New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2005-030-938, Claim No. 110198, Motion Nos. M-70468, CM-70469


Case Information

DORCELIA WILLIAMS, as Natural Sister and Legal Guardian of CONNIE WILLIAMS, Incompetent The court has amended the caption to remove the various named entities over whom the court lacks jurisdiction.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The court has amended the caption to remove the various named entities over whom the court lacks jurisdiction.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Claimant's attorney:
Nicholas Martino, Jr., Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Eliot Spitzer, Attorney Generalby Diana Dykes, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
December 8, 2005
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The court read and considered the following papers on defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and claimant's cross-motion for an order compelling disclosure: Notice of Motion, Affirmation and Exhibits; Notice of Cross-Motion, Affirmation and Exhibit, Reply Affirmation.

This claim accrued on December 21, 2002 when claimant's ward, a blind, mentally handicapped, non-speaking person who has been a ward of the State of New York for many years, fell inside of defendant's premises (the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Service Office at 888 Fountain Avenue in Brooklyn) and sustained an ankle fracture requiring open reduction and internal fixation.

A notice of intention to file a claim was served on March 3, 2003, within 90 days of the incident. The claim was filed and served on December 9, 2004 and, in an answer dated January 18, 2005, defendant raised a number of affirmative defenses including, as relevant here, the allegations that: (1) the court lacks jurisdiction due to claimant's failure to include an adequate description of the location of the alleged incident, (2) the court lacks jurisdiction because it fails to include "an adequate description of the condition alleged in the claim as a cause of the incident," and (3) the court lacks jurisdiction because the claim fails to state the amount of damages sought.

In response to the answer, claimant served and filed an amended claim which is the same as the original claim except for the addition, at the end, of the statement that claimant suffered damages in the amount of one million dollars. Defendant interposed an answer to the amended claim that raised the same jurisdictional defenses as the answer to the original claim, with the exception of the defenses that arose from the absence of a monetary demand in that claim. The answer to the amended claim does not refer to the absence of the monetary demand from the original claim and raises no objection to the amendment of the claim to include the monetary demand.

Defendant now moves to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction for the alleged failure of the amended claim to comply with Court of Claims Act §11(b) which requires that a claim state the time when and place where the claim accrued, the nature of the claim, the items of damages and the amount demanded.

The amended claim alleges that claimant's ward was a resident of the developmental center on December 21, 2002 and that, on that date, at the center, she was caused to fall and suffer serious injuries, including a fractured ankle, as the result of the negligence of defendant's employees in failing to properly supervise Connie Williams and in maintaining their premises in a negligent manner.

Defendant argues that "claimant does not particularize exactly where the fall occurred, the time of the fall, and there is no description or explanation of what happened to cause the claimant to fall. Additionally, there is no statement of the total sum claimed" (Affirmation in Support of Motion, ¶6). Defendant maintains that "[t]here is no indication of what happened, what caused the claimant to fall or how the defendant was negligent" (id., ¶8), that "the State does not have the burden to investigate or assemble such information that the claimant is obligated to allege" (id., ¶7) and that the decision in Lepkowski v State of New York (1 NY3d 201) is "instructive on the question of how much particularization is required by the statutory reference to the claim's ‘nature' " (id., ¶8).[1]

In response, claimant notes that her ward is blind, incompetent and unable to speak and that the claim contains all of the information about the incident that is presently known to claimant. Claimant also notes that she has been unable to obtain the facility's records, despite providing the Attorney General with a number of authorizations, and despite the court's direction, at a conference held on May 27, 2005, that defendant was to provide copies of the relevant records upon receipt of a duly-executed authorization. Such failure is the basis of claimant's cross-motion seeking an order directing defendant to provide copies of Connie Williams's medical records and accident report.

In response to the cross-motion, defense counsel states only that she "forwarded claimant's authorization request for processing by the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities" and that there is no basis for the court to direct disclosure because the court lacks jurisdiction over the claim. Apparently, counsel's contention is that forwarding the authorization to her client exhausts her responsibility to provide disclosure, and further, that the court is without jurisdiction because the claim does not contain information that it allegedly must contain. Counsel does not address the fact that the reason that the claim lacks such information is defendant's failure to provide the information, which is in its exclusive control, to the claimant, nor does counsel address claimant's contention that defendant's continuing refusal to provide the records, notwithstanding its obligation under the law and notwithstanding the court's specific direction to do so is "intentional and designed to prohibit claimant from establishing a prima facie case" (Affirmation in Support of Cross-Motion, ¶10).

In Lepkowski, supra, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the long-standing maxim that the "guiding principle" informing analysis of a claim when it is challenged for alleged insufficiency is whether it provided sufficient information to allow for an investigation of the relevant facts and circumstances so the State can evaluate its potential liability (1 NY3d, 201, 207, citing Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767 [2]; see also Klos v State of New York, 19 AD3d 1173; Rodriguez v State of New York, 8 AD3d 647; Wharton v City University of New York, 287 AD2d 559). While Lepkowski states the applicable law, the decision is not, as alleged by defendant, particularly "instructive" with respect to how much "particularization" the statute requires in this case. Lepkowski involved claims by State employees who alleged that they worked overtime and were not properly paid, but failed to state where they worked, when they worked, how much they were paid, how much they should have been paid and how much they were owed. The Court held that the claims did not contain sufficient information to allow an investigation and were thus jurisdictionally infirm. This claim involves a personal injury to an incompetent person, blind and non-communicative, who was at all relevant times under 24-hour State supervision. The parallels between the two factual scenarios may be apparent to defendant; to the court, they are totally distinct.

The standard is whether defendant was afforded sufficient information to conduct an investigation. The required evaluation necessarily proceeds on a case-by-case basis. Here, with the context being an injury to an incompetent person who resides at a State facility and is under 24-hour State supervision, the information contained in the claim was clearly sufficient to allow a complete investigation. The failure to specify "exactly where" in the facility claimant fell or precisely "what caused the claimant to fall" did not affect, at all, defendant's ability to investigate. Defense counsel's unsupported and conclusory statement that the amended claim "fails to set forth specific facts that would enable the State to investigate the manner in which the injuries allegedly occurred" (Affirmation in Support of Motion, ¶8) is not supported by an affidavit from someone with knowledge of the relevant facts and circumstances explaining how and why the information contained in the amended claim was insufficient.

Moreover, the contention that the court lacks jurisdiction because claimant did not include in the claim information that claimant can only obtain by review of defendant's records, when defendant has refused to provide those records despite having been provided with proper authorizations and despite having been directed to provide the records by the court is, in the context of this case, inappropriate and offensive.

With respect to the lack of a monetary demand in the original claim, it is curious that defendant raised no objection when claimant addressed that issue by interposing an amended claim containing such a demand. Defendant's posture, in its answer to the amended claim, was that any problem had been cured. Now, defendant attempts to resurrect the defense by way of motion, impliedly contending that such defense may be raised at any time, even under circumstances that would lead a claimant to think that the issue had been removed from the claim (cf. Caprio v State of New York, Ct Cl, Collins, J., decision and order dated May 28, 2003, UID No. 2003-015-323, where the court estopped defendant from raising the defense of lack of verification of the claim after it had stipulated to withdraw the defense and later moved to dismiss on the same ground).

The original claim is no longer before the court. It has been superseded by the amended claim, to which defendant raised no objection. The amended claim contains a demand for relief and thus complies with the statute in that respect. In any event, this court has already held that the absence of a demand for monetary relief does not implicate the court's jurisdiction but rather is a pleading deficiency that may be cured by amendment of the claim, exactly as occurred here (Legall v State of New York, ___ Misc 3d ___ , 803 NYS2d 386, 2005 NY Slip Op. 25471; see also Stewart v State of New York, Ct Cl, Patti, J., decision and order dated September 24, 2004, UID No. 2004-013-047; cf. Michael v State of New York, Ct Cl, Marin, J., decision and order dated May 18, 2005, UID No. 2005-016-037; Beckley-Kamara v State of New York, Ct Cl, Marin, J., decision and order dated November 18, 2005; UID No. 2005-016-060; Hernkind v State of New York, Ct Cl, Mignano, J., decision and order dated September 29, 2005, Motion No. M-70502).

Defendant, it hardly seems necessary to point out, does not claim any prejudice arising from its failure to be apprised of claimant's one million dollar evaluation of the claim in December 2004, when the original claim was served, rather than in January 2005, when the amended claim was served.

Accordingly, the court finds that the instant claim meets the standard articulated in, e.g., Lepkowski and Heisler and defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is denied. Claimant's cross-motion to compel disclosure is granted and defendant is directed to provide claimant with copies of Connie Williams's records from December 20, 2002 to the present date within 30 days of the filing date of this decision and order. The court points out that forwarding an authorization to the agency does not fulfill counsel's obligation; transmitting copies of the records to claimant is what is required. Defendant is directed to advise the court, by letter, when the records are sent to claimant. If such is not done within 30 days of the filing date hereof, defendant is to provide an affidavit from someone at OMRDD with knowledge of the situation explaining, with particularity, exactly what the problem is.

December 8, 2005
White Plains, New York
Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]The affirmation contains two paragraphs "8."

[2]"The first question is with what specificity must a claim be stated under section 11 of the Court of Claims Act. That section provides in pertinent part, ‘The claim shall state the time when and place where such claim arose, the nature of same, and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed.' What is required is not absolute exactness, but simply a
statement made with sufficient definiteness to enable the State to be able to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances. The statement must be specific enough so as not to mislead, deceive or prejudice the rights of the State. In short, substantial compliance with section 11 is what is required" (78 AD2d 767).