New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LEWIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-013-503, Claim No. 97758


Claimant failed to establish a bailment where there was no evidence that he still owned the property in question when it was packed up by correction officers.

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:
Attorney General of the State of New York
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
February 7, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This bailment claim arose in September 1997, when Claimant was moved from the general population of the Wende Correctional Facility (Wende) to that institution's Special Housing Unit (SHU). Claimant alleges that items valued at more than $500.00 were missing when his personal property was packed by correction officers, without his being present, on September 4, and then reinventoried in his presence on September 8, 1997.

At trial, Defendant presented an I-64 form, dated September 4, 1997 (Exhibit A), which does not contain an acknowledging signature by Claimant. It indicates that a total of five bags of his personal property was packed up on that date. A second I-64 dated September 8, 1997 (Exhibit B), signed by Claimant, indicates that some of his property was abandoned, at his request, and three sealed boxes of property were put in storage. A separate document (Exhibit E) lists the items he was allowed to keep with him in SHU. Finally, a photocopied portion of a form dated October 16, 1997 (Exhibit D), which was signed by Claimant, reads: "Before leaving WENDE SPECIAL HOUSING UNIT, I have personally inventoried my property and found it to be in agreement with my I-64 Form." With further questioning at trial, it became apparent that in signing this form, Claimant was merely indicating that the three sealed bags had been returned to him, with seals intact.

The items which Claimant alleges are missing were listed in his Inmate Claim Form (Exhibit C), and a subsequent list contained in his Claim (attachment) lists essentially the same items but with more detail about the source of those items and their costs. On the earlier form, a total value of $487.63 is given , while the later list, which Claimant contends is more accurate, presents a total value of $526.23. Claimant also presented a pack of receipts to establish his ownership of, and the cost of, the items claimed to be missing.

The officer who inventoried Claimant's property on September 4, Officer F. Jamison, confirmed that Claimant was not present when he inventoried and packed his possessions. He testified that when he arrived at the cell, the door was shut and the cell was secure. He explained the policies and procedures for the task he performed and stated that he followed these faithfully, completing the I-64 form at the same time that he was carrying out the inventory and packing. Officer Jamison was asked to compare the two I-64 forms and concluded that, with minimal exceptions, any items that were packed up when Claimant was moved to SHU (Exhibit A) were also present and accounted for at the time of the second inventory (Exhibit B). He also noted that a number of the more easily identifiable items that Claimant alleged were missing -- for example, a Casio watch and a bathrobe -- do not appear on either of the I-64 forms, and that some of the more generic items -- for example, sweat pants and towels -- do not show any reduction in number between the first and second listing. On cross-examination, Officer Jamison acknowledged that he could not say whether or not someone had had access to Claimant's cell prior to his arriving to inventory the property, and he also confirmed that he was alone when he packed the property.

Officer J. Eberhardt testified that he inventoried Claimant's property on September 8, in Claimant's presence, and that he completed the I-64 form marked as Exhibit B. He testified that at an inventory of this nature, all of an inmate's property would be spread out on a table, the inmate will be asked to identify it, and then items allowed in SHU are taken for his use while in that unit. The remainder of the property is placed in sealed bags. Officer Eberhardt also identified Exhibit F, Claimant's SHU Chronological Sheet, which indicates that on October 16, 1997, Claimant was transferred from SHU to a general population cell and was accompanied by four bags of property. When asked to explain the different numbers of bags at each stage of the proceeding, Officer Eberhardt explained that Claimant arrived at SHU with five bags of property; he then selected the property to keep in SHU and also identified some property to be thrown out (noted on Exhibit B), leaving three bags' worth of items to be stored. When he left the unit, he was given the three sealed bags and added a fourth to carry property that he had in his SHU cell.

With the receipts and permits, Claimant established that, at some point, he owned the property that he now claims was missing. There is nothing to establish that he still had those items in his possession on September 4, 1997, when his property was packed up by Officer Jamison. On September 8, he was permitted to see all of the property that had been packed and there was no evidence or testimony to the effect that he questioned the absence of the items he now claims are missing. Some of these -- such as the watch, the bathrobe, headphones, a bath rug and cardigan sweaters -- are items important enough that they would be looked for, and large enough that their absence should be immediately apparent. Because the itemization on the I-64 forms from September 4 and September 8 are in virtual agreement, Claimant should have been aware by the latter date that there were items missing. Nevertheless, he signed a form that contained a separate notation of items he was throwing out and the identification numbers of the sealed bags, which acknowledged the inventory, apparently without making any claim that some items were missing. His later institutional claim (Exhibit C) was not filed until his release from SHU.

These situations in which all witnesses appear to be credible but, nevertheless, their testimony directly contradicts, are extremely difficult to decide. In the instant case, I must accept that the items which Claimant now asserts were missing when he got all of his property back upon his release from SHU in October were also missing on September 4, when the contents of Claimant's cell were packed up. The I-64 forms provide evidence that they did not become missing after that point. There is simply no evidence, except the fact of Claimant's earlier ownership of the items, from which I can conclude that the property in question was in the sole custody and control of the State, and thus that a bailment existed (
Matter of Terranova v State of New York, 111 Misc 2d 1089). Accordingly, Claim No. 97758 is dismissed.
All motions not heretofore ruled upon are now denied.


February 7, 2002
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims