New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

KOEHL v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-015-257, Claim Nos. 113876, 113877, Motion Nos. M-73968, M-73969


Synopsis


Pro se inmate's motions to compel disclosure on two claims was granted in part and denied in part.

Case Information

UID:
2007-015-257
Claimant(s):
EDWARD KOEHL
Claimant short name:
KOEHL
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
113876, 113877
Motion number(s):
M-73968, M-73969
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Edward Koehl, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Paul F. CaginoAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
December 17, 2007
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, moves to compel discovery in two claims (claim nos. 113876 and 113877), both of which are decided herein. The first motion (M-73968) relates to claim number 113876, a bailment claim arising out of the alleged failure of the defendant to return a television set and five plastic storage bins following claimant's transfer to the special housing unit at Great Meadow Correctional Facility on March 14, 2007. The second motion (M-73969) relates to claim number 113877, a claim for the destruction of Chinese tea, protein powder and dentures during the course of a cell search on February 13, 2007.

By a Demand For Production Of Documents bearing claim number 113876 dated August 9, 2007, the claimant made the following demands. The defendant's response is set forth immediately following each demand:
"1. Identify and provide a 'certified' and completed copy of Claimant's inmate claim relative to the 'broken bottom denture plate, denture adhesive, tea, print wheel, Spanish tape' dated 2/15/07."

Response: "Such documents can be inspected upon reasonable written notice to the Inmate Records Coordinator at the facility in which you are housed. A copy will be provided upon payment of photocopy expense to the facility."

"2. Identify and provide any docuemnts [sic] related to the cell search [2-13-07] that culminated in the alleged destruction of Claimant's property."

Response: "This demand is improper as it is ambiguous, vague and does not reasonably list any particular items."

"3. Identify and provide any special incident reports related to the cell search [2-13-07] that culminated in the alleged destruction of Claimant's property."

Response: "See paragraph numbered '1' above."

"4. Identify and provide an[y] DOCS directive[s] that must be followed when correction officers conduct a search of an inmates [sic] cell and/or property."

Response: "All Department of Correctional Services' directives are available at the facility library with the exception of those classified as confidential or involving security matters."

"5. Identify and provide the 'E Block Log Book Entries' [2-13-07] and any other document showing when Correction Officers M. Molsani and R. Therrin searched Claimant's cell and personnel [sic] property."

Response: "See paragraphs numbered '2' and '1' above."
Review of the aforementioned demands and the defendant's responses thereto indicates that the demand incorrectly bears the claim number relating to the bailment claim (claim no. 113876) . In fact, the demand relates to the claim for the alleged destruction of the claimant's property during the course of a cell search on February 13, 2007 (claim no. 113877). As this error apparently caused the defendant no confusion in preparing its response and there was no objection to relevance, the Court will address the demand and the response thereto on the merits.

CPLR 3101 provides for the disclosure of all items "material and necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action". The Court of Appeals has interpreted these words liberally to require the disclosure "of any facts bearing on the controversy which will assist preparation for trial by sharpening the issues and reducing delay and prolixity" (Allen v Crowell-Collier Publ. Co., 21 NY2d 403, 406 [1968]). Although these discovery provisions are liberally construed, " '[u]nder our discovery statutes and case law, competing interests must always be balanced; the need for discovery must be weighed against any special burden to be borne by the opposing party' " (Kavanagh v Ogden Allied Maintenance Corp., 92 NY2d 952, 954 [1998] quoting O'Neill v Oakgrove Constr., 71 NY2d 521, 529 [1988], rearg denied 72 NY2d 910 [1988]; see also Andon v 302-304 Mott St. Assoc., 94 NY2d 740,747 [2000]). It is therefore incumbent upon the party seeking disclosure to demonstrate that the discovery sought " 'is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of information bearing on the claims' " (Vyas v Campbell, 4 AD3d 417, 418 [2004], quoting Crazytown Furniture v Brooklyn Union Gas Co., 150 AD2d 420, 421 [1989]).

Demand number "1" set forth above is proper to the extent it requested a certified copy of claimant's inmate claim. Defendant's response, which claimant avers would require a request under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), is improper as the discovery provisions of the CPLR and the FOIL provide independent vehicles for the production of records (Matter of Schwartz, 130 Misc 2d 786 [1986]; cf. Matter of M. Farbman & Sons v New York City Health & Hosps Corp., 62 NY2d 75 [1984]). Accordingly, defendant is directed to provide a certified copy of the claimant's inmate claim subject to the payment of reasonable copying costs.

The Court agrees that demand number "2" is an improper attempt to use document discovery as a means to test whether or not documents exist and no response need be provided (MacKinnon v MacKinnon, 245 AD2d 690 [1997]). Further, the demand is vague and overbroad.

Defendant's response to demand number "3" , indicating that the claimant may inspect and obtain copies of the records from the Inmate Records Coordinator is improper for the same reason the response to demand number "1" was improper (see Matter of Schwartz, supra). A response must therefore be provided.

Demand number "4" is improper as the defendant need not identify and provide claimant with "any" DOC's directives which must be followed when conducting a search. As noted by defense counsel, such directives are available in the law library for the claimant's use and a party is not obliged to produce documents which the demanding party can access independently (Penn Palace Operating v Two Penn Plaza Assoc., 215 AD2d 231 [1995]). This demand is also vague and overbroad.

Demand numbered "5" requesting the "E Block Log Book Entries and any other document" showing when his cell was searched is improper as the claimant should first ascertain the existence of a particular document through the use of other discovery devices (MacKinnon v MacKinnon, supra). Although the Court is not required to prune the demand, in light of the claimant's pro se status, it will require the defendant to produce a copy of the E-Block Log Book entries for the date on which the cell search occurred.

By Demand For Production Of Documents dated August 9, 2007 incorrectly bearing claim number 113877 but relating to claim number 113876, the claimant made the following demands as to each of which the defendant's response is set forth:
"1. Identify and provide a 'certified' and completed copy of Claimant's inmate claim relative to the 'lost-stolen TV and storage bins' dated 3-14-07."

Response: "Such documents can be inspected upon reasonable written notice to the Inmate Records Coordinator at the facility in which you are housed. A copy will be provided upon payment of photocopy expense to the facility."

"2. Provide a certified and completed copy of the I64 form dated 6-7-07.''

Response: "See paragraph numbered '1' above."

"3. Identify and provide the DOCS directive[s] mandating how inmates going from general population housing area are to be [transported] to an [sic] SHU unit in non-emergency situations."

Response: "All Department of Correctional Services' directives are available at the facility library with the exception of those classified as confidential or involving security matters."

"4. Identify and provide Great Meadow CF's internal policy in transporting an inmate from a general population housing area to an [sic] SHU unit in non-emergency situations."

Response: "Improper demand."

"5. Provide a true copy of the 'SHU PROPERTY PROCESS FORM' dated 3-8-07."

Response: "See paragraph number '1' above."

"6. Identify and provide an[y] documents and personnel that details how and when Claimant's property was transported from his housing unit [E1-34] to a holding area on 3-14-07."

Response: "See paragraph numbered '4' above."

"7. Identify and provide a true copy of the I64 form dated 3-12-07."

Response: "See paragraphs numbered '1' and '4' above."

"8. Identify and provide a true copy of the local facility permit [Great Meadow CF] issued to Claimant allowing him to possess a TV in his cell."

Response: "See paragraphs numbered '1' and '4' above."

" 9. Identify and provide a true copy of the receipt showing that Claimant purchased a TV set from the Commissary [Great Meadow CF] on 7-26-02."

Response: "See paragraphs numbered '1' and '4' above."

"10. Identify and provide a true copy of the I64 form dated 3-21-07."

Response: "See paragraph numbered '1' above."

"11. Identify and provide how and what correction officer and correction sergeant escorted Claimant from his housing unit [E1-34] to the SHU unit [B1-27] on -8-07 [sic]."

Response: "See paragraph numbered '4' above."

"12. Identify and provide when and what inmate porters and/or DOCS personnel took and carried Claimant's personal property to a storage area and identify that storage area and what inmates and/or DOCS personnel have access to said storage area."

Response: "See paragraph numbered '4' above."
Demands numbered "1", "2", "5", "7" and "10" are proper. As set forth above, the claimant is not required to pursue a FOIL request before a demand for discovery pursuant to CPLR 3101 is made.

Demand numbered "3" in which the defendant was requested to identify and provide copies of certain DOCS' directives is improper as this material is available in the law library for the claimant's use (see Penn Palace Operating v Two Penn Plaza Assoc., supra).

Demands numbered "4" and "11" are irrelevant to the prosecution of this bailment claim and patently improper. To establish a prima facie case of negligence in a bailment claim, the claimant need only establish that property was delivered to the defendant with the understanding that it would be returned, and that the defendant failed to return the property or returned it in a damaged condition (Ramirez v City of White Plains, 35 AD3d 698 [2006]; Feuer Hide & Skin Corp. v Kilmer, 81 AD2d 948; Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1977]; see also Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 [1878]; see also 7 NYCRR part 1700). Consequently, the items demanded in demands numbered "4" and "11" set forth above are neither material nor necessary to the prosecution of this claim.

Demand numbered "6" is overly broad and insufficiently identifies the documents claimant seeks produced.

Demands numbered "8" and "9" are proper and relevant to the extent they may tend to establish that the claimant owned and possessed a television prior to his transfer to SHU.

Demand numbered "12" is improper. A demand for discovery is an improper device for the information sought therein (see CPLR 3120).

Based on the foregoing, the claimant's motion number M-73968 to compel disclosure is granted with respect to items number 1, 3, and 5 in accordance with this decision and is otherwise denied.

Claimant's motion number M-73969 to compel disclosure is granted with respect to items number 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 and is otherwise denied.


December 17, 2007
Saratoga Springs, New York

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


The Court considered the following papers:

Claim No. 113876, Motion No. M-73968:
  1. Notice of motion dated September 10, 2007;
  2. Affidavit of Edward Koehl sworn to September 11, 2007 with exhibit;
  3. Affirmation of Paul F. Cagino dated September 26, 2007;
  4. Reply of Edward Koehl dated September 29, 2007.

Claim No. 113877, Motion No. M-73969:

  1. Notice of motion dated September 10, 2007;
  2. Affidavit of Edward Koehl sworn to September 11, 2007 with exhibit;
  3. Affirmation of Paul F. Cagino dated September 26, 2007;
  4. Reply of Edward Koehl dated September 29, 2007.