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, "...my 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,
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." [
] Claimant appealed the determination to the Superintendent, who
denied his appeal. See, generally
, 7 NYCRR § 1700.1 et
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 "...to 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.
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,
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.
, Claflin v Meyer
, 75 NY 260 (1878). The State has
a duty to secure an inmate's personal property. Pollard v State of New
, 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
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.
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
, 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
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.