New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

RICHARDSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-036-321, , Motion No. M-74820


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:
By: Gwendolyn Hatcher, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
July 10, 2008
New York

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This is a motion for permission to file a late claim.[1] The proposed claim[2] arises out of a February 1, 2007 accident in which the proposed claimant (hereinafter “movant”), a registered nurse, alleges she was injured by the “dangerous and defective condition” of a door in the bathroom of a jury room in the Queens Supreme Court, which “closed too quickly and with too much force.” Movant alleges the courthouse building was “within the custody, care, maintenance and control” of the State of New York, the proposed defendant, and that the State allegedly had actual or constructive notice of the condition. (Ex. 6 to the affirmation of Thomas J. Byrne, in support of movant’s application) Movant asserts she sustained a “crush injury to the right thumb [of her dominant hand] . . . when it got caught between the bathroom door and door frame.” Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) grants the court discretion to allow a claim to be filed and served more than 90 days following accrual, upon consideration of all relevant factors, including whether movant’s delay was excusable, whether defendant had actual notice of and opportunity to investigate the pertinent allegations, whether defendant would suffer substantial prejudice from an order allowing late filing, whether the proposed claim has the appearance of merit and whether movant has an alternate remedy.

Defendant opposes the application on grounds which, after considering all relevant factors, the court does not find persuasive and thus grants the motion.

Defendant argues the proposed claim does not appear to be meritorious in that movant did not annex any medical records “to substantiate the present condition of her right thumb;” did not annex an affidavit from a treating physician or an affidavit of personal knowledge to describe her injury and/or to describe how the alleged accident happened; and failed to submit an affidavit from an expert establishing that the allegedly defective door closed too fast and with too much force in “a departure from accepted standards.” Defendant also asserts the proposed claim improperly names the State of New York, and that if movant has a claim it lies against the City of New York or some other entity responsible for the door at issue.

Section 10 (6) speaks in terms of whether the proposed claim “appears to be meritorious.” (emphasis added). A proposed claim has the sufficient appearance of merit if it is not patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective and if, upon consideration of the entire record including the proposed claim and any affidavits or exhibits, there is reasonable cause to believe a valid cause of action exists. Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Authority, 92 Misc 2d 1 [Ct Cl 1977].

Here, movant apparently is a registered nurse and her sworn verification of the proposed claim is particularly persuasive both as to her injuries and how they occurred. At this stage, the absence of an affidavit from an expert to substantiate the allegation that the door closed too fast and with too much force is not deemed fatal. The court, in its discretion, is willing to accept movant’s lay opinion on this question even if the views of an expert engineer or manufacturer or installer of doors may be necessary in subsequent proceedings or at trial.

Defendant also raises an issue regarding whether the State is at all responsible for the proper functioning of the door at issue. There appears to be no dispute that the building located at 88-11 Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, New York, housing the Queens Supreme Court is owned by the City of New York. Defendant maintains that it is not responsible for the site of the accident. The provision of “suitable and sufficient” judicial facilities for the State’s major trial courts is essentially a local function provided by cities and counties. See 1996 McKinney’s Session Laws p. 2618 for ch. 686. On April 1, 1998, one aspect of that responsibility was transferred to the State – the cleaning of the interiors of such court facilities. See Judiciary Law § 39-b(2). Defendant argues this “maintenance responsibility is limited to the cleaning of the interior areas . . . and the making of only minor repairs” and cites Judiciary Law § 39-b(1)(b) for its contention that maintaining the door is not the State’s responsibility. Judiciary Law § 39-b(1)(b) defines the term “cleaning of court facilities” as:
those services and activities that are necessary to insure that the interior of each court
facility is and remains a clean and healthful environment in which to transact the business of the unified court system. These services and activities include, but are not limited to: removal of trash and debris; maintenance of appropriate standards of hygiene; painting; pest control; and replacement of consumable items such as light bulbs, soap, toilet paper and paper towelling. They also shall include the making of minor repairs in accordance with rules of the chief judge.

The Rules of the Chief Judge (the “Rules”), in turn, define minor repairs to “mean such repairs as are required to replace a part, to put together what is torn or broken, or to restore a surface or finish, where such repairs will preserve and/or restore a court facility to full functionality; and shall include only: (i) painting, carpeting, and other resurfacing of, or finish work related to, or renovation of, the interiors of spaces used by the United Court System. . . .” 22 NYCRR § 34.2 (b) (3). Determining whether the State may be held legally responsible for the allegedly defective door ultimately will involve a mixed question of fact and law, that is, what, if anything, was wrong with the door, and if something was wrong, does what was needed to correct it fall within the ambit of the Rules’ definition of “minor repairs”?[3]

Defendant cites two cases involving doors in courthouses to support its argument that the State is not responsible for their proper functioning: Palacios v State of New York, Claim No. 108994, Motion Nos. M-68910, CM-69121, December 10, 2004, Marin, J. [UID No. 2004-016-080], involved an allegation that an elevator door in the courthouse for the Bronx Family Court “suddenly shut” injuring claimant; and Favia v State of New York, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-66365, April 10, 2003, Marin, J. [UID No. 2003-016-030], involved an allegation that a revolving door at a New York Supreme Court facility revolved at “very high speed striking” claimant from behind and injuring her. In neither case did the court address the meaning of “minor repairs” as defined in the Rules promulgated pursuant to Judiciary Law § 39-b. In each of these cases the court there noted that nothing in the respective papers suggested either accident “is at all related to the State’s §39-b.2 responsibilities.” Here, in contrast, claimant expressly cites the Rules for their definition of “minor repairs.”[4] This case is similar to a case not cited by defendant: Celifie v State of New York, Claim No. 111797, Motion No. M-71218, June 6, 2006, Marin, J. [UID No. 2006-016-044]. In that case the claimant alleged she tripped and fell on the interior staircase of the Kings County Court House when a step tilted forward as she was walking down. The parties disagreed as to whether the alleged defective stair resulted from defendant’s failure to provide “cleaning services, including minor repairs.” The court denied defendant’s summary judgment motion because neither side provided evidence on the issue and the court said it could not “be determined on the papers submitted, whether the alleged dangerous condition resulted from a failure of the State to comply with Judiciary Law § 39-b.”

Absent further evidence (such as testimony from a person knowledgeable about maintaining the court facilities), this court similarly concludes that at this stage of the proceedings the record is insufficient to permit a conclusive determination on the issue of who is responsible for making sure the door opens and closes properly, and that it is at least arguable the State does bear this responsibility. See e.g, Marcus v State of New York, 172 AD2d 724-725 [2d Dept 1991] (“We also conclude that, although a sharp but undeveloped factual issue exists as to which governmental entity bears responsibility for maintenance of the roadway where the accident occurred, there appears to be merit to the claim within the meaning of Court of Claims Act § 10[6]”).

Defendant does not assert claimant’s delay in filing her claim has substantially prejudiced it, and there is no showing of such substantial prejudice by permitting a late filing here.

Defendant’s argument that claimant’s remedy lies against the City of New York is tautological to the extent it suggests the existence of an “alternate remedy” within the meaning of section 10(6). This depends entirely on the court’s ultimate decision whether the State is responsible which can be made only following a presentation of the evidence at a later stage of the proceedings.

Accordingly, the motion is granted. Movant may file and serve her claim against the State within 40 days of the filing hereof, in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Court of Claims Act and the Uniform Rules for the Court of Claims, including payment of the filing fee.

July 10, 2008
New York, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1].The following papers were read on the movant’s application for leave to file a late claim: Notice of Motion and Supporting Affirmation and Exhibits annexed thereto; Affirmation in Opposition to Motion and Exhibit annexed thereto; and Reply Affirmation.
[2].Movant originally filed a claim (Claim No. 113561) on April 10, 2007, within the requisite 90 days after accrual of the cause of action. On February 20, 2008, however, the court dismissed that claim for failure to comply with Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) in that it failed to describe the manner in which the alleged accident occurred, a jurisdictional defect. On December 27, 2007, the court had dismissed that claim on the same basis when movant failed to submit opposition papers through the proper channels and the court was not aware of any opposition. But movant then pointed out she had sent her papers directly to chambers and had not filed them with the Clerk, as required. The court accepted the opposition papers, which included a report of a court officer who aided movant the day after the alleged incident which recorded movant’s version of the events in some detail. Nevertheless, on February 20, 2008, the court ruled its initial decision to dismiss the claim would stand because the claim itself lacked the requisite specificity. The court noted that movant “may move for leave to file and serve a late claim which, at present, would not be time-barred.” Movant did so by bringing on the motion now before the court.
[3].The phrase after the semicolon in the definition of “minor repairs” which states “and shall include only: painting, carpeting, and other resurfacing of, or finish work related to, or renovation of, the interiors of spaces used by the Unified Court System . . . ” is not construed by this court as a limitation on what comes before it; rather it pertains only to what is enumerated thereafter. It is difficult to conceive of how “replac[ing] a part” or “put[ting] together what is . . . broken” to preserve a court facility to “full functionality” could only be done by “painting, carpeting, and other resurfacing of, or finish work related to, or renovation of, the interiors of spaces. . . .  The terms “painting,” “carpeting,” and “resurfacing” are inconsistent with these words preceding the semicolon.
[4].Defendant also cites Gay v State of New York, Claim No. 102255, Motion Nos. M-61661, CM-62392, January 3, 2001, Marin, J. [UID No. 2000-016-108]; and Verdejo v State of New York, Claim No. 105043, Motion Nos. M-64346, CM-64432, March 7, 2002, Marin, J. [UID 2002-016-026]. Both of these cases involved an issue whether the alleged accident was within the scope of the “cleaning activities” contemplated by Judiciary Law § 39-b, not the definition of  “minor repairs” under the Chief Judge’s Rules.