New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEJIAS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-032-062, Claim No. 112083, Motion Nos. M-71474, M-71475


Synopsis



Case Information

UID:
2006-032-062
Claimant(s):
BRANDON MEJIAS
Claimant short name:
MEJIAS
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
112083
Motion number(s):
M-71474, M-71475
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant’s attorney:
Brandon Mejias, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Michael C. Rizzo, Esquire, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 25, 2006
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Defendant moves this Court for an order pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss claimant’s action for failure to comply with Court of Claims Act § 11(a). Claimant does not oppose this motion, but moves for leave to file a late claim.[1] On April 21, 2005, claimant served a notice of intention to file a claim upon the Office of the Attorney General via ordinary mail. Thereafter, on February 23, 2006, claimant served a claim upon the Office of the Attorney General, again, via ordinary mail. In his claim, claimant alleges negligence and false imprisonment. Specifically, claimant alleges that on March 3, 2005, while he was an inmate at Franklin Correctional Facility, a correction officer conducted a search of claimant’s cell and discovered certain legal materials. The correction officer submitted a misbehavior report charging claimant with providing unauthorized legal assistance to another inmate. Claimant states that, as a result, he was placed in "solitary confinement". Disciplinary hearings regarding the misbehavior report began on March 9, 2005 and were concluded on March 17, 2005. Thereafter, claimant was found guilty of providing unauthorized legal assistance. Claimant‛s rambling submissions do not indicate that his guilty determination was reversed or that he exhausted his administrative remedies. After defendant moved to dismiss, claimant moved for leave to file a late claim.

To effect proper service, claimant must serve the notice of intention and the claim on the Attorney General either personally or by certified mail, return receipt requested (Court of Claims Act § 11[a]). It is well settled that service by ordinary mail, rather than certified mail, return receipt requested, is insufficient to acquire personal jurisdiction over the State of New York in an action in the Court of Claims (see Govan v State of New York, 301 AD2d 757, 758 [3d Dept 2003], lv denied 99 NY2d 510 [2003]; Turley v State of New York, 279 AD2d 819 [3d Dept 2001], lv denied 96 NY2d 708 [2001]). The claim, and envelope in which the claim was mailed, and the notice of intention, and envelope in which the notice was mailed, demonstrate that the documents were served by ordinary mail. Thus, claimant has failed to comply with the jurisdictional requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11. Accordingly, defendant’s motion M-71474 is granted, and the claim is dismissed.

With regard to claimant’s motion for leave to file a late claim, claimant failed to attach a proposed claim to his moving papers as required by Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) (see Davis v State of New York, 28 AD2d 609, 610 [1967][addressing former section 10 (5)]; see also Walach v State of New York, 91 Misc 2d 167, 169 [1977] affd 69 AD2d 1015 [1979]). Thus, claimant‛s application should be denied because it is procedurally defective.

Even if the Court considered the claim originally filed in the context of this late claim application, the Court would deny late claim relief. On a late claim application, the Court must consider six statutory factors conducting its analysis. The six factors are: (1) whether defendant had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; (2) whether defendant had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; (3) whether the failure to timely file and serve would result in substantial prejudice to defendant if the motion is granted; (4) whether claimant has another available remedy; (5) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; and (6) whether the claim appears to be meritorious (Court of Claims Act § 10[6]). The sixth factor is generally the most decisive one, for it is futile to proceed with a meritless claim.

The factors of notice, opportunity to investigate, and prejudice are considered together. It appears that defendant had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim because a number of correction officers witnessed the incident, a misbehavior report was issued, and a disciplinary hearing was held. Moreover, claimant served, although improperly, a notice of intention to file a claim on the Attorney General’s Office within a month of the alleged “unlawful imprisonment.” Defendant also had an opportunity to conduct an investigation into the circumstances leading to the purported “unlawful imprisonment”, and apparently did so in preparation for the disciplinary hearing on the matter. Thus, defendant is not prejudiced by claimant’s late filing. Accordingly, these factors weigh in claimant’s favor. Next, claimant does not have another remedy for seeking monetary damages against the State of New York (Correction Law § 24[2]) and, therefore, this factor weighs in claimant’s favor.

Regarding the fifth factor of whether the delay in filing was excusable, it is generally said that ignorance of the law is no excuse (see Matter of Galvin v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1185 [3d Dept 1991], lv denied 79 NY2d 753 [1992]). Additionally, claimant is charged with the notice requirements of the Act, pursuant to which he is seeking a remedy (see Simpson by Buck v State of New York, 96 AD2d 646 [3d Dept 1983]). As a result, claimant’s lack of awareness of the filing period is unpersuasive. Furthermore, incarceration is generally not a reasonable excuse. Accordingly, the fifth factor weighs in favor of defendant.

Lastly, the Court turns to the most important factor in the analysis, the merit of the claim. It is well settled that “in order for a claim to ‘appear to be meritorious’: (1) it must not be patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective, and (2) the court must find, upon a consideration of the entire record, including the proposed claim and any affidavits or exhibits, that there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists” (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1, 11 [Ct Cl 1977]). Generally, actions of correctional facility employees with respect to inmate discipline matters are quasi-judicial in nature; therefore, unless the employees exceed the scope of their authority or violate the governing statutes and regulations, the State has absolute immunity for those actions (see Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212, 214 [1988]; see Holloway v State of New York, 285 AD2d 765, 765-766 [3 Dept 2001]).

Claimant‛s conclusory allegation that his guilty determination resulted from an "erroneous disposition" is insufficient to demonstrate that correction employees exceeded their authority or violated statutes or regulations in imposing a sanction on claimant after conducting a hearing on the misbehavior report. Claimant also argues that his actions were allowable under Department Directive 4422. He fails, however, to provide the Court with this directive. Thus, given that the conduct complained of by claimant is immune from liability and his allegations fail to support any other actionable conduct, he has failed to demonstrate that his claim has the appearance of merit.

After balancing the requisite factors, the Court concludes that, even if claimant‛s application was not procedurally defective, he would not be entitled to leave to file a late claim.

Accordingly, defendant‛s motion M-71474 is granted and claimant‛s motion M-71475 is denied.


July 25, 2006
Albany, New York

HON. JUDITH A. HARD
Judge of the Court of Claims


Papers Considered:


1. Notice of Motion to Dismiss filed March 14, 2006;
2. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo sworn to March 10, 2006; Exhibits A and B annexed;

3. Notice of Motion for Permission to File a Late Claim, filed March 23, 2006;

4. Affidavit of Brandon Mejias sworn to March 21, 2006; unnumbered Exhibits annexed;

5. Claim filed March 15, 2006;

6. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo in Opposition to the Late File Motion sworn to April 11, 2006.



[1].Claimant alternatively requests that his claim be "renewed" and he be allowed to re-serve the claim via certified mail, return receipt requested. The Court cannot grant this type of nunc pro tunc relief (see Smith v State of New York, 53 AD2d 756, 757 [1976], affd 41 NY2d 1063 [1977]). Thus, this aspect of claimant‛s motion is denied.