do so having expired, defendant was treating the matter as closed. (Exhibit P)

Court of Claims Act §10(8)(a) provides that a claimant who has timely served and filed a notice of intention, but has not timely served and filed a claim, may apply to the Court for permission to treat the notice of intention as a claim. The section further provides that the Court shall not grant the application unless: "it is made before an action asserting a like claim against a citizen of the state would be barred under the provisions of article two of the civil practice law and rules; the notice of intention was timely served and filed, and contains facts sufficient to constitute a claim; and the granting of the application would not prejudice the defendant". (Court of Claims Act §10(8) (a)). Subsection (b) of the same section allows an extension or toll for any of the tolling provisions set forth in article two of the CPLR.

Pursuant to CPLR 214-a, a citizen of the State would have two years and six months from the act, omission, or failure complained of, to commence a medical malpractice action. In this case two and one-half years from the date of accrual would have been September 22, 1996. Although claimant was an infant at the time the notice of intention was served and filed, claimant's infancy expired on January 29, 1996, and thus no infancy toll is applicable for purposes of this motion and no other toll or extension has been asserted. (See, claimant's Exhibit M and CPLR 208)

Defendant vigorously argues that this Court is without authority to grant claimant's motion because the motion was not brought within two and one-half years from the date of accrual, the statutory time frame under the CPLR. (Court of Claims Act §10(8)). Interestingly, however, defendant fails to even acknowledge the signed stipulation authorizing the filing of a late claim.

If the Court ignores the stipulation and the acts of the defendant, the motion is untimely and the denial of claimant's application would be warranted on the ground that pursuant to statute the Court cannot grant the relief requested; however, the circumstances of this case persuade this Court to reach a different result. It is evident that defendant's counsel entered into a binding stipulation agreeing to permit the late filing of the claim. Although the late claim was supposed to be filed within 20 days of the stipulation being filed with the Clerk of the Court, no stipulation was ever filed. (See claimant's Exhibit G, and claimant's counsel's affirmation ¶5) Therefore, claimant's window of time within which the parties agreed to permit the late filing of the claim, is still open. By entering into Stipulation One, and through its actions and assurances, defendant waived its statute of limitations defense. (cf., Brown v State of New York, 250 AD2d 314, 319)

However, even if a waiver of the statute of limitations is not found and the stipulation is not binding, its existence contributes to an unusual factual context within which estoppel may be applied against the State. (Bender v New York City Health and Hosps., Corp.,38 NY2d 662; cf. Bayridge Air Rights, Inc. v Blitman Construction Corp., 160 AD2d 589, aff'd 80 NY2d 777; Robinson v City of New York 24 AD2d 260) Estoppel, an equitable principle, usually cannot be applied against a governmental entity acting within its governmental capacity. (See, Matter of Daleview Nursing Home v Axelrod, 62 NY2d 30; Matter of City of New York v City Civ. Serv. Comm., 60 NY2d 436; Matter of Hamptons Hosp. & Med. Ctr., Inc. v Moore, 52 NY2d 88, 93; Richmond County Supervisors v Ellis, 59 NY 620, 625; Francis v State of New York, 155 Misc 2d 1006, 1009) The reasoning behind this prohibition is to protect the public against fraud, arising particularly from situations where public funds are involved; sovereign immunity; and also to prevent the judiciary from overriding a legislative mandate, recognizing the separation of powers between governmental branches. (Matter of Daleview Nursing Home v Axelrod, supra at 33; Francis v State of New York, supra at 1011) Fully mindful of the logic behind this reluctance to find estoppel against a governmental entity, this Court concludes that under the unique circumstances presented here estoppel is appropriate.

In order for estoppel to apply there must be a showing that the governmental unit involved wrongfully conducted itself, that its conduct induced reliance by someone entitled to rely upon it, and the position of the party relying was changed as a result. (Bender v New York City Health and Hosps., Corp., supra at 668) These elements are met here. Defendant's counsel entered into a written stipulation providing for the late filing of the claim for damages and for the next three years proceeded with discovery and engaged in settlement discussions regarding the claim. Claimant in reliance upon this stipulation did not file a late claim motion. Long after the expiration of the statute of limitations and the time within which to make a timely late claim application, defendant's attorney then advised claimant's counsel that since no claim had previously been filed, the case was closed and would proceed no further. This occurred after the termination of the Supreme Court action, precisely at the point that the parties' contemplated the reactivation of the Court of Claims action, based upon the "Stipulation and Conditional Order of Dismissal" (Stipulation Two). In fact, since discovery continued during the pendency of the Supreme Court action, disclosure was complete and the case is ripe for the note of issue to be filed. At this point, and under these facts, the State must be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a shield to protect it from this claim.

A requirement for the granting of relief under Court of Claims Act §10(8)(a) is that the notice of intention contain facts sufficient to constitute a claim. A claim must state the time when and the place were it arose, the nature of the claim and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed. (Court of Claims Act §11(b)) The notice of intention meets all the requirements of a claim except for one: the amount of damages is not specified. The Court however finds that this deficiency is merely procedural, particularly under these circumstances where the defendant has had notice of the amount of damages that claimant is claiming since February 1996, and in addition has had an opportunity to obtain full disclosure of the substantive basis for the amount sought. (See, DeHart v. State of New York, 92 Misc 2d 631, 633) . This omission does not prevent the Court from finding that the notice of intention, which was timely served and filed, should be considered the claim.

Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, claimants' motion is GRANTED and the notice of intention is deemed a claim nunc pro tunc. The Clerk of the Court is directed to assign an appropriate claim number. Claimant is directed to file and serve an amended claim, within 30 days of receipt of a file-stamped copy of this Order, setting forth the total amount claimed and with an amended caption reflecting that Kinyata Williams is no longer a minor and brings the claim on her own behalf along with Andrew Williams and Janice Williams, and also reflecting "The State of New York" as the proper defendant. Defendant is directed to file an answer to the amended claim within 40 days of service of the amended claim.


May 18, 2000
Syracuse, New York

HON. DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]
Claimant, Kinyata Williams, was a minor at the time that the notice of intention was served and filed, as a result her parents brought the action on her behalf as well as individually. Reference to claimant will refer to Kinyata Williams unless specifically noted otherwise, since Kinyata has reached majority, and her parents action is derivative.
[2]
Effective August 2, 1995, L.1995, c. 466 §1, Court of Claims Act §10(3) was amended eliminating the requirement that the notice of intention had to be filed with the Clerk of the Court, only service upon the attorney general is still required.
[3]
Defendant's position is also reflected in a letter dated May 2, 1996, wherein defendant's counsel unequivocally agrees to permit the late filing of the claim. (See the last letter in Exhibit F)
[4]
The complaint in the related Supreme Court action filed March 16, 1996, already contained a cause of action on behalf of the parents. Therefore, this letter must be referring to the "claim" in this Court.
There is no indication from the documents submitted whether defendant's counsel ever inquired into the status of the stipulations presented to the judge for signature.