New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MATTHEWS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-030-036, Claim No. 105415


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:
October 12, 2004
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 cell"[1]
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 claim [
See 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 packed.

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 promptly.

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 vPierce, 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].
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 custody.
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 Exhibit 1].
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, supra, at 24.
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.

October 12, 2004
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.