New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JACKSON v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-039-141, Claim No. 113457, Motion Nos. M-75743, M-76205


Synopsis


Claimants’ motion to compel the disclosure of various items is held in abeyance pursuant to the parties’ agreement. Defendant’s motion to amend its answer to include the defense that claimants are limited in relief to the Workers’ Compensation Law is granted.

Case Information

UID:
2009-039-141
Claimant(s):
JENNIFER JACKSON and ALFONSO JACKSON, individually and as wife and husband
Claimant short name:
JACKSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
STATE OF NEW YORK1 1.The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
113457
Motion number(s):
M-75743, M-76205
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
James H. Ferreira
Claimant’s attorney:
Sven R. Paul, Esq.By: Tracey J. Chance, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Glenn C. KingAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 4, 2009
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The claim arises out of an alleged incident that occurred on March 21, 2006 while claimant Jennifer Jackson was employed as a senator’s aide for Senator Ada L. Smith, a member of the New York State Senate. Claimants allege, among other things, that the Senator “threw hot coffee upon the Claimant’s face clothing, physically accosted the Claimant and made threats upon the Claimant’s life if she were to report the incident.”

Issue was joined, and claimants served defendant with their Combined Discovery Demands dated August 17, 2007. Defendant served upon claimants its Response to Claimants’ Combined Discovery Demands dated June 13, 2008. In response to the portion of claimants’ combined demands entitled “Demand to Produce,” defendant provided claimants with certain items it determined were not privileged and withheld other items as listed in a privilege log and included as part of its response. In response to the portion of claimants’ combined demands entitled “Demand For Releases,” defendant objected on the ground of relevance.

Claimants now move the Court for an order pursuant to CPLR 3101 (a) compelling defendant to disclose to them the withheld items. Defendant opposes the motion on the ground that disclosure is prevented by Public Officers Law § 96 (1), and on the ground that claimants have failed to establish the existence of an employer/employee relationship between the State of New York and Senator Smith, a prerequisite to determining the relevancy of personal information that is otherwise protected from disclosure. Defendant also moves the Court for an order granting it permission to amend the answer pursuant to CPLR 3025 (b) to include the defense that claimants are limited in relief to the Workers’ Compensation Law. Claimants oppose the motion.

On August 18, 2009, counsel for the parties participated in a telephone conference with the Court. During the conference it was agreed that the Court would issue a decision and order with respect to defendant’s motion to amend its answer, but that claimants’ motion to compel discovery would be held in abeyance pending further motion practice by defendant.

The Court concludes that defendant’s motion to amend its answer must be granted. “As a general rule, leave to amend a pleading ‘rests within the trial court’s discretion and should be freely granted in the absence of prejudice or surprise resulting from the delay except in situations where the proposed amendment is wholly devoid of merit’ ” (Bast Hatfield, Inc. v Schalmont Cent. School Dist., 37 AD3d 987, 988 [2007], quoting Berger v Water Commrs. of Town of Waterford, 296 AD2d 649, 649 [2002]; see also CPLR 3025 (b); D’Orazio v Mainetti, 39 AD3d 981, 982 [2007]). “In assessing the merit of a proposed amendment, however, the proponent is required only to make an evidentiary showing sufficient to support the proposed claim” (Bast Hatfield, Inc. v Schalmont Cent. School Dist., supra at 988).

Here, defendant offers sufficient proof to establish that claimant Jennifer Jackson was awarded Workers’ Compensation benefits in the amount of $5,000.00, a fact that is well known to claimants and not disputed. Thus, claimants cannot be surprised by defendant’s request, albeit late, to amend its answer to include the defense that they are limited in relief to the Workers’ Compensation Law. Nor is there any reason to believe that claimants will suffer any prejudice if defendant is permitted to amend its answer in such a manner. Discovery has not been completed, and the parties will have ample time to explore the merit of the defense.

As to the merit of the defense, it is well settled that “[t]he Workers’ Compensation Law provides the exclusive remedy for an employee who seeks damages for unintentional injuries which he or she incurs in the course of employment” (Pereira v St. Joseph’s Cemetery, 54 AD3d 835, 836 [2008]; see also Workers’ Compensation Law §§ 10, 11, 29). However, “ ‘an intentional tort may give rise to a cause of action outside the ambit of the Workers’ Compensation Law [where] the complaint . . . allege[s] “an intentional or deliberate act by the employer directed at causing harm to this particular employee” ’ ” (id., quoting Fucile v Grand Union Co., 270 AD2d 227, 228 [2000]). Nonetheless, for purposes of this motion, the Court cannot say that defendant’s proposal to add the defense that claimants are limited in relief to the Workers’ Compensation Law is “wholly devoid of merit” (Bast Hatfield, Inc. v Schalmont Cent. School Dist., supra at 988 ).

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that M-75743 is held in abeyance, pending further order of the Court; and it is further

ORDERED that M-76205 is granted and defendant is directed to electronically serve and file its amended answer with the Chief Clerk of the Court of Claims within 10 days from the date of filing of the Court’s Decision and Order.



September 4, 2009
Albany, New York

HON. JAMES H. FERREIRA
Judge of the Court of Claims


Papers Considered
:
  1. Notice of Motion to Compel dated September 19, 2008;
  2. Affidavit in Support of Motion to Compel by Tracey J. Chance, Esq.;
  3. Defendant’s Amended Affirmation in Opposition to Claimants’ Motion to Compel dated December 2, 2008 with exhibit;
  4. Notice of Motion to Amend dated February 3, 2009;
  5. Affirmation in Support by Glenn C. King, AAG, dated February 3, 2009 with exhibits;
  6. Affirmation Response to Motion to Amend by Tracey J. Chance, Esq., dated March 8, 2009; and
  7. Reply Affirmation in Support of Defendant’s Motion to Amend by Glenn C. King, AAG, dated March 13, 2009 with exhibit.