New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LONDON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-015-557, Claim No. 99928


Inmate bailment claim dismissed following trial at which claimant failed to prove bailment itself and failed to prove damages regarding the allegedly bailed property.

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:
Dexter London, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Joel L. Marmelstein, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 12, 2002
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

The trial of this inmate bailment claim occurred at Marcy Correctional Facility on May 13, 2002.

The claim was filed on March 4, 1999 more than eight months prior to the November 7, 1999 effective date of Court of Claims Act § 10(9) and therefore is not subject to that section's administrative procedure exhaustion requirement. Moreover, while the claim originally sought to recover for both injury to claimant's typewriter and for emotional stress the court by decision and order dated June 14, 1999 (filed June 22, 1999) dismissed the mental anguish portion of the claim on the ground that New York State does not recognize a cause of action for mental anguish due to the negligent destruction of personal property (
Caprino v Silsby, 226 AD2d 1078; see also, Jason v Parks, 224 AD2d 494; Zaccaro v Jenik Motor Serv., 148 Misc 2d 664). The only issue remaining for trial was whether the State was liable for damage to claimant's typewriter.
Claimant was the sole witness at trial and testified that while incarcerated at Mohawk Correctional Facility he was confined to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for a period of 90 days. Upon his release from the SHU on January 18, 1999 he picked up his property which allegedly had been inventoried, though no proof of inventory was offered, and returned to his assigned dormitory. After arriving at his dorm claimant discovered that his Smith Corona typewriter was split horizontally across the back. He testified that although the typewriter was operable some buttons did not work, the top came off and it required a longer warmup prior to use. He stated that he stopped using the typewriter about one month after his release from the SHU because the buttons delayed and stuck.

Claimant alleged that he purchased the typewriter new in October 1997 for $179.00.

On cross-examination claimant admitted that he had no documentary proof of purchase, that he had not retained a copy of the I-64 inventory completed prior to his confinement in the SHU and, further, that he had no permit allowing him to possess the typewriter in a DOCS facility.

At the end of claimant's proof the defendant moved to dismiss the claim based upon claimant's failure to prove a prima facie case. The Court reserved decision on the motion.

To establish a prima facie case of negligence in a bailment transaction a claimant must show that his property was deposited with the defendant and was returned in a damaged condition (
Schibilia v Kiamesha Concord, 16 AD2d 504, 505). If that is demonstrated the burden shifts to the defendant to come forward with proof reasonably explaining the damage (see, Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). If defendant meets that obligation, it then becomes claimant's burden to prove the damage was caused by the defendant's negligence (Sun Yau Ko v Lincoln Sav. Bank, 99 AD2d 943, affd 62 NY2d 938).
Here claimant offered no proof other than his testimony that his then two year old typewriter was turned over to the custody of DOCS prior to being confined in the SHU. While he alleged that an inventory was completed by DOCS at some point in time he failed to offer in evidence a copy of an I-64 form or any other written acknowledgment of the defendant's receipt of the typewriter or any proof of its condition or purported value at the time custody was allegedly transferred to DOCS.

Even if the Court were to fully credit the claimant's testimony regarding the creation of the bailment prior to his confinement in the SHU he failed at trial to prove damages. In a case such as this where property is allegedly returned to the bailor in a damaged condition he may prove damages through the introduction into evidence of an estimate of the cost to repair the property (
see, Sealey v Meyers Parking System, 147 Misc 2d 217). No such proof was offered here and consequently he failed to establish damages. Moreover, since claimant failed to prove a bailment he may not recover nominal damages (see, Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co. v Noble Van & Storage Co., 146 AD2d 729). Since claimant apparently no longer owns the typewriter a repair estimate cannot be obtained and damages cannot be proven. The claim is dismissed.
The Clerk is directed to enter a judgment in accord with this decision. All motions not previously determined are denied.

August 12, 2002
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims