Claimant alleges in his claim that Defendant’s agents at Downstate
Correctional Facility (hereinafter Downstate) illegally destroyed his personal
property on or about June 2, 2003 after it was transferred from federal
jurisdiction at UPS Lewisberg to Downstate. Trial of the matter was held at Sing
Sing Correctional Facility on July 21, 2006.
At the trial, Claimant
testified that he had left federal custody on April 1, 2003, without any of his
personal property. Boxes were packed up and held in federal custody in
Pennsylvania. On April 18 he was transferred to the custody of the New York
City Department of Correction, and then on May 7, 2003 he was transferred to
the custody of the State of New York Department of Correctional Services
On June 1, 2003 he was called down to the draftroom at
Downstate to review his property boxes. Personnel gave him his legal work, but
he was told he could not have any personal property. When he asked if they could
simply transfer the property to whatever facility he was to be ultimately placed
in, he was told no, he had to either “donate it or destroy
Requests to have it mailed home, or to have the issue reviewed by a
“senior person” or picked up by someone else, were all denied.
Indeed, the next day, he said, one of the officers came to him with a piece of
paper indicating his property would be destroyed, “so that was the end of
Items such as photographs of his family, and some research
papers were destroyed. They threw away two pairs of sneakers, a pair of boots
and some clothes. He explained that when he indicated in his claim that he was
seeking damages in the amount of $10,000.00, it was primarily because of the
destruction of irreplaceable photographs. Thereafter he did some research and
learned that New York State does not generally give money damages for personal
photographs or items of “sentimental value.” The other property he
valued at $400.00 to $500.00, inclusive, for the sneakers, orthopedic boots,
sweat clothes and assorted toiletries.
In an attachment to his claim, Mr.
Watson has included a copy of his inmate claim form listing these items
generally as follows: 2 pairs of sneakers $125.00; 1 pair of orthopedic boots
$150.00; Assorted sweat clothes $100.00 and Assorted toiletries, mirrors,
hairbrush, etc. $50.00; Pictures of family and friends $4,000.00.
Watson explained that if someone were to have mailed him photographs while
there, he would have been able to retain them. But otherwise, because Downstate
is a reception center, no photographs are allowed nor is other property.
Personnel would not allow him to mail his property at the State’s expense
since he did not yet have funds in his account.
An Authorization for
Disposal of Personal Property form dated June 1, 2003 contains a generalized
list of items the facility had in its possession, and lists “disposal
options” to be selected by the inmate. [Exhibit 2]. These options are to
ship the property at the inmate’s expense; to send out the property
through a visitor, provided the visitor arrives within fourteen (14) days; to
donate the property to a charitable organization; or to destroy the property .
.]. Claimant did not sign this form, nor are any of the choices
selected for disposition of the property. [id.
The items of
property listed, and the disposition ordered for each on June 2, 2003 according
to the form, are: Clothes (destroy); soap (destroy); shampoos (destroy); food
(destroy); headphones (destroy); photos (hold); papers (hold).
Another Authorization for Disposal of Personal
Property form referencing photographs and papers alone also indicates that the
Claimant refused to sign the form, and orders destruction of the property on
June 4, 2003. [See id.
]. On both forms in the refusal section there is
the pre-printed statement that “Inmate refused to sign after being
informed by employee witness.” [id.
Review of the
attachments to his Claim demonstrates that Claimant pursued administrative
remedies as far as they were provided to him.
Shown a copy of a Draft
Processing regulation apparently specific to Downstate only on
cross-examination, Mr. Watson acknowledged that Downstate rules indeed appear to
be that no property may enter, and the only choices offered will be destruction
of the property or sending it home at the inmate’s expense. [See Exhibit
A]. Mr. Watson stated, however, and it is noted by the Court, that the form
Claimant was asked to sign indicates the additional options of holding the
property - albeit for a limited period - and donating it to charity. The same
Downstate Draft Processing regulations also list what personal property is
allowed. [Exhibit A]. Claimant acknowledged that the property destroyed is not
on the list of allowable items.
When asked if he refused to sign the form
that includes the four options, he acknowledged that he did refuse to sign. He
explained, however, that he refused to select the choices or sign the form
because he was not given all the options listed. “That’s the
point” he said, “I was not told I could send it home, or mail
it.” He was told only to “destroy or donate”.
argued that DOCS directives 4911 and 4913 also allow that should an inmate not
have sufficient funds, the facility should advance monies to be then subtracted.
Defendant argued that regulations applicable to processing centers and to other
facilities are different, and that as a processing center, Downstate’s
regulations disallowed the property and limited the options available for its
disposal. Defendant agreed, however, to furnish the Court with copies of DOCS
directives 4911 and 4913, with the understanding that the Court would determine
whether they had any applicability.
No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.
claim is in the nature of a bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by
delivery of Claimant’s personal property into the custody of
Defendant’s employees, and its destruction at their hands. See
generally Claflin v Meyer
, 75 NY 260 (1878). The State has a duty to
secure an inmate’s personal property. Pollard v State of New York
173 AD2d 906 (3d Dept 1991). A delivery of property to the bailee, and the
latter’s failure to return it, satisfies Claimant’s burden of
establishing a prima facie case of negligence. The bailee is then required to
come forward with evidence to “overcome the presumption.”
Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp
., 60 AD2d 550 (1st Dept 1977). “Where a
bailment is created, a showing that the . . . [property was] delivered to the
bailee and returned in a damaged condition establishes a prima facie case of
negligence and the burden shifts to the bailee to demonstrate that it exercised
ordinary care . . . (citation omitted
)” Board of Educ. of
Ellenville Cent. School v Herb’s Dodge Sales & Serv.
, 79 AD2d
1049,1050 (3d Dept 1981).
With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the
court of the fair market value of the items in question. Phillips v
, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce
Misc 2d 21 (New York Dist. Ct. 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair
market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may
also be acceptable. Personally meaningful items, such as photographs, have no
fair market value. [See Benton v State of New York
, Claim No.
94337, Collins, J., July 8, 1999].
In this case, Claimant has established
that he had surrendered certain personal property items to DOCS custody and
control, and that property was destroyed in their custody under regulations
apparently applicable only to Downstate, and otherwise contradicting procedure
elsewhere. Although it may well be that as a general matter, the reception
center regulations control, in this Court’s view the uncontradicted
testimony shows that what options were available to Claimant were presented far
too equivocally to escape review: one cannot simultaneously be advising an
inmate of certain limited options while presenting him with a form that includes
disallowed options. Accordingly, the Defendant did not follow even the more
prohibitive rules of the Draft Processing regulations and should be responsible
for at least part of Claimant’s loss.
Moreover, even the most cursory
review of the Draft Processing regulations presented during the trial show
internal inconsistencies within the regulations. In one part, is the
declaration that no property may enter the facility, and after confiscation
during processing it will either be destroyed or sent home at the inmate’s
Exhibit A, Page 2, II, B]. Later on, there are references
to allowable property and discretionary determinations as to what may be held in
the Property Clerk’s Office. There is also a reference to a form numbered
DN013, entitled Authorization for Disposal of Personal Property: clearly not the
form Claimant was asked to sign.
The Court is satisfied that Claimant
exhausted his administrative remedies. See
Court of Claims Act
§10(9); 7 NYCRR Part 1700. The Claimant presented as a credible witness,
whose testimony was uncontradicted. Claimant’s testimony concerning the
value of the property establishes the total loss as $300.00 inclusive of
depreciation. Since Claimant did not indicate the age of the items, the Court
assumes they were more than one year old at the time of the loss, thus
depreciation is fairly applied to arrive at fair market value as required.
See Schaffner v Pierce
, at 24. As noted above, loss
of the photographs is not compensable.
Accordingly, Claimant is hereby
awarded damages in the amount of $300.00 plus statutory interest [§16 State
Finance Law; § 5004 Civil Practice Law and Rules], which the Court finds
presumptively reasonable, from the date of accrual of June 2, 2003 to the date
of this Decision, and thereafter to the date of the entry of judgment pursuant
to §§ 5001 and 5002 Civil Practice Law and Rules.
It is ordered
that to the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant
to Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).
Let Judgment be entered