New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

LAWRENCE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-024, Claim No. 109935


Inmate claimant did not establish his initial possession of the property when the loss first occurred. Such possession is a necessary element to establish a bailment cause of action. 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)


Shawn Lawrence alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents negligently 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 February 21, 2004 his “property was packed up when he was escorted to the box” at Green Haven that same day.[1] “They only processed four (4) bags of my property” he said, when “there was other property they were supposed to have processed on that date”, which they told him would be processed at a later time. Claimant also said that he was transferred to Upstate Correctional Facility (hereafter Upstate) sometime thereafter, and when he arrived there, only the initial four (4) bags arrived, and none of the other property did. He did receive one (1) additional bag at Upstate but never received the rest. What arrived were “five (5) pair of boots and some underclothes.” Later still, he was transferred to Great Meadow Correctional Facility, and the one “extra draft bag” did not show up. He ultimately filed a facility claim with regard to the lost property, including the property that he “had signed for” in the additional bag at Upstate, and property that was never packed in the first instance, that was denied through the appeal level on June 10, 2004. [See Exhibit 1[2]].

In the meantime, it appears he also filed a grievance to get the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (IGRC) to see if they could find his property. [Ibid.]. They determined that indeed his property had been “lost.” [Ibid.]. The IGRC said: “Grievance is granted to the extent that an investigation has been conducted and the bags have been deemed lost. Thus grievant should seek compensation for the lost items via the inmate claim process as this committee is not authorized to compensate grievant for money damages.” [Ibid.].

The disapproval of the personal property claim was based upon the finding that the property claimed was over three to four years old and had “no value.” [Ibid.]. Claimant disagreed with the conclusion, and asked for $951.70 for the property he claimed was “lost pursuant to the IGRC finding.” He recited the items missing on the trial record. He indicated that the property as listed on his inmate claim form was under two years old, which, based upon the receipts attached, seems to be inaccurate. [Ibid.]. For example, receipts from L.L. Bean show the purchase of clothing items on August 30, 2001; a receipt from JCPenney shows purchases on October 3, 2001; receipts from Choice Distributors, Inc. show purchases on August 30, 2001; receipts from M & P show purchases on August 30, 2001 and October 9 and 26, 2001; a receipt from Bust the Move of New York, Inc. show purchases on September 5, 2001; and receipts from Jack L. Marcus Inc. show purchases on August 30, 2001 and September 18, 2001. [Ibid.].

Claimant confirmed on cross-examination that all the invoices furnished were from 2001, and that he resided at Clinton Correctional Facility (hereafter Clinton) at the time all these purchases were made, and thus that he was seeking compensation for purchases that were all made in 2001.

Claimant identified an I-64 inventory form prepared at Clinton on August 15, 2002 and documenting property received at Green Haven on August 19, 2002. [Exhibit A]. Claimant acknowledged that the I-64 showed that he had four (4) bags of property upon his admission to Green Haven on August 19, 2002, and he “did not recall” whether he had exactly the same items in 2004, although he said that he “never threw anything out.” [See id.]. An inventory form from February 21, 2004, reflecting the internal transfer in Green Haven to the special housing unit (SHU), was identified by Mr. Lawrence, and reflects his presence during the packing of his property. [Exhibit B]. He acknowledged that the form reflects that four (4) bags “plus a cell bag” were inventoried on the form. [Id.]. The cell bag, he explained, contained only “State issued greens” and a “pair of State boots”. [Id.].

On March 7, 2004 another I-64 inventory form was completed indicating the property that was with claimant in SHU. [Exhibit C]. It was packed on that date at Green Haven, for his transfer to Upstate. [Id.] Claimant asserted that the items listed are only “State items”, not personal items claimed as lost. The bag was received and signed for at Upstate on March 9, 2004. [Id.].

On March 9, 2004 another I-64 inventory form was completed for three (3) bags of personal property. [Exhibit D]. Claimant said he “just signed it”and would not acknowledge going through the bags to check his property. He did not recall if he had three (3) bags of property plus his cell bag at that point when asked at trial.

An I-64 form was prepared at Upstate on April 16, 2004 for his transfer to Great Meadow. [Exhibit E]. Four (4) bags are indicated on the form as having been inventoried, but claimant would not agree that it reflected all his property.

Claimant concurred that when traveling by bus between facilities inmates could only take four (4) bags, and any additional bag would need to be mailed. As of the February 21, 2004 form [Exhibit B], claimant had a total of five (5) bags. He reiterated that the property he is claiming as lost was never documented, and somewhat conceded (but later retracted) that no document other than his claim shows that he possessed this lost property in 2004.

On redirect claimant asserted that “the way the I-64's are done is rushed - you are rushed through, with handcuffs, I was worried about my legal work” - thus the first time he was able to completely assess whether he had property missing was when he got to Great Meadow.

On re-cross-examination he would not concede that there was no documentation of the property he is claiming as in his possession in 2004, but it appeared this was somewhat a misunderstanding of counsel’s question. He then said that “maybe some” of the items were listed on Exhibits B and C, the I-64 inventory forms completed at Green Haven on February 21, 2004 and March 7, 2004.

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). 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. For example, he did not link, through testimony or other evidence, the items he listed in his claim to any I-64 inventory forms filled out in 2004. All the receipts he presented were from three (3) years earlier, reflecting purchases made at Clinton in 2001, that then did not tally with what property was in his possession when he first came to Green Haven as per the I-64 form completed in August 2002. [See Exhibit A].

In addition, it seems claimant sought to enhance the IGRC finding that property was “lost” with greater evidentiary value than it possessed. Their conclusion that some of claimant’s property was lost was followed by the direction that he should pursue a personal property claims remedy. Pursuing the administrative remedy, and then again any claim in this court, necessarily includes establishing to the satisfaction of the facility hearing officers and the court, respectively, exactly what property was in his possession when and if defendant’s agents took custody of it.

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 in February 2004 when the loss he assert first occurred. Such possession is a necessary element to establish a bailment cause of action.

Accordingly, claimant has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence entitlement to the relief requested. Claim Number 109935 is in all respects dismissed.

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.
[2]. Exhibit 1 is a collective exhibit containing the inmate claim form and appeal, with receipts, and an IGRC complaint and decision, that had been attached to the claim filed herein.