New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RODRIGUEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-030-007, Claim No. 104954


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 6, 2004
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Leo Rodriguez, the Claimant herein alleges in Claim Number 104954 that Defendant's agents negligently or intentionally lost or destroyed his property while he was incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on February 27, 2004.

According to his Claim, Claimant purchased a Timex Iron Man wristwatch via mail order in December, 2001. He received it on February 13, 2001, and was issued a local permit for its possession. [Exhibit A].

Although his claim indicates the watch was lost or stolen when he was transferred to Clinton Correctional Facility (hereafter Clinton) in May, 2001, he testified somewhat differently through a Spanish interpreter.

Claimant stated that while he was attending church at Clinton one day - he could not recall the date - he was told he had a visitor. When he went to receive his visit, he surrendered his watch to the officer because he wasn't allowed to bring it on the visit. After the visit ended he went back to the officer - it was not clear if it was the same one - and asked for his watch back. He was told the watch was with the housing officer. When he returned to his assigned housing and inquired, the officer there said he had placed the watch in the desk drawer and couldn't find it. The watch was never found.

Claimant testified that the watch cost $43.00 plus shipping. A computer printout, Claimant indicated, which was provided by Music by Mail, the company from whom he bought the watch, shows purchase of a Timex watch on February 12, 1999 and also indicates he was "short $2.40" at the time. [Exhibits 1 and 2]. The local permit [Exhibit A], however, is dated February 13, 2001, and Claimant testified that the permit was issued the day he got the watch. Claimant also indicated in his written Claim that he did not enter the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereafter DOCS) until the year 2000, a fact confirmed by a copy of a commitment Order appended to his Claim. [Exhibit D to Claim No. 104954].

From the Claim it appears Claimant pursued his personal property claims remedy [
See Exhibit B to Claim No. 104954]. In a memorandum dated July 27, 2001, directed to Claimant by the Head Account Clerk, he was offered $3.00 in settlement because "[t]he receipt provided indicates your watch was purchased in February 1999, thereby exceeding the Life Expectancy of two years." [Id].
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 item in question.
Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (New York 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 surrendered his personal property to DOCS custody and control, and that it was lost 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. Claimant's testimony concerning the value of the watch, as well as the receipt presented, establish the total loss as $43.00. The Court finds the Claimant's explanation of when the watch was purchased credible, and since the watch was not more than one (1) year old at the time of the loss, depreciation is not applied to arrive at fair market value. See Schaffner v Pierce, supra, at 24.
Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $43.00 plus statutory interest [§16 State Finance Law; § 5004 Civil Practice Law and Rules], which the Court finds presumptively reasonable, from the date of accrual of May 7, 2001 to the date of this Decision, and thereafter to the date of the entry of judgment pursuant to §§ 5001 and 5002 Civil Practice Law and Rules.

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

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

April 6, 2004
White Plains, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims