New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BROWN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-030-003, Claim No. 111025


Inmate’s bailment claim dismissed after trial. Failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Did not establish elements of bailment claim

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:
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
February 26, 2008
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Shawn Brown alleges in his claim that defendant’s agents at Green Haven Correctional Facility either intentionally or negligently lost or damaged his property when he was transferred within the facility on or about November 1, 2004. Trial of the matter was held at Sing Sing Correctional Facility on February 8, 2008.

At the trial Mr. Brown testified that he was released from the special housing unit [SHU] to the general population at Green Haven on November 1, 2004. He discovered that he was missing “a substantial amount of property,”[1] and immediately notified the officers on duty of this fact. One officer called SHU and spoke to other officers there. It appeared that some of the property was still in SHU, but would be brought to him. Claimant said he never received the property. Officers “helped to look for it”, including reviewing documentation, but “it could not be found.”

Claimant testified, as set forth in his claim, that he was missing twelve (12) shirts valued at $120.00; three (3) sweaters valued at $150.00; a 767-page trial transcript valued at $3,068.00; twenty-three (23) magazines valued at $230.00; seven (7) books valued at $75.00; one (1) prayer book valued at $37.00; and five (5) personal family photos valued at $50.00. The total amount he seeks is in the amount of $3,730.00.

From a review of the papers claimant submitted at trial, it appears that claimant filed a grievance that was reviewed by the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee [IGRC], who issued its determination on December 2, 2004. [See Exhibit 1]. The IGRC denied the claim, recommending, however, that claimant pursue his personal property claim remedy since he was seeking monetary reimbursement. [Ibid.]. In the interim, he appears to have filed either one or two facility claims seeking such reimbursement, according to the documents submitted. [Ibid.; see also Exhibit A]. One facility claim given the number 080-8955-04 was disapproved at the initial review level on November 29, 2004, with the correction officer noting “SHU Sgt. stated inmate left with all his property.” [Exhibit A]. There is a further notation that appears to be crossed out that states “Time . . . (illegible) Directive #2737 Inmate has 5 days to file claim 11/1/04 to 11/7/04 more than five days”. [Ibid.]. No appeal from this determination appears to have been filed. [Ibid.].

Another facility claim given the number 080-9001-05 was filed on or about December 27, 2004, and was apparently denied in April 2005, according to a memorandum from Officer D. Smith - the claims officer who had denied the other facility claim in November - directed to claimant. [Exhibit 1]. In the memorandum to Mr. Brown the officer states “The following claim #080-9001-05 is the same as claim #080-8955-04. You can not file the same claim twice, for the same incendent. Claim #080-8955=04 was denied 11/29/04” (sic) [Ibid.].

Claimant did not testify to having completed the administrative appeal procedures, nor was any documentation presented relative to establishing that he had pursued an administrative appeal. Claimant did not testify as to when or by what means he received the property claimed lost, nor did he give a basis for the values indicated.

On cross-examination, claimant explained that when he first went to SHU, his property was packed up into four (4) bags and, after his property was reviewed for contraband and the like, he was given some of the property for his use in his cell. The balance was taken away. When it was time to leave SHU in November 2004, he had a fifth bag comprised of the property in his cell. He was given three (3) of the four (4) bags he came with originally, and was advised that the other one would be sent to him.

Claimant pointed to a photocopied attachment he testified he had placed on his facility claim, and which is included in Exhibit 1. He testified that in this attachment, the signatures of the various correction officers who had been helping him appear, attesting that one bag of property was missing. None of these witnesses were subpoenaed to appear although claimant was given instruction on the procedure for obtaining subpoenas on January 3, 2008, according to the court’s file.

Claimant also said that the documents in Exhibit 1 show that he did appeal to the superintendent, and that “she submitted it as a claim again.” He then testified further that he did not know that he had to appeal, that he filed the grievance, and that he “went by what . . . [he] was told to do.” He then testified that since he had to “resubmit the whole thing”, he never got a response, thus there was nothing to appeal.

No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.

This claim is one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment created between defendant and claimant by delivery of claimant’s personal property into the custody of Defendant’s employees. See generally Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878). The State has a duty to secure an inmate’s personal property. Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 (3d Dept 1991). A delivery of property to the bailee, and the latter’s failure to return it, satisfies Claimant’s burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence. The bailee is then required to come forward with evidence to “overcome the presumption.” Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 (1st Dept 1977). “Where a bailment is created, a showing that the . . . [property was] delivered to the bailee and returned in a damaged condition establishes a prima facie case of negligence and the burden shifts to the bailee to demonstrate that it exercised ordinary care . . . (citation omitted)” Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v Herb’s Dodge Sales & Serv., 79 AD2d 1049,1050 (3d Dept 1981).

With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question. Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (New York Dist Ct 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable. Personally meaningful items, such as photographs, have no fair market value beyond the actual replacement cost.

In this case, claimant has not established all the elements of a bailment claim. He has not established his own possession of the property, delivery, negligence or value. He did not persuasively link, for example, through testimony or other evidence, the items he listed as missing to receipts or package room documents.

Additionally, claimant did not establish that he exhausted his administrative remedies as required [see Court of Claims Act §10(9); 7 NYCRR Part 1700], an issue raised in the defendant’s fourth affirmative defense, and argued as one basis for the defendant’s motion to dismiss at trial. Claimant’s testimony was somewhat equivocal on this point, since he appeared to be aware that given the monetary amount he was seeking he would need to appeal any administrative determination to the commissioner, but by the same token he professed to doing “what . . . [he] was told” to do in this regard. Nonetheless, he simply did not show that there had been administrative review of the facility denial dated November 29, 2004. [Exhibit A].

Accordingly, claimant has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the credible evidence his cause of action in the nature of a bailment, and has not established that he exhausted his administrative remedies prior to pursuing his claim in this court. Defendant’s motion to dismiss, upon which decision was reserved at trial, is now granted, and Claim Number 111025 is in all respects dismissed.

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

February 26, 2008
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1]. All quotations are to trial notes or audiorecordings unless otherwise indicated.