Claimant, an inmate in a State correctional facility, filed this claim seeking
damages for property that was allegedly lost when claimant was transferred from
Upstate Correctional Facility (CF) to Auburn CF in the fall of 2002. The trial
of this claim was conducted by videoconference on February 13, 2008, with the
parties appearing at Clinton Correctional Facility (CF) in Dannemora, New York
and the Court sitting in Saratoga Springs, New York. Claimant offered his own
testimony; defendant offered no witnesses. Claimant offered two documents into
evidence, both of which were received in
Defendant offered one document into
evidence, which was received into evidence. 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
). 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], *2 [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,
; 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. The
instant claim seeks compensation in the amount of $654.00 for the loss of a
watch and three items of jewelry, and the Court concludes that defendant is
liable to claimant for two of the four items at issue.
Claimant’s testimony and documentary evidence demonstrated the following.
When claimant arrived at Upstate CF in October 2001, he possessed a gold wedding
band, a gold chain with a Star of David, and a Casio watch (see
Claimant’s Exhibit 1, at 15; Claimant’s Exhibit 2) (hereinafter
“watch and jewelry”). On September 12, 2002, claimant’s
“SHU in cell property”
collected by a Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) correction officer
nicknamed “Big John Bobby” in preparation for claimant’s
transfer to Auburn CF. Claimant’s “SHU in cell property” was
packed into four property bags in his presence, and inventoried on a
“Personal Property Transferred” Form (an “I-64 Form”)
that was signed by claimant (Claimant’s Exhibit 1, at 13). Claimant also
gave his watch and jewelry to “Big John Bobby.” Those items were
segregated from claimant’s “SHU in cell property” and were not
recorded on the I-64 Form. “Big John Bobby” told claimant that the
watch and jewelry would be shipped to Auburn CF either in the four property bags
that would accompany claimant or separately to the Inmate Records Office (IRO)
at Auburn CF.
Claimant received his four bags of “SHU in cell property” at
Auburn CF on September 18, 2002, and several bags of “late property”
on October 10, 2002. His watch and jewelry were not in any of those property
bags, and claimant thereafter filed an administrative claim for the loss of
those items (id.
at 17-18). The claim was investigated by DOCS Sergeant
A. Lane, who issued a report dated October 28, 2002, which stated that
inmates’ “valuables” are not shipped with “Inmate
Property” but are “processed with records”(id.
Lane’s report indicated that he had contacted the IRO, that
claimant’s valuables were in that office, and advised claimant to contact
received Sgt. Lane’s report on October 28, 2002, and immediately contacted
the Auburn CF IRO and requested his watch and jewelry. That same day, claimant
received a memorandum from “Kris” in the IRO, to which was attached
claimant’s “new personal property card with the contents of [his]
personal property listed on it” (id.
at 24-25). The personal
property card indicated that claimant’s Casio watch and a “Y/M
Chain” were in the possession of the IRO (id.
). Sgt. Lane’s
report was later amended on February 4, 2003 to indicate that claimant’s
gold chain and Casio watch were in the IRO safe, but the wedding band was not
at 32). Neither Sgt. Lane’s report or the property card
referenced the Star of David.
Claimant filed an administrative claim on December 4, 2002 seeking compensation
for the loss of his watch and jewelry, which was rejected and disapproved on
February 24, 2003 by L.J. Dickes on the grounds that: (1) records indicated that
a Casio watch was in the possession of the IRO, (2) no wedding band or Star of
David was ever listed “in property”, and (3) no receipts were
submitted for the missing items (id. at 33-34). Claimant’s
subsequent administrative appeal of Dickes’ decision was denied by Jeanne
S. Nickels, the Auburn CF Coordinator of Inmate Accounts, on April 11, 2003
(id. at 41-42). In her determination, Nickels noted that a neck chain
and a Casio watch “have been verified to be in the personal property
room.” She further noted that while a wedding band had been listed on
claimant’s I-64 Form when he was transferred to Upstate CF in October 2001
(see id. at 15), the wedding band was not listed on the I-64 Form
when he was transferred to Auburn CF, nor was it “listed on [his] personal
property card with his other valuables” (id. at 41).
Nickels’ decision did not comment upon the Star of David.
After listening to claimant testify and observing his demeanor as he did so, the
Court finds that claimant was a credible witness. Upon consideration his
testimony and all of the other evidence received at trial, the Court finds that
claimant has proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence that when his
belongings were being packed at Upstate CF, he delivered to defendant his Casio
watch, a gold chain, a Star of David and a wedding band. These valuables were
not properly inventoried by Upstate CF staff prior to their transfer to Auburn
CF. Claimant’s watch and jewelry were received by the Auburn CF IRO, as
evidenced by Sgt. Lane’s October 28, 2002 report. Although
claimant’s Casio watch and gold neck chain remained in the custody of the
Auburn CF IRO, his wedding band and Star of David were lost at some point
between the time that Sgt. Lane confirmed that these items were in the
possession of the Auburn CF IRO and the time that “Kris” sent the
memorandum to claimant identifying his personal property in the IRO.
Accordingly, the Court finds that claimant has established a prima facie claim
for negligent bailment of claimant’s Star of David and wedding band.
In opposing the claim, defendant submitted only one exhibit containing two
documents. The first document is a form signed by claimant on September 18,
2002 indicating that he viewed his property in the Auburn CF “SHU-D
property room” and that all of his property was accounted for
(Defendant’s Exhibit A, at 2). However, claimant credibly testified that
he believed that Big John Bobby sent his watch and jewelry to Auburn CF
separately from the property that claimant viewed in the SHU-D property room,
from which the Court draws the inference that he was “signing” for
the “SHU in cell property” items that are not the subject of this
claim. Therefore, the Court accords this document no weight with respect to the
loss of claimant’s Star of David and wedding band.
The second document is the memorandum that “Kris” sent to claimant
on October 28, 2002, to which is appended the personal property card that
identified claimant’s personal property that was in the possession of the
Auburn CF IRO. This document shows that the Auburn CF IRO was in possession of
claimant’s Casio watch and gold neck chain, and demonstrates that the
Auburn CF IRO did not have possession of the Star of David and the wedding band
on October 28, 2002; it does not prove that DOCS had not come into possession of
those items on October 10, 2002. Accordingly, defendant has demonstrated that
it did not lose claimant’s Casio watch and gold chain, but
claimant’s prima facie case of negligent bailment of the wedding band and
Star of David is unrebutted, and the Court concludes that the State is liable to
claimant for the loss of those two items.
The measure of recovery when bailed property is not returned is its fair market
value, i.e. the original purchase price of the property less reasonable
depreciation (see Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 [4th Dept
1989]). “Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although
uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be
acceptable” (Rush v State of New York, UID #2007-030-019, Claim No.
110361, Scuccimarra, J. [June 18, 2007]). Claimant’s testimony regarding
the value of the lost items is uncontradicted. He testified that he bought the
gold neck chain and Star of David in 1985 for approximately $1,400 and that it
was in excellent condition when it was lost. He requests only $290 in
compensation for these items, which is based upon his determination of the value
of gold as reported in the Wall Street Journal at the time he filed his claim.
Having found that defendant is not liable for the loss of the gold chain, the
Court will award damages only for the Star of David, which the Court values at
$165. Claimant testified that he purchased the wedding band twenty-two years
ago for $225, and that it was in good condition with no scratches. Accordingly,
the Court values the wedding band at $200.
Claimant is therefore awarded damages in the amount of $365.00 (Three Hundred
Sixty-Five Dollars and Zero Cents) with statutory interest from September 12,
2002 to March 12, 2003 and from August 11, 2003 to the date of this Decision,
and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment. Any and all motions upon which
the Court may have previously reserved decision or which were not previously
determined are hereby denied. To the extent that claimant has paid a filing
fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a (2).
The Chief Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.