New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HARDING v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-030-535, Claim No. 109786, Motion No. M-73160


Synopsis


Pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act §11(b) satisfied as to the total sum claimed. In the ad damnum, an award of compensatory damages “in an amount not less than $1,000,000” is sought for wrongful detention. Reduced to its simplest terms, Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d277 (2007), merely requires that a number - any number - be set forth as a total sum claimed, to survive jurisdictional scrutiny. Indeed, by declaring that “...[a] claim may always be amended at a later time, if necessary...” [Id, at 281], the Court of Appeals left open the opportunity for such “guess-timates.” The statutory requirements still serve the primary purpose of enabling the State to ascertain what the claim is about, where it occurred and why, and how much of a financial “hit” is sought, in order to allow it to investigate its potential liability and properly defend. Any reasonable defendant reading this claim, and then trying to ascertain the extent of the State’s potential liability, would be able to assess same. The language“not less than” contained in the ad damnum clause is stricken as surplusage, and this Court therefore has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim

Case Information

UID:
2007-030-535
Claimant(s):
JOSEPH HARDING a/k/a ARNOLD HARDY
Claimant short name:
HARDING
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109786
Motion number(s):
M-73160
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Claimant’s attorney:
FRIEDMAN, KHAFIF & SANCHEZ, LLPBY: EMIL J. SANCHEZ, ESQ.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: JOSEPH L. PATERNO, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 31, 2007
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

The following papers were read and considered on the disposition of the Court’s Order to Show Cause:
  1. Order to Show Cause signed April 4, 2007
  1. Affirmation in Opposition to the Court’s Order to Show Cause to Dismiss by Emil J. Sanchez, Counsel for Claimant with exhibits
  1. Affirmation by Joseph L. Paterno, Assistant Attorney General
4,5 Filed papers: Claim, Answer

After carefully reviewing the papers issued and submitted and the applicable law the Order to Show Cause is resolved as follows:

Initially, the Court is satisfied that both Claimant and Defendant were served with a copy of the Order to Show Cause, issued by the Court after its review of the Claim herein, and in consideration of the effect upon pending claims wrought by the decision of the Court of Appeals in Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d 277 (2007).

Claimant alleges in his claim that he sustained damages as a result of his wrongful detention and incarceration on Rikers Island from March 31, 2004 through July 21, 2004. Specifically, he asserts that he had been a parolee under State supervision from October 20, 2000 until October 20, 2003, when he was discharged from such supervision. Thereafter, and in and about November 2003, parole officers took action that ultimately resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant, based upon purportedly false information. Claimant was then detained without a hearing, he claims, and without any lawful basis, for the period asserted, suffering injury. In its answer, in addition to general denials, the defendant raised eight affirmative defenses, including the sixth affirmative defense asserting a lack of jurisdiction for failure to comply with the statutory pleading requirements concerning the nature of the claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11(b). That particular defense was discussed in prior motion practice, and the sixth affirmative defense was stricken by this Court. [Harding a/k/a Arnold Hardy v State of New York, Claim No. 109786, Motion Nos. M-70060; CM-70209, unreported decision and order (Scuccimarra, J., January 24, 2006)].[1]

The claim was served on August 11, 2004 and filed in the Clerk’s office on August 30, 2004. Premised upon a date of accrual of July 21, 2004 - the day claimant alleges he was released from custody - the claim was timely served and filed.

In the ad damnum paragraphs of his claim, Claimant “. . . prays that this Court:
a. Award compensatory damages in an amount not less than $1,000,000.
b. Award punitive damages in an amount not less than $3,000,000.” (emphasis added). [Claim Number 109786, p.7].

As an initial matter, the demand for punitive damages is stricken because same are simply not available against the State of New York. Sharapata v Town of Islip, 56 NY2d 332, 339 (1982).

The requirements set forth in Court of Claims Act §11(b) for the contents of a claim have been interpreted to be of non-waivable jurisdictional dimension by the Court of Appeals. Kolnacki v State of New York, supra; see also Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201, 206-209 (2003). The Kolnacki court discarded claimant’s argument that as a personal injury action, not as readily susceptible to injury quantification as the claim for overtime pay asserted in Lepkowski, supra, her claim - containing no dollar amount at all - could be later amended as the damages suffered by her became more ascertainable.

Reduced to its simplest terms, Kolnacki v State of New York, supra, merely requires that a number - any number - be set forth as a total sum claimed, to survive jurisdictional scrutiny. Indeed, by declaring that “. . . [a] claim may always be amended at a later time, if necessary . . .” [id. at 281], the Court of Appeals left open the opportunity for such estimates. Here, read in context, what claimant demands as his total sum claimed is $1,000,000.00. The addition of three little words - “not less than” - in one view might render the demand only slightly less of a reach than one for infinity, however, any reasonable defendant reading this claim, and then trying to ascertain the extent of the State’s potential liability, would be able to assess same. While strict attention to the requirements for the contents of a claim have been held to occupy jurisdictional dimension, the statutory requirements still serve that primary purpose of enabling the State to ascertain what the claim is about, where it occurred and why, and how much of a financial “hit” is sought, in order to allow defendant to investigate its potential liability and properly defend.[2]

Accordingly, claimant here has satisfied the pleading requirements clarified in the attendant case law as to the total sum claimed, the language “not less than” contained in the ad damnum clause is stricken as surplusage, and this Court therefore has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim.

The matter is scheduled for trial on the issue of liability on Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 10:00 a.m.

May 31, 2007
White Plains, New York

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




[1]. The “law of the case” does not apply here as suggested in claimant’s papers. First, the “total sum claimed” was not the issue before the court nor the basis for its decision on the motion. Second, the Court of Appeals ruling in Kolnacki, infra, decided on March 22, 2007, clarified State law to the effect that the “total sum claimed” also had subject matter jurisdiction implications, and absent legislative intercession [see “Bill Proposed to Eliminate Damages Rule”, 237 New York Law Journal p. 1, col. 6 (May 9, 2007)] is the law in all claims pending in the Court of Claims.
[2]. As a matter of simple civil practice, it has always been the discretionary option to conform the pleadings to the proof, provided there is no prejudice. Civil Practice Law and Rules §§2001; 3025(c).