New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
TOWNER v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-009-101, Claim No. 111210

Synopsis

The Court awarded claimant the sum of $316.63 in this prisoner pro se bailment claim.

Case information

UID: 2010-009-101
Claimant(s): JAMES TOWNER
Claimant short name: TOWNER
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 111210
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.
Claimant's attorney: JAMES TOWNER, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General
BY: G. Lawrence Dillon, Esq.,
Assistant Attorney General
Of Counsel.
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: March 10, 2010
City: Syracuse
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

In this claim, claimant, an inmate under the care and custody of the Department of Correctional Services, seeks damages for the loss of certain items of his personal property, valued at $589.00, allegedly occurring when he was transferred from Marcy Correctional Facility to Auburn Correctional Facility on or about March 3, 2005. Claimant also seeks to recover the sum of $1,600.00 for insurance coverage which he allegedly requested to cover this shipment of his personal property. The trial of this claim at which claimant was the only witness to testify, was held at Marcy Correctional Facility on January 20, 2010.

As set forth in his claim, his administrative claim, and his testimony, claimant contends that on or about March 2, 2005, immediately prior to his transfer, he requested that his personal property, packed in six draft bags, be insured and shipped by mail. He references a "Disbursement or Refund Request" form dated March 2, 2005, in the amount of $43.63, which states "mail out six bags wants property insured". Claimant testified that the State did not fulfill this agreement, and that when his property arrived at Auburn Correctional Facility, it had been packed in four boxes, and several items were missing.

Claimant testified that his missing property consisted of a pair of brown boots, a pair of black boots, a green storage bin, and approximately four or five years' worth of legal documents, court papers, and transcripts. Claimant also testified that he was seeking an additional $1,600.00 for "insurance cost"(1) which was not obtained by the State.

Under cross-examination, claimant acknowledged that he had only sought the sum of $589.00 (representing the loss of the boots, storage bin, and legal documents) in his administrative grievance, and that he had not filed any administrative claim for his insurance cost in that (or any other) grievance.

As a bailee of property, the State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property, and therefore an inmate may assert a negligence claim against the State sounding in bailment (Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906). In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence, a claimant must establish that the property was delivered to the defendant, and that the defendant failed to return it, or returned it in a damaged condition (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550). The defendant's refusal or inability to return the bailed items on demand creates a presumption of negligence, and the burden shifts to the defendant, which must then come forward with proof to overcome this presumption (Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., supra; Alston v State of New York, 9 Misc 3d 1126[a]).

In this particular matter, and based upon the testimony of the claimant and the documentary evidence included with his claim, the Court hereby finds that claimant did own and possess the missing items of property prior to his transfer to Auburn Correctional Facility. As defendant provided no explanation for its failure to return claimant's property, the Court finds that defendant is liable for the loss of claimant's personal property set forth in his claim and administrative claim.

With respect to value, claimant has the burden to satisfy the Court as to the fair market value of the items in question (Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866; Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21). Fair market value is determined by taking the value of the original purchase price, and applying a reasonable rate of depreciation (Phillips v Catania, supra). At trial, claimant relied upon the values set forth on his administrative claim form.

In this particular claim, and as set forth on his administrative claim, claimant seeks $54.00 representing the original cost of the brown pair of boots, $25.00 as the original cost for the black pair of boots, $10.00 for the storage bin, and $500.00 for his legal documents, court transcripts, and legal research papers. The Court finds that claimant did not attribute any depreciation to the two pair of boots and any award must be so adjusted. The Court therefore awards claimant the sum of $43.00 for the brown pair of boots, $20.00 for the black pair of boots, and $10.00 for the green storage bin, totaling $73.00.

The Court acknowledges that it is most difficult to establish a value for legal documents and research papers, especially where there has been no specific listing of the particular documents or items which were lost. However, the Court has credited claimant's testimony that such items were lost, including Court transcripts, and hereby awards claimant the sum of $200.00 for the cost of the missing legal documents and Court transcripts.

Claimant has also established to the satisfaction of the Court that he had specifically requested that his personal property be insured against loss and mailed to his new facility, and that he had submitted the necessary disbursement request form to cover the cost of such mailing and insurance coverage, to be deducted from his inmate account. Claimant's testimony and the undisputed facts of this claim clearly establish that his personal property was not mailed and insured as requested. Although there was no evidence at trial to establish that claimant's inmate account had actually been charged with the cost of mailing and insurance, the State did not offer any evidence to suggest that claimant's request had not been honored. The Court therefore finds that claimant should be reimbursed the amount of $43.63, the amount set forth on claimant's disbursement request form dated March 2, 2005.

Claimant also seeks the sum of $1,600.00, apparently representing the insurance coverage that he had requested to be purchased with that deduction from his inmate account. The Court notes that claimant did not request payment of this amount in his administrative claim, a prerequisite to the filing of his claim in this Court. This fact alone precludes the Court from making any such award. Furthermore, even if such insurance coverage had been provided as requested, it would have only covered the actual amount (fair market value) of claimant's loss. Since this Court herein has already found in claimant's favor as to his established loss, claimant has been made whole and any further award for "insurance coverage" would constitute an improper double recovery. Accordingly, no award for the missing insurance coverage is made herein.

Accordingly, the Court hereby awards claimant the sum of $73.00 for the missing boots and storage bin, $200.00 for lost legal documents and Court transcripts, and $43.63 for the cost of postage and insurance which the Court finds was requested by claimant, not provided by the State, and deducted from his inmate account. The Court therefore awards claimant the sum of $316.63, and this award shall carry appropriate interest from March 3, 2005 to the date of this decision, and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment herein.

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.

March 10, 2010

Syracuse, New York

NICHOLAS V. MIDEY JR.

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. Unless otherwise indicated, all references and quotations are taken from the Court's trial notes.