New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WATSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK , #2006-030-022, Claim No. 108382


Claimant awarded $300.00 on bailment claim.

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:
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 21, 2006
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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 (hereinafter DOCS).
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 it.”
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 that.”
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.
Mr. 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 . [See id.]. 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). [id.]. 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”.
Claimant 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.
This 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 Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 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 expense. [See 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, supra, 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 accordingly.

September 21, 2006
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All quotations are to trial notes or audiotapes unless otherwise indicated.
[2]. Although Defendant did not forward copies of the directives, Claimant did. Moreover, DOCS directives are generally referenced in 7 NYCRR, where they are not codified completely. Thus, Directive 4911 entitled “Packages and Articles Sent or brought to Institutions”, is referred to at 7 NYCRR §724.5 (a), together with a website reference for updated lists of items approved by receipt at facilities [see]. DOCS Directive 4913 is available by similar means.