New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RUFFLE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-009-019, Claim No. 103752, Motion Nos. M-68991, CM-69300, CM-69460


Synopsis


Claimant's motion seeking an in camera inspection of the personnel records of a New York State Trooper was denied, but her cross-motion for summary judgment on liability was granted.

Case Information

UID:
2005-009-019
Claimant(s):
ELIZABETH RUFFLE
Claimant short name:
RUFFLE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
103752
Motion number(s):
M-68991
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-69300, CM-69460
Judge:
NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney:
DOUGLAS M. JABLONSKI, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General
BY: Roger B. Williams, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
March 15, 2005
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Claimant has brought a motion (Motion No. M-68991) seeking an order directing the defendant to produce, for an in camera inspection, the "personal records" of New York State Trooper Geoffrey Governor, including any information relating to past or ongoing investigations or complaints against Trooper Governor. In opposition, the State has responded with a cross-motion (Cross-Motion No. CM-69300) seeking a protective order precluding the production of these materials. Claimant has responded with her own cross-motion (Cross-Motion No. CM-69460) seeking an order of summary judgment in her favor on the issue of liability.

The following papers were considered by the Court in connection with these motions:
Notice of Motion, Affidavit in Support, Memorandum of Law, Affidavit of Good Faith, with Exhibit (M-68991) 1,2,3,4


Notice of Cross-Motion, Affirmation in Opposition (CM-69300) 5,6

Motion Memorandum (CM-69300) 7


Notice of Cross-Motion, Affirmation, with Exhibit (CM-69460) 8,9


Affirmation in Opposition to Summary Judgment (CM-69460) 10

In her claim, claimant seeks damages from the State for personal injuries suffered by her in a motor vehicle accident with a New York State Police patrol vehicle on February 2, 1999. Trooper Geoffrey Governor was operating the State Police vehicle when he lost control, and struck a vehicle in which claimant was a passenger.[1]

The Court will first address claimant's application for an order granting her summary judgment on liability. The rules governing summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment is the procedural equivalent of a trial (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361), and should be granted only when it has been established that there is no triable issue (Moskowitz v Garlock, 23 AD2d 943) . The role of the Court, therefore, on a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve material issues of fact, but rather to determine whether any such issues exist (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395). The party seeking summary judgment must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, submitting evidence sufficient to eliminate any material issues of fact (Winegrad v New York Univ. Med. Center, 64 NY2d 851), and such evidence must be in admissible form (Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557).

Generally, negligence cases are not subject to resolution by summary judgment, but it may be granted if the proof submitted on such application is sufficient to clearly establish the negligence of the defendant (Foltis, Inc. v City of New York, 287 NY 108; deVoil v Wallace, 221 AD2d 411).

In this particular matter, claimant has submitted a transcript of a portion of the deposition testimony from Trooper Governor, in which he describes his involvement, and his actions, in this accident.[2] Additionally, the Court has considered the State Police Accident Reconstruction Report (set forth as Exhibit A to claimant's Motion No. M-68991), which had been provided to claimant during the discovery phase of this action.

The author of the Accident Reconstruction Report concludes that "[t]he State Trooper operating the patrol vehicle errored in his operation", and further details the errors, both in judgment and in action, which led to this collision with the Ruffle vehicle. The report attributes full responsibility for this accident upon Trooper Governor, and ascribes no negligence whatsoever to the operator of the Ruffle vehicle.[3]

The findings set forth in this Accident Reconstruction Report, combined with the deposition testimony of Trooper Governor, establish to the satisfaction of the Court that there are no material issues of fact, that the State Police patrol vehicle was operated in a negligent manner by Trooper Governor, and that such negligent conduct was the proximate cause of the accident between the State Police vehicle and the Ruffle vehicle.[4] Accordingly, claimant has met her burden of proof and has established her entitlement to summary judgment on the issue of liability.

Based upon this determination, both claimant's motion seeking disclosure of Trooper Governor's "personal records" (M-68991), and the State's cross-motion in opposition to such request (CM-69300), have been rendered moot.

Based upon the foregoing, therefore, it is

ORDERED, that Cross-Motion No. CM-69460 is hereby GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED, that Motion No. M-68991 and Cross-Motion No. CM-69300 are both hereby DENIED, as moot; and it is further

ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court is directed to enter an interlocutory judgment on the issue of liability in favor of claimant in accordance with this Decision and Order. The Court will set this matter down for a trial limited solely to the issue of damages as soon as reasonably practicable.

March 15, 2005
Syracuse, New York

HON. NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1] Claimant's mother, Barbara Ruffle, was the operator of the vehicle involved in the collision with the State Police vehicle. She was also injured in the accident and had filed a separate claim (Claim No. 101503), which has been resolved.
[2]
The Court notes that deposition testimony is an acceptable form of evidence which can be utilized to support a summary judgment motion, and in fact it is specifically mentioned as "available proof" under CPLR Rule 3212(b).
[3] Additionally, there is no indication whatsoever that claimant, a passenger in the Ruffle vehicle, contributed in any way to this accident.
[4] The Accident Reconstruction Report does raise a question as to whether claimant was wearing her seat belt at the time of this accident. However, non-compliance with the provisions of law requiring use of a seat belt is not admissible as evidence with regard to the issue of liability, but only may be introduced with respect to the issue of damages (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1229-c[8]).