New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JACKSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-044-010, Claim No. 109373


Inmate sustains burden of proof on bailment claim for lost property, but cannot recover for taped messages from his wife and children

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:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Roberto Barbosa, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 22, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, alleges that defendant State of New York (defendant) negligently lost certain personal property belonging to him when he was transferred from Southport Correctional Facility (Southport) to Upstate Correctional Facility (Upstate) on September 19, 2003. Trial of the matter was held at Elmira Correctional Facility on January 25, 2007.

At trial, claimant testified that when he packed his bags for the transfer, he had more property than could fit in the four bags he was allowed to transport with him. Moreover, he had more tapes and books than the rules at Upstate would permit. He was advised by correction officers that he either had to mail the 23 excess tapes and 18 books to his wife at his own expense, destroy them, or donate them, presumably to a charitable organization. He also was required to pay for the expense of shipping the one extra bag of property to Upstate.

Claimant stated that he then filled out a disbursement form authorizing his inmate account to be charged for the expense of mailing both the books and tapes to his wife and the bag of property to Upstate. Claimant alleges that his family advised him in early October that they had not received the items, nor had he received his bag of property. Claimant filed an inmate grievance, which was denied on the ground that claimant had refused to sign the disbursement forms at Southport; he was instructed to send signed disbursement forms to the package room at Southport. Claimant testified that he had, in fact, signed the disbursement forms, but because he had a dispute with the officer in charge of the packing, he was never given a copy of the form.

Claimant's documentation, admitted into evidence at trial, indicates that he then sent two signed disbursement forms to Southport. He was sent receipts indicating that his inmate account was encumbered on October 29, 2003 in the amount of $18.36 for the expense of shipping his property bag to Upstate, and $11.01 for the cost of shipping the books and tapes to his wife. Claimant again inquired about the status of the shipments by letter to Southport on November 17, 2003. Claimant then filed an inmate grievance on November 25, 2003, stating that the disbursements had been completed and approved, but that neither he nor his family had received their respective shipments.

He sent a letter regarding this inmate claim on December 2, 2003, requesting that it be processed. The grievance was “resolved” by the Inmate Grievance Review Committee (IGRC) on December 5, 2003, with the statement that “[g]rievant's account was encumbered . . . Notified the Watch Commander at Southport C.F. that grievant's account has been encumbered” (Exhibit C-1 attached to claim). Claimant appealed this determination on the ground that he and his family still had not received his property. The Upstate Superintendent “concurred” with the IGRC's recommendation on December 18, 2003, and stated on the appeal form that “grievant's property is being shipped as requested by the grievant. Grievant's property will be issue [sic] to him when it arrives at this facility. In view of this information, grievant's request is deemed to have been granted.” Claimant again appealed, still not having received his property. Finally, by memorandum dated January 15, 2004, claimant was advised that Southport had sent the packages out on October 29, 2003, and that he should pursue a trace/claim with the US Postal Service. Claimant testified that neither he nor his family ever received the missing items. Defendant rested its case at the close of claimant's testimony.

The State has a duty to secure an inmate’s personal property (Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [1991]). A claimant’s burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence is satisfied once he demonstrates the delivery of property to defendant, and the defendant’s failure to return it in the same condition. The burden then shifts to defendant to come forward with evidence to “overcome the presumption” (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1977]). Claimant presented as a credible witness, whose testimony was completely uncontroverted. Through his testimony and documentation, claimant established a prima facie case of the existence of a bailment by a preponderance of the evidence. Because no evidence was submitted by defendant to overcome the presumption of the bailment established by claimant, defendant is liable for the value of claimant's lost property.

The measure of recovery when bailed property is not produced upon demand, or is irreparably damaged, is the fair market value of the property, that is, the value of the original purchase price less a reasonable rate of depreciation (Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 [1989]). Although receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, a claimant's uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may suffice (Watson v State of New York, Ct Cl, Sept. 21, 2006, Scuccimarra, J., Claim No. 108382 [UID # 2006-030-022]). Photographs and other such personally meaningful items have no fair market value (see Benton v State of New York, Ct Cl, July 8, 1999, Collins, J., Claim No. 94337). Similarly, the audiotapes, which apparently contained messages from his wife and children, and thus had sentimental value to claimant, unfortunately have no value under the law other than the cost of the tape itself.

Due to claimant's lack of receipts, the Court has determined damages based on the value of some of the missing property from the credible evidence presented at trial. Claimant testified that the books had a value of $187 and were new. The tapes were similarly less than one year old, and the Court hereby assigns them a value of $3 per tape. As noted above, the sentimental value to claimant of the loss of the material recorded on the tapes is not compensable under the law, despite claimant's understandable distress about the loss of these irreplaceable communications from his family. Additionally, claimant provided no evidence or testimony regarding any items allegedly contained in the bag which was to be shipped to him at Upstate. The Court accordingly declines to award damages for any loss attributable thereto.

The Court hereby awards total damages to claimant in the amount of $256, plus statutory interest from October 29, 2003.

To the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to

Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

March 22, 2007
Binghamton, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims