New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WELLS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-015-246, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-64563


Synopsis


Inmate claimant's motion for late claim relief granted as to claim alleging fall from bunk bed at correctional facility.

Case Information

UID:
2002-015-246
Claimant(s):
CARL D. WELLS
Claimant short name:
WELLS
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-64563
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Carl D. Wells, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: G. Lawrence Dillon, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 23, 2002
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

This motion for late claim relief pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) is granted. By decision and order dated December 10, 2001 and filed December 21, 2001 this Court dismissed a previously filed claim (No. 103803) seeking damages for personal injury sustained by claimant in a fall from a bunk bed at Oneida Correctional Facility on February 2, 2001 at approximately 6:15 a.m. That claim had alleged that claimant's injuries resulted from a dangerous condition presented by a bunk bed cube arrangement the danger of which was known to the State. The defendant's motion to dismiss that claim was based on a lack of jurisdiction stemming from the alleged failure of claimant to specify a theory of liability and his failure to specify the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed (see, Court of Claims Act § 11 [b]).

The Court found that the claim set forth sufficient detail regarding the incident and the alleged basis of the State's negligence to withstand the motion but dismissed the claim due to claimant's failure to itemize damages and to state a total sum claimed as required by Court of Claims Act § 11 (b). The dismissal was without prejudice to a timely application for late claim relief and the instant motion ensued.

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 motion filed on January 14, 2002 is timely in that a claim containing a cause of action for personal injuries negligently caused is governed by the three year Statute of Limitations set forth in CPLR § 214 (5).

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 offered for the failure to timely commence the claim was the unanticipated dismissal of the earlier filed claim. The Court finds the proffered excuse reasonable under the circumstances.

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice will be considered together. Movant alleges in the proposed claim that he reported his injury to the correctional officers station in dormitory C after its occurrence on February 2, 2001 and further alleges on this motion that the prior claim was filed on February 9, 2001, within one week of its accrual, thus providing the State with notice and an opportunity to investigate. Although defense counsel acknowledges the defendant's awareness of the underlying facts he asserts in conclusory fashion that the State has not yet had a full opportunity to investigate and will be prejudiced if the application is granted. Such conclusory assertions by counsel are insufficient since defense counsel does not offer factual allegations from a person with direct knowledge to show that the State was unable to promptly investigate the incident. He alleges only that it has not had a full opportunity to do so. No alleged prejudice has been shown or facts alleged from which prejudice could be inferred. The Court concludes that these factors weigh in favor of granting the application.

As to the issue of merit, the proposed claim appears to present a single cause of action sounding in negligence. In order to establish a meritorious claim it is movant's burden to show that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists (see, Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967; Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). 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 available under the circumstances.

A review of the record on the motion and the statutory factors lead the Court to conclude that late claim relief is appropriate. Accordingly, claimant's motion is granted.

Movant is hereby directed to file a verified claim with the Chief Clerk of the Court and to serve a copy thereof upon the Attorney General either personally or by certified mail, return receipt requested, as provided in Court of Claims Act § 11 (a) (i) within 30 days of service upon him of a copy of this decision and order. Movant is advised that the proposed claim submitted to the Court with the late claim application does not satisfy this requirement since it was submitted prior to the granting of the motion.


April 23, 2002
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 December 28, 2001 with exhibits;
  2. Affirmation of G. Lawrence Dillon dated January 29, 2002.