New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
PEARSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2010-015-107, Claim No. None, Motion No. M-77265


Late claim relief alleging wrongful confinement based upon negligence of non-judicial court personnel in failing to transmit an arrest and surcharge payment was granted.

Case information

UID: 2010-015-107
Claimant short name: PEARSON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): None
Motion number(s): M-77265
Cross-motion number(s):
Claimant's attorney: Sussman & Watkins
By: Christopher D. Watkins, Esquire
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
By: Dewey Lee, Esquire
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: January 15, 2010
City: Saratoga Springs
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)


Movant, Juliette Pearson, seeks late claim relief pursuant to Court of Claims Act 10 (6). The proposed claim, improperly denominated a "Verified Complaint", alleges the following:

"4. On November 28, 2006, Claimant was handcuffed and arrested by New York State police officers at her place of employment at Camp LaGuardia in Chester, New York.

5. Following her arrest, Claimant was taken into custody by Dutchess County Sheriff's Deputies, processed and held overnight at the Dutchess County Jail.

6. Claimant subsequently learned that the basis for her arrest was a bench warrant that had been issued without her knowledge based on her purported failure to pay a $155 'arrest surcharge' to Dutchess County in connection with her 1997 arrest in Dutchess County.

7. In fact, Claimant had promptly paid the $155 surcharge in September 1997 while she was incarcerated by defendant's Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) at its Albion State Correctional Facility."

By Decision and Order dated May 29, 2009 this Court denied movant's prior application to treat a Notice of Claim as a Claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act 10 (8). The Notice of Claim, which was served by overnight delivery service and received by the Office of the Attorney General on January 31, 2007, purported to assert claims against the County of Dutchess and the State of New York in the Supreme Court, County of Dutchess. The State served an answer to the Notice of Claim on or about February 16, 2007, raising lack of subject matter jurisdiction as a defense.(1) In denying movant's application to treat the notice of claim as a claim, the Court found that the Notice of Claim was not served in accordance with the requirements set forth in Court of Claims Act 11 (a) (i) and therefore could not be treated as a claim pursuant to Court of Claims Act 10 (8). The Court also found that service of a Notice of Claim pursuant to General Municipal Law 50-e was not the procedural equivalent of a notice of intention and, in the matter at issue, "the document failed to apprise the defendant of the claimant's intention to file a claim in the Court of Claims." Movant now seeks relief pursuant to Court of Claims Act 10 (6), arguing that all of the statutory criteria for late claim relief are met.

Subdivision 6 of section 10 of the Court of Claims Act permits this Court, if the applicable Statute of Limitations set forth in article 2 of the CPLR has not expired, to allow the filing of a late claim upon consideration of the following factors: "whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; whether the claim appears to be meritorious; whether the failure to file or serve upon the attorney general a timely claim or to serve upon the attorney general a notice of intention resulted in substantial prejudice to the state; and whether the claimant has any other available remedy."

The first issue for determination upon a late claim motion is whether the application is timely. Subdivision 6 of Section 10 requires that a motion to file a late claim be made "before an action asserting a like claim against a citizen of the state would be barred under the provisions of article two of the civil practice law and rules." To the extent the proposed claim asserts a negligence cause of action, the three year Statute of Limitations set forth in CPLR 214 applies. Claimant's motion is therefore timely.(2)

Turning to the statutory factors, this Court has broad discretion in deciding a motion to permit the late filing of a claim (Ledet v State of New York, 207 AD2d 965 [1994]). The statutory factors are not exhaustive nor is any one factor controlling (Matter of Gavigan v State of New York, 176 AD2d 1117 [1991]). The most important factor is whether the potential claim has merit, as it would be a futile exercise to permit litigation of a clearly baseless lawsuit (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254 [1993]).

No excuse is advanced by the movant with respect to the delay in filing the claim. The intertwined issues of notice, opportunity to investigate and prejudice to the State will be considered together. Movant established that the State had notice and an opportunity to investigate the facts of the claim within 90 days of its accrual. As the State makes no argument that it will be prejudiced should the instant application be granted, these factors weigh in favor of the movant.

With respect to the required showing of merit, the claim is sufficiently established if the claimant demonstrates that the proposed claim is not patently groundless, frivolous, or legally defective and there is reasonable cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists (Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1 [1977]; Fowx v State of New York, 12 Misc 3d 1184(A) [2006]). Movant asserts that her arrest and confinement were the result of the negligence of non-judicial employees of the State in failing to transmit her payment of the arrest surcharge to the County of Dutchess or otherwise notify the County of her payment. At this juncture, neither judicial immunity nor governmental immunity provide a basis to conclude that the proposed claim is patently meritless or legally defective. While the identity of those responsible for transmitting the payment is not entirely clear from the proposed claim, ministerial conduct of non-judicial court personnel is not entitled to immunity where it is not an integral part of the judicial decision-making process (Steel v State of New York, 307 AD2d 919 [2003]; Schwandt v State of New York, 4 Misc 3d 405 [2004]).

With respect to governmental immunity, the Court of Appeals stated in Lauer v City of New York (95 NY2d 95, 99 [2000]) that although "[m]inisterial negligence may not be immunized . . . it is not necessarily tortious." Absent a duty owed directly to the injured plaintiff, rather than the public at large, the Court found that the elements of a negligence claim could not be established. The Court of Appeals recently revisited the issue in McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d 194, 203 [2009], making clear that "[g]overnment action, if discretionary, may not be a basis for liability, while ministerial actions may be, but only if they violate a special duty owed to the plaintiff, apart from any duty to the public in general" (McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d at 203 [2009]; see also Lewis v State of New York, ___AD3d ___, 2009 NY Slip Op 09586 [2009]). " 'A special relationship can be formed in three ways: (1) when the municipality violates a statutory duty enacted for the benefit of a particular class of persons; (2) when it voluntarily assumes a duty that generates justifiable reliance by the person who benefits from the duty; or (3) when the municipality assumes positive direction and control in the face of a known, blatant and dangerous safety violation' " (McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d at 199, quoting Pelaez v Seide, 2 NY3d 186, 199-200 [2004]). While neither the movant nor the State addressed the requirement of a special duty in the aftermath of McLean, the notion that the elements of a tort must still be proven, including the breach of a duty owed directly to the injured claimant, is nothing new. Indeed, the Lauer Court made clear that the breach of a duty owed directly to the injured plaintiff was nonetheless required to prevail in a ministerial negligence claim. Citing Lauer the Appellate Division, Second Department, held in Lapidus v State of New York (57 AD3d 83 [2008]) that a court clerk's alleged negligence in incorrectly recording a jury verdict and sentence from an earlier unrelated criminal prosecution, which resulted in the claimant's erroneous adjudication as a second felony offender and an incorrect prison term, could form the basis for a ministerial negligence claim. Implicit in this holding was the determination that the alleged negligence constituted a breach of duty owed directly to the claimant (see also Schwandt v State of New York, 4 Misc 3d 405 [2004] [court clerk's failure to transmit cancellation of arrest warrant to police constituted a breach of a ministerial duty for which the State could be held liable]). Similar cases decided prior to Lauer held simply that the doctrine of governmental immunity does not shield the State from liability for breach of an employee's duty to exercise due care in performing ministerial duties (see e.g. National Westminster Bank, USA v State of New York, 155 AD2d 261 [1989], affd 76 NY2d 507 [1990] [Clerk's failure to timely docket judgment]; Marx v State of New York, 169 AD2d 642 [1991] [erroneous issuance and execution of warrant of eviction]; Ford Motor Credit Co. v State of New York, 133 AD2d 980 [1987] [ministerial negligence of employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles in preparing paperwork and issuing a certificate of title]). While it remains to be seen whether or not the special duty requirements set forth in McLean would change the result in cases of this type, for purposes of a late claim application the movant has sufficiently established the potential merit of her claim.

As to the final factor to be considered, movant asserts that the claim against the County of Dutchess was of dubious merit in light of the State's involvement and settled for costs.

Consideration of the statutory factors leads this court to conclude that it would be an appropriate exercise of discretion to grant the movant's application for late claim relief. Accordingly, the motion is granted and the movant is directed to serve and file her Claim in accordance with Court of Claims Act 11 and 11-a within 45 days of the date this Decision and Order is filed.

January 15, 2010

Saratoga Springs, New York


Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court considered the following papers:

  1. Notice of motion dated September 30, 2009;
  2. Affirmation of Christopher D. Watkins dated September 30, 2009 with exhibits;
  3. Affirmation of Dewey Lee dated October 15, 2009 with attachment;
  4. Reply affirmation of Christopher D. Watkins dated October 19, 2009.

1. A hearing pursuant to General Municipal Law 50-h was conducted on July 20, 2007 in which counsel from the State participated.

2. No claim for false arrest or false imprisonment is asserted and, in any event, such claims would be barred under the applicable statute of limitations (CPLR 215) .