New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MATHIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-009-147, Claim No. 102059


The Court awarded claimant the sum of $240.02 following trial of this bailment claim. The Court did not allow claimant's claim for replacement of lost dentures.

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:
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney GeneralOf Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 8, 2005

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

In his filed claim, claimant alleges that the State is responsible for the loss of certain items of his personal property, valued at $530.02.[1]
The trial of this claim was held at Marcy Correctional Facility on October 12, 2005, at which claimant was the only witness to testify.
As set forth in his claim and by his testimony at trial, claimant alleges that certain items of his personal property were confiscated and/or destroyed during an incident which occurred on July 18, 1997 at Mohawk Correctional Facility, where claimant was then incarcerated. Following this incident, claimant was transferred to Oneida Correctional Facility, and eventually discovered the loss of these items on August 16, 1997, upon his subsequent transfer to Auburn Correctional Facility. His claim, containing an itemized list with values attached for each item, was filed with the Clerk of the Court of Claims on March 6, 2000.

As a bailee of property, the State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property (
Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906). In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence, a claimant must establish that the property was delivered to the defendant, and that the defendant failed to return it in the same condition. The defendant's refusal or inability to return the bailed items on demand creates a presumption of negligence, and the burden shifts to the defendant, which must then come forward with proof to overcome this presumption (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). At trial, the State did not present any evidence whatsoever to rebut this presumption of negligence (Singer Co. v Stott & Davis Motor Express, 79 AD2d 227).
Rather, in his cross-examination of claimant, defendant's attorney took issue with certain items included in his filed claim. Specifically, defendant questioned the valuation of $15.00 for each of eight photographs, which claimant testified had "sentimental value".[2]
Defendant also questioned the fact that claimant included in his list a set of false teeth (partial upper and lower plates) with a total value of $210.00.
With respect to value, a claimant has the burden to satisfy the Court of the fair market value of the items in question (
Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866; Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21). In this particular matter, the Court acknowledges that it is extremely difficult to assess a market value for photographs, which are personal to claimant. Furthermore, aside from his testimony with regard to "sentimental value", claimant did not offer any direct proof as to his valuation of these photographs. As a result, although the Court finds that claimant has satisfactorily established the loss of these photographs, the Court finds that the appropriate measure of damages for the eight missing photographs is $40.00, rather than the $120.00 sought by claimant.
With regard to claimant's loss of his dentures, defendant introduced medical records establishing that as early as August, 1998, a dentist at Auburn Correctional Facility recommended that claimant's partial dental plates be replaced, "at State expense" (see Defendant's Exhibit A). From these records, it appears that claimant, as an inmate in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services, was entitled to receive dental care, including replacement of his dentures, at no cost to him. Since claimant is still in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services, it is the Court's opinion that he may continue to avail himself of the dental care provided to inmates, including replacement of his lost dentures, at no cost to him. Accordingly, no award is made to claimant for the lost dentures set forth in his claim.

The Court has reviewed the listing of the remaining items particularized in this claim, and finds that the amount sought by claimant for these items represents fair market value.

Accordingly, after deducting the cost of the dentures, and making an appropriate reduction in the amount sought for his lost photographs, the Court hereby awards claimant the sum of $240.02 for his lost property. This award shall carry appropriate interest from July 18, 1997 to January 18, 1998 and then from March 6, 2000 to the date of this decision, and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment herein. Furthermore, to the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).


December 8, 2005
Syracuse, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] In his filed claim, claimant seeks damages of $517.03. However, the sum of the individual items set forth in his claim actually totals $530.02.
[2] Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court's trial notes.