New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MACKENZIE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-029-020, Claim No. 109027


Synopsis


Inmate claimant awarded $28.00 based on correctional facility overcharging him for photocopies. DOCS policy provides for charge of 50 center per page for medical records and 25 cents per page for copies of other documents.. Copies of correspondence are not copies of medical records and claimant should have been charged the lower figure.

Case Information

UID:
2007-029-020
Claimant(s):
EDWARD MACKENZIE
Claimant short name:
MACKENZIE
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109027
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant’s attorney:
EDWARD MACKENZIE, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBy: Dennis Acton, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 18, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, an inmate at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, seeks damages for alleged excessive photocopy fees he was charged for copies of medical records requested by his attorney. Both claimant and Linda Pavlik, Medical Records Clerk at Shawangunk, testified at trial. There was no dispute as to the relevant facts.


In October 2003, claimant’s attorney requested copies of claimant’s “complete certified medical records” from the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). [1] By letter dated November 18, 2003 from Ms. Pavlik, counsel was advised that “[t]he charge is $.50 a copy and there are 379 pages to be copied at a cost of $189.50.” [2] Claimant testified that his attorney forwarded a check to the facility and claimant then reimbursed the attorney.

Ms. Pavlik testified she was told by a supervising employee at Shawangunk, whose name she could not remember, that it was facility policy to charge $.50 per page for copies of medical records and $.25 per page for photocopies of documents other than medical records. She was asked by claimant how it was determined whether a particular document constituted a medical record, and she responded that she was told by the chief of the medical unit that “if it’s in the medical chart, I was told it’s considered a medical record.” [3]

Claimant testified, without contradiction from defendant, that 112 pages out of the 379 pages that generated the charge of $189.50 constituted letters that he had previously sent requesting copies of particular records. [4] He maintained at trial that these letters did not constitute “medical records” and that he should have been charged only $.25 per page for those copies.

DOCS Policy No. 4.10 [5], effective April 10, 2003, sets forth DOCS policy with respect to obtaining copies of an inmate’s medical records (referred to as “health records”). The policy provides, under the heading “Definition”:
Health record is defined as any information, recorded in any form or medium (including x-rays, and the electronic treatment record currently maintained in FHS1), which is created or received by a health care provider. A hard copy representing FHS1 is an accurate output document of the electronic treatment record. The health record relates to the past, present, future physical, mental health or condition of an individual. The health record documents the provision of health care to an individual and the past, present, or future payment of the provision of health care specific to the individual. The health record includes health information maintained in the record concerning or relating to the prior examination or treatment of the patient received from another practitioner.” [6]

Other provisions of the policy relevant to this claim include the requirements that “[r]equests by an inmate to view and/or obtain a copy of the health record must be in writing,” [7] and “[t]hird party requests for copies of health records must be accompanied by a valid written authorization.” [8] The policy further provides that “[a]uthorizations shall be filed in the inmate’s Health Record/Miscellaneous Section under Correspondence.” [9]
Defendant made two arguments in support of dismissal of the claim. At trial, defendant characterized the issue before the court as “a question of State policy” and contended that “it would not be sound institutional policy to require employees to sort out medical from non-medical records.” In its post-trial submission, defendant argued that “the question of whether or not certain documents which are kept in inmates’ medical records file constitute medical records or records of some other kind was not pled,” and that the court lacked jurisdiction over the claim to the extent that it was based on such an argument.

Addressing the jurisdictional argument first, the court finds no merit to the contention that the allegations of the claim cannot support claimant’s position that he was overcharged, to the extent of $.25 per page, for copies of documents that were not “medical records.” The “guiding principle” in determining the jurisdictional efficacy of the contents of a claim is whether the allegations are sufficiently definite to enable the State to investigate the claim promptly and ascertain its potential liability. 1[0] What is required are allegations of fact, not a precise articulation of the particular legal theory on which claimant seeks recovery, 1[1] particularly in view of the maxim, applicable here, that pleadings drafted by incarcerated pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” 1[2]

Although claimant initially maintained that he was overcharged by being required to pay in excess of defendant’s actual costs, citing Public Health Law § 18(2)(e), the allegations of the claim provided clear notice that what was at issue in this claim was defendant’s decision to charge him $.50 per page for 379 pages. The claim afforded the defendant the opportunity to conduct a complete investigation of the circumstances surrounding and the reason for the charges. Such was demonstrated by defendant’s ability to fully present its case at trial in opposition to claimant’s contention that some of the pages were not “medical records” via submission of the relevant DOCS policy and examination of its witness.

Nevertheless, there is merit to defendant’s jurisdictional argument insofar as it is directed at claimant’s contention, raised for the first time in his post-trial submission, that he never should have been provided with copies of letters, etc., that did not constitute “medical records.” All that the claim addresses is alleged overcharges. No person reading the claim would have any idea that what is alleged is that defendant provided copies of documents that it should not have provided, as opposed to charging excessive fees. While claimant’s contention may well have had merit had it been set forth in the claim, or had it been possible to reasonably infer such a position from the claim, the court is without jurisdiction to grant relief based on claimant’s belated assertion of this contention.

Turning to defendant’s substantive argument, while defendant correctly characterizes the issue as one of State policy, it is evident that defendant failed to abide by that policy in charging $.50 per page for copies of documents that do not meet its own definition of “health records.” Ms. Pavlik was incorrect in asserting that the definition of a medical record was any piece of paper contained in the medical file. The policy clearly defines what a “health record” is, a definition that does not include letters. 1[3] The policy also provides for a separate section in inmates’ medical files called “Correspondence” where authorizations (and, a fortiori, letters, the quintessential example of correspondence) are to be kept. Thus, defendant’s contention that it would place an undue burden on its employees to sort through medical files and segregate actual health records from correspondence is not true. They are supposed to be segregated all along.

Since DOCS policy requires that correspondence be kept in a separate section of the medical file from actual health records, and since it was undisputed that DOCS policy is to charge $.50 per page for copies of health records and $.25 per page for copies of other documents, claimant has established that he was overcharged to the extent of $.25 per page for 112 pages and the court finds in claimant’s favor on that basis.

The clerk of the court is directed to enter judgment in claimant’s favor for the sum of $28.00 and further providing for the return of any filing fee actually paid by claimant. Since the date claimant paid the copying costs was not established, no award of interest is made.


May 18, 2007
White Plains, New York

HON. STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1].Exhibit 3.
[2].Exhibit 5.
[3].Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the court’s trial notes.
[4].Claimant later testified that the letters amounted to 117 pages, not 112. The discrepancy was not noted at trial, and the court will utilize the lower figure.
[5].Court Exhibit 1.
[6].Id., II (A) (emphasis in original).
[7].Id., III (A) (2).
[8].Id., III (B) (1).
[9].Id., IV (A) (2).
1[0].Lepkowski v State of New York (1 NY3d 201, 207 [2003], citing Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767 [4th Dept 1980]).
[1]1.See Murray v State of New York (202 App Div 597, 600 [4th Dept 1922]: “[t]he words ‘nature of the claim’ are not necessarily synonymous with the words ‘theory of the claim’.”); see also Rodriguez v State of New York (8 AD3d 647 [2d Dept 2004]); Heisler v State of New York (78 AD2d 767 [4th Dept 1980]).
1[2].Haines v Kerner (404 U.S. 519 [1972]).
1[3].The terms are apparently used interchangeably: “This policy/procedure must be used for obtaining copies of health/medical records” (Court Exhibit 1, I).