Ron Matthews, the Claimant herein, alleges in Claim Number 105415 that
Defendant's agents negligently lost his property while he was an inmate at Green
Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven). Trial of the matter was
held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on September 10, 2004.
Claimant testified that on July 15, 2001 he suffered a heart attack in the
prison yard, and was taken from Green Haven to several different hospitals. His
personal property was inventoried by correction officers outside of his
presence. Upon his return to the Green Haven facility hospital, perhaps
fourteen (14) days later, he learned that "the convict who was moving into the
had done the packing. When he was "strong enough" to pick up his property and
move back to general population, he tried to "go through it" but did not
immediately complete the task. Upon a thorough review of his bag, he realized
that there was property missing.
At the direction of officials, he included State-owned property in his facility
Exhibit A to Claim Number 105415], as well as the following items of
personal property: twelve (12) novels purchased in calendar year 2000 for
$71.40; five (5) magazines purchased in calendar year 2001 for $49.75; ten (10)
stamps purchased in 2001 for $3.40; seven (7) new tobacco packages purchased for
$4.20 and forty (40) personal photographs. The fact that he signed the I-64
inventory property form [Exhibit 1] acknowledging receipt of the items listed
thereon is cited as the reason for denial of his facility claim. Similarly,
the Superintendent's denial of his appeal indicates that there is ‘no
evidence to indicate facility at fault.'
Claimant indicated that he had no receipts to furnish, and that any other proof
of ownership and value other than his own testimony would perhaps be obtainable
through the package room, but he "wasn't allowed to get that material."
On the I-64 form itself, which is two pages long, the usual lack of detail is
presented as to the contents of what was packed in 8 or 9 bags outside of
Claimant's presence. [Exhibit 1]. There are notations that books, magazines,
tobacco and photographs were collected, but no indication that stamps were
On cross-examination, Claimant testified that he had appealed the
Superintendent's decision to the State level, but because he was unaware of the
subject matter of the claim he was being called in to Court for, he had not
brought paperwork. He also reviewed the papers attached to the claim and agreed
that there did not seem to be a copy of any appeal to the State. He also
confirmed that he signed the I-64 for the property at the reception area, but
reviewed the bags thoroughly only back at his cell within a "two day period of
time." He said inmates are required to return the bags themselves
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.
, 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
, 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
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
, 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
, Claim No. 94337, Collins, J., July 8, 1999].
Court of Claims Act §10(9) provides: "A claim of any inmate in the custody
of the department of correctional services for recovery of damages for injury to
or loss of personal property may not be filed unless and until the inmate has
exhausted the personal property claims administrative remedy, established for
inmates by the department. Such claim must be filed and served within one
hundred twenty days after the date on which the inmate has exhausted such
remedy." The administrative remedy referred to is codified at
7 NYCRR Part 1700, and is generally deemed exhausted once the initial review and
appeal determination is made. See Tafari v State of New York
Claim No. 106576, Motion No. M-65889, UID #2002-019-591 (Lebous, J., December 9,
2002). Notably, the Verified Answer served and filed in this case does not
contain the affirmative defense of a failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
The Court is satisfied that Claimant pursued a facility claim for his alleged
property loss, that has been denied. Accordingly, Claimant is deemed to have
exhausted his available administrative remedy. See
Court of Claims Act
§10(9); 7 NYCRR Part 1700.
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 while in their
The Claimant presented as a credible witness, whose testimony was
uncontradicted. Indeed, given that it is State officials who completed the
initial I-64 form outside of his presence, there was no opportunity for Claimant
to correct any incorrect notations, or
augment items listed with
sufficient detail to actually enable anyone reviewing the list to be able to
ascertain what was inventoried. For example, in not very helpful fashion "10
books" and "all books" are noted as inventoried, without any indication of
their titles. [See
Thus, Claimant's testimony concerning his possession of the items when he was
taken to the hospital, and the value of the property lost, is credited, and
establishes the total loss as $128.75. The items were not more than one (1) year
old at the time of the loss, thus no depreciation is applied.
See Schaffner v Pierce
Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $128.75, plus
appropriate interest from July 17, 2001 to the date of this Decision, and
thereafter to the date of the entry of judgment
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.