New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RANDOLPH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-033, Claim No. 109465


Synopsis


Inmate bailment claim sustained after trial. Damages $135.00 for negligently destroyed radio. Claimant established radio seized prior to authorization for seizure, personnel falsely represented that radio then mailed out per claimant’s instructions, when in actuality radio had been destroyed. Explanation that radio destroyed rather than mailed per instructions because of insufficient funds “after the fact.

Case Information

UID:
2007-030-033
Claimant(s):
JOE RANDOLPH
Claimant short name:
RANDOLPH
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109465
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
JOE RANDOLPH, PRO SE
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: J. GARDNER RYAN, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
August 16, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Joe Randolph alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents negligently destroyed his property after a cell search while he was an inmate at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereafter Green Haven). Trial of the matter was held on May 11, 2007.


Mr. Randolph testified essentially as set forth in his claim, and submitted his entire claim and its attached exhibits in evidence. [Exhibit 1]. On July 22, 2003, he said, during a cell search, his “model 88 table radio was illegally taken.”[1] He testified that he used the word “illegally” because he had a permit for the radio, it was on his package list, and there was no need for the officer to take it. Despite this documentation the radio was taken. Thereafter, claimant filed a grievance, pursued his facility claim, and wrote to various officials of his plight.

He found that “all the people [he] wrote to told him something different.” Although “the dep[uty] commissioner told [him] ultimately, that [claimant] was right, [the radio] should not have been taken,” in the “four month (sic) interim, they had made a regulation that this type of radio was not to be allowed in the facility.” Claimant said, however, he was given thirty (30) days to have the radio and then had to dispose of it thereafter. In his view, this was pointless, since he would need to send it out in thirty (30) days in any event, thus he decided to send it home right away, and so instructed the package room personnel. Despite his decision and instructions, the “radio never made its destination.”

Thereafter, he “dropped a grievance,” concerning the loss. One officer from the package room said she had personally mailed claimant’s radio out. After an investigation, it was learned that the radio was not sent out because claimant did not have money in his account. Because there was no money in claimant’s inmate account - a fact he was not aware of - personnel destroyed the radio. When he wrote to the superintendent this time, the response was the same: because there was no money in claimant’s account, “it was legal for them to destroy it.”

Claimant then argued that a memorandum showing facility policy provides that a facility is not supposed to destroy personal property when there are insufficient funds to mail it out. [Exhibit 2]. There is no indication, however, that this facility memorandum dated October 20, 1998 was the controlling directive at the time. [Id.]. Additionally, the memorandum appears to refer to property arriving in the package room from outside the facility.

Finally, claimant testified that the value of the radio was $150.00 plus shipping and handling, and furnished a receipt dated November 5, 2001. [Exhibit 3]. The receipt is issued to a Patricia Bettis. [Id.]. Claimant explained that Ms. Bettis is his mother, who had purchased the radio for him. It was, however, in his possession from November 2001 until its seizure in July 2003. He was apparently given an undated contraband receipt at the time of it’s seizure. [Exhibit 1].

At the close of claimant’s case, the Assistant Attorney General moved to dismiss the claim after Mr. Randolph inartfully stated that his “whole purpose in bringing this claim was to get the radio replaced and, upon replacement, to send it back to his parents.” Mr. Randolph also restated that he would take any money received and buy the radio again. The Assistant

Attorney General argued - correctly - that this court cannot give equitable relief under the circumstances presented. Court of Claims Act §9. The motion is nonetheless denied since, taken in context, the claimant’s comments merely gave an explanation of his motivation, and were not intended to confine him to seeking equitable relief.

In a letter from the State Deputy Commissioner dated October 1, 2003, it is confirmed that while such radios had been determined to be prohibited, claimant was advised on September 26, 2003 of the option to have his radio returned to him until the grace period for possession ended on October 21, 2003, or to dispose of it in accordance with departmental policy. [See Exhibit 1]. It is acknowledged in the same correspondence that claimant’s radio was not authorized for seizure before the grace period ended, and it is also acknowledged that claimant had elected to mail the radio. [Ibid.].

Thereafter, the documents submitted confirm that the package room clerk first said that the radio was mailed out. Later - and this is confirmed by the inmate grievance resolution committee’s finding of February 26, 2004 - the radio was revealed to have been destroyed because claimant had insufficient funds in his account for mailing the property. [Exhibit 1]. No notice of this insufficiency, or of the facility’s determination to destroy the property, was given to the claimant. [Ibid.]. Indeed, in the denial of his facility claim dated December 30, 2003 the hearing officer “disapproved” the claim, and wrote “the property (radio) was disposed of per Cpt. Keyser (ADSS) on 11/15/03.” [Exhibit 1]. In the Superintendent’s appeal section of the facility claim, dated March 12, 2004, the claim is again “disapproved”, and in the “comments” section of the form it is written, “Inmate had insufficient funds to mail out radio.” [Ibid.].

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

This claim is essentially one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment allegedly created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery - or in this case seizure - of Claimant’s personal property into the custody of Defendant’s employees. See generally Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878). Having taken possession, the State then has a duty generally to secure an inmate’s personal property. Foy v State of New York, 182 AD2d 670, 671 (2d Dept 1992), 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 (Nassau Co. Dist. Ct. 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable.

After carefully considering the evidence presented, including the testimony of Claimant and observing his demeanor as he did so, the Court finds him a credible witness, whose version of the events was uncontradicted, and is supported by documentary submissions. The court is satisfied that he has established his claim, and his right to compensation, by a preponderance of the credible evidence.

This Claimant has shown that he was in possession of his radio until its confiscation. After such “delivery”, the presumption of negligence upon the bailee’s failure to return the property arises, and such presumption has not been rebutted. Indeed, all the indications in the documents submitted are that what claimant testified to is true: his radio was seized prematurely, he was told that the radio was mailed out per his instructions, and that he thereafter filed a grievance when the property did not arrive where it was supposed to go based upon that false representation; he was told that it was destroyed; and he was given what can only be viewed as an “after the fact” type explanation that he did not have sufficient funds in his account to mail the property - information he was not given until it was too late - since such “explanation” was provided after he was told his property was destroyed.

Generally, when an inmate is found in possession of “surplus or disallowed property”, he is given the option of having the property destroyed, donated, picked up by a visitor within a certain time frame or mailed to another location at his expense.[2] This is the procedure described in facility regulations and also set forth in one of the New York State Department of Correctional Services [hereinafter DOCS] Directives available to the public at its website.[3] Indeed, facilities generally provide the inmate with Form 2068, entitled “Authorization for Disposal of Personal Property,” that gives the inmate the options for disposal. This does not appear to have occurred in this case.

Claimant has established that the fair market value of the radio, inclusive of depreciation fairly applied since the radio was more than one (1) year old when seized [see Schaffner v Pierce, supra at 24], as $135.00.

Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $135.00 plus appropriate interest from the date of accrual of July 22, 2003 to January 22, 2004, and then from June 10, 2004 to the date of this decision, and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment.

To the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2).

Let Judgment be entered accordingly.

August 16, 2007
White Plains, New York

HON. THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]. All quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.
[2]. DOCS Directive No. 4913, Inmate Personal Property Limits (II C. Disposal of Surplus or Disallowed Property). See http://www.docs.state.ny.us/directives.html
[3]. See http://www.docs.state.ny.us/directives.html