New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MONTI v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-033-089, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-68732


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2004-033-089
Claimant(s):
MERYL MONTI
Claimant short name:
MONTI
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
None
Motion number(s):
M-68732
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JAMES J. LACK
Claimant's attorney:
Edelman, Goldstein, Green & Bashner, P.C.By: Gregory Green, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Todd A. Schall, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 3, 2004
City:
Hauppauge
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

This is a motion by Meryl Monti (hereinafter "movant") for permission to file a late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §10(6)[1], relating to the alleged negligence of the State of New York (hereinafter "State") on October 20, 2003.

The alleged act of negligence is defendant allowing a defective traffic light to continue to function at the intersection of Long Island Expressway Drive North and Motor Parkway. On the incident date, the light was stuck on red in movant's direction. An accident occurred with another motor vehicle when she attempted to proceed through the intersection.

Defendant opposes the motion.

In order to determine whether to grant a timely made application for permission to file a late claim, the Court must consider, among any other relevant factors, the six statutory factors set forth in Court of Claims Act §10(6):

(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 failure to file or serve a timely claim or serve a timely notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the State;

(5) whether movant has another available remedy; and

(6) whether the claim appears to be meritorious.


The Court in the exercise of its discretion balances these factors, and, as a general rule, the presence or absence of any one factor is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979).

Movant attributes the delay in filing a claim to mistakenly believing that the traffic light was owned, operated and/or maintained by either the County of Suffolk or the Town of Islip. Movant served a notice of claim against each of these municipalities. After serving the notices of claim, movant attempted to acquire records from the municipalities concerning the traffic light. On or about February 2, 2004, movant was notified that the traffic light in question was maintained by the defendant (Movant's Exhibit 9). Movant then attempted, through the Freedom of Information Law, to obtain records about the traffic light from the State. The State finally provided the records to movant on or about May 19, 2004.

Movant's delay in timely filing and serving a claim or serving a notice of intention is attributable to law office failure, which is not a reasonable excuse (see, Sevillia v State of New York, 91 AD2d 792). The traffic light is on the service road of a major State Highway, the Long Island Expressway. A minimum amount of investigation would have revealed that the light is owned, operated and/or maintained by the State.

The second, third and fourth factors (notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; and whether the delay resulted in substantial prejudice to the State) are related. The Court will consider these factors together.

The allegations of movant indicate that the State had constructive notice of a defect in the traffic light. In addition, movant argues that the State had actual notice of this accident because the other driver's insurance company timely filed a claim for property damage to its insured's vehicle. Within the claim filed by the insurance company, movant was named as being involved in the accident.

The Court finds that the State was aware of the facts of the claim due to the timely filed claim by the other driver's insurance company (See Rose v State of New York, 265 AD2d 473). Further, the Court finds that the State had an opportunity to investigate this matter and would have investigated due to the timely filing of the other claim. The Court finds no prejudice to the State.

Movant does appear to have alternative remedies. She can sue the other driver involved in the accident and the company the State contracted with to maintain the traffic light.

While the presence or absence of any one of the six factors is not dispositive, (see Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement System Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement System, 55 NY2d 979), the most critical factor always is the apparent merit of the proposed claim. The movant need only establish that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1). If a movant cannot meet this low threshold and the claim is patently without merit it would be meaningless and futile for the Court to grant the application even if all the other factors in Court of Claims Act §10(6) weighed in favor of the movant's request.

The Court is satisfied that the claim exhibits the appearance of merit. The defendant's argument that movant has not proven merit because she has not shown the State actually owned or maintained the traffic light is specious at best. Movant has included an exhibit (Exhibit 12) which shows that the State owns and maintains the traffic light. In addition, defendant's papers include the contract it has with a private company to maintain this traffic light.

In conclusion, the majority of factors favor movant. Therefore, movant's application to file a late claim is granted. Movant shall serve and file the proposed claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §§10, 11 and 11-a within forty-five (45) days of the filing of this decision and order.


December 3, 2004
Hauppauge, New York

HON. JAMES J. LACK
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]The following papers have been read and considered on movant's motion: Notice of Motion dated June 23, 2004 and filed July 6, 2004; Affirmation in Support of Motion of Gregory Green, Esq. with annexed Exhibits 1-14 dated June 23, 2004 and filed July 6, 2004; Affirmation in Opposition of Todd A. Schall, Esq. with annexed Exhibit A dated July 26, 2004 and filed July 29, 2004; Reply Affirmation in Further Support of Motion of Gregory Green, Esq. dated August 23, 2004 and filed August 24, 2004.