New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LOPEZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-031-506, Claim No. 103454


Case Information

MICHAEL LOPEZ Caption amended sua sponte to show the only proper defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
Caption amended sua sponte to show the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
Defendant's attorney:
New York State Attorney General
BY: GORDON J. CUFFY, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 19, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Michael Lopez ("Claimant") filed claim number 103454 on December 1, 2000, alleging that Defendant is responsible for the loss of Claimant's personal property valued at $1,664.50. I held a trial on this matter on September 25, 2003, at Auburn Correctional Facility ("Auburn").

Claimant testified that, on March 9, 2000, he was transferred from the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") at Auburn to Southport Correctional Facility ("Southport"). During the transfer, his personal belongings were packed into five draft bags, one of which was mailed. On April 3, 2000, he was permitted to inspect the bag that had been mailed. Upon inspection, he determined that the bag had been improperly sealed and that many of the legal documents, relating to the criminal matter for which he is currently incarcerated, were missing. Specifically, Claimant alleged that he lost: trial transcripts; a brief of the District Attorney; a brief drafted by Claimant's lawyer; and a brief drafted by Claimant pro se.

Defendant denied that certain items of Claimant's personal property were lost while in its possession, and also argued that the value of the property allegedly missing was not as great as Claimant represented.

Claimant testified that a personal property inventory sheet (an I-64 form) was prepared on March 9, 2000 by Defendant when he was transferred from Auburn SHU to Southport. Another had been prepared on January 7, 2000, when he was initially moved to SHU at Auburn. These documents were admitted into evidence as exhibits 3 and 1, respectively.

This claim is one alleging that the Defendant took possession of Claimant's personal property, creating a bailment, and lost it through its negligent handling. The State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property (
Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906). Claimant's burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence is satisfied once he demonstrates the delivery of property to Defendant, and the Defendant's failure to return it in the same condition. The burden then shifts to Defendant to come forward with evidence to "overcome the presumption" (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). I find that the Claimant has demonstrated a prima facie case of a bailment and the Defendant has failed to adequately overcome this presumption.
Determining fair compensation for lost legal documents is difficult
(Lamountain v State of New York, Ct Cl, December 1, 2000 [Claim No. 99167], Bell, J., UID #2000-007-535; citing Erdheim v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 22, 2000 [Claim No. 97545], Bell, J., at 3-5, UID #2000-007-517). In order to recover damages, Claimant must establish the identity and value of legal documents (Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl, August 23, 2000 [Claim No. 93968], Mignano, S. J., 2000-029-014). Claimant's testimony identified the legal documents and introduced a host of letters and correspondence representing an effort to establish the value of the lost legal documents.
Based upon Claimant's testimony and the other evidence before this Court, I find that Defendant is liable to Claimant for the loss of this property (
see 7 NYCRR § 1700.7; see also Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550, supra).
ORDERED, Claimant is awarded the sum of $200.00 for his lost property, together with the appropriate interest from September 28, 2000 until the date of this decision, and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment pursuant to CPLR 5001 and 5002. In the alternative, the Defendant may choose to produce new copies of the documents in question for the claimant within sixty (60) days of the filed date of this decision. Defendant is directed to notify the Clerk in writing, within thirty (30) days of the filed date of this decision, whether or not Defendant intends to proceed pursuant to this alternative. Judgment is to be held in abeyance until such notification is received by the Clerk, or upon the expiration of this thirty (30) day period, whichever is earlier.
To the extent that Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2).


March 19, 2004
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims