New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEDINA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-044-002, Claim No. 110990


Synopsis


Inmate claimant awarded $112.80 for books lost during his transfer first from general population to SHU, and then subsequent transfer to another correctional facility

Case Information

UID:
2008-044-002
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY MEDINA
Claimant short name:
MEDINA
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
110990
Motion number(s):

Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Claimant’s attorney:
ANTHONY MEDINA, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Roberto Barbosa, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
January 7, 2008
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

Claimant, an inmate appearing pro se, alleges that defendant State of New York (defendant) negligently lost certain personal property belonging to him when he was transferred from the general population area at Elmira Correctional Facility (Elmira) to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) on December 1, 2004. A trial in this matter was conducted by video conference on November 28, 2007, with the parties appearing at Elmira, and the Court sitting in Binghamton, New York.

At trial, claimant testified that he was removed from his cell and sent to SHU on December 1, 2004, following an altercation in which he participated. His property remained in his cell at the time of his transfer, and was transferred to SHU two days later. Claimant said that when he went to the SHU intake area to receive his property, he noticed that he was missing certain books, as well as some other property. He informed a correction officer of this, who advised him that there were two other bags containing his property somewhere in the facility. Those two bags were eventually located. However, in the meantime claimant had been transferred to Southport Correctional Facility (Southport). He received three bags of his property at Southport on February 16, 2005, and two more bags on March 5, 2005.

While he was still at Elmira, claimant filed an Inmate Claim Form dated December 30, 2004 (the first Inmate Claim Form) for four missing books. The first Inmate Claim Form was denied “based on area Sergeant's investigation,” and his appeal of the denial was also disapproved without further explanation, despite claimant's notation on the appeal form that he was given no explanation for the initial denial. The date of the denial of the appeal was March 28, 2005.

After receiving his final two bags of property at Southport, claimant filed another Inmate Claim Form on March 15, 2005 (the second Inmate Claim Form). The second Inmate Claim Form was denied, with the explanation “[i]nvestigation shows that you received the claimed books in your late property. No loss has occurred” (Claimant's Exhibit 1). Claimant's appeal of this determination was also denied, despite his statement in the appeal that the I-64 form listing the contents of his bags when they arrived at Southport contained no reference to the books. The two I-64 forms listing the contents of those bags were introduced by claimant at trial (Claimant's Exhibits 4 and 5). Only one book is referenced on those forms as being included in his property, and no mention is made of the title of the book. Claimant also introduced copies of his receipts for the books at trial (Claimant's Exhibit 8).

Claimant rested his case at the close of his testimony. Defendant called no witnesses. However, when claimant rested, counsel for defendant, Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Roberto Barbosa, made a motion to dismiss the claim. AAG Barbosa stated that the basis for the motion was that “the State failed to follow its own rules and procedures with regard to the processing of inmate institutional claims.”[1] Barbosa explained that claimant's filing of the second Inmate Claim Form, at Southport, on March 15, 2005, occurred 10 days after the arrival of his second bag at Southport. He contended that defendant should have denied the claim as being untimely pursuant to 7 NYCRR 1700.4 (a),[2] and that “it was only through defendant's omission that this institutional claim was allowed to go forward.”

In response to this rather interesting motion, claimant noted that, when he ascertained with finality that the books were missing (when he received the last two bags on March 5, 2005), his appeal of the denial of the first Inmate Claim Form was still pending (as previously noted, the appeal was not denied until March 28, 2005). Moreover, claimant wrote a letter to the Superintendent at Elmira on March 13, 2005, inquiring as to the status of the appeal. Under these extenuating circumstances, the Court finds that the minimally late filing of the second Inmate Claim Form was excused. Defendant's motion to dismiss (upon which the Court reserved decision at trial) is therefore denied.

A bailment is created when personal property is delivered into the hands of another, who is then expected to return it in the same condition on demand (Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260, 262 [1878]). Defendant has an obligation to secure an inmate's personal property (Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [1991]). Once a claimant meets the burden of proving that his property was deposited with the defendant and that the latter failed to return it, the burden shifts to the defendant to overcome the presumption of its negligence (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1977]).

Even when there is no formal transfer of property, a bailment is still implied when one comes into lawful possession of the property of another (Mack v Davidson, 55 AD2d 1027 [1977]). “The determination as to whether the relationship is one of bailor and bailee turns on whether there is a relinquishment of exclusive possession, control and dominion over the property” (Alston v State of New York, Ct Cl, Aug. 19, 2005, Schweitzer, J., Claim No. 108146 [UID # 2005-036-500]). When claimant was taken from his cell in general population to SHU and left his property behind, he clearly relinquished to defendant exclusive possession, control, and dominion over his property. Claimant has proven through a preponderance of the credible evidence (that being his receipts for the books, the I-64 forms and his credible, uncontroverted testimony) that he was originally in possession of the four books, and moreover that those books did not follow him in his property bags when he was transferred to Southport.

The measure of recovery when bailed property is not produced upon demand is the fair market value of the property, that is, the value of the original purchase price less a reasonable rate of depreciation (Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 [1989]). Receipts, which are the best evidence of fair market value, established that all four of the books were less than one year old when claimant was transferred to SHU. Accordingly, the Court will not apply depreciation in its consideration of claimant's damages (see Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 [1973]). Claimant's receipts for the missing books establish the total loss at $112.80.

At trial, claimant also requested fees, costs and disbursements. However, such relief is precluded by the provisions of Court of Claims Act § 27, and claimant's request is consequently denied.

Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $112.80, plus the appropriate statutory interest from March 5, 2005. Any and all motions on which the Court may have previously reserved or which were not previously determined, are hereby denied. Finally, to the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act

§ 11-a (2).

Let judgment be entered accordingly.

January 7, 2008
Binghamton, New York

HON. CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]. All quotes herein are taken from the Court's recording of the proceedings.
[2]. 7 NYCRR 1700.4 (a) provides: “[a]n inmate must file an ‘inmate claim form’ (form 1421) within five days after discovery of the loss with the deputy superintendent for administration or his designee. This timeframe should be interpreted with some flexibility. There may be extenuating circumstances which would excuse late filing.”