New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BARROWS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-015-166, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-63413


Synopsis


Premature application for late claim relief which ripened while awaiting the Court's determination on the motion seeking such relief on a prisoner personal property loss claim granted.

Case Information

UID:
2001-015-166
Claimant(s):
JAMES BARROWS
Claimant short name:
BARROWS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
NONE
Motion number(s):
M-63413
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
James Barrows, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Joel L. Marmelstein, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 25, 2001
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Movant's application for an order pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) permitting him to serve and file a late claim is granted. Movant, an inmate appearing pro se and currently incarcerated at the Marcy Correctional Facility, seeks permission to file a late claim for money damages arising from the alleged loss of personal property valued at $198.29, $600.00 in unspecified damages and costs of approximately $20.00. Movant alleges that on November 21, 2000 an unidentified correction officer packed five bags of movant's personal property upon his transfer to a special housing unit (SHU) but only four bags were received at the SHU. It appears from the documentation attached to the motion that movant pursued an administrative personal property claim which was disapproved on January 4, 2001. Movant was notified of the denial of his administrative appeal in writing dated February 10, 2001 and advised that a claim could be filed in the Court of Claims within 120 days of the final determination of his administrative claim.

Instead of filing his claim and serving it upon the Attorney General movant, within 120 days of notification of the administrative denial, filed and served the instant motion for late claim relief. Assistant Attorney General Joel Marmelstein thereafter advised movant by letter dated May 1, 2001 that since Court of Claims Act § 10 (9) provided 120 days for the filing of a claim after exhaustion of the movant's administrative remedy the time to file a timely claim had not yet expired and would not expire until June 10, 2001. Marmelstein suggested that movant withdraw his motion.

In response to Marmelstein's suggestion movant forwarded to the Court a request to withdraw the motion for late claim relief. Such request, however, also sought to have "the Court proceed with the Claim as already filed with the motion for permission to late file."

Movant's administrative remedy was exhausted by the denial of his administrative appeal on February 10, 2001. He had 120 days thereafter to serve and file his claim, a time period which expired during the pendency of this motion.

Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the state; and whether the claimant has any other available remedy".

The first issue for determination upon a late claim motion is whether the application is timely. Since the proposed claim asserts a negligence cause of action, the three year Statute of Limitations set forth in CPLR § 214 applies and the motion is properly before the Court.

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965), and the statutory factors are not exhaustive or one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254).

The excuse advanced for the failure to timely serve and file a claim with respect to the November 21, 2000 property loss is movant's ignorance of the applicable legal requirements. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse (Griffin v John Jay College, 266 AD2d 16).

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice to the State will be considered together. The specifics concerning the transfer of movant's property are memorialized in documents within the defendant's possession thus negating prejudice (Remley v State of New York, 174 Misc 2d 523, 524). In addition, movant reported the incident to DOCS employees within one week of the occurrence by filing an inmate claim form. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the factors of notice, opportunity to investigate and lack of prejudice favor granting the motion.

As to the appearance of merit, the movant must only demonstrate that the proposed claim is not "patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective" and "there is a reasonable cause to believe a valid cause of action does exist" (Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967, 969, 970). In the Court's view, movant has met that burden.

As to the final factor, it does not appear that movant has any other remedy with respect to his property loss as his administrative appeal was denied.

A review of the motion record and statutory factors leads the Court to determine that late claim relief is appropriate with respect to claimant's personal property loss allegedly occurring on November 21, 2000.

Movant is directed to file and serve upon the Attorney General a verified claim as provided in Court of Claims Act § 11 (a) within 30 days of service upon him of a copy of the decision and order herein.


July 25, 2001
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:

  1. Notice of motion dated April 23, 2001;
  2. Affidavit of James Barrows sworn to April 23, 2001, with exhibits;
  3. Letter dated May 1, 2001 from Joel L. Marmelstein to James Barrows:
  4. Letter dated May 8, 2001 from James Barrows to David Klingaman;
  5. Affirmation of Joel L. Marmelstein dated May 14, 2001.