New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MATTHIAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-030-902, Claim No. 108737, Motion Nos. M-69427, CM-69428


Defendant's contention that language of claim was insufficient is rejected. Motion to dismiss claim is denied and motion to dismiss affirmative defense is granted.

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:
Joseph Soffer, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney Generalby Victor J. D'Angelo, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
January 20, 2005
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The court read and considered the following papers on claimants' motion to strike the fourth affirmative defense from the answer and defendant's cross-motion to dismiss the claim: Notice of Motion, Affirmation and Exhibits; Notice of Cross-Motion, Affirmation and exhibits; Affirmation in Opposition to Cross-Motion. Initially, the court notes that it has stricken the reference to Roystone Braithwaite from the caption as a defendant. The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is limited to actions against the State of New York, not individuals.

This claim arises from a November 14, 2003 automobile accident that occurred, according to the claim, on the "southbound Cross Island Parkway, at or about, the Long Island Expressway" in Queens (claim, par. 12). Claimant[1] alleges that a motor vehicle operated by one Royston Braithwaite, a state employee, and owned by the State of New York, collided with claimant's vehicle as the result of the negligent operation of the state vehicle.

The claim was filed on January 7, 2004 and served on January 12, 2004. In its answer, defendant alleged that the claim "fails to comply with Court of Claims Act Section 11 by failing to include an adequate description of the location of the incident alleged in the claim or any adequate description of the manner in which the incident occurred" and the court lacks jurisdiction for those reasons. Claimants now move to strike the defense and defendant cross-moves to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction.

As the Court of Appeals recently noted in Lepkowski v State of New York (1 NY3d 201, 207): Court of Claims Act §11(b) "places five specific substantive conditions upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity by requiring the claim to specify (1) ‘the nature of [the claim]'; (2) ‘the time when' it arose; (3) the ‘place where' it arose; (4) ‘the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained'; and (5) ‘the total sum claimed." At issue here are the first and third of these requirements.

Defendant's argument that the claim fails to adequately specify the location of the accident, after quoting paragraph 12, is as follows: "Clearly, this description fails to specifically state with particularity the location of the alleged accident" (affirmation in support of cross-motion, par. 4). Defendant's conclusion is not at all clear to the court and defendant does not elaborate as to why this description is supposedly insufficient or what degree of specificity is required. The purpose of the requirements of section 11(b) are to enable the state to conduct a prompt investigation so as to be able to ascertain its potential liability (Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201, supra.; Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767). While in some cases – for example, a claim alleging that a pothole on the Cross Island Parkway caused an accident – a more detailed specification of the location might be required, in a claim alleging that the state is liable for claimant's injuries because its employee (named in the claim) drove a vehicle owned by the state (license plate number identified in the claim) into claimant's vehicle, the language contained in the claim was certainly sufficiently specific to enable a prompt and thorough investigation.

As to defendant's argument that the court lacks jurisdiction because the claim fails to include an "adequate description of the manner in which the accident occurred," what the statute in fact requires is that the claim set forth its "nature." Again, the allegation that a state employee was involved in an accident with a claimant at a specified place and time and that the accident was the result of the negligence of the state employee in the operation of the state vehicle sufficiently sets forth the "nature" of the claim so as to afford the opportunity for a prompt and complete investigation and it therefore complies with the statute. Defendant, in its terse argument to the contrary[2], does not identify any source for its contention that more is required. Exactly how the accident occurred and the precise acts of negligence alleged are details that are not required by the statutory requirement that a claim set forth its "nature," have nothing to do with defendant's ability to investigate the relevant facts and more properly appear in a bill of particulars.

Accordingly, the motion is granted and the cross-motion is denied. The parties are reminded of the court's directives to complete depositions by March 1, 2005 and file a note of issue by May 1, 2005.

January 20, 2005
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]References to "claimant" are to Linwall Matthias.
[2]Again, consisting of exactly one sentence: "Clearly the claim lacks a specific description of how the accident occurred and how the defendants were negligent" (affirmation in support of cross-motion, par. 4).