New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
LAITY v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2012-039-319, Claim No. 120982, Motion No. M-81370


Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted. The claim primarily challenges a determination of the New York State Board of Elections and seeks equitable or declaratory relief.

Thus, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.

Case information

UID: 2012-039-319
Claimant(s): ROBERT C. LAITY
Claimant short name: LAITY
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) : The Court has, sua sponte, amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 120982
Motion number(s): M-81370
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: James H. Ferreira
Claimant's attorney: Robert C. Laity, pro se
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Anthony Rotondi
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: July 12, 2012
City: Albany
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)


Claimant, proceeding pro se, filed this claim with the Clerk of the Court of Claims on March 1, 2012. In it, claimant alleges that, on December 2, 2011, he filed objections with the New York State Board of Elections (hereinafter the Board) to the inclusion of President Barack Obama on New York State's 2012 presidential ballot (see generally Election Law  6-154 [2]). He sent his objections by regular and certified mail. A Board representative later informed claimant that "action [on his objections] would be taken after the declarations were filed" (Claim, p. 1). Claimant resubmitted his objections electronically on February 10, 2012, one day after he alleges President Obama was designated as a candidate for President in the 2012 election. Claimant alleges that the Board wrongfully refused to accept his objections because he electronically filed them. He states that he is a "100% Disabled Vietnam War Veteran with severe limitations" and that the Board's actions violated the Help America Vote Act (hereinafter HAVA) (see 42 USC 15301-15545) and his voter's rights (Claim, p. 1). Claimant states that he "claim[s] damages to the extent yet to be determined" and moves the Court "to order the Board to accept [his] Objections and to award damages" (Claim, p. 1).

On March 5, 2012, claimant filed a "Claim Addendum. He attached the Board's determination with respect to his objections, dated February 28, 2012, which he states that he received after filing this claim. In the "Addendum," claimant raises several specific challenges to the findings of the Board with respect to his objections.(2)

Defendant now moves the Court, in lieu of an answer, for an order dismissing the claim pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) (2) on the ground that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Specifically, defendant argues that the claim primarily seeks equitable relief or relief in the nature of mandamus, which the Court has no jurisdiction to grant. Defendant further argues that, inasmuch at the claim alleges some violation of HAVA, that cause of action should also be dismissed, as claimant fails to state any specific section of the statute that was violated and, even so, HAVA does not create a private right of action. Claimant opposes the motion.

The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is limited, with some exceptions not relevant here, to claims for money damages against the State (see Carver v State of New York, 79 AD3d 1393, 1394 [2010], lv denied 17 NY3d 707 [2011]; see also NY Const, art VI, 9; Court of Claims Act 9). "In determining whether the Court of Claims has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim, the initial question is '[w]hether the essential nature of the claim is to recover money, or whether the monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim' " (Green v State of New York, 90 AD3d 1577, 1578 [2011], lv dismissed and lv denied 18 NY3d 901 [2012], quoting Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988]; see Buonanotte v New York State Off. of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Servs., 60 AD3d 1142, 1143 [2009], lv denied 12 NY3d 712 [2009]). The second inquiry is "whether the underlying claim, regardless of how it has been characterized, 'would require review of an administrative agency's determination - which the Court of Claims has no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain' " (Matter of Salahuddin v Connell, 53 AD3d 898, 899 [2008], quoting City of New York v State of New York, 46 AD3d 1168, 1169 [2007], lv denied 10 NY3d 705 [2008]; see Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v State of New York, 86 AD3d 820, 820 [2011]).

Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted. This claim primarily challenges the Board's determination with respect to claimant's objections and seeks equitable or declaratory relief in the form of an order directing the Board to accept his objections. Although claimant states that he is seeking, in part, money damages, any monetary relief granted would be incidental to the primary purpose of the claim, which is to obtain acceptance of claimant's objections. Indeed, claimant acknowledges in his opposition to this motion that he is "not interested so much in money damages but do not waive those that are allowed by Law" (Motion in Opposition, p. 4). Moreover, as the Court reads it, the gravamen of this claim is that the Board's actions with respect to claimant's objections violated his rights. The Court finds that it cannot ascertain claimant's entitlement to relief without reviewing the underlying administrative determination (see Matter of Salahuddin v Connell, 53 AD3d at 899-900). As such, the claim is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.(3)

July 12, 2012

Albany, New York

James H. Ferreira

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Notice of Motion dated April 4, 2012;

2. Affirmation in Support by Anthony Rotondi, AAG dated April 4, 2012 and exhibits attached thereto; and

3. Motion in Opposition by claimant dated April 10, 2012.

2. In its determination, the Board found that claimant "has failed to timely file general objections[,] has failed to file specifications of objections as required by Election Law  6-154 and . . . has failed to adhere to a rule of the [Board] which requires service of the objections upon the candidates for party position or the first person named on the petitions committee to fill vacancies" (Board's Determination, dated February 28, 2012). The Board also found that claimant lacked standing to object to the party position and that the objection was made in the incorrect venue. Accordingly, the Board determined that claimant's general objection was void.

3. In his opposition to the motion, claimant requests that the Court transfer the claim to the New York State Supreme Court if it dismisses this claim for lack of jurisdiction. However, the Court does not possess the power to transfer claims to Supreme Court (see Selby v State of New York, 15 Misc 3d 1144 [A] [Ct Cl 2007]; Maric Mechanical v State of New York, 145 Misc 2d 287, 292 [Ct Cl 1989]; see generally NY Const, art VI,  19).