Pro se inmate bailment trial.
|Claimant short name:||QUEZADA|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||Gina M. Lopez-Summa|
|Claimant's attorney:||Jose Quezada, Pro Se|
|Defendant's attorney:||Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General
By: Elizabeth Gavin, Assistant Attorney General
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||September 29, 2017|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Jose Quezada, a pro se inmate, filed a claim on September 2, 2014 in which he alleged that defendant, the State of New York, through its agents, negligently lost his property while he was incarcerated at Downstate Correctional Facility.
A trial of this claim was held by video conference on June 29, 2017. At trial, claimant's claim with attached exhibits was moved into evidence as Claimant's Exhibit 1. Claimant testified that on November 12, 2013, while at Downstate Correctional Facility for a Family Court trial, he was informed that he was being transferred back to Five Points Correctional Facility. He explained that he was on trial and as a result he was not transferred. However, the draft bag containing his legal documents went missing and was never returned to him.
Claimant submitted an inmate claim form in which he sought reimbursement for over
5,000 pages of lost legal papers and research documents for various cases which he valued at $10,000.00. The claim was rejected on March 10, 2014 with the notation that it appeared that the draft bag did not get put on the bus from Five Points Correctional Facility. There is a dispute with regard to whether or not claimant appealed that decision.
Claimant testified that he appealed the decision. There was no facility response to his appeal. Claimant attached to his claim various letters(1) to the correctional facility regarding the status of his appeal. Claimant testified that he never received a response to any of his letters.
Defendant contends that claimant never appealed the decision. Defendant submitted into evidence Exhibit A which was a certified copy of claimant's inmate claim form. This claim form also contained a disapproval of the claim on May 10, 2014. In addition, defendant submitted to the Court defendant's copy of attachment A to claimant's personal property claim form (Def Exh C), a copy of which was attached to the claim in this matter as exhibit JJ. Defendant's summer intern Ms. Lundy, testified that she viewed the document. Ms. Lundy testified that while the section entitled initial review is clearly a photocopy, the appeal section is the original version of the document. Defendant argued that claimant never actually appealed the denial of his claim but for the first time wrote in the appeal when he filed his current claim with the Court.
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 the 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]).
With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of fair market value of the items in question (Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 [4th Dept 1989]). Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable (Kilpatrick v State of New York, UID No. 2008-030-001, [Ct Cl, Scuccimarra, J., Jan. 22, 2008]).
In support of his claim, claimant testified that the missing documents included immigration documents; research documents; family court documents; personal letters to his daughter for his family court case; criminal documents for an appellate case and habeas corpus documents for his federal cases. He testified that his sister provided him the money to pay for the copies of the documents. He also testified that he can get copies of some of the papers but he does not have the money to pay for them. Defendant moved Exhibit B into evidence which, among other things, contained a report of claimant's civil cases. On cross-examination, claimant conceded that many of the cases referenced in the exhibits to his claim had been resolved. Claimant also testified that he did not know the case numbers of all of the cases he had filed and that he had 5-7 cases pending when his legal documents were lost. The report indicated that of the 12 cases, 7 had been resolved prior to the bailment claim and 4 of the cases were filed after claimant lost his legal papers, leaving only 1 pending federal case. Cross-examination also revealed that claimant had one pending state case in which he is represented by counsel.
At the conclusion of claimant's direct case, defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the claim asserting that claimant failed to establish the number of documents lost, their value, their importance and/or how the documents he lost would have changed court decisions. Defendant also argued that for the State Court case still pending, claimant is represented by counsel and that the documents are available to him through his counsel in that matter. Defendant continues that claimant failed to establish the replacement value of his missing documents. With regard to the pending federal claims, claimant failed to establish what papers were lost, the amount and their replacement value.
7 NYCRR 1700.8 [a], provides:
"Lost legal papers often have no value. If records in a criminal case are lost when there is no further right of appeal and no further use for them, then the records have no more than 'sentimental value,' that is, no value. If the lost legal papers can still be used, for example, in a pending or future legal proceeding, then the loss may be compensated by either replacing the papers or paying the reasonable cost to reproduce them. If an inmate can obtain replacement copies for no cost, then the lost papers have no value. If an inmate claims that there is a cost to reproduce the lost papers, then the inmate should produce an estimate for the cost to reproduce the lost papers, which normally should not exceed the cost shown in the bill for the original papers."
Based upon claimant's testimony and the documentary evidence submitted, the Court finds that claimant has failed to establish with regard to the cases/claims that are pending, the replacement value of those papers. With regard to the remaining claims/cases, claimant has failed to establish that the lost legal papers for which he seeks payment relate to any pending action or case.
Based upon the foregoing, defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted and the claim is dismissed.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
September 29, 2017
Hauppauge, New York
Gina M. Lopez-Summa
Judge of the Court of Claims
1. The letters are dated 4/23/14; 5/16/14; 6/1/14; 7/13/14; 7/17/14; 7/24/14 and 8/11/14 .