New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SOTO v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-036-505, Claim No. 111181, Motion No. M-70854


Synopsis


Claimant’s motion for default judgment granted in part.

Case Information

UID:
2006-036-505
Claimant(s):
ALEXANDER SOTO #122170
1 1.The court has amended the caption to properly reflect the defendant.
Claimant short name:
SOTO
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The court has amended the caption to properly reflect the defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
111181
Motion number(s):
M-70854
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
MELVIN L. SCHWEITZER
Claimant’s attorney:
Alexander Soto, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Ellen Matowik, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 27, 2006
City:
New York
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision


Claimant alleges that while he was a patient at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in June, 2005, two watches were stolen from him. He seeks damages of $10.00 for each watch, a total of $20.00. The claim was served (by certified mail, return receipt requested) and filed on July 25, 2005. Not having received a response to the claim within 40 days, claimant wrote a letter to the Attorney General, dated September 11, 2005, questioning why an answer had not been served. Defense counsel advises that, upon receipt of claimant’s letter, an inquiry was made and it was ascertained that while the claim had in fact been received in the Attorney General’s mailroom, it had not been transmitted to the Claims Bureau. A copy of the claim was obtained from the clerk of the court, and defendant then served (on October 20, 2005) and filed (on October 21, 2005) an answer.

The instant motion, in which claimant seeks a default judgment, was served on October 19, 2005, prior to claimant receiving the answer.

Rule 206.7(a) of the Uniform Rules for the Court of Claims provides that “service of all responsive pleadings shall be made within 40 days of service of the pleading to which it responds.” Defendant concededly did not comply with this rule. Rule 206.1(b) provides that, upon good cause shown and in the interests of justice, the court may “waive compliance” with any of the rules. However, when defendant became aware that claimant had served and filed a claim and that the time in which to respond had expired, defendant did not move pursuant to Rule 206.1(b) for relief from its default. And after being served with claimant’s motion requesting a default judgment, defendant still did not request relief from its conceded default. Instead, defendant simply opposes the motion for a default judgment.

Although defendant cites Spickerman v State of New York (85 AD2d 60 [1982]) – holding that the Court of Claims has the discretion to deny a claimant’s motion for a default judgment where “the default in answering was not willful, the defaulting party moves expeditiously for relief and the non-defaulting party is not unduly prejudiced” (id., 61) – it is basic that before the court even considers whether to exercise its discretion in that regard, defendant must request such relief. The court will not grant that which defendant did not request.

Nevertheless, entry of a default judgment in the Court of Claims is not possible, since Court of Claims Act § 12(1) provides: “In no case shall any liability be implied against the state. No judgment shall be granted on any claim against the state except upon such legal evidence as would establish liability against an individual or corporation in a court of law or equity.”

The sole remedy available under these circumstances is an order precluding defendant from offering evidence as to liability but nevertheless requiring claimant to present his proof so that the court may determine if it is sufficient to justify a finding of liability (see Powell v State of New York, Ct Cl, Marin, J., decision and order dated September 5, 2003, UID No. 2003-016-066; Gibson v State of New York, Ct Cl, O’Rourke, J., decision and order dated December 20, 2000, UID No. 2000-017-611). Also, while a defendant’s default precludes defendant from offering evidence on liability, it does not impair defendant’s ability to present evidence on the question of damages (Amusement Business Underwriters v American International Group, Inc., 66 NY2d 878, 498 NYS2d 760 [1985]).

Accordingly, claimant’s motion is granted to the extent that the claim will be tried on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 10:00 a.m. at the Court of Claims, 26 Broadway in Manhattan. At the liability portion of the trial, defendant will be precluded from calling witnesses or offering evidence, but may cross-examine claimant’s witnesses. Defendant’s conduct of the damages portion of the trial will be unaffected. Claimant still must meet his burden of proof pursuant to § 12(1) and establish the existence of evidence sufficient to justify a finding of liability, as well as proof of damages.


January 27, 2006
New York, New York

HON. MELVIN L. SCHWEITZER
Judge of the Court of Claims


The court read and considered the following papers on this motion:


1. Notice of Motion, Affirmation and Exhibits

2. Affirmation in Opposition and Exhibits