New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CHEATOM v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK AND HSBC BANK OF USA, #2006-032-071, Claim No. 111851, Motion Nos. M-71334, M-71337


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):
M-71334, M-71337
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Willie Cheatom, A/K/A Louis Cheatom, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Kathleen M. Arnold, Assistant Attorney General, Of Counsel

Tracy S. Woodrow and Scott D. Miller, Esqs.For HSBC Bank of USA
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 3, 2006

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Defendants State of New York and HSBC Bank, by separate motions, move to dismiss claim 111851 pursuant to CPLR 3211. Claimant filed this claim on January 17, 2006 alleging that defendant State of New York (“the State”) failed to “adequately and diligently” notify claimant of a trust fund account created as a result of an infant compromise award entered in 1972 as a result of injuries he sustained in an automobile accident involving the City of Lackawanna. Based on the pleading, it appears that claimant alleges that such infant trust account, originally deposited with Marine Midland Bank, of which defendant HSBC Bank (“HSBC”) is successor in interest, was eventually deposited with and held by the Comptroller’s Office as unclaimed funds. The gravamen of the action against the State seems to be premised upon alleged violations of certain provisions of the Abandoned Property Law and its failure to “adequately and diligently” seek to notify claimant or his mother of the status of the trust fund before such was turned over to the Comptroller’s Office as unclaimed funds. Claimant seeks $5,900 in direct damages (the amount of the alleged trust) and $25,000 in punitive damages.

Significantly, claimant commenced a proceeding pursuant CPLR Article 78 in Albany County Supreme Court against HSBC, the Comptroller and the Office of Unclaimed Funds seeking a judgment directing that the funds of the alleged trust fund account be turned over to him (see Matter of Cheatom v HSBC Bank, Sup Ct, Albany County, Oct. 4, 2005, Connor, J., Index No. 973-05 [annexed to claim and moving papers]). Supreme Court dismissed the petition on the merits stating, among other things, that “based upon the documentary evidence submitted in opposition to the [p]etition, the Court finds that neither [HSBC] or the State possess any funds belonging to Petitioner or Petitioner’s mother being held in trust for Petitioner” (id, at 3). There is no indication that claimant ever appealed from this judgment of the Supreme Court. Instead, it appears, he commenced the instant action in the Court of Claims.

Defendant HSBC moves to dismiss the claim based, in part, on this Court’s lack of jurisdiction over it (motion M-71337). The State also moves to dismiss the claim arguing, inter alia, that claimant failed to properly serve the claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11 and that the claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata (motion M-71334). In support of its motion, defendant includes a copy of the stamped envelope which contained the claim served upon the Office of the Attorney General evidencing that claimant served the claim by regular mail rather than by certified mail, return receipt requested, as required by the statute. Despite the Court’s granting of claimant’s request for an adjournment of these motions from April until June, he has not responded.

The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction that does not encompass actions against a private business entity such as HSBC (see Court of Claims Act § 9). Consequently, to the extent claim 111851 alleges any cause of action against HSBC, M-71337 is granted and such portions of the claim are dismissed.

Pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11(a)(i), any party seeking to file a claim against the State must serve a copy of it upon the Attorney General by certified mail, return receipt requested. In interpreting the above provision, the Court of Appeals has noted that "statutory requirements conditioning suit must be strictly construed" (Dreger v New York State Thruway Auth., 81 NY2d 721, 724 [1992]). Indeed, the Court is deprived of subject matter jurisdiction, and the claim must be dismissed, when the mail requirements are not met (see Finnerty v New York State Thruway Auth., 75 NY2d 721, 723 [1989]).

Accordingly, in light of the State’s proffer and the absence of any contrary evidence or argument by claimant, the State’s motion M-71334 is granted and claim 111851 is hereby dismissed.

August 3, 2006
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Notice of Motion (M-71334) filed February 22, 2006;

2. Notice of Motion (M-71337) filed February 27, 2006;

3. Affirmation of Kathleen M. Arnold (M-71334) with annexed Exhibits A-E, dated February 22, 2006;

4. Affidavit of Tracy S. Woodrow (M-71337) with annexed Exhibits A-H, sworn to February 21, 2006;

5. Claim 111851 with annexed Exhibits, filed January 17, 2006.