New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SAUNDERS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-028-508, Claim No. 112459, Motion No. M-72046


SUMMARY: Claim received by regular mail is dismissed when claimant fails to establish that prison officials violated mailroom procedures; equitable estoppel does not apply

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:
BY: Kathleen M. Arnold, Esq.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 17, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The following papers were read on Defendant’s motion for an order of dismissal:

1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affirmation of Kathleen M. Arnold, AAG, with annexed Exhibit;

2. Affidavit in Opposition of John Saunders, pro se, with annexed Exhibit; and

3. Reply Affirmation of Kathleen M. Arnold, AAG, with annexed Affidavit of Theresa Higgins.

Filed papers: Claim, Answer

This action arose on November 10, 2005 at Greene Correctional Facility, where Claimant was at the time incarcerated. He alleges that he suffered physical injuries to his right shoulder and both knees when he fell down a flight of stairs while being required to carry a draft bag while his hands were cuffed and shackled to his waist.

The Claim was filed with the Court on June 21, 2006, and it references a Notice of Intention which, Claimant asserts, was sent to the Attorney General by certified mail, return receipt requested (hereinafter CMRRR) on January 28, 2006 (Claim, ¶ 5).[1] Attached to the Claim is an Affidavit of Service, dated June 8, 2006, in which Claimant states that a copy of the Claim was to be mailed to the Attorney General by CMRRR.

Prior to filing its Answer, Defendant moved for an order dismissing the Claim on the ground that it was not properly served.[2] In support of this motion, counsel has provided a received-stamped copy of the Claim, showing that it was received by the Office of the Attorney General on June 14, 2006, together with a photocopy of the envelope in which it was received (Arnold Affirmation, Exhibit A). The envelope shows that the postage paid was $1.35, and it does not have any of the stickers or other documentation required for CMRRR service.

Claimant opposes the motion, arguing that he had properly requested prison officials to send the document by CMRRR and that, having failed to do so, the State should be estopped from raising improper service as a defense.
The Claimant states that this was no Fault of His; but instead the fault of the Mailroom at the Washington Correctional Facility. Since it is their policy that Inmates place their request for Legal mail that is to be mailed Certified Return Receipt into their Officer’s Hands to be taken upfront to inmates account for processing befor[sic] it gets mailed out. This is the way things are done at this facility. Wherefore The Claimant should not be punnished[sic] for any mistakes made by the facility’s procedures, . . .
Annexed to his affidavit is a photocopy of a CMRRR receipt establishing that a document was mailed from Washington Correctional Facility on July 26, 2006 and served on the Office of the Attorney General the following day, July 27. Claimant does not explain the relevance of this exhibit, and the Court notes that neither Claimant nor Defendant contend that any document connected to this claim was received by the Attorney General on or about that date.

Defendant’s statement of the relevant law, relying on Rodriguez v State of New York, 307 AD2d 657 [3d Dept 2003], is incorrect. The Third Department recognizes that “[u]nder certain circumstances, misfeasance or malfeasance on the part of facility officials may be a proper excuse for failure to timely file thus warranting estoppel” (Rivera v State of New York, 5 AD3d 881 [3d Dept 2004], citing Wattley v State of New York, 146 Misc 2d 968 [Ct Cl 1990]; see also Tooks v State of New York, 40 AD3d 1347 [3d Dept 2007]). To establish entitlement to estoppel, however, the claimant must demonstrate that mailroom personnel failed to follow proper procedures in processing the mail in question (Rodriguez v State of New York, supra).

The procedures of Washington Correctional Facility are outlined in the affidavit of Theresa Higgins, the facility’s Mail and Supply Clerk (Arnold Reply Affirmation, attachment). She states that in order to have legal mail sent by CMRRR, an inmate must fill out a disbursement form and present it, along with the item, to a correction officer. She further states that the item mailed by Claimant on June 13, 2006 was not accompanied by a disbursement form. Claimant has not provided any copy of a disbursement form completed in connection with the item that he mailed on or about June 13, 2006 and has not even alleged that he completed and submitted the proper form.

Defendant’s motion is GRANTED, and Claim No. 112459 is dismissed.

July 17, 2007
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

  1. [1]In its Answer, Defendant acknowledges that a Notice of Intention was received on February 2, 2006.
  2. [2] Defendant’s Answer was subsequently filed and raised four different defenses (failure to state a cause of action; Claimant's culpable conduct; negligence of a third party; and failure to adequately describe the location of the incident giving rise to the claim). Defendant complied with the requirements of section 11(c) of the Court of Claims Act, however, by raising the issue of proper service in a pre-Answer motion.