Claimant, an inmate proceeding
, alleges negligence on the part of the State in losing certain
items of his personal property when he was transferred from Oneida Correctional
Facility to Woodbourne Correctional Facility in July, 1999.
At the trial of this claim, held at Marcy Correctional Facility on August 12,
claimant testified that he was transferred from Oneida Correctional Facility to
Woodbourne Correctional Facility on July 9, 1999. At the time of this transfer,
claimant's belongings were packed into five draft bags. Four of these bags
accompanied claimant to Woodbourne Correctional Facility, while the fifth bag
was left with employees at Oneida Correctional Facility for mailing. Claimant
testified that he did not receive any prior notice of this transfer, and
therefore his personal property was not packed in accordance with departmental
regulations, and no inventory ("I-64") form was completed. Claimant further
testified that $17.73 was at some point deducted from his personal account for
the cost of postage in mailing these items of personal property to him at his
new facility. Additionally, claimant testified that the contents of this fifth
bag has been divided into two separate bags or packages for mailing purposes by
employees at Oneida Correctional Facility.
Under cross-examination, claimant testified that in addition to pursuing this
lost property claim administratively, he also contacted representatives of the
United States Postal Service in an attempt to locate the two bags or packages
which had been supposedly mailed. Eventually, claimant testified that he
received a package of papers and books from the United States Postal Service's
Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, containing approximately 15 pounds of
materials, which was designated as the second of two packages originally
destined for Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Claimant also received some
miscellaneous papers at different times from the United States Postal Service,
but never received the first package of materials that supposedly had been
mailed from Oneida Correctional Facility to Woodbourne Correctional Facility.
According to claimant's testimony, the lost items of personal property
consisted of transcripts from a prior criminal trial, a number of text books and
reference books, and college degrees and program certificates.
A bailment is created when personal property is delivered into the possession
of another with the understanding, either express or implied, that the property
will be redelivered to the owner in the same condition (
Claflin v Meyer
, 75 NY 260). As a bailee of property, the State has a
duty to secure an inmate's personal property (Pollard v State of New
, 173 AD2d 906). In order to establish a prima facie
negligence, a claimant must establish that the property was delivered to the
defendant, and that the defendant failed to return it in the same condition.
The State's refusal or inability to return the bailed items on demand creates a
presumption of negligence, and the burden shifts to the State, which must then
come forward with proof to overcome this presumption (Weinberg v D-M Rest.
, 60 AD2d 550). The State may thereby overcome this presumption if it
can prove that the loss was not attributable to its negligence (Singer Co. v
Stott & Davis Motor Express
, 79 AD2d 227).
At trial, claimant presented credible, and uncontroverted, testimony
establishing, without contradiction, that he surrendered certain items of
personal property to personnel of the Department of Correctional Services at
Oneida Correctional Facility, and that some of these items were lost during
claimant's transfer to Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Although no "I-64"
forms were provided to the Court to establish the loss of specific items,
claimant's testimony established, to the satisfaction of this Court, that no
such form was prepared by the employees at Oneida Correctional Facility who were
responsible for initially packing those items for shipment.
Based upon the cross-examination of claimant at trial, the State apparently
contends that it was not responsible for claimant's loss, in that the
responsible party should be the United States Postal Service. Defendant relies
upon the fact that claimant received certain items from the Mail Recovery Center
of the Postal Service as proof that claimant's personal property had been
transferred to the custody and control of the Postal Service when the loss
As previously noted above, claimant testified at trial that the items of
personal property to be shipped were packed, in his presence, into one draft bag
for mailing purposes. Additional evidence supports claimant's contention that
such items were subsequently divided and placed into two bags or packages for
mailing, apparently outside of claimant's presence. The fact that claimant
ultimately received the contents from one package does not establish, without
independent proof, that both packages were in fact mailed by personnel at Oneida
Correctional Facility. Defendant presented no proof whatsoever that both bags
or packages were placed in the custody and control of the United States Postal
Service. Furthermore, and as also pointed out by claimant, defendant did not
establish that the packages were securely and properly packaged for mailing
purposes, even if it is assumed that both packages were mailed.
Accordingly, based upon his testimony, the Court finds that claimant has
established, by a preponderance of credible evidence, the loss of certain items
of his personal property while in the possession of the State, and that the
State is therefore liable to claimant for his loss.
With respect to value, claimant must satisfy the Court as to the fair market
value of the lost items (
Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866
). Receipts are the best evidence of
fair market value, but claimant did not produce at trial any receipts for the
lost items. Without receipts, the Court must therefore determine, based upon
the proof at trial, the value of such lost items. Even though claimant was a
most credible witness, there was a paucity of evidence presented from which this
Court could establish fair market value. Accordingly, after considering
claimant's testimony concerning his lost property, the credible evidence has
established a total value of the lost items at $500.00.
Accordingly, based upon the foregoing, claimant is entitled to an award of
$500.00, with appropriate interest from July 9, 1999. Furthermore, to the
extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to
Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.