New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PRITCHARD v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-013-007, , Motion No. M-65912


Synopsis


Claimant's motion to file a late claim is granted where he was unable to take appropriate steps after the accrual of his claim where the State was on notice that litigation was contemplated. Causes of action based on actions protected by sovereign immunity, however, may not be brought.

Case Information

UID:
2003-013-007
Claimant(s):
ADAM C. PRITCHARD
Claimant short name:
PRITCHARD
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):

Motion number(s):
M-65912
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
PHILIP J. PATTI
Claimant's attorney:
ADAM C. PRITCHARD, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: JAMES L. GELORMINI, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 19, 2003
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


The following papers were read on movant's motion for permission to file an untimely claim:
1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of Adam C. Pritchard, pro se, with annexed proposed claim and exhibits;

2. Affirmation in Opposition: None Received[1]

3. Filed Papers: None


Movant's proposed claim alleges that on March 28, 2002, while Claimant was at the law library in Orleans Correctional Facility, an unknown inmate set fire to his cubicle. Claimant was immediately placed on involuntary protective custody status and confined in the facility's Special Housing Unit. Claimant alleges that because he was not placed on such status punitively, he was entitled to have his personal property with him, but that when he requested his property, the two correction officers then on the unit rushed into his cell and began an unprovoked beating. He further alleges that he was not provided with medical treatment of his injuries until March 30. In addition, the claim contains numerous allegations challenging his being placed on a restricted diet; the filing of misbehavior reports against him in connection with the alleged assault and another "trumped-up" charge; and the failure of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), the State Inspector General, and the New York State Police to investigate the conduct of these correction officers when complaints were made to each of those authorities.

This motion was brought less than a year after the proposed claim arose, and consequently a like action against a citizen would not be barred by the applicable statute of limitations, whether the claim is considered to sound in negligence (CPLR 214) or intentional tort (CPLR 215). In determining a motion for permission to file a late claim, the Court must consider, among other relevant factors, the six factors set forth in Subdivision 6 of Section 10 of the Court of Claims Act: (1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; (2) whether the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; (3) whether the State had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; (4) whether the claim appears to be meritorious; (5) whether the failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State; and (6) whether the Claimant has another available remedy. The Court in the exercise of its discretion balances these factors. The presence or absence of any one factor is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement Sys. Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement Sys., 55 NY2d 979).

Claimant asserts that he failed to timely initiate an action in this Court because he was unable to access the facility law library during the 90-day period following accrual of his claim. Although the fact of incarceration does not alone excuse an inmate from complying with the time limitations of the Court of Claims Act, this appears to be one of the occasions when it is appropriate to consider whether "the conditions of a prisoner's confinement interfere in any substantial way with his ability to effectuate his legal rights" (Plate v State of New York, 92 Misc 2d 1033, 1038). There must be some affirmative showing that the circumstances of incarceration prevented an inmate from taking effective steps (Bommarito v State of New York, 35 AD2d 458), and Claimant has met that burden in this instance. In connection with the charges brought against Claimant following the March 28 incidents, Claimant was sentenced to 90 days in keeplock (Pritchard Affidavit, Exhibit G), and he was not released until the time to file a claim or notice of intention had effectively passed. Claimant asserts that this penalty also carried with it the loss of all privileges, which made it impossible for him to access law library facilities either at Orleans or at Lakeview Correctional Facility, to which he was transferred in April 2002.

Claimant further asserts that the State had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim because, following a visit on March 30 with Claimant's mother and father, they became alarmed about his physical condition and took pictures of his injuries. That same day, they preferred charges against the correction officers with the New York State Police, and it appears that at some point they spoke with the Orleans County District Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Investigations were conducted by Investigator Gary Colon of the State Police and an Investigator Holland of DOCS' Office of the Inspector General. In addition, a civil rights complaint was filed with the United States Department of Justice. For these reasons, I conclude that Defendant had adequate and timely notice that an incident allegedly occurred and that a lawsuit was being contemplated. Accordingly, the State's opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim was not impeded, and permitting the filing of an untimely claim would not result in substantial prejudice.

It appears that Claimant would not have an available remedy against any party other than the State.

With respect to part of his claim, Claimant has succeeded in establishing that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). Claimant has made sufficient, unrebutted factual allegations, based on first-hand knowledge, to suggest that he may have a valid cause of action against the State based on both assault and inadequate medical care (see, Pritchard Affidavit, Exhibit C). With respect to his other allegations, however (the decision of correction officials to place him on a restricted diet; their decision to file misbehavior reports; and the failure of State officials to further investigate his and his parents' complaints), Claimant is attempting to base liability on discretionary, quasi-judicial actions which are protected by the State's inherent, and retained, sovereign immunity (see, Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 216, and cases cited therein). Permitting a defective claim to be filed, even if the other factors in Court of Claims Act §10(6) supported the granting of Claimant's motion, would be meaningless and futile (Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729; Rosenhack v State of New York, 112 Misc 2d 967).

Taking into account the six statutorily prescribed factors, the Court finds them to weigh in favor of granting Claimant's motion for permission to file a late claim with respect to causes of action based on alleged assault and inadequate medical treatment. Claimant is therefore directed to file and serve a claim that is either identical to the proposed claim submitted in support of this motion[2] or redrafted to focus more clearly on those two causes of action. The claim shall be served and filed in conformity with the requirements of Court of Claims Act §10 and §11 within 60 days after this order is filed.


March 19, 2003
Rochester, New York
HON. PHILIP J. PATTI
Judge of the Court of Claims




  1. [1]Counsel for Defendant, James L. Gelormini, Esq., informed the Court that the State would not be filing opposition papers on this motion.
  2. [2]If an identical claim is filed, it shall be understood that the only causes of action alleged are the two noted above.