New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

WALKER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-023, Claim No. 109851


Inmate claimant did not establish his initial possession of the property, delivery, negligence or value. Bailment claim dismissed

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:
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
June 19, 2007
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Richard Walker alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents negligently or intentionally lost his property while he was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven). Trial of the matter was held on April 27, 2007.

Claimant testified that on June 18, 2003 he had a “heart attack” while at Green Haven, and he was transported for treatment “at Vassar [Brothers Hospital].”[1] When he returned, there was “nothing left in . . . [his] cell, except for . . . [his] greens.”

Mr. Walker indicated that his efforts to find out what happened were unsuccessful, and his complaints unanswered. It appears that rather than immediately file a facility claim pursuant to regulation for the recovery of the value of lost personal property, claimant sought more informal relief. When he did file a facility claim on September 24, 2003, however, it was disapproved. [Exhibit 1]. The reason for the disapproval is noted in a narrative fashion in one part of the form, and is also noted by the facility representative having checked the form language: “Evidence indicates that the facility was not at fault or in any way responsible for the loss or damage.” [See ibid.]. The narrative portion provides: “Investigation has determined that the facility and its employees are not at fault. There is not sufficient evidence to substantiate this claim.” [Id.]. The administrative appeal indicates the same thing. [Id.].

On cross-examination, claimant again confirmed that he had a heart attack in his cell on June 18, 2003, whereupon he was immediately removed by stretcher to Vassar Brothers Hospital. He went back to the same cell when he returned from the hospital. He could not say of his own personal knowledge what procedures had been followed to secure his property upon his removal to the hospital, nor did he know if other inmates went into his cell when he was removed. All that the claimant knew was that when he returned, his property was gone.

In the documents submitted, while there is reference to package room receipts, and facility permits, and other indicia of ownership and possession, none are included with the claim filed in this court, nor were any presented at trial. [See Exhibit 1 “C”, Inmate Claim Form ;“E”, Inmate Grievance Complaint; “F”, Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee Response and Inmate Grievance Program Investigative Report]. No testimony was offered to supplement the information provided in these written documents to further establish a bailment. Additionally, the documents include memoranda to the effect that the cell was secured during claimant’s absence. [See Exhibit 1“D”, To/From dated September 9, 2003, to Inmate Walker from Sgt. S. Ulrich].

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

This claim is one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery of Claimant’s personal property into the custody of Defendant’s employees. See generally Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878); Ahlers v State of New York, (Claim No. 82543, Corbett, P.J., December 23, 1991). 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).

With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question. Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (New York Dist. Ct. 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable. Personally meaningful items, such as photographs, have no fair market value beyond the actual cost. [See Benton v State of New York, Claim No. 94337, Collins, J., July 8, 1999].

In this case, claimant has not established all the elements of a bailment claim. He has not established his own possession of the property, delivery, negligence or value. He did not link, through testimony or other evidence, the items he listed to, for example, any package room receipts, or I-64 inventory forms. Indeed, the only evidence extant, as noted briefly in the documentary submissions, was that the defendant did secure claimant’s personal property when Mr. Walker left his cell on an emergency basis to receive care at an outside hospital. [See Exhibit 1“D”, To/From dated September 9, 2003, to Inmate Walker from Sgt. S. Ulrich].

Thus, while the Court is satisfied that Claimant exhausted his administrative remedies [See Court of Claims Act §10(9); 7 NYCRR Part 1700], and found that the claimant presented generally as a credible witness unfortunately, he did not establish his initial possession of the property prior to his removal for medical treatment, a necessary element to establish his cause of action, or any negligence on the part of the correctional facility.

Accordingly, claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence entitlement to the relief requested. Claim Number 109851 is in all respects dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

June 19, 2007
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.