New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEAD v. The State of New York Commission of Corrections, Cortland County Sheriff Lee Price, Cortland County Jail Captain Roy Lewis, Cortland County Jail Lieutenant Richard Baker, Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer Christopher Keehlar, Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer Timothy Scott, and Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer James Babcock, #2004-009-32, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-68163


Synopsis


Case Information

UID:
2004-009-32
Claimant(s):
MATTHEW A. MEAD
Claimant short name:
MEAD
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
The State of New York Commission of Corrections, Cortland County Sheriff Lee Price, Cortland County Jail Captain Roy Lewis, Cortland County Jail Lieutenant Richard Baker, Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer Christopher Keehlar, Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer Timothy Scott, and Cortland County Jail Corrections Officer James Babcock
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
NONE
Motion number(s):
M-68163
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney:
MATTHEW A. MEAD, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Michael C. Rizzo, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General
Of Counsel.
HICKEY, SHEEHAN & GATES, P.C.
BY: Gregory A. Gates, Esq.,Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 20, 2004
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant has brought this motion seeking permission to serve and file a late claim.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with this motion:
Notice of Motion, Affidavit in Support, Proposed Claim, with Exhibits 1,2,3


Correspondence dated March 10, 2004 from claimant, with Exhibits 4

Correspondence dated March 19, 2004 from claimant, with Exhibits 5


Affidavit (in Opposition), from Gregory A. Gates, Esq. 6


Affidavit in Opposition, from Michael C. Rizzo, Esq., Assistant Attorney General 7


Answering Affidavit (First), from Claimant 8


Answering Affidavit (Second), from Claimant, with Exhibits 9

In his proposed claim, claimant seeks damages from the various named defendants for alleged violations of his Constitutional rights, including a violation of the 8th Amendment, based upon events which occurred and actions taken by the various named officers while claimant was incarcerated at the Cortland County Jail.

As set forth in the caption herein, claimant has named as defendants the Sheriff of Cortland County, together with several county officers of the Cortland County Jail. Pursuant to the provisions of Court of Claims Act § 9(2), the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is limited to those claims involving alleged torts committed by State officers or employees within the scope of their employment. It is well settled, however, that police officers of municipalities other than the State are viewed as local officers, and not State employees, due to the "source of their appointment and the local limitation of their powers" (Fishbein v State of New York, 282 App Div 600, 603). Accordingly, such officers are not State officers, and the State may therefore not be held liable for their actions. Accordingly, any allegations of misconduct by the various named officers of Cortland County set forth in the proposed claim will not be considered by this Court in determining whether claimant should be allowed to serve and file his late claim.

Additionally, and as noted above, claimant seeks damages for alleged violations of federal Constitutional rights, including alleged violations of the 8th Amendment. It is equally well settled, however, that the Court of Claims does not have jurisdiction to hear claims alleging violations of federal Constitutional rights (Thomas v New York Temporary State Commission on Regulation of Lobbying, 83 AD2d 723, affd 56 NY2d 656). As a result, any such claims seeking damages for such violations will also not be considered by the Court in this application.

As a result, and after an examination of the proposed claim, the only potential basis for State liability arises from the allegations made by claimant against the State Commission of Corrections. In his proposed claim, claimant alleges that the Commission did not hold "an investigation into the alledged [sic] acts the Claimant complained about in his letters to the Commission, and for sending the Claimant's letter back to the Defendant's [sic]" (See Item 3, Proposed Claim, p 4 "CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT").

In order to determine an application for permission to serve and file a late claim, the Court must consider, among other relevant factors, the six factors set forth in § 10(6) of the Court of Claims Act. The factors set forth therein are: (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 meritorious; (5) whether substantial prejudice resulted from the failure to timely file and the failure to serve upon the Attorney General a timely claim or notice of intention to file a claim; and (6) whether any other remedy is available. The Court is afforded considerable discretion in determining whether to permit the late filing of a claim (see, Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117).

With regard to excuse, claimant asserts that his failure to timely serve and file his claim was excusable, since he was attempting to resolve the matter, apparently without resorting to litigation. Without more, however, such an excuse is insufficient to justify a failure to timely file and serve a claim, and is tantamount to ignorance of the law, which is not an acceptable excuse for the delay (Matter of E.K. v State of New York, 235 AD2d 540). The Court, therefore, finds that claimant has not provided an acceptable excuse for his failure to timely serve and file his claim.

The factors of notice, opportunity to investigate, and substantial prejudice will be considered together. Claimant contends that the State had notice of the essential facts constituting this claim since he first appealed to the Commission of Corrections in May, 2003, and that he had written numerous letters to the Attorney General regarding the contentions set forth in his proposed claim. The Court must believe, however, that the Commission of Corrections receives a vast number of pieces of correspondence regarding the administration of correctional facilities, and cannot be expected to presume that each and every item received might potentially provide the basis for a separate civil action against it. The Court therefore finds that the State did not have any prior notice that an action might be commenced in this matter, and without such notice, there was certainly no opportunity for the State to investigate a potential claim. Additionally, without any such notice or opportunity to investigate, and since the proposed claim involved events and actions primarily occurring at the Cortland County Jail (for which this Court has previously stated herein that the State has no potential liability), the Court finds that the State would be substantially prejudiced should it have to defend any such claim.

The next factor, often deemed the most critical, is whether the proposed claim has the appearance of merit. If claimant cannot establish a meritorious claim, it would be an exercise in futility to grant a late claim application (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254; Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729). In order to establish a meritorious cause of action, claimant has the burden to show that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective, and that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid claim exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Authority, 92 Misc 2d 1).

As previously stated herein, the claimant contends that the Commission of Corrections failed to investigate allegations made by the claimant contained in correspondence sent by him to the Commission. It is well settled, however, that the State cannot be held liable for negligence in the performance of discretionary, as opposed to ministerial, acts (Tango v Tulevech, 61 NY2d 34; see Davis v State of New York, 257 AD2d 112). In this particular matter, the decision made by the Commission of Corrections whether to take any action in response to claimant's correspondence is clearly a discretionary act, involving the exercise of judgment, for which there can be no State liability. The Court therefore finds that claimant has not established a meritorious cause of action against the Commission of Corrections.

The Court notes that if claimant is attempting to challenge a determination made by the Commission of Corrections, his proper remedy is through an Article 78 proceeding, which creates a potential alternative available remedy for him.

The Court may in its discretion place as much or as little weight on any of the six factors to be considered pursuant to the statute. Under the current law "[n]othing in the statute makes the presence or absence of any one factor determinative" (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's & Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979, 981) and none of the factors can require denial as a matter of law.

Accordingly, after a review of the papers submitted herein, including claimant's proposed claim, and after weighing and considering all of the factors set forth under Court of Claims Act, Section 10(6), it is the opinion of this Court that claimant has not asserted a meritorious claim and that he should not be allowed to serve and file his proposed claim.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-68163 is hereby DENIED.




May 20, 2004
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims