New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
Davila v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-018-002, Claim No. 119620, Motion No. M-92759

Synopsis

Claimant brought a motion to recalculate post judgment interest. Claimant failed to provide a valid satisfaction of judgment within 30 days of mailing, therefore, the Office of the Comptroller was authorized to withhold interest pursuant to CCA 20 (7) (b).

Case information

UID: 2019-018-002
Claimant(s): DELIA DAVILA a/k/a DELGIA DAVILA, Administrator for the Estate of Gloria Bonilla
Claimant short name: Davila
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 119620
Motion number(s): M-92759
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Claimant's attorney: FOULKE LAW OFFICES
By: Evan M. Foulke, Esquire
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Anthony Rotondi, Esquire
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: January 3, 2019
City: Syracuse
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant brings a motion seeking an order recalculating accrued post judgment interest on the January 9, 2018 judgment on this claim. Defendant opposes the motion.

On March 18, 2011, Claimant was issued Limited Letters of Administration from the Hamilton County Surrogate's Court in an administrative proceeding for the Estate of Gloria Bonilla. The decedent, Gloria Bonilla was a resident of the Riverview IRA (Riverview) and under the custody and care of the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). On March 21, 2009, Decedent was severely injured when a fire broke out at Riverview, and later that day, she died from her injuries. Claimant brought a claim against the Defendant, as authorized by the Letters of Administration seeking damages for Decedent's personal injuries and wrongful death. Claimant brought a motion for summary judgment on the issue of Defendant's liability which was granted on May 30, 2014, finding Defendant 100 percent liable.(1) A trial on damages was held and by Decision dated October 30, 2017, Claimant was awarded $4 million. On January 9, 2018, a judgment was entered directing payment in the amount of $5,299,000.

The Limited Letters of Administration, by which Claimant brought this claim, contained the following limitation:

"That as to the cause of action in favor of the said Representative(s) as set forth in the petition herein, the Letters of Administration shall limit and restrain him/her from compromising a cause of action in favor of the decedent or his fiduciary under general or special provision of law for alleged pain and suffering and/or wrongful death of the decedent or the enforcement of any judgment recovered therein until further order of this Court or a Court of competent jurisdiction."

Thereafter, Claimant prepared to file a petition in the Hamilton County Surrogate's Court for the authority to enforce the judgment. Since Claimant is a resident of Puerto Rico and does not speak English, additional steps were required to finalize the paperwork. The petition and supporting documentation verified on March 15, 2018 were filed with the Surrogate's Court. On July 13, 2018, the Hamilton County Surrogate issued a Decree which was filed on July 16, 2018, authorizing Claimant to enforce the judgment, and to "execute any necessary documents to fully resolve the case or litigation."(2) The New York State Comptroller tendered payment of the judgment plus post judgment interest for 39 days in the total amount of $5,350,007.40 on July 24, 2018.(3)

It is Claimant's position, by this motion, that Defendant suspended interest without the authority to do so and, therefore, Claimant is entitled to the additional sum of $240,000 for accrued interest from the date of the judgment (January 9, 2018) until payment on July 25, 2018. Claimant argues that interest serves to indemnify successful claimants for the State's use of their money until payment. Claimant argues that fault and punishment do not come into play. It is Claimant's position that there is no authority for the State to have withheld any post judgment interest.

Defendant, in opposition, argues that all applicable post judgment interest has been paid to Claimant. Defendant relies upon Court of Claims Act section 20 (7) which provides:

"Interest shall be allowed on each judgment of the court of claims from the date thereof until payment is actually made, provided, however, that interest shall be suspended and shall not be allowed: a. In the event a certificate of no appeal is not forwarded by the claimant to the office of the comptroller of the state of New York within thirty days from date of mailing said certificate to the claimant by the attorney general, then interest shall be suspended from date of mailing to date of receipt of said certificate by the comptroller. b. In the event a satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien is not forwarded within thirty days after mailing of said satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien by the attorney general, interest shall be suspended for that period of time from the date of mailing the satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien to the date that the same is received by the comptroller."

It is Defendant's position that interest was suspended in accordance with subsection (b) of that statute from the date the satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien was sent to Claimant until those documents were received by the Comptroller. The satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien were mailed to Claimant's counsel on February 8, 2018. A second request for the documents was sent to Claimant's counsel on March 8, 2018. By a letter dated April 2, 2018, Claimant's counsel advised the Office of the State Comptroller that a petition was pending in Surrogate's Court in Hamilton County. Defendant quotes from Claimant's counsel's April letter which states, "Until the Surrogate's Court issues an Order regarding disbursement of settlement funds it is not possible to provide a satisfaction of judgment or to enter a supplemental judgment regarding post judgment interest."(4) The Assistant Attorney General inquired as to whether payment of the judgment, without post judgment interest could be made to Claimant's counsel and held in the firm's escrow account pending the final decree from Surrogate's Court.(5) Claimant's counsel, with Claimant's written consent, made a request for the partial payment of the judgment without post judgment interest on May 22, 2018 to the Office of the Comptroller.(6) The Office of the Comptroller advised that payment would be made to the law firm and Claimant, and Surrogate's Court would need to authorize Claimant to sign the satisfaction of judgment before payment could be made.

The waiver of attorney's lien was submitted to the Office of the Comptroller on May 29, 2018. On June 1, 2018, a satisfaction of judgment was received, however, the Hamilton County Surrogate's Court had not yet authorized Claimant to sign that document. The Office of the Comptroller notified Claimant's counsel that it could not accept the satisfaction of judgment without a valid authorization from Surrogate's Court. The duly executed satisfaction of judgment with a copy of the July 13, 2018 Surrogate Court Decree was forwarded to the Office of the Comptroller on July 25, 2018, and a check was issued in the amount of $5,350,007.40 on July 25, 2018.

Defendant attaches a copy of an affidavit of Corey J. Geis, the Assistant Director of Finance 3 at the Office of the Comptroller. At the time the judgment was paid, Mr. Geis was an Assistant Director of Finance 2. He reviewed the records and payment file for Davila/Bonilla judgment. Mr. Geis states that the satisfaction of judgment, executed after the Surrogate's Court Decree was received on July 23, 2018. On July 24, 2018, a payment in the amount of $5,350,007.40 was processed: $4,000,000 (damage award), $1,299,000 (pre judgment interest), $50 (filing fee) and $50,957.40 (post judgement interest). The post judgment interest was calculated using 9 percent statutory interest (CPLR 5004) on the judgment amount ($5,299,000) [$5,299,000 X .09 = $476,910 (annual interest) divided by 365 days = $1,306.60 per diem interest amount. Interest was calculated for 31 days from the day after judgment was entered - January 10, 2018 to February 9, 2018, (the day after the Office of the State Comptroller sent Claimant the waiver of attorney's lien and satisfaction of judgment form). Interest was again calculated from July 23, 2018, the date the Office of the Comptroller received the executed satisfaction of judgment form until July 30, 2018, (date payment was processed July 24, 2018 plus 6 days of processing and mailing) for a total of 8 days. Mr. Geis presents that 39 days X $1,306.60 = $50,957.40.

In response, Claimant argues that she and her counsel worked as diligently as possible to obtain the Surrogate's Court Decree "authorizing receipt of judgment." Claimant acknowledges that the Surrogate's Court had to approve her receipt of the judgment proceeds and until that was done the State was "unable to pay."(7) Claimant argues that the language of Court of Claims Act section 20 (7) (b) was only intended to suspend interest when a claimant neglects to timely provide a satisfaction of judgment. Claimant argues that "the State could not forward a valid 'satisfaction of judgment' to claimant and could not comply with the terms of 20 (7) (b)."(8) Claimant relies upon O'Shea v State of New York, 281 AD2d 774 to support its argument that Court of Claims Act section 20 (7) does not permit discretionary suspension of interest. Here, Claimant argues she did everything she could to provide a satisfaction of judgment in a timely manner and the State could not provide a "satisfaction of judgment" to Claimant.

Resolution of this motion is governed by Court of Claims Act section 20. That section provides for the requirements governing the payment of judgments in this Court and starts in subsection 7 with the dictate that interest is allowed on each judgment from the date thereof until payment. There are two exceptions to that direction, and subsection (b) is applicable here. Where a satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien is not forwarded within thirty days after mailing by the attorney general "interest shall be suspended for that period of time from the date of mailing the satisfaction of judgment and waiver of attorney's lien to the date that the same is received by the comptroller." (Court of Claims Act 20 [7] [b]). The same statute also provides that "No such judgment shall be paid until there shall be filed with the comptroller . . . a release and waiver by the attorney for the claimant of any lien for services upon said claimant's cause of action, claim, award, verdict, report, decision or judgment in favor of said claimant

. . . ." (Court of Claims Act 20 [6]).

There is no dispute that the Attorney General mailed both a waiver of attorney's lien and a satisfaction of judgment to Claimant's counsel on February 8, 2018. The waiver of attorney's lien was not provided until May 29, 2018, 80 days after mailing. Interest was, therefore, suspended and payment could not be made until May 29, 2018, at the earliest. After that date, based upon the limited letters, Claimant still could not receive payment on the judgment or sign the satisfaction of judgment because she lacked the authority to do so. Upon receipt of the documents necessary for payment, the State was ready to pay the judgment. Although Claimant acted diligently, she failed to provide a valid satisfaction of judgment within 30 days of its mailing and, therefore, the Office of the Comptroller was authorized to withhold interest from the date of mailing until receipt of the validly executed satisfaction of judgment in accordance with Court of Claims Act section 20 (7) (b).

Accordingly, Claimant's motion is DENIED.

January 3, 2019

Syracuse, New York

DIANE L. FITZPATRICK

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court has considered the following in deciding this motion:

1) Notice of Motion.

2) Affirmation of Evan M. Foulke, Esquire, in support, with exhibits attached thereto.

3) Affirmation of Anthony Rotondi, Esquire, Assistant Attorney General, in opposition, with exhibits attached thereto.

4) Reply Affirmation of Evan M. Foulke, Esquire, in support.


1. Davila v State of New York, UID No. 2014-018-516 [Ct Cl, Fitzpatrick, J., May 30, 2014], affd 140 AD3d 1415 [3d Dept 2016].

2. Claimant's Exhibit I, page 4.

3. The Court finds the exact dates herein are in question. Exhibit X shows the Satisfaction of Judgment was mailed to the Comptroller via Federal Express on July 25, 2018. The affidavit of Corey J. Geis states the Satisfaction of Judgment was received on July 23, 2018, and payment was processed on July 24, 2018.

4. Defendant's Exhibit B.

5. Claimant's counsel's affirmation 12, Exhibit M.

6. Claimant's Exhibit P.

7. Claimant's counsel's affirmation 16, page 7.

8. Claimant's Reply Affirmation 7.