New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ROYALL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-030-074, Claim No. 103439


Pro se inmate's bailment claim alleging damage to personal property sustained. Loss of $200.00 established through 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:
September 6, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

James Royall, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 103439 that Defendant's agents negligently lost his property during a transfer from Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven). Trial of the matter was held at Green Haven on August 23, 2002.

Claimant testified that he and approximately nine other inmates were suddenly readied for transfer from Green Haven to Upstate Correctional Facility on or about December 24, 1999. Claimant was taken from his cell, and brought to another block, while "two or three officers went in to his cell, took out all his property, and brought it to the block he'd been taken to"[1]
temporarily for packing. He testified there were many inmates being readied for the draft, and there was "lots of property lying around." Ten bags of property were packed for him, but the "person with authority" decided that because so many inmates were being moved, each would only take one bag with him - as opposed to the usual four bags an inmate could take - and that bag would include only state issued clothing and necessary toiletries. Everything was repacked to comply with this decision, again into ten bags.
Claimant said three "I-64 forms were completed." He was presented with one form for the "four bags"[2]
that would be sent at no expense to him, but that he did not sign because it didn't indicate his legal material; another form for the extra bags to be shipped at his expense that he signed "because it contained [reference to] his legal documents", and a third form reflecting the one draft bag that was going with him that he also signed. [See, Claimant's Exhibit "1" including exhibits "C" "D" and "E"][3].
While he was at Upstate, and in or about early January, 2000, he "got worried about...[ his] property and had...[ his] counselor call Green Haven to see what happened to it." She wrote back to him on January 11, 2000 that Green Haven reported that 4 bags were shipped on December 24, 1999 via the United States Postal Service, and that it would take four weeks since the bags are shipped fourth class. [
See, Id, Exhibit "A"]. No bags came.
Thereafter, and on February 8, 2000, Claimant's counselor reported to him that Green Haven said that "seven bags of...[his] property were delivered via civilian driver to Upstate on or around...[January 4, 2000]. So, according to Green Haven, all of your property is at Upstate." [
Id, Exhibit "B"]. Sometime after he received this memorandum, he was called down to the property room to examine the seven bags there. Claimant said he "documented to himself" things that were missing, but he couldn't be totally sure because he had only one-half hour to examine the bags. Only after he sought copies of the I-64s, and property room records, did he determine that even more property than that he originally thought was missing, was missing.
He pursued an institutional claim. [
See, Id, Exhibit "G"]. As of August 28, 2000, according to a letter sent by Claimant to the Deputy Superintendent of Administration, he was undergoing the facility appellate process, but had been foreclosed from pursuing the institutional claim any further since he had not furnished receipts requested by the institution steward. [See, Id, Exhibits"I", "G1", "G2"]. This appears to have exhausted his administrative remedies.
In his Claim, he incorporates the list of allegedly missing items in his administrative claim, including, but not limited to, personal photographs, several pairs of shoes, a pair of boots and two pairs of sneakers, and clothing. He also seeks damages for emotional harm and mental anguish.

This claim is one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery of Claimant's personal property into the custody of Defendant's employees .
See, generally, Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878); Ahlers v State of New York, Claim No. 82543, Corbett, P.J., December 23, 1991. 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 & Serv., 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. Personally meaningful items, such as photographs, have no fair market value. [See, Benton v State of New York, Claim No. 94337, Collins, J., July 8, 1999].
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 lost. The I-64 forms themselves show the discrepancies asserted. The Claimant presented as a credible witness, whose testimony was essentially uncontroverted.

Unfortunately, even a review of the exhibits submitted with the Claim, incorporated as Claimant's sworn testimony concerning the property lost, makes for a somewhat inexact estimate of value. As noted, however, a Court may consider such testimony as evidence of fair market value. Accordingly, considering claimant's testimony concerning the property lost, the total loss supported by the record including depreciation - exclusive of the photographs - is $200.00. The credible evidence established the following reasonable values for his losses: $68.00 for four pairs of leather shoes; $32.00 for one pair of boots; $26.00 for two pairs of basketball sneakers; and $74.00 for four shirts and one sweater.

Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $200.00 with appropriate interest from January 8, 2000. It is ordered that to the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recoverable pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

September 6, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.
[2] The form indicates 3 bags.
[3] Claimant credibly explained on the day of trial that he was in the middle of a draft and did not have any legal paperwork with him, but wanted to go forward with the Claim using the exhibits he attached. The entire Claim with its internal exhibits was admitted in evidence without objection.