New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HOUSTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-030-527, Claim No. 99385


Inmate's claim alleging wrongful excessive confinement dismissed. Correction officers acted consistently with regulations

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 25, 2001
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Tyrone Houston, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 99385 that while he was an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing), and sometime on or after October 25, 1997, an employee of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) stole his property. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on August 28, 2001.
Claimant relied upon the factual allegations contained in his claim, certain real evidence, and his own testimony at trial. Claimant testified that "on October 25, 1997...[he] was placed in administrative segregation due to a conflict...[he] had with a Sergeant Algiere."[1]
He stated: "This sergeant intentionally went inside...[his] cell and stole all of ...[his] magazines, ten packs of cigarettes and all...[his] underwear, as a retaliatory act for speaking to a lieutenant...[about] the sergeant ordering his staff to harass...[Claimant]." On the "Form 2064" (hereafter I-64), completed as a part of his transfer to administrative segregation, the three categories of property alleged to be missing are noted as "not in property". [Claimant's Exhibit "1", I-64 "Personal Property Transferred" dated 10/25/97 and 10/27/97]. They are listed in the claim as: "...10 packs of Newports, 9...magazines, and 9 brand new sets of ‘fruit of the loom' underwear." [Claim No. 99385, Page 1, Paragraph 1].
He filed a property claim on October 27, 1997, indicating that he "had receipts", and placing the value of the cigarettes at $18.50; the 9 magazines at $41.00 and the 9 pair of underwear at $39.59. [Defendant's Exhibit "A", Inmate Claim Form and Claim Investigation Report]. When the property claim was filed, Correction Officer P. Rogers, the Claims Officer, wrote a form letter to Claimant advising him to file a Notice of Intent to File Claim with the Court of Claims within the ninety (90) day period, and to provide the "I-64 form from pack up." [Claimant's Exhibit "2", Memorandum To: Houston; From: Rogers]. The investigation report, dated November 11, 1997 stated: "C.O. Gotham verified that the claimed items were in fact missing from the inmate's property upon arrival in HBC. The items are listed on the I-64 form. The inmate needs to produce receipts for the items in order to be reimbursed. The claim is rejected pending those receipts." [Ibid.]

He testified that in the normal course, his property would be packed up, placed in the office of the Officer in Charge (OIC), and then taken to the OIC office at the Special Housing Unit (SHU). The OIC for his original block was Sergeant Algiere, with whom he claimed a conflict. He asserted that rather than being transferred from one OIC's office to the next, the property was left out "on the OIC flat" for "two whole days by Sgt. Algiere." Although he did not observe the packing up himself, he stated that he had two witnesses who were ready to testify at the internal claim hearing concerning their observations of the way his property was handled.

Claimant testified that he wrote to C.O. Rogers requesting the status of his property claim, but never received a response. On January 26, 1998, he filed a grievance, alleging C.O. Rogers failed to investigate his claim. [Claimant's Exhibit "3", Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee Response dated February 5, 1998; Inmate Grievance dated January 26, 1998]. "In the grievance," he said, he "did everything he'd been asked to do: file a Notice of Intention with the Court of Claims, produce the I-64 and produce witnesses yet it was not resolved." On February 5, 1998, the Inmate Grievance Review Committee indicated: "...The claims procedure has it's own appeal mechanism, and as such is non-grievable per Directive #4040. It is beyond the purview of the grievance mechanism to institute ‘corrections and disciplinary actions' against staff...Grievant has filed a claim, and has been advised that his claim is still pending. Investigations take time. Grievant will be notified when a determination is reached via the claims department, and if unsatisfied, may then appeal that decision through the proper appeal procedures." [Claimant's Exhibit "3"].

Claimant testified that "as of November 27, 1998 ... [he] still had not heard about the property claim."

Claimant presented receipts from several sources. With respect to the cigarettes, he had a receipt showing a purchase of 12 packs of Newport cigarettes on October 8, 1997 at $1.85 per pack. [Claimant's Exhibit "4", Receipts and Disbursement Refund Requests, 10 Pages]. Internal DOCS disbursement requests showed checks issued to publishing companies, on Claimant's behalf, for the purchase of magazines for April 13, 1994 ($6.00), May 23, 1994 ($2.00); July 31, 1995 ($5.95); January 31, 1995 ($8.00); April 9, 1995 ($5.95); April 24, 1996 ($5.95); November 7, 1996 ($5.00); July 8, 1997 ($5.95); August 20, 1997 ($5.95). [
Ibid.] Finally, while Claimant could not present receipts for the underwear, he submitted a sales circular to establish the replacement cost of same, at $5.25 for a package of three pairs of underwear. [Claimant's Exhibit "5", Jack L. Marcus Sales Circular dated June 30, 2001].
No other witnesses testified.

This claim is one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery of Claimant's personal property into the custody of Defendant's employees.
See, generally, Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878); Ahlers v State of New York, (Claim No. 82543, unreported decision filed December 23, 1991, Corbett, P.J.). The State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property. Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 (3d Dept. 1991). A delivery of property to the bailee, and the latter's failure to return it, satisfies Claimant's burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence. The bailee is then required to come forward with evidence to show it exercised ordinary care. Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 (1st Dept. 1977); See, Board of Education v Herb's Dodge Sales & Service, 79 AD2d 1049,1050 (3d Dept. 1981).
With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question.
Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept. 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (Nassau Co. Dist. Ct. 1973). Receipts are generally the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value is acceptable.
Here, Claimant established by his credible testimony, that certain personal property left his control, and was surrendered to the control of DOCS. No explanation was offered for the loss. There was no evidence contradicting Claimant's underlying assertion that there had never been a disposition of his inmate personal property claim.

The Court is satisfied by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the defendant should be liable for Claimant's loss. The credible evidence established the following values for his losses: $18.50 for cigarettes; $50.75 for magazines and $15.75 for underwear. Accordingly, Claimant is awarded damages in the sum of $85.00 plus interest at the statutory rate of 9%, §16 State Finance Law, from October 25, 1997, except for an appropriate suspension of interest pursuant to §19(1) Court of Claims Act.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

October 25, 2001
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.