New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ANTONUCCI v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-044-546, Claim No. 113799, Motion Nos. M-74587, CM-74699


Synopsis


Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to particularize the nature of the action. Although the timely-served notice of intention stated the time, date and place of the alleged negligence, as well as the parties involved, giving defendant sufficiently specific facts to investigate the claim, the claim itself simply alleges that claimant was injured by a door opening into a hallway. The mere occurrence of an accident is insufficient to infer negligence.

Case Information

UID:
2008-044-546
Claimant(s):
VINCENT ANTONUCCI
1 1.Defendant moves to amend the caption to reflect the State of New York as the sole defendant, which motion is granted.
Claimant short name:
ANTONUCCI
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Defendant moves to amend the caption to reflect the State of New York as the sole defendant, which motion is granted.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
113799
Motion number(s):
M-74587
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-74699
Judge:
CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Claimant’s attorney:
DONNA MARIA LASHER, ESQ.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Carol A. Cocchiola, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
June 10, 2008
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant filed this claim seeking recovery for injuries allegedly received at Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Defendant State of New York (defendant) answered and asserted several affirmative defenses. Claimant now moves to amend the claim to increase the damages from $5,000 to $100,000. Defendant opposes the motion and cross-moves to dismiss the claim for failing to state a cause of action. Claimant replies and opposes the cross motion.

Because defendant’s cross motion is potentially dispositive, it will be addressed first. In an action to recover damages for personal injuries caused by the negligence or unintentional tort of an officer or employee of the State, a claim must be filed with the Clerk of the Court and served upon the Attorney General within 90 days after the accrual of the claim, unless a notice of intention to file a claim is served upon the Attorney General within 90 days after the accrual of such claim (Court of Claims Act § 10 [3]). If a notice of intention has been timely served, a claim for negligence or an unintentional tort which is both filed and served upon the Attorney General within two years of accrual will be timely. On the other hand, a claim for personal injuries caused by the intentional tort of an officer or employee of the State must be filed with the Clerk of the Court and served upon the Attorney General within 90 days after the accrual of the claim, unless a notice of intention to file a claim is served upon the Attorney General within 90 days after the accrual of such claim “in which event the claim shall be filed and served upon the [A]ttorney [G]eneral within one year after [its] accrual” (Court of Claims Act § 10 [3-b]).

Claimant, proceeding pro se at the time, served the Attorney General’s Office with a “notice of claim” which the Attorney General appropriately treated as a notice of intention to file a claim. In his notice of intention, claimant alleges that on June 7, 2005, he was walking around a correction officer when Nurse Beilling opened a door into the hallway, striking him in the right eye and head area.

Defendant’s allegedly wrongful conduct occurred on June 7, 2005. Claimant filed this claim on June 6, 2007 and served the Attorney General on May 29, 2007, both of which would have been untimely absent the service of a notice of intention. However, defendant acknowledges receiving the notice of intention from claimant on July 11, 2005, within 90 days of the claim’s accrual. Nonetheless, defendant contends that because the notice of intention does not particularize the nature of the action, said notice is a nullity, and this claim filed approximately two years after the incident is untimely.

Claimant asserts that the facts set forth in the notice of intention identified both the State employee involved and the alleged wrongful conduct - that she pushed the door open, striking claimant in the head - as well as the date and location of the incident. Claimant argues that those allegations sound in negligence, and are sufficient to provide defendant with the ability to ascertain the existence and extent of its liability.

Court of Claims Act § 11 (b) provides that a notice of intention to file a claim shall set forth the time when and place where the claim arose, as well as the nature of the claim. While a notice of intention is not a pleading and therefore need not include all the facts necessary to state a cause of action, the notice must set forth the “general nature of the claim” (Sega v State of New York, 246 AD2d 753, 755 [1998], lv denied 92 NY2d 805 [1998]) and must contain an indication of “the manner in which the claimant was injured and how [defendant’s conduct was wrongful]” (Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767, 768 [1980]) -- “or enough information so that ‘how the State was negligent can be reasonably inferred’ ” (Rodriguez v State of New York, 8 AD3d 647, 647 [2004] quoting Ferrugia v State of New York, 237 AD2d 858, 859 [1997]) -- in order to enable defendant to ascertain the existence and extent of its liability (see Cendales v State of New York, 2 AD3d 1165, 1167 [2003]). The notice of intention should contain “specific details about the time, location, and nature of the claim to enable the State to easily conduct an investigation [through which it may] assess its risk of being found liable” (Gonzalez v State of New York, Ct Cl, April 12, 2006, Sise, P.J., Claim No. 104279, Motion No. M-70394, Cross Motion No. CM-70457 [UID # 2006-028-542]; see also Allen v State of New York, Ct Cl, Dec. 31, 2001, Patti, J., Claim No. 103513, Motion No. M-63467, Cross Motion No. CM-63604 [UID # 2001-013-032]).

In the notice of intention, claimant asserts that “when [he] was going to the bathroom, [he] had to walk around [a correction officer who was in the middle of the hallway and] Nurse Beilling opened the door of the Medication room outward and hit [him] in the right temple and eye.” Claimant also states that the incident occurred at 10:15 a.m. on June 7, 2005 at Woodbourne Correctional Facility.

Claimant clearly set forth the time and place where the claim arose. By stating that he was injured when he was struck when Nurse Beilling opened a door into the hallway, claimant provided sufficiently specific facts to allow defendant to investigate the claim. Further, based upon these allegations, the manner in which defendant was negligent can be reasonably inferred (see Rodriguez v State of New York, supra; Ferrugia v State of New York, supra). Accordingly, there was sufficient information in the notice of intention to enable the State to conduct an investigation and assess its risk of being found liable (Gonzalez v State of New York, supra). The Court finds that claimant’s notice of intention was adequate, and thus the time in which to file a claim was extended pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 10 [3]. This claim filed on June 6, 2007 is therefore timely.[2]

Notwithstanding that the notice of intention was sufficient, however, dismissal of the claim for failure to state a cause of action is warranted. The claim alleges that “claimant was in the Medical area of [the facility] waiting to be seen by the doctor. Nurse Beilling opened a door outwardly into the hallway striking the claimant in the right eye and temple area causing injury.” Claimant further alleges that he has suffered dizziness, blurred vision and headaches as a result of the incident.

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7), the Court must accept the allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party in order to determine whether a cause of action exists rather than whether a cause of action has been stated (Quail Ridge Assoc. v Chemical Bank, 162 AD2d 917, 918 [1990], lv dismissed 76 NY2d 936 [1990]; see Peri v State of New York, 66 AD2d 949 [1978], affd 48 NY2d 734 [1979]; Foley v D'Agostino, 21 AD2d 60, 65 [1964]).

To the extent that claimant is asserting a cause of action for premises liability, it is well established that the State has a duty to maintain its facilities in a reasonably safe condition (Preston v State of New York, 59 NY2d 997 [1983]). However, the State is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates, and negligence cannot be inferred solely from the occurrence of an accident (see Killeen v State of New York, 66 NY2d 850 [1985]; Condon v State of New York, 193 AD2d 874 [1993]). CPLR 3013 requires that “[s]tatements in a pleading shall be sufficiently particular to give the court and parties notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences, intended to be proved and the material elements of each cause of action.”

Specifically with respect to a claim that defendant was negligent, claimant must allege that there was a dangerous condition; that the State either created said dangerous condition or had actual or constructive notice thereof and failed to alleviate said condition within a reasonable time; that said dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident; and that claimant sustained damages (see Gordon v American Museum of Natural History, 67 NY2d 836 [1986]; Mercer v City of New York, 223 AD2d 688 [1996], affd 88 NY2d 955 [1996]).

In this claim, claimant has merely alleged that he was injured when he was struck by a door which opened into a hallway. There is no allegation that the door itself was somehow defective, or that Nurse Beilling opened it or otherwise used it in a negligent manner. Absent any direct allegation of negligence, and keeping in mind that the mere occurrence of an accident is insufficient to infer such negligence (see Killeen v State of New York, supra; Condon v State of New York, supra), this claim fails to state a cause of action (see Jackson v State of New York, 85 AD2d 818, 819 [1981], lv dismissed and denied 56 NY2d 568 [1982]; Patterson v State of New York, 54 AD2d 147, 150 [1976], affd 45 NY2d 885 [1978]).

Defendant’s cross motion is granted, and Claim No. 113799 is dismissed in its entirety. Claimant’s motion to amend the claim to increase the ad damnum clause is denied as moot.


June 10, 2008
Binghamton, New York

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


The following papers were read on claimant’s motion and defendant’s cross motion:

1) Notice of Motion filed on February 28, 2008; Untitled “Affirmation” of Donna Maria Lasher, Esq., dated February 8, 2008.

2) Notice of Cross Motion filed on March 21, 2008; Affirmation of Carol A. Cocchiola, AAG, dated March 19, 2008, and attached Exhibits A and B.


3) Reply and Answer to Cross Motion filed on March 25, 2008.


Filed papers: Claim filed on June 6, 2007; Verified Answer filed on July 5, 2007.


[2]. To the extent that claimant may have been asserting a cause of action based upon intentional conduct, a claim would have to have been filed and served on or before June 7, 2006, and that potential cause of action would therefore be time-barred.