New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MARTINELLI v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-041-019, Claim No. 110128, Motion No. M-72330


Synopsis


State’s motion for summary judgment is denied since claim states cause of action in negligence where State’s wrongful suspension of claimant’s driver’s license resulted in claimant’s arrest and incarceration

Case Information

UID:
2007-041-019
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY MARTINELLI and KRISTEN MARTINELLI
Claimant short name:
MARTINELLI
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110128
Motion number(s):
M-72330
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant’s attorney:
BOURNAZOS & MATARANGAS, P.C.By: Steven Bournazos, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
New York State Attorney GeneralBy: Michael C. Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
May 17, 2007
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

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Decision


Defendant moves pursuant to CPLR § 3212 for summary judgment dismissing the claim, which defendant characterizes as being limited to a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation. Defendant argues that the claim fails to state a cause of action since claimant cannot show that he relied on any representation of the defendant and that such reliance is an essential element of a claim based upon negligent misrepresentation.

Anthony Martinelli (claimant) is a lifelong resident of New Jersey and a long-term holder of a New Jersey driver’s license. Claimant has never been convicted of a crime nor had he ever had his driver’s license or driving privilege suspended or revoked prior to the events underlying this claim.

On January 24, 2004, returning home to New Jersey after dinner with his wife in Manhattan, claimant was stopped by New York City police officers at a DWI checkpoint while driving near the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City. Claimant was arrested, handcuffed and subsequently jailed for approximately 24 hours. Claimant reported being told by the police officers that he had “multiple warrants out, I believe he said 13 warrants out.”

Claimant subsequently learned that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had erroneously suspended/revoked claimant’s driving privilege based upon claimant’s failure to respond to fourteen (14) traffic violations which had been returnable in the Village Court of Freeport, New York and which had been issued to an individual named Antonio Martinez of Freeport, New York, on August 26, 1994. All of the charges arising from claimant’s arrest on January 24, 2004, as well as those charges erroneously attributed to claimant in the Freeport Village Court, were later dismissed upon proof that claimant was not Antonio Martinez and had never been to Freeport, New York.

The claim alleges that claimant was “subjected to the common law torts of false imprisonment, false arrest and malicious prosecution all as a result of the negligence of the State of New York and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.” The claim further alleges that:
“This was the result of the defendants, the State of New York and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, negligence in the wrongful identification of claimant Anthony Martinelli as one Antonio Martinez who claimant bears no resemblance to. The State of New York and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and/or their employees negligently imputed 14 traffic violations against the record of the claimant Anthony Martinelli when in fact the violations were issued to an individual by the name of Antonio Martinez. As a result a suspension/revocation of claimants drivers license was issued resulting in his false arrest.”


In moving to dismiss the claim, defendant argues, citing Williams v State of New York (90 AD2d 861 [3d Dept 1982]), that although the claim is “couched in terms of negligence, the claim herein in actuality alleges a cause of action sounding in negligent misrepresentation.” The defendant further argues that the claim itself, as well as the sworn statements of the claimant, demonstrate that “there is no proof of reliance by claimant on any representation of the defendant therefore no cause of action for negligent misrepresentation exists.”

Summary judgment is “a drastic remedy” (Lebanon Valley Landscaping, Inc. v Town of Moriah, 258 AD2d 732, 733 [3d Dept 1999]). It “is the procedural equivalent of a trial and should be granted only when it has been established that there is no triable issue of material fact” (Harris v State of New York, 187 Misc 2d 512, 517 [Ct Cl 2001]; see Paulin v Needham, 28 AD3d 531 [2d Dept 2006]).

The Court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving that party the benefit of every reasonable inference and ascertaining whether there exists any triable issue of fact” (Boston v Dunham, 274 AD2d 708, 709 [3d Dept 2000]).

The court’s role on a motion for summary judgment is issue finding, not issue determination (Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 404 [1957]; Matter of Hannah UU, 300 AD2d 942, 943 [3d Dept 2002]; Schaufler v Mengel, Metzger, Barr & Company, LLP, 296 AD2d 742, 743 [3d Dept 2002]) and where a genuine issue of fact exists, the motion must be denied (Fleet Bank v Tiger Racquet Fitness and Exercise Center, Inc., 255 AD2d 793, 794 [3d Dept 1998]).

As a general rule, in negligence actions, “the trier of fact is normally entrusted to resolve factual disputes, to ascertain the reasonableness of the offending conduct under the circumstances and to determine whether that conduct was a proximate cause of the alleged injury” (Jones v Egan, 252 AD2d 909, 911 [3d Dept 1998]).

Anthony Martinelli sets forth a claim founded in negligence. While it is, in part, accurate to say that the claim may be read to set forth a theory of recovery founded in negligent misrepresentation, it is too restrictive to contend, as does defendant, that the claim is limited to that, and only that, specific cause of action.

The claim, and more specifically, that portion of the claim describing the nature of the claim, is broadly drawn in negligence. It can fairly be read to support the basis of recovery discussed in claimant’s opposition to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Claimant asserts, in opposing the motion, that defendant not only negligently misidentified him as Antonio Martinez in suspending/revoking claimant’s driving privilege, but further argues that defendant also negligently failed to perform the ministerial acts of notifying claimant and the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles of the suspension/revocation of claimant’s driving privilege.

The claim specifically alleges that as a result of defendant negligently imputing 14 traffic violations against the driving record of the claimant, “a suspension/revocation of claimants drivers license was issued resulting in his false arrest.” The claim therefore expressly raises an issue as to whether the suspension/revocation was issued lawfully by the defendant.

Accepting the allegations contained in claimant’s affidavit in opposition to the defendant’s motion as true, an issue of fact is raised as to whether defendant complied with Vehicle and Traffic Law § 226 (3), which provides at relevant part as follows:
“(a) If the person charged with the violation shall fail to answer the summons as provided herein, the commissioner may suspend such person's license or driving privilege . . . .

(b) Failure to answer or appear in accordance with the requirements of this section and any regulations promulgated hereunder shall be deemed an admission to the violation as charged, and an appropriate order may be entered in the department's records, and a fine consistent with the provisions of this chapter and regulations of the commissioner may be imposed by the commissioner or person designated by the commissioner. Prior to entry of an order and imposition of a fine, the commissioner shall notify such person by mail at the address of such person on file with the department in accordance with section two hundred fourteen of this chapter: (i) of the violation charged; (ii) of the impending entry of such order and fine; (iii) that such order and fine may be filed as a judgment with the county clerk of the county in which the operator or registrant is located; and (iv) that entry of such order and imposition of such fine may be avoided by entering a plea or making an appearance within thirty days of the sending of such notice. In no case shall such an order and fine be entered and imposed more than two years after the date of the alleged violation. Upon application in such manner and form as the commissioner shall prescribe an order and fine shall be vacated upon the ground of excusable default [emphasis supplied].”

The driver’s license record attached to claimant’s opposition papers as Exhibit A indicates that defendant was aware of a New Jersey mailing address for claimant. Despite this knowledge, and despite the mandate of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 226 (3), claimant went unnotified of the suspension/revocation of his driving privilege in New York. Claimant further asserts that defendant failed to notify claimant’s home state of New Jersey that it had suspended/revoked claimant’s driving privilege, as required by Vehicle and Traffic Law § 516.

“A public employee's discretionary acts--meaning conduct involving the exercise of reasoned judgment--may not result in the municipality's liability even when the conduct is negligent. By contrast, ministerial acts--meaning conduct requiring adherence to a governing rule, with a compulsory result--may subject the municipal employer to liability for negligence” (Lauer v City of New York, 95 NY2d 95, 99 [2000]).

Vehicle and Traffic Law § 226 (3) does not provide defendant discretion as to whether claimant should be notified of the action taken against his driving privilege. Defendant was required to perform the ministerial act of notification and allegedly failed to do so. If proven, defendant may be held liable for its failure to perform this ministerial act (see Ford Motor Credit Co. v State of New York, 133 AD2d 980 [3d Dept 1987]; Lobel Financial Corp. v State of New York, 8 Misc 3d 662 [Ct Cl 2005]; Davis v State of New York [Ct Cl, Sise, J., UID # 2004-028-504][1]; Osho v State of New York [Ct Cl, Sise, J., UID # 2004-028-509]).

Defendant asserts that “the Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain this new theory,” referring to claimant’s assertion of defendant’s alleged failure to notify claimant of the wrongful suspension/revocation of his driving privilege. First, the Court does not agree, as argued by defendant, that a “new theory” beyond that which can be found within the ambit of the claim, is now being advanced. Second, the Court finds that the claim adequately sets forth the nature of the claim for the purpose of determining whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) since it “is sufficiently detailed to enable defendant to investigate the [claim] and promptly ascertain the existence of its liability” (Lepkowski v State of New York, 302 AD2d 765, 766 [3d Dept 2003], affd 1 NY3d 201 [2003]; see Matter of O’Shea v State of New York, 36 AD3d 706 [2d Dept 2007]; Klos v State of New York, 19 AD3d 1173 [4th Dept 2005]; Rodriguez v State of New York, 8 AD3d 647 [2d Dept 2004]).

The defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied.


May 17, 2007
Albany, New York

HON. FRANK P. MILANO
Judge of the Court of Claims


Papers Considered:

  1. Notice of Motion, filed September 26, 2006;
  2. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo, sworn to September 22, 2006, and annexed exhibits;
  3. Affirmation of Steven Bournazos, dated April 2, 2007 and filed April 5, 2007, and annexed exhibits;
  4. Affidavit of Anthony Martinelli, sworn to April 2, 2007;
  5. Reply Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo, sworn to April 17, 2007 and filed April 18, 2007.

[1].This and other decisions of the Court of Claims may be found at the Court’s website: www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us.