New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BROWN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-028-045, Claim No. 105309, Motion No. M-65191


Claim is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction

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:
BY: Glenn C. King, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 22, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The following papers were read on Defendant's motion:

1) Notice of Motion and Supporting Affirmation of Assistant Attorney General Glenn C. King filed May 13, 2002, with annexed Exhibits A - B (King Affirmation);

2) Affidavit in Opposition of Isaiah Brown, filed May 28, 2002, (Brown Affidavit).

Filed Papers: Claim, Amended Claim and Answer, Amended Answer.

The Claim seeks damages occasioned by the delay in claimant receiving his bag of court papers. Claimant was scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court, Clinton County on August 7, 2000 with regard to an ongoing FOIL dispute between Claimant and the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). It appears that on August 4, 2000 Claimant was transported to Clinton Correctional Facility (Clinton CF) in advance of his court date. Despite requests on each successive day, Claimant was not provided with his "court bag" until August 9, 2000, two days after his scheduled Court appearance. This Claim ensued in which Claimant alleges a denial of access to the court (Claim, ¶ 32; Amended Claim, ¶ 5)[1].

Defendant has moved after joinder of issue for dismissal pursuant to CPLR §3211(a)(7) alleging that the Claimant has failed to state a cause of action.[2] The Claimant opposes the motion. In the context of a CPLR 3211 motion to dismiss, the pleadings are necessarily afforded a liberal construction (see, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York, 86 NY2d 307, 318; see also CPLR 3026). Claimants are also afforded "the benefit of all possible favorable inferences" (Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York, 86 NY2d 307, 318; see also, Rovello v Orofino Realty Co., 40 NY2d 633, 634). However, [even with this broad standard] a

court need not accept as true legal conclusions or factual allegations that are either inherently incredible or flatly contradicted by documentary evidence (Ozdemir v Caithness Corp., 285 AD2d 961, 963, lv denied 97 NY2d 605 [citations omitted]). Thus, while Claimant correctly states the general rule regarding CPLR 3211 motions, the decision and order of the Supreme Court, Clinton County is a matter of which this Court may take judicial notice and for the reasons that follow, the Court need not convert the instant motion to one for summary judgment in order to resolve it.

In this Court's view, and notwithstanding the labels and legal phraseology Claimant uses to attempt to articulate his claims[3], the gravamen of this Claim is premised upon the Defendant's alleged interference with Claimant's ongoing litigation and contemplated litigation. These allegations sound in a denial of access to the courts.

The United States Supreme Court has held that the fundamental right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to provide prisoners with access that is "adequate, effective, and meaningful" (Bounds v Smith, 430 US 817, 822). Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts, which is infringed when prison officials interfere with a prisoner's preparation of legal documents. To state a claim of denial of access to the courts, an inmate must allege an actual injury (see Lewis v Casey, 518 US 343, 349). Courts have long found a valid cause of action for intentional violations of the right of access to them where it has been alleged that prison officials confiscated or destroyed legal materials or papers (see, e.g., Hiney v Wilson, 520 F2d 589, 591; see also, Simmons v Dickhaut, 804 F2d 182 [prisoner's three requests to prison authorities for the return of his pertinent legal papers which went unsatisfied stated a claim for denial of access to courts]).

Whether the deprivation of Claimant's work product states a cause of action or ultimately violated his right of access to the courts under the circumstances of this case are questions this Court does not reach, because such allegations implicate the question of this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. It is settled law that a court cannot ignore a defect based upon lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Such a jurisdictional defect can be raised at any time, or even sua sponte (CPLR 3211(e); Eckert v Eckert, 34 AD2d 684; Anonymous Town Justice v State Comm. on Judicial Conduct, 96 Misc 2d 541; Williams v State of New York, Ct Cl, August 17, 2001, J. Collins, Claim No. 102081 Motion Nos. M-63063, M-63531, UID No. 2001-015-171; see also, Fry v Village of Tarrytown, 89 NY2d 714, 718).

The alleged causes of action for denial of access to the courts are premised upon a violation of the Federal Constitution, which must be pursued in an action pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 (see, Gagne v State of New York, [unreported decision] Claim No. 98686, Motion No. M-63259, Patti, J., Jan. 2, 2002). Furthermore, the State is not a "person" amenable to suit under 42 USC § 1983 (Ferrick v State of New York, 198 AD2d 822; Matter of Thomas, v New York Temporary State Comm. on Regulation of Lobbying, 83 AD2d 723, affd, 56 NY2d 656). As such, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain such a claim (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 184; Zagarella v State of New York, 149 AD2d 503).

To the extent the alleged various other causes of action in this claim arising out of the same incident, include allegations of negligence, gross negligence, violation of New York State Constitutional rights[4], negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention Defendant's argument that there are no damages suffered by Claimant, at least in this Court, hits the mark (see, e.g. McCants v State of New York and New York State Division of Parole, UID #2001-001-065, Claim No. 103533, Motion Nos. M-63682, CM-63834).

Accordingly, the motion is granted and Claim No. 105309 shall be and hereby is dismissed.

August 22, 2002
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] Claimant filed an "Amended Verified Claim" (see, CPLR §3025[a]) which extrapolated the foregoing facts into what Claimant labeled as eleven causes of action.
[2] Generally, after issue is joined, the appropriate procedural tool for accelerated judgment is a motion for summary judgment (see, Kavoukian v Kaletta, 294 AD2d 646, 742 NYS2d 157, 2002 NY App Div LEXIS 4306, [May 2, 2002], slip opn p 2).
[3] For example, Claimant's third cause of action (Amended Claim, ¶¶ 13-15) alleges plaintiff (sic) was owed a "cognizable duty of care" and that defendant "failed to exercise that duty" resulting in injury (Id.).
[4] It is unnecessary and inappropriate to imply a constitutional tort cause of action for money damages under the circumstances presented (see, Remley v State of New York, 174 Misc 2d 523; Martinez v City of Schenectady, 276 AD2d 993, affd 97 NY2d 78).