Bailment claim granted after unified trial. Damages for typewriter.
|Claimant(s):||JOSEPH ST. AIMIE|
|Claimant short name:||AIMIE|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA|
|Claimant's attorney:||JOSEPH ST. AIMIE, PRO SE|
|Defendant's attorney:||HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, NEW YORK STATE
BY: J. GARDNER RYAN, AAG, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||July 19, 2010|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Joseph St. Aimie alleges in his claim that on or about August 12, 2004 defendant's agents at Fishkill Correctional Facility [Fishkill] negligently or intentionally destroyed his personal property upon his internal transfer to the special housing unit [SHU]. Trial of the matter was held on June 25, 2010.
Mr. St. Aimie testified, as indicated in his claim, that when he was moved to SHU on August 12, 2004 his typewriter had remained in the custody of personnel. It had been fully functional prior to his move to SHU. When he returned from SHU on August 20, 2004, the typewriter again came into his possession. The damage was "only discovered"(1) when he tried to use the typewriter four days after its return.
He filed a facility claim on August 24, 2004, seeking compensation in the amount of $134.49 for the six-month-old typewriter, which was denied. [Exhibit 2]. The denial indicates that the property was in Claimant's custody for four days prior to his filing a facility claim, "[t]herefore, this claim is invalid." [Id.]. Such finding was affirmed on appeal on September 27, 2004. [Id.].
The present claim seeks judgment in the amount of $212.64, and includes the cost of the typewriter as $209.49, and the cost of copying, postage and the filing fee. Claimant did not present any receipts for the purchase of the typewriter, or any local permit allowing such possession, but submitted evidence of his efforts to try to secure its repair through the manufacturer, Brother International Corporation, and dealers which the manufacturer had indicated might be able to repair the typewriter. [Exhibit 1].
On cross-examination he conceded that he did not have the typewriter repaired by any dealers, but rather paid $20.00 for another typewriter, and utilized the parts in that typewriter to effect repairs on his own. Claimant said, however, that "it is not 100% working, not even 50% working." When asked what parts he repaired, he said he replaced the keyboard. He did not send the typewriter out to be repaired, "because it was costing [him] more than the typewriter to send it out." He also claimed that "if [he] sent it out, they would not allow it to come back in the facility, even if he had a permit," as he understood it. Claimant had no record of buying replacement parts, or of the purchase of another typewriter for replacement parts. He said that he was "without a typewriter for seven months." Mr. St. Aimie admitted that the typewriter he was "using today" is the same one for which he is claiming reimbursement.
No other witnesses testified and no other evidence was submitted.
This claim is one alleging negligence by the alleged bailee in a bailment created between Defendant and Claimant by delivery of Claimant's personal property into the custody of Defendant's employees. See generally Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260 (1878); Ahlers v State of New York, (Claim No. 82543, Corbett, P.J., filed Dec. 23, 1991). The State has a duty to secure an inmate's personal property. Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 (3d Dept 1991). A delivery of property to the bailee, and the latter's failure to return it, satisfies Claimant's burden of establishing a prima facie case of negligence. The bailee is then required to come forward with evidence to "overcome the presumption." Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 (1st Dept. 1977). "Where a bailment is created, a showing that the [property was] delivered to the bailee and returned in a damaged condition establishes a prima facie case of negligence and the burden shifts to the bailee to demonstrate that it exercised ordinary care . . . (citation omitted)" Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v Herb's Dodge Sales & Serv., 79 AD2d 1049, 1050 (3d Dept 1981). It is also "a factual question as to whether the parties intended to or did create a bailment. Such a question . . . would have to be resolved by [this Court as] the trier of the fact . . . (citation omitted).[Id].
With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question. Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 (4th Dept 1989); Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 (Nassau Co Dist Ct 1973). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable.
A large part of the resolution of this claim rests upon the claimant's credibility, and the weight of the evidence he presented to substantiate his claim. Resolving issues of credibility is the province of this Court as the trier of fact. LeGrand v State of New York, 195 AD2d 784, 785 (3d Dept 1993), lv denied 82 NY2d 663 (1993); Newland v State of New York, 205 AD2d 1015 (3d Dept 1994).
Upon review of all the evidence, including listening to Mr. St. Aimie testify and observing his demeanor as he did so, the Court finds that Claimant has satisfactorily established the elements of his bailment claim.
Claimant established his own initial possession of the property and delivery, through his unrebutted, credible testimony. Having established that the property was in the possession and control of the defendant, its return in damaged form establishes negligence, and there has been no rebuttal of claimant's version of events to show that there was no negligence. The Court credits claimant's testimony that he did not discover the damage to the typewriter until he had an occasion to use it. The fact that he was resourceful enough to repair it (at least to a somewhat useable level) utilizing the parts from another typewriter, does not negate the fact that the typewriter first left his possession in "good" working order when he was removed to SHU on August 12, 2004, and was returned damaged.
In terms of value, it is uncontradicted that the value of the property - only six months old at the time of the loss - was in the amount of $134.49. [See Exhibit 2].
Accordingly, Claimant is hereby awarded damages in the amount of $134.49 plus statutory interest [§16 State Finance Law; § 5004 Civil Practice Law and Rules], which the Court finds presumptively reasonable, from the date of accrual of August 24, 2004 to the date of this Decision, and thereafter to the date of the entry of judgment pursuant to §§ 5001 and 5002 Civil Practice Law and Rules.
To the extent Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act §11-a(2).
Let Judgment be entered accordingly.
July 19, 2010
White Plains, New York
THOMAS H. SCUCCIMARRA
Judge of the Court of Claims
1. All quotations are to trial notes or audio recordings unless otherwise indicated.