New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

DELACRUZ v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-015-004, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-74125


Synopsis


Late claim relief was granted where proposed claim alleged that a ministerial error of DMV lead to the claimant's arrest and confinement. Totality of factors favored granting the motion.

Case Information

UID:
2008-015-004
Claimant(s):
JOSE DELACRUZ
1 1.The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
DELACRUZ
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption is amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
NONE
Motion number(s):
M-74125
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
Charles R. Sabel, Esquire
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Kevan J. Acton, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 9, 2008
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision
Movant seeks permission to file a late claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 (6). The proposed claim alleges that on October 24, 2006 the movant was arrested by officers of the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and/or the New York City Police Department for driving his motor vehicle with a suspended license. The proposed claim alleges that the arrest and subsequent detention was the result of erroneous information provided by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) stating:

"The NYSDMV records showing that Claimant's license or privilege of operating a motor vehicle was suspended or revoked, and the transmittal of such records to the aforementioned Taxi and Limousine Commission ("TLC") Agent and or an officer of the New York City Police Department was a result of the wrongful, reckless, careless and negligent conduct of the NYSDMV and or its employees and agents, in the maintenance and/or transmittal of its records. At the time, Claimant's license or privilege of operating a motor vehicle was not suspended or revoked, or NYSDMV knew or should have known that its records showing a suspension or revocation were not accurate."
Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the state; and whether the claimant has any other available remedy."

The first issue for determination upon a late claim motion is whether the application is timely. Subdivision 6 of section 10 requires that a motion to file a late claim be made "before an action asserting a like claim against a citizen of the state would be barred under the provisions of article two of the civil practice law and rules." Since the proposed claim asserts a negligence cause of action, the three year statute of limitations set forth in CPLR § 214 applies. Movant's application is therefore timely.

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965 [1994]). The statutory factors are not exhaustive nor is any one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117 [1991]). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254 [1993]).

Movant asserts that the delay in filing the claim was due to the fact that he was not aware or did not understand that he had a legal right to file a claim and that it was only when a fellow livery driver advised him otherwise that he sought the advice of an attorney. Ignorance of the law, however, is not a reasonable excuse for the failure to timely file a claim and the Court finds that the absence of a reasonable excuse weighs against granting the motion (Matter of Robinson v State of New York, 35 AD3d 948 [2006]).

The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice to the State will be considered together. Movant states in his supporting affidavit that on October 26, 2006, one day after he was released from police custody, he contacted the DMV and explained the circumstances of his arrest. He avers the DMV promptly investigated the matter and that a letter issued on that same date acknowledged that an error had indeed been made. The letter states the following:
"We have investigated your inquiry concerning an incorrect suspension resulting from summons #OAC6345712 which was entered on your record in error. We have taken the necessary action to remove this summons and suspension from the license record."
Where, as here, the "State's alleged negligent act is memorialized in the documents of DMV . . . the defendant will not be prejudiced if late claim relief is granted" (Lobel Financial v State of New York, Ct Cl, August 2, 2000 [Claim No. 099833, Motion Nos. M-61627; CM-61743, UID # 2000-015-052] Collins, J., unreported [citation omitted]). Here, it is clear that the State had prompt notice of the error and admittedly performed an investigation shortly after the matter was brought to its attention. In these circumstances, no prejudice will befall the State in the event late claim relief is granted. These factors weigh in favor of granting the motion.

With respect to the required showing of merit, the claim is sufficiently established if the movant demonstrates that the proposed claim is not "patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective" and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1,11 [1977]). Here, the facts alleged give rise to a cognizable claim of negligence for the alleged ministerial negligence of State employees, (Ford Motor Credit Co. v State of New York, 133 AD2d 980 [1987]; Martinelli v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 17, 2007 [Claim No. 110128, Motion No. M-72330, UID # 2007-041-019] Milano, J., unreported; Fontaine v State of New York, Ct Cl, October 25, 2006 [Claim No. 109452, UID # 2006-015-548] Collins, J., unreported; Lanteri v State of New York, Ct Cl, November 23, 2004 [Motion No. M-69057, UID # 2004-032-114] Hard, J., unreported). Thus, movant sufficiently established the potential merit of his claim.

As to the final factor to be considered, it appears that no alternative remedy exists. Consideration of the totality of factors set forth above leads this Court to the conclusion that it would be a proper exercise of discretion to allow the claim to proceed. The application is granted and the movant is directed to file and serve a claim in the form proposed and to do so in conformity with the requirements of Court of Claims Act § 11 within 45 days of the date on which this decision and order is filed.

January 9, 2008
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated October 22, 2007;
  2. Affidavit of Jose Delacruz sworn to October 18, 2007 with exhibits;
  3. Affirmation of Kevan J. Acton dated November 16, 2007;
  4. Affirmation of Charles R. Sabel dated December 3, 2007.