New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WIGFALL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-032-507, Claim No. 103536


Prison inmate is entitled to judgment for the value of property that was destroyed by prison officials while a grievance relating to claimant's right to possess the property was pending. However, he was not entitled to recover for the destruction of other property that he was never authorized to possess.

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:
Joseph Wigfall, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Glen King, Esq., Assistant Attorney General,Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 19, 2002

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

This claim was tried on September 25, 2002 at the Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") in Dannemora, New York.

Claimant Joseph Wigfall filed this action,
pro se, on December 15, 2000. This case involves two bailment causes of action: one for a package of food left for claimant at Clinton by a non-visitor and another for a package of forty packs of cigarettes delivered to Clinton by the United States Postal Service. Claimant seeks $150.00 in damages for the food and $50.00 in damages for the cigarettes.
On July 30, 2000, a hand-delivered food package was delivered to claimant from a person who did not visit with him.
Claimant filed a grievance for this property on August 2, 2000 (Exhibit 14) .
On August 10, 2000 a package
containing forty packs of cigarettes was delivered by the United States Postal Service to Clinton for claimant (Claim, paragraph 2). Claimant was notified by the package room that the limit on the amount of the cigarettes he could possess had been reduced from forty to thirty packs and therefore he could only receive thirty packs. On that same day, claimant filed an inmate grievance with respect to the ten additional packs of cigarettes, arguing the he was never notified about this new rule (Exhibit 3).
On August 14, 2000, claimant received a
memorandum from Deputy Superintendent for Security J. Wood, indicating that he had two unauthorized packages in the Package Room which he had failed to address. This memo stated that claimant had seven days to advise the Package Room how he wished to dispose of these packages and that they would be destroyed if he did not so advise (Exhibit 12). Claimant responded on August 16, 2000 when, in a letter addressed to the Package Room, he indicated that he would like the food package sent home but that he refused to pay for the postage to do so "because it was your error in accepting the package, when you already knew that unless an inmate has a visit, that no package could be accepted for him." With respect to the cigarettes, he stated that he had not been informed of the new regulation, had put in a grievance, and was awaiting the decision (Exhibits 15 and 18).
On August 24, 2000, claimant received the following determination of the Inmate Grievance Review Committee with respect to the grievance relating to the cigarettes :

Committee Advises Grievant, per investigation as of 7/1/00, Directive #4911, Section (IV) (D) was amended to reflect a new total of three cartons per month, or 100 cigars, or 24 ounces of loose tobacco. This information was also issued in a memo dated 6/22/00.

Committee recommends to Supt., His memo dated 6/22/00, was not directed to be read over inmate radio, and for that reason Grievant should be allowed to receive his remaining cigarettes. It is also noted Grievant is housed in E-Block, and he is not allowed to read posting on inmate bulletin boards. Supt. Memo dated 6/22/00, should be read over the blocks PA system in E & D blocks where IPC, VPC & Keep locks are housed to make them aware of this new policy.

On August 27, 2000 claimant wrote to the Inmate Grievance Program and the Package Room informing them that it was his understanding that both his packages had been destroyed. He asked both these entities
to indicate the authority under which the property was destroyed while the grievances were still pending (Exhibits 14 and 19). The Committee's response, dated August 30, 2000 (Exhibit 4), stated:
Committee advises Grievant that the package in question has been destroyed by order of Dep. Woods. Committee further advises Grievant that he may file a claim for package and/or postage.

Claimant then submitted an inmate claim (Exhibit 1), asking for $210.00 in compensation for the destroyed items: 10 packs of cigarettes and a 20 pound food package. This claim was denied with the following statement: "Staff followed proper procedure in destroying package. Inmate failed to respond to memo from DSS J. Wood" (
Disposition of packages and articles brought or sent to correctional facilities is governed by Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) Directive No. 4911. Section 11(E) provides that visitors may bring packages on for the inmate that they are visiting. With respect to items that inmates are not permitted to receive, section II (I) provides:

Articles not permitted. If sent to the institution, will be returned at the expense of the addressee or otherwise disposed of as requested by the inmate within 14 days, after which it will be destroyed by the facility.

The directive does not directly address the situation where prison officials have taken custody of a package brought by a visitor for an inmate who could not receive it because the visitor did not come to see him. In a somewhat analogous situation, however, where packages are brought by visitors for inmates who have been placed on "loss of package privileges,"the directive requires that the package "shall be returned to the visitor at the conclusion of the visit" (§[II][J]). This would suggest that the package brought for claimant, should have been returned to the visitor rather than retained by prison staff. Even if this was error on the part of the prison officials, however, it would not give rise to a bailment claim on behalf of claimant. A bailment exists when property is delivered from one person (the bailor) to another (the bailee) (9 NY Jur 2d, Bailments and Chattel Leases, ¶ 1, p 9). The food package in question was never possessed by claimant, and he never had the right to possess it. The facility staff did not hold it on his behalf, therefore, and never had a duty to turn it over to him on demand.
With respect to the cigarettes, however, claimant promptly and properly responded to the August 14, 2000 memo from Deputy Superintendent Wood, by indicating that he had filed a grievance relating to the cigarettes and was waiting to learn its result. His grievance, which was decided on August 24, 2000, resulted in a determination that he should be allowed to receive his remaining cigarettes. The subsequent denial of his facility claim for the missing cigarettes, on the ground that he had failed to respond to the memo from Deputy Superintendent Wood, was quite simply in error. Claimant is entitled to recover the value of the ten packs of cigarettes that were withheld by prison officials and improperly destroyed while the grievance was pending.

Claimant is entitled to judgment in the amount of $54.00,
with interest from August 24, 2000, the date on which the grievance was decided and claimant had the right to possess his property (Heede Hoist and Machine Co., Inc. v Bayview Towers Apartments, Inc., 74 AD2d 598). 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.

December 19, 2002
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims