New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HATTLEY v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-030-022, Claim No. 104228


Pro se inmate's bailment claim granted in part. Credible testimony and receipts establish value loss depreciation.

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:
August 1, 2003
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Matthew Hattley, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim number 104228[1]
that Defendant's agents negligently lost or destroyed his property while he was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven). Trial of the matter was held at Green Haven on June 20, 2003.
Claimant testified to essentially the same facts contained in his claim. On December 27, 1999 he was removed from his cell "and taken to H-Block" at Green Haven for "transfer to Upstate Correctional Facility."[2]
The transfer did not occur at that time. Nonetheless, his property was removed from his cell and packed up outside of his presence. "Seven days later, they gave the property back to . . . [him]." It was repacked for transfer to Upstate in January. When he inspected his property when he arrived at Upstate, "most of it was damaged or missing."
A facility claim [Exhibit 1] was denied on or about March 22, 2000, and his appeal to the Superintendent was denied on or about October 17, 2000. [
See, Claim No. 104228, Exhibit 4]. A further administrative appeal was denied on February 8, 2001 [Ibid, Exhibit 6].
Items that Claimant alleges were damaged include a Smith Corona typewriter, valued at $99.99 when new, and 4 years old at the time of the damage; a Pomair electric fan, valued at $7.00 when new, and 5 years old at the time of the damage; a Casio watch, valued at $18.00 when new, and 5 months old at the time of the damage; and a Panasonic beard and mustache trimmer valued at $21.49 when new, and 1 month old at the time of the damage. In terms of the specific damage claimed, he indicates in his claim that the roller on the typewriter does not turn or advance; the guard on the fan is completely crushed; the blades have been removed from the beard trimmer; the function buttons on the watch do not work; and the Koss headphones were "switched or replaced with ‘Coby' headphones...[worth] $5.00." [Claim No. 104228, ¶6 E].

Twenty-nine additional items are claimed as lost, listed as follows together with the claimed value when new: a Nouveau lamp ($6.00), 2 typewriter ribbons ($6.99), 2 storage boxes ($26.00), a sum adapter ($8.99), 9 boxer shorts ($23.25), a rug ($12.00), 7 cassette tapes ($59.50), Koss headphones ($27.99), books and magazines ($260.00), legal transcripts ($0), an extension cord ($1.25), 2 packs playing cards ($3.60), 12 "AA" batteries ($3.66), 6 bars of soap ($5.50), 4 toothbrushes ($1.53), baby oil ($.89), net bag ($2.50), mirror ($2.25), envelopes ($.79), sewing kit ($1.00), masking tape ($.79), insulated mug ($4.50), nail clippers ($.60), tweezers ($1.00), ChapStick ($.33), Colgate toothpaste ($1.20), 25 pens and mechanical pencils ($10.00), religious medal ($15.00), variety of food and beverages ($90.00). [Exhibit 1].

An I-64 form appended to the Claim indicates that on December 27, 1999, five (5) bags in total were packed - there is a four (4) bag limit - outside of Claimant's presence. [Claim No. 104228, Exhibit 1]. Another attached I-64 form, dated January 18, 2000, itemizes the property returned - and inventoried again for transfer to Upstate - while Claimant was still at Green Haven. [
Id]. This form appears to have been completed in Claimant's presence. Finally, an I-64 form dated January 20, 2000 gives an inventory of items received when Claimant was transferred to Upstate. [Claim No. 104288, Exhibit 2]. From the trial testimony, it was unclear whether Claimant alleges that the loss of the bulk of the claimed property occurred while he was still at Green Haven or only upon his transfer to Upstate.
Claimant produced package room receipts for food stuffs received at Green Haven on December 5, 1999, four magazines received on September 15, 1999 (no value given), and a Panasonic beard trimmer received on November 3, 1999. [Exhibit 2]. A local permit dated November 3, 1999 also confirms the receipt of the Panasonic beard trimmer on November 3, 1999. He furnished a receipt for a replacement beard trimmer and replacement headphones showing respective purchase prices of $21.99 and $9.29, in May, 2000. [Exhibit 4].

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 certain personal property items to New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) custody and control, and that some property was lost or damaged while in their custody. The Court is satisfied that Claimant exhausted his administrative remedies.
See, Court of Claims Act §10(9); 7 NYCRR Part 1700. The Claimant presented as a credible witness, whose testimony was uncontradicted. Unfortunately, he was not able to submit many receipts to establish value, nor did he testify with any detail concerning the value of items lost or damaged.
Nonetheless, Claimant's testimony concerning the value of the property lost or damaged, the sworn statements in his duly verified Claim, as well as the receipts presented, establish the total loss as $130.00, inclusive of depreciation. This represents his loss for the damaged property, to wit: the typewriter, the fan, the beard trimmer, the lamp and the headphones. Most items were more than one (1) year old at the time of the loss, thus depreciation is fairly applied to arrive at fair market value as required.
See Schaffner v Pierce, supra, at 24.
With respect to the balance of the items claimed, the element of delivery is not established, nor did Claimant establish exactly what property came under DOCS custody and control.

Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $130.00 plus appropriate interest from January 20, 2000 [State Finance Law §16; Civil Practice Law and Rules §5004].

It is ordered that to the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recoverable pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

August 1, 2003
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] This Claim arises out of the same facts and circumstances alleged in Claim Number 104488 although it seeks recovery for different items of property. A Decision on that Claim has been rendered as well.
[2] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.