New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WEST v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-015-558, Claim No. 100642


Court dismissed claim after trial in which claimant sought to recover $252.00 in damages for actual and sentimental value of family photographs lost by DOCS who allegedly failed to secure claimant's property upon his confinement in SHU at Mid-State Correctional Facility.

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:
Miles West, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: G. Lawrence Dillon, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 12, 2002
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

A trial of the above referenced pro se inmate claim was held at a term of the Court at Marcy Correctional Facility on May 14, 2002. This decision addresses both liability and damages.

The claim (No. 100642) seeks to recover $252.00 in damages for the loss of 26 personal photographs allegedly missing from claimant's bin bag (#189) at Mid-State Correctional Facility (Mid-State). The loss was discovered by claimant on April 5, 1999 when he attempted to exchange his 10 in-cell photographs for other photos stored in a "bin bag", i.e., a box located somewhere outside the inmate's cell, pursuant to some unspecified rule allegedly applicable to the special housing unit (SHU) at Mid-State. Claimant alleged that the loss occurred due to the negligence and malfeasance of DOCS employees in failing to secure his property. He calculated damages at $2.00 per photograph ($52.00) and also seeks the sum of $200.00 said to be the sentimental value of 12 of the photographs which depicted a deceased relative.

At the trial of this claim the claimant testified that upon his arrival at Mid-State Correctional Facility he completed an I-64 form which included the unspecified contents of 5 photo albums. In addition, during his stay at Mid-State he received approximately 26 additional photos. When he left Mid-State for Auburn Correctional Facility he had 5 photos. The witness alleged that an inmate is permitted to have only 4 - 5 photos in his cell at any given time; all other photos are to be stored in an outside box from which the inmate may exchange photos periodically. According to his testimony, one day the witness asked for a box check and discovered that several photos were missing.

Claimant filed an administrative grievance for the lost property but the grievance was denied on the ground that an inventory of the claimant's photos had not been conducted and it could not be determined if the purportedly missing photographs were to be found within claimant's 5 photo albums which were in storage. Claimant alleged at trial that his photos could not have been misplaced in those photo albums since the albums were packed and stored in a different area to which he did not have access.

When he was subsequently transferred to Auburn Correctional Facility an inventory of the photos contained in the albums was completed. Claimant alleges that upon completion of the inventory he noted that the 26 additional photographs received during his stay at Mid-State were not accounted for. He seeks compensation for their loss.

Claimant was not cross-examined by defense counsel who instead moved to dismiss the claim due to claimant's failure to prove a prima facie case arguing that the lost property has no fair market value.

In order to recover money damages in a bailment case claimant must show that the property was delivered to the bailee who failed to return it (
Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). Claimant failed at trial to establish by credible evidence that the purportedly missing photographs were ever placed in the outside box thereby transferring custody of the photos to DOCS. Consequently, he failed to meet his burden of proof regarding bailment of the lost items.
While personal photographs may have sentimental value "the law does not recognize or make allowance for a purely sentimental value which the property may have (
Goor v Navilio, 177 Misc 970). Moreover, this Court has held that personal photographs have no fair market value upon which recovery in a bailment case may be based (see, Benton v State of New York, Ct Cl, July 8, 1999 [Claim No. 94337] Collins, J., unreported; see also Moore v State of New York, Ct Cl, March 21, 2002 [Claim No. 99830] Scuccimarra, J., unreported; cf., Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866).
Accordingly, the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted. Judgment shall be entered by the Clerk in accord with this decision.

August 12, 2002
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims