New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

TAYLOR v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-030-008, Claim No. 100323


Pro se inmate's claim alleging loss and/or destruction of personal property dismissed.

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:
April 1, 2003
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Aaron Taylor, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 100323 that Defendant's agents wrongfully destroyed his personal property when he returned from Fishkill Correctional Facility (hereafter Fishkill) to Wyoming Correctional Facility (hereafter Wyoming). Trial of the matter was held at Fishkill on February 21, 2003.

Claimant testified that between March 13, 1999 and March 17, 1999 he had been at Fishkill for a proceeding in the Court of Claims. During that period, he had a family visit, and received certain personal items through the package room. [
See, Claimant's Exhibits "2" & "3"]. He was packed up for his return to Wyoming on March 17, 1999.
When he arrived at Wyoming, facility administrators determined he was not allowed the additional personal items, and he was given the option of either "destroying them, or donating them."[1]
He indicated that he wanted the items shipped back to the person who sent them at Claimant's expense. This preference was noted on a form he executed dated March 18, 1999 listing 15 personal items for return to an individual in Jamaica, New York. [Claimant's Exhibit "4"]. He stated that because he had selected a preference for disposal of his property that had not been offered, and therefore violated a correction officer's direct order, he was "written up for a misbehavior report."
Found guilty of disobeying a direct order, "pursuant to Directive 4913 the food and cigarettes were destroyed." Claimant pursued an appeal. The determination was ultimately administratively reversed, and the records were expunged, according to a New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) memorandum dated February 8, 2000. [Claimant's Exhibit "1"]. He then asked for the return of his property - some of which was apparently returned - but other items were "destroyed."

An inmate claim form admitted in evidence dated February 25, 2000 states that the missing items were 9 packs of cigarettes, 3 different drink mixes, 1 bag of chocolate kisses, 5 cans of Bumblebee tuna, 2 boxes of Pop Tarts, 3 boxes of mixed party cakes, 1 jar of Folgers coffee. [Claimant's Exhibit "6"]. He asked for reimbursement in the total amount of $52.00.
The Claim filed in this Court on May 10, 1999 asks for reimbursement for the loss or destruction of 9 packs of cigarettes, 5 boxes of Garlics, 4 cans drink mixes, 2 boxes Pop Tarts, 2 boxes of party cakes, 1 mayonnaise, 1 can Pringle potato chips, 1 large can tuna, 1 package of crackers, 2 personal undershorts, 1 personal t-shirt, 1 nail clipper, 1 deck of cards, 1 net bag and 1 bag of Almond Joys. He asks for reimbursement in the amount of $60.00.

It is noted that on the DOCS form executed on March 18, 1999 for return of his property to the person who sent it the following items are listed: 9 packs of cigarettes, 5 Garlics, 4 drink mixes, 2 Pop Tarts, 2 cakes, 1 mayo, 1 potato chip, 1 tuna, 1 cracker, 2 coat hangers, 1 net bag, 1 deck of cards, 2 personal undershorts, 1 personal shirt, 1 nail clipper. [Claimant's Exhibit "4"].

On cross-examination Claimant agreed that there were a lot of differences between what was contained on each of the different forms on which he listed property. He also acknowledged that it was his signature at the bottom of the form executed March 18, 1999 authorizing DOCS to ship the property listed.[2]
[See, Claimant's Exhibit "4"]. Claimant explained that when he filled out the Claim for this Court, he was relying on his memory, "giving a general summation" of what was lost in an attempt to "file on time." The package room receipts from Fishkill, he said, should "correlate with the items" he claims were lost. "Some items", he asserted, "I was allowed to have, but the items taken from me were the visit package items."
No receipts for any items were presented, nor was there testimony that the items directed to be shipped did not reach their destination. No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

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 some personal property items to DOCS custody and control, but gave a direction to DOCS that the property be returned to the sender at Claimant's expense. [Claimant's Exhibit "4"]. Claimant could only testify very generally that "some" property was returned, and "some" destroyed, although he indicated that it was the package room property that he ultimately never received. In reviewing the package room receipt, it appears to the Court that these are the same items that were included on the authorization Claimant executed directing their return to the sender. [
cf.; Claimant's Exhibit "4" "2" and "3"].
While the Claimant appeared to be credible, there were internal inconsistencies to his testimony. Thus, he has failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Defendant mishandled his property. Even assuming that some property was destroyed rather than sent as he directed, Claimant has provided no substantial evidence of value.

Accordingly, Claim Number 100323 is in all respects dismissed.

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

April 1, 2003
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to audiotapes or trial notes unless otherwise indicated.
[2] Claimant's Exhibit "5", dated May 25, 1999, also directs shipment of personal items to the same individual, but no testimony linked this exhibit to the subject of this Claim.