New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JONES v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-015-153, Claim No. 112234, Motion Nos. M-72355, CM-72445


Synopsis


Claimant's motion for default judgment was denied. Defendant's cross-motion for dismissal was granted on the ground that the claimant's failure to plead in his claim the total sum claimed was a fatal jurisdictional defect.

Case Information

UID:
2007-015-153
Claimant(s):
JASPER WALTER JONES
1 1.The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
JONES
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
112234
Motion number(s):
M-72355
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-72445
Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Jasper Walter Jones, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Michael W. Friedman, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 2, 2007
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Claimant, who is in the custody of the Westchester County Department of Corrections, moves for an order directing the entry of a default judgment against the defendant on the ground that it failed to timely answer the claim. Defendant cross-moves for dismissal on the grounds: (1) that the Court lacks both subject matter jurisdiction over the claim and personal jurisdiction over the defendant; (2) the claim fails to comport with the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11(b); (3) the claim fails to state a cause of action, and (4) that the Court of Claims lacks jurisdiction over this claim which the defendant characterizes as seeking only a correction of his sentence computation. Claimant's Motion For Default Judgment

In support of his motion, the claimant asserts that his claim was "filed" on March 31, 2006 and that the defendant's failure to answer the claim within forty days thereafter pursuant to 22 NYCRR 206.7(a) warrants an order directing the entry of a default judgment. In opposition to the motion and in support of its cross-motion, the defendant submitted a copy of the claim and the envelope in which it was mailed. The envelope is postmarked April 18, 2006 and the claim is date-stamped as received by the attorney general's office twice, once on April 19, 2006 and once on April 24, 2006. The answer to the claim was served on the claimant on May 25, 2006. In his reply, the claimant does not dispute defendant's assertion that the claim was served on April 19, 2006. Since the defendant's answer was timely served within forty days of service of the claim, claimant's motion for an order directing the entry of a judgment on default is denied.

Defendant's Cross-Motion To Dismiss

The defendant argues that dismissal is required on several bases. First, the defendant argues that the claim was not properly served in accordance with Court of Claims Act § 11(a)(i). Although the envelope submitted by the defendant supports the fact that the manner in which the claim was served was improper, i.e, by first class mail service, the defendant waived this defense by failing to raise it in its answer[2] (see Court of Claims Act § 11[c]).

The defendant next argues that the claim fails to state a cause of action against the defendant and that the Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim, which defendant describes as seeking only a correction to his sentence computation.

The claim alleges, in part, the following:
Claim: False Imprisonment

The claimant states that after he had reached the maximum expiration of his court imposed sentence, that he was repeatedly arrested, detained and re-sentenced for . . . 'failure to report to parole' . The claimant states that these repeated arrests and re-incarcerations were the result of errors in his parole file, errors in his time computations, and the gross lack of due diligence on the part of the Board of Parole of New York State.
The claim details several arrests and confinements resulting from the claimant’s failure to report for parole, which allegedly should have terminated prior to the date of the arrests.[3] The claim sets forth that corrections to the claimant's sentence computation were finally made at the behest of certain parole officers and that he received notification of his discharge from parole on January 3, 2006, the date he now contends is the accrual date of the claim.[4] Construing the claim in the light most favorable to the claimant (Cron v Hargro Fabrics, Inc., 91 NY2d 362 [1998]), it cannot be said that the essential nature of the claim is for equitable relief to correct the sentence computation as opposed to recovery of an unspecified monetary sum stemming from an alleged wrongful confinement (see Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988]; Guy v State of New York, 18 AD3d 936 [2005]). Dismissal of the claim on the ground that it seeks primarily equitable relief over which this Court lacks jurisdiction is therefore unwarranted.

However, defendant's contention that the claim fails to meet the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11(b) because it fails to specify the date upon which the claim accrued and the total sum claimed is well founded. Section 11(b) of the Court of Claims Act requires that the claim state "the time when and the place where such claim arose, the nature of same, and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and the total sum claimed". In addressing these pleading requirements, the Court of Appeals in Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201 [2003] made clear that these pleading requirements are jurisdictional in nature and are to be strictly construed, stating at 206-207:
The State's waiver of immunity from suits for money damages is not absolute, but rather is contingent upon a claimant's compliance with specific conditions placed on the waiver by the Legislature (see Court of Claims Act § 8 [specifying that the State waives its immunity from liability and action 'provided the claimant complies with the limitations' of article II of the Court of Claims Act, which includes section 11]; see also Alston v State of New York, 97 NY2d at 163). Further, '[b]ecause suits against the State are allowed only by the State's waiver of sovereign immunity and in derogation of the common law, statutory requirements conditioning suit must be strictly construed' (Lichtenstein v State of New York, 93 NY2d 911, 913 [1999], quoting Dreger v New York State Thruway Auth., 81 NY2d 721, 724 [1992]). As relevant here, section 11 (b) places five specific substantive conditions upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity by requiring the claim to specify (1) 'the nature of [the claim]'; (2) 'the time when' it arose; (3) the 'place where' it arose; (4) 'the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained'; and (5) 'the total sum claimed'.3
* * *
3By contrast, while CPLR 3017 (a) requires a complaint to contain a demand for the relief sought, CPLR 3017 (c) for many years has provided that the complaint in a medical or dental malpractice suit or in an action against a municipality shall not state the amount of money damages sought. Just recently, the Legislature amended section 3017 (c), which now prohibits the complaint in a personal injury or wrongful death action from setting forth the amount of money damages sought (see L 2003, ch 694, § 1, eff Nov. 27, 2003).

The Court is aware that the Court of Appeals is presently considering the very same issue which this Court must decide (see Kolnacki v State of New York, 28 AD3d 1176 [2006], lv granted 30 AD3d 1116 [2006] [argued at Court of Appeals on February 7, 2007) and that the Appellate Divisions in the First (Morris v State of New York, 27 AD3d 282 [2006]), Second (Beckley-Kamara v State of New York, 35 AD3d 774 [2006]) and Fourth (Kolnacki v State of New York, supra) Departments have each found, under various factual circumstances, that the failure to set forth the total sum claimed is not a fatal jurisdictional defect requiring dismissal of a claim. In addition, opinion among the judges of the Court of Claims is split on the issue following Lepkowski, supra (see e.g. Herbert v State of New York, 13 Misc 3d 1237 (A) [2006]; Kolnacki v State of New York, 10 Misc 3d 781 [2005]; Kern v State of New York, 12 Misc 3d 455 [2006]; Hamilton v State of New York, 11 Misc 3d 650 [2005]; Legall v State of New York, 10 Misc 3d 800), with the majority of decisions concluding that the failure to include the total sum claimed is not a jurisdictional defect requiring dismissal. Most decisions have viewed the requirement that a total sum be stated as overly literal and contrary to the Court of Appeals statement in Lepkowski that "the guiding principle informing section 11 (b)" is that a claim should be sufficiently definite " 'to enable the State . . . to investigate the claim[s] promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances' " (Lepkowski v State of New York, supra at 207, citing Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767).

Nevertheless, the Court is compelled to conclude that the clear and unequivocal precedent contained in Lepkowski requires a finding that the failure to state the total sum claimed is, in fact, a fatal jurisdictional defect requiring dismissal of the instant claim. In particular, footnote 3 (infra) in Lepkowski evidences an awareness on the part of the Court of Appeals that the holding in Lepkowski, as it pertains specifically to the requirement that a total sum claimed be stated, is much more restrictive than the pleading rules set forth in CPLR 3017, subdivision (c) in particular, which states, in part,
In an action to recover damages for personal injuries or wrongful death, the complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, interpleader complaint, and third-party complaint shall contain a prayer for general relief but shall not state the amount of damages to which the pleader deems himself entitled.
By contrasting the requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) that the claim shall state "the total sum claimed" with the provisions of CPLR 3017 (c) prohibiting a statement of the amount of damages sought in actions for personal injury or wrongful death, the Court provided explicit emphasis that the requirement that a claim include a statement of the total sum claimed is included in, and should not be segregated from, the other "specific substantive conditions upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity" contained in section 11(b) (nature of the claim, time when claim arose, place where claim arose and items of damage or injuries sustained) which must be met for jurisdiction to attach (id. at 207). The only purpose reasonably served by footnote 3 is to explain that the Court of Claims Act requirement that a claim state the total sum claimed is a jurisdictional prerequisite, the failure to comply with which mandates dismissal. The footnote contrasting Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) and CPLR 3017 is meaningless if not intended to underscore the unique nature of the Court of Claims Act pleading requirements that a claim shall state the total sum claimed. Footnote 3, in combination with the sentence to which it pertains, which sets forth the five substantive conditions to waiver of the State's sovereign immunity, leads this Court to conclude that there is no basis upon which to find under Lepkowski that the failure to include a statement of the total sum claimed is anything other than a jurisdictional defect requiring dismissal of the instant claim.

Here, like the facts in Lepkowski, the claimant failed to allege the total sum claimed as damages. In addition, the claim fails to set forth the date the claim accrued, the injuries claimed to have been sustained or the length of time the claimant alleges he was wrongfully confined. In view of these deficiencies, it cannot be said that the State was provided sufficient details to enable it "to investigate the claim[s] promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances" (Lepkowski v State of New York, supra at 207, quoting Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767, 767 [1980]). The claim is therefore dismissed.







March 2, 2007
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:

  1. Notice of motion dated September 7, 2006;
  2. Affidavit of Jasper Walter Jones sworn to September 15, 2006 with exhibits;
  3. Memorandum of Law of Jasper Walter Jones, undated;
  4. Notice of cross-motion dated October 24, 2006;
    1. Affirmation of Michael W. Friedman dated October 24, 2006 with exhibits;
    2. Reply of Jasper W. Jones to defendant's motion to dismiss undated, filed November 24, 2006 with exhibits;
    3. Reply of Jasper Walter Jones to defendant's opposition to motion to strike defendant's affirmative defense and in support of defendant's motion to dismiss sworn to November 17, 2006 with exhibits.

[2].The "EIGHTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE" in the answer alleges service of a notice of intention by regular mail but makes no reference to the manner by which the claim was served.
[3].Claimant also commenced an Article 78 proceeding regarding his sentence computation. However, the result of this proceeding, if any, has not been made known.
[4].Defendant raised no defense in its answer with respect to the timeliness of this claim.