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
When he returned,
there was “nothing left in . . . [his] cell, except for . . . [his]
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
Let judgment be entered accordingly.