New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PETIT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-042-001, Claim No. 108921


This is a decision following the trial of a bailment claim by claimant. The court found that the defendant was liable for the destruction of claimant’s property. However, claimant cannot prevail on his damage claim as no expert testimony concerning the fair market value of the items in issue was offered in proof.

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:
Attorney General of the State of New YorkBy: G. LAWRENCE DILLON, ESQ., A.A.G.
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 5, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This is the decision following the trial of a bailment claim by Hudner Petit. Claimant Petit was the sole witness to testify. The defendant rested without offering any proof, relying upon legal argument instead.
The unchallenged testimony and exhibits support the following factual findings:
1. claimant was issued an “Inmate Misbehavior Report” on October 11, 2003 for an incident occurring on October 5, 2003. According to the report and the testimony of claimant, a cube frisk was conducted of claimant’s cubicle.
2. the inspecting officer confiscated “contraband” consisting of “7 photographs, 1 drawing, 1 handkerchief, 2 papers” (Claimant’s Ex. No. 1, “Contraband Receipt”).
3. the Inmate Misbehavior Report emanating from this seizure stated that the “contraband” “was found to be consistent with unauthorized organizational groups.” (Claimant’s Exhibit 2, Inmate Misbehavior Report).
4. a disciplinary hearing was conducted on October 16, 2003, resulting in a finding of “not guilty” (Claimant’s Exhibit 5). Specifically, the charge for which claimant was found not guilty was charge number 105.12, “Unauth [sic] Organizations/Activity”.
5. the hearing officer, Prosser, noted that “the evidence does not support the charges” and the reason for disposition was “not guilty because the evidence will not support the charges” (Claimant’s Exhibit 5).
6. following the hearing, the hearing officer returned one picture and the handkerchief to the claimant, and destroyed the other photos, having refused to return them to claimant or to allow claimant to mail them home.
7. claimant thereafter filed an “Inmate Claim Form” (Claimant’s Exhibit 6), seeking reimbursement of $50 for each of the 6 destroyed pictures and $15 for the destroyed drawing.
8. the defendant denied claimant’s claim for damages (Claimant’s Exhibit 6). The written reasons given were as follows:
a. “[e]vidence indicates that the claimant is substantially responsible for the loss or damage.”
b. “[e]vidence indicates that the facility was not at fault or in any way responsible for the loss or damage.”
c. “[c]laim denied as per Investigating Sgt’s investigation, per Directive #2733, there are no provisions in which to assign a cash value to items listed in inmates [sic] claim.”

Following defendant’s denial of claimant’s claim for damages, claimant commenced this proceeding. As noted above, the defense did not offer any testimony or exhibits to rebut claimant’s case. However, at the time of trial, claimant offered no expert proof as to valuation of the destroyed materials and was unable to establish a fair market value for the drawing and photographs.
The law in New York on bailment is well established, as recapped in Smith v State of New York (Claim No. 107768, Scuccimarra, J., June 1, 2005, UID No. 2005-030-014):
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).

In the present case, claimant has established a bailment, both by his credible testimony and by the introduction into evidence of the contraband receipt. The disciplinary finding that the items were not contraband should have prompted their return to claimant. Yet it is undisputed that six photographs and one picture were destroyed by the defendant.
There was no basis whatsoever proffered for the destruction of this property by the correction officer. Likewise, the two findings by defendant (Claimant’s Exhibit 6), in ruling against claimant’s property loss claim (that the evidence indicates that claimant was substantially responsible for the loss, and that there was no fault on the part of the facility for the loss) are, at best, disingenuous, given the disciplinary ruling in claimant’s favor. The undisputed facts in this case are troubling to the court. No explanation was offered for the destruction of the photos and pictures, and the destruction appears to have been both spiteful and malicious.
Accordingly, the court finds the defendant liable for the destruction of claimant’s property. However, claimant cannot prevail on his damage claim. To prevail on damages, claimant was obliged to satisfy the court as to the fair market value of the items in issue. McKinley v State of New York (Claim No. 107293, Scuccimarra, J., Nov. 9, 2005, UID No. 2005-030-036). Claimant failed to offer expert proof or to otherwise show the fair market value of the destroyed items. While claimant testified, credibly, that the photographs, particularly a picture of his grandparents, had great sentimental value, personally meaningful property, such as photographs, have no fair market value. As the court noted in West v State of New York (Claim No. 100642, Collins, J., Aug. 12, 2002, UID No. 2002-015-558):
[w]hile personal photographs may have sentimental value “the law does not recognize or make allowance for a purely sentimental value which the property may have” (Goor v Navilio, 177 Misc 970). Moreover, this Court has held that personal photographs have no fair market value upon which recovery in a bailment case may be based (see, Benton v State of New York, Ct Cl, July 8, 1999 [Claim No. 94337] Collins, J., unreported; see also Moore v State of New York, Ct Cl, March 21, 2002 [Claim No. 99830] Scuccimarra, J., unreported; cf., Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866).

The claim is therefore dismissed. Let judgment be entered accordingly.

March 5, 2007
Utica, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims