New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CHARLTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-029-056, Claim No. 110000


Synopsis


Claimant awarded $100.00 for jewelry that was sent from Bedford Hills to Rikers Island. Court finds that defendant should have known that such procedure was likely to lead to the loss of the jewelry.

Case Information

UID:
2008-029-056
Claimant(s):
GEORGIA CHARLTON
Claimant short name:
CHARLTON
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110000
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Claimant’s attorney:
GEORGIA CHARLTON, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBy: Elyse J. Angelico, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
November 19, 2008
City:
White Plains
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, an inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, seeks damages for the loss of two items of jewelry that were taken from her at Bedford Hills and never returned.

Claimant testified that upon her arrival at Bedford Hills from Rikers Island on March 31, 2004, she was not permitted to keep some of her personal property. Most of these items were clothing and were shipped home at claimant’s expense (see Exhibit A, p 4, Authorization for Disposal of Personal Property). Claimant testified she requested that the other items – a cross on a chain, a wedding ring and a watch – be sent home with the clothing but Correction Officer Sowell refused to do so, telling her that it wasn’t allowed. Claimant stated that she thought the jewelry would be put in a safe and be given back to her in 30 days, although this testimony was contradicted by her testimony that she was told that the chain was taken because it was two inches too long and the ring was taken because it had protrusions, contrary to regulations. In addition to the authorization reflecting the shipping of her clothing, claimant was given a Contraband Receipt (Exhibit 2, top half of page) for the ring and the cross and chain and a separate Property Receipt (Exhibit 2, bottom half of page) for the watch. The watch was ultimately returned to claimant and is not a subject of this claim.

Janaire Molloy, the Inmate Grievance Supervisor at Bedford Hills, testified that claimant

vigorously pursued the return of her jewelry during the weeks and months after her incarceration. Assisting claimant in that pursuit, Ms. Molloy wrote on July 7, 2004 that she had sent an inquiry to Sergeant Marquardt as to what happened with the jewelry (Exhibit 3, p 1), and she wrote to claimant again on July 20, 2004 advising that Sergeant Marquardt had reported that there was no “jewelry card” for claimant’s jewelry and that the investigation had revealed that “C.O. Hulig of Rikers took your jewelry back to Rikers on 3/31/04" (id., p 2).

Sergeant Kramer testified that claimant was not allowed to have her wedding band in the facility because it had protrusions, and her chain was 20 inches long, two inches longer than regulations allowed. Claimant did not dispute that she was not allowed to possess these two items. Kramer confirmed that claimant’s clothing was sent home and that her jewelry was sent back to Rikers Island with the officers who had brought her to Bedford Hills. Her only explanation for the disparate treatment of the clothing and the jewelry was “that’s the procedure.”

The applicable law governing the State’s duty with respect to inmates’ personal property was recently and succinctly restated by my colleague Judge DeBow:
“The State has a bailee’s common-law duty to secure the property of inmates within the State’s prison system, and it may be liable for failing to carry out that duty (see Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [3d Dept 1991]). An inmate may assert a claim against the State sounding in negligent bailment (see id.). To establish a prima facie case, a claimant must establish that he or she delivered property to facility officials and that the property was not returned (see Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1st Dept 1977]; Alston v State of New York, 9 Misc 3d 1126[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 51796 [U], [Ct Cl 2005]). An inmate’s establishment of a prima facie case creates the presumption of a negligent bailment, and shifts the burden to the State to demonstrate that the loss was due to circumstances not within its control or that the property was damaged without its fault, or by establishing that it exercised ordinary care (see Alston, supra; Jackson v State of New York, UID # 2007-044-010, Claim # 109373, Schaewe, J. [Mar. 22, 2007]). The prima facie case may also be rebutted by evidence that the bailed property was not, in fact, lost.”
(Bonez v State of New York, UID No. 2008-038-115, May 8, 2008).

Here, there is no factual dispute. Claimant arrived at Bedford Hills from Rikers Island, a facility operated by the City of New York, with two items of jewelry that she was not allowed to possess. Although a parcel containing her clothing was sent home, the jewelry was taken from her, she was given a receipt, and the jewelry was given to the officers who brought her from Rikers Island with instruction to return it there. At trial, claimant posed the question “Why was my stuff returned to Rikers when I was no longer a Rikers inmate?” No cogent response to that question was received.

In the case at bar, the bureaucratic response “because that’s the way we do it” is not satisfactory and presents no defense. Defendant identified no regulation or policy that prescribes that contraband jewelry of an inmate is to be returned to a City correctional facility to which the inmate will not be returning. The court cannot imagine a procedure more likely to result in the disappearance of the jewelry than that followed by defendant in this case. Whatever the risks that may be involved in sending jewelry through the mail, there would have been at least the possibility that the jewelry would be returned safely home, a possibility that was virtually nil under the procedure followed by defendant. Absent any rational explanation for either the policy or the actions of the defendant, the court finds that defendant’s negligence was the cause of the disappearance of the jewelry.

Although claimant sought damages of $500.00 ($350.00 for the cross and chain and $150.00 for the ring) in her institutional claim (Exhibit A), her testimony did not support those values. There is nothing in this record upon which this court can rely for ordering such an award. Using the maximum non-contraband values permitted by DOCS, the court finds that claimant is entitled to an award of $50.00 for the cross and chain and $50 for the ring, for a total award of $100.00, together with interest at the statutory rate from March 31, 2004, together with any filing fee actually paid, and directs the Clerk of the Court to enter judgment for said amount.



November 19, 2008
White Plains, New York

HON. STEPHEN J. MIGNANO
Judge of the Court of Claims