New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

AHLERS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-030-018, Claim No. 101848


Pro se inmate's bailment claim alleging damage to personal property sustained. Loss of $140.15 established through receipts, and uncontradicted testimony of credible claimant concerning cost and replacement value

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:
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 12. 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Karl Ahlers, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 101848 that Defendant's agents negligently damaged his personal property while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (hereafter Sing Sing). Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing on January 15, 2002.

Claimant testified that on or about February 5, 1999, " property was packed and then I was taken to Downstate from Sing Sing where I spent the weekend and then they took me to Arthur Kill, and the following day I received my property back. The property is packed into feed sacks and taken from us, and transported with us on the bus...but we have no access to it....The first access I had to it was when we opened the bags at Arthur Kill on February 9, 1999."[1]
When Claimant opened his bags he noticed that his typewriter case was cracked and the hot pot was smashed. The correction officer "unpacking" him told Claimant to discard the hot pot, because "he wasn't going to issue a permit on a broken hot pot." Claimant presented a receipt for the hot pot showing he purchased it for $11.15 in October, 1998. [Claimant's Exhibit "1"]. He did not have a receipt for the typewriter, but did have a copy of an I-64 form showing it had been present during the pack up of his property at Sing Sing. [Claimant's Exhibit "2"].
He was told to dispose of the typewriter as well, as noted on the local permit form completed at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility (hereafter Arthur Kill) upon his arrival [Claimant's Exhibit "3"]. He was issued a local permit on May 24, 1999 for a new typewriter he was "forced to buy", valued at $149.99. [Claimant's Exhibit "4"]. He indicated that the ruined typewriter had been purchased in December, 1998 for $179.00, but could not provide receipts for same. His total claim was for $140.15, "...taking off 10% for depreciation."

On cross-examination Claimant agreed he had signed the I-64 on his admission to Arthur Kill, but stated that he told the Correction Officer at the time that the hot pot and the typewriter were broken and that it was "up to the officer to make a note of it and I thought that he had somewhere....they're supposed to make it in the log book according to the facility rules but they didn't put it in the log book....[The correction officer] made the note afterwards when they were investigating the facility claim." When asked whether the typewriter he claimed was damaged was actually bought in 1995, he denied the allegation, asserting that he'd "bought several typewriters...[and] used a typewriter like crazy...for his work in the law library."

Claimant's facility claim was denied. [State's Exhibit "A"]. Harold Suretsky, Coordinator of Inmate Claims wrote: "The I-64 lists both the typewriter & the hot pot. There is no evidence that the hot pot was broken. There is evidence only that the typewriter's plastic cover was broken - statement by C.O. Lang. Both Sing Sing C.F. & Downstate C.F. indicate that the items were secured with no notation of damage. There is therefore no evidence presented that the items were broken while in departmental custody." [
Id.] Claimant appealed the determination to the Superintendent, who denied his appeal. See, generally, 7 NYCRR § 1700.1 et seq.
At trial, Claimant noted that at least with respect to the hot pot, the fact that it is listed on the I-64 is inconsistent with the fact that no permit was issued for it. From this, he contended, it can be inferred that the hot pot was "all in pieces" as he claimed.

With respect to the typewriter, he asserted he took it to his cell, tried to use it, and then learned it was not working. He sent it down " maintenance with Inmate Robert Southard, 82A4452, who inspected it and found it to be irreparable, i.e.,: the housing was broken, the central chassis twisted out of shape, the circuit board cracked, and there were many small broken pieces therein, which he placed into a plastic bag." [Paragraph Third, Claim No. 101848].

Also on cross-examination, Claimant indicated he was familiar with Directive 2733, providing for a depreciation schedule on inmate property claims. He indicated he did not use a 75% depreciation rate because his property was not four years old as urged by the defendant, but had been purchased in December, 1998.

No other witnesses testified.

In the bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery of Claimant's personal property into the custody of Defendant's employees, Claimant is alleging negligence.
See, generally, Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878). The State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property. Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 (3d Dept. 1991). A delivery of property to the bailee, and the latter's failure to return it, satisfies Claimant's burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence. The bailee is then required to come forward with evidence to "overcome the presumption." Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 (1st Dept. 1977). "Where a bailment is created, a showing that the...[property was] delivered to the bailee and returned in a damaged condition establishes a prima facie case of negligence and the burden shifts to the bailee to demonstrate that it exercised ordinary care...(citation omitted)" Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v. Herb's Dodge Sales & Service, 79 AD2d 1049,1050 (3d Dept. 1981).
With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question.
Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept. 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (Nassau Co. Dist. Ct. 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable.
In this case, Claimant has established that he had surrendered certain personal property items to New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) custody and control, and that some property was damaged when he signed for its receipt. The Claimant presented as a credible witness, whose testimony was essentially uncontroverted.

Together with Claimant's testimony concerning the property damaged and subsequently replaced, the total loss supported by the record is $140.15.

Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $140.15 plus statutory interest [§ 16 State Finance law; § 5004 Civil Practice Law and Rules], which the Court finds presumptively reasonable, from the date of accrual of February 9, 1999 to the date of this Decision, and thereafter to the date of the entry of judgment pursuant to §§ 5001 and 5002 Civil Practice Law and Rules.

It is ordered that to the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

March 12. 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audio tapes unless otherwise indicated.