New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HAUSDORF v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-032-043, Claim No. 129772, Motion No. M-91897

Synopsis

Movant's motion for late claim relief is denied. The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction that cannot review omissions or determinations made by an administrative agency.

Case information

UID: 2018-032-043
Claimant(s): MEGHAN HAUSDORF
Claimant short name: HAUSDORF
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 129772
Motion number(s): M-91897
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: JUDITH A. HARD
Claimant's attorney: Glass Krakower, LLP
By: Jordan F. Harlow, Esq.
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General
By: Anthony Rotondi, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 13, 2018
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Movant seeks permission to file and serve a late claim alleging a cause of action for negligence arising from defendant's alleged delay in issuing movant a permanent teaching certification. Movant alleges that, in 2010, she began the process of obtaining her permanent teaching certification from the New York State Department of Education (NYSED). She further alleges that, on multiple instances, the NYSED lost the documentation that movant sent to them in order to fulfill the requirements for her permanent teaching certification. Because of negligence on the part of the NYSED in misplacing the documentation, the issuance of movant's permanent teaching certification was delayed, resulting in damages in the form of lost wages. Movant now seeks late claim relief under Court of Claims Act 10 (6). Defendant opposes the motion. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies movant's motion for permission to file a late claim.

The Court of Claims is vested with broad discretion to grant or deny an application for permission to file a late claim (Matter of Gonzalez v State of New York, 299 AD2d 675 [3d Dept. 2002]). In making a determination to grant or deny such an application, the Court must determine whether the claim would be timely under Article 2 of the CPLR and then consider certain statutory factors (Court of Claims Act 10 [6]). These factors are: (1) whether the delay in filing the claim was excusable; (2) whether the state had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim; (3) whether the state had an opportunity to investigate the circumstances underlying the claim; (4) whether the state was substantially prejudiced; (5) whether the claimant has any other available remedy; and (6) whether the claim appears to be meritorious (Court of Claims Act 10 [6]). The presence or absence of any one of said factors is not dispositive (Bay Terrace Coop. Section IV v New York State Employees' Retirement Sys. Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement Sys., 55 NY2d 979 [1982]). However, the last factor is the most decisive inasmuch as it is futile to proceed with a meritless claim even if the other factors support the granting of the movant's application (Savino v State of New York, 199 AD2d 254 [2d Dept. 1993]; Prusack v State of New York, 117 AD2d 729 [2d Dept. 1986]).

First, the Court must determine whether movant's cause of action is timely under CPLR Article 2. The proposed claim states a cause of action for negligence. For claims alleging negligence, the accrual date is the date that claimant sustains an injury (Kronos, Inc. v AVX Corp., 81 NY2d 90, 94 [1993] [citations omitted]). The Court previously found that the accrual date for movant's negligence cause of action is September 21, 2015 (Hausdorf v State of New York, Claim No. 129772, Motion No. M-90834 [Ct Cl, Hard J., Jan. 5, 2018] [dismissing the claim for failure to timely serve the claim in compliance with Court of Claims Act 10 (3)])--the first date that her application for a permanent teaching certification was denied. Pursuant to CPLR 214, the statute of limitations applicable to causes of action for negligence is three years. Accordingly, movant was required to file the instant late claim application no later than September 21, 2018. Because the instant motion was filed on March 2, 2018, it is timely under CPLR Article 2.

The first factor to consider is whether the delay in filing and serving the claim is excusable. Movant argues that she was unaware of the proper accrual date of the claim and that she did not know which of the limitation periods in Court of Claims Act 10 was applicable to her claim. Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for failure to timely file a claim (Matter of Sandlin v State of New York, 294 AD2d 723, 724 [3d Dept. 2002], lv denied 99 NY2d 589 [2003]). Thus, the Court finds that the first factor does not weigh in movant's favor.

The next three factors--defendant's notice of the issues, opportunity to investigate, and prejudice--are interrelated and therefore frequently considered together. Movant argues that, because she was constantly in contact with the NYSED regarding her application, defendant had notice of the essential facts constituting the claim and the opportunity to investigate the claim. Defendant does not address these factors. Accordingly, these factors weigh in favor of granting movant's application.

Both parties concede that movant initiated an Article 78 proceeding in supreme court that was dismissed. Thus, it appears that movant has no other adequate available remedy for the losses she allegedly suffered. Defendant does not allege otherwise.

Turning then to the final factor, in order to establish a meritorious cause of action, movant must establish that the claim is not "patently groundless, frivolous or legally defective, and [that] upon consideration of the entire record, there is cause to believe that a valid cause of action exists" (Rizzo v State of New York, 2 Misc 3d 829, 834 [Ct Cl 2003]; see Court of Claims Act 10 [6]; Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d 1, 11 [Ct Cl 1977]). "While this standard clearly places a heavier burden upon a party who has filed late than upon one whose claim is timely, it does not, and should not, require [m]ovant to establish definitively the merit of the claim, or overcome all legal objections thereto, before the Court will permit [him] to file a late claim" (Williams v State of New York, UID No. 2016-040-100 [Ct Cl, McCarthy, J., Nov. 16, 2016]; see Matter of Santana v New York State Thruway Auth., 92 Misc 2d at 11-12).

Defendant argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the proposed claim because movant asks the Court to review a determination made by an administrative agency, which is relief that should have been requested in movant's Article 78 proceeding. However, both parties concede that the decision and order issued in movant's Article 78 proceeding stated that movant's claims for money damages should be brought in the Court of Claims.

The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction and does not have the jurisdiction to grant strictly equitable relief (see Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d 759, 760 [3d Dept. 2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 704 [2005]). The threshold question in determining whether the Court of Claims has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim is " '[w]hether the essential nature of the claim is to recover money, or whether the monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim' " (id., quoting Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231 [1988]). The second inquiry, regardless of how a claimant categorizes a claim, is whether the claim would require review of an administrative agency's determination, which the Court of Claims has no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain (see Hoffman v State of New York, 42 AD3d 641 [3d Dept. 2007]; City of New York v State of New York, 46 AD3d 1168 [3d Dept. 2007], lv denied 10 NY3d 705 [2008]). An administrative agency's determination may be reviewed only in the context of a CPLR Article 78 proceeding commenced in Supreme Court; such action cannot be brought in the Court of Claims (CPLR 7801; see Matter of Scherbyn v Wayne-Finger Lakes Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 77 NY2d 753 [1991]; Matter of Salahuddin v Connell, 53 AD3d 898 [3d Dept. 2008]).

Here, the Court finds that the true issue is whether the NYSED failed to perform a duty enjoined upon it by law when it failed to timely issue movant's certification--a question that can only be answered by way of a CPLR Article 78 proceeding filed in Supreme Court (Education Law 3004 [regarding regulations governing certification of teachers]; CPLR 7803 [1]). In support of its argument, defendant cites to El-Bey v State of New York, UID No. 2013-038-512 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Mar. 11, 2013]. Similar to the instant claim, Mr. El-Bey sought damages for lost income due to the failure of the State Division of Licensing Services to issue a security guard identification card. In finding that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Mr. El-Bey's claim, Judge DeBow found that the "claim for lost income simply cannot be decided without reviewing the omission or determination by the State Division of Licensing Services that has left [Mr. El-Bey] without his security identification card" (El-Bey v State of New York, UID No. 2013-038-512 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Mar. 11, 2013], citing Matter of Salahuddin v Connell, 53 AD3d 898, 900 [3d Dept. 2008]). Like the claim in El-Bey, this Court cannot determine the merits of movant's proposed claim without reviewing the omission or determination of the NYSED. Further, the question of whether movant's alleged lost wages were "incidental" to the primary claim is a question that would have been answered in Supreme Court if movant received a judgment in her favor (CPLR 7806; Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 237 [1988] [rejecting the argument that petitioners who seek incidental monetary relief in a CPLR Article 78 proceeding must commence a separate action in the Court of Claims]; see also Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d at 761). Accordingly, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the proposed claim, and the final factor does not weigh in movant's favor.

Based upon the foregoing, it is hereby

ORDERED, that movant's motion for late claim relief (M-91897) is denied.

August 13, 2018

Albany, New York

JUDITH A. HARD

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Notice of Motion to File a Late Claim, dated March 2, 2018; Affirmation of Jordan F. Harlow, Esq. in Support of Motion to File a Late Claim, affirmed on March 2, 2018; and Verified Proposed Claim, verified by claimant on February 26, 2018.

2. Affirmation in Opposition to Claimant's Motion to File a Late Claim, affirmed by Anthony Rotondi, AAG on April 25, 2018.

3. Affidavit in Opposition to Claimant's Motion to File a Late Claim, sworn to by Ann Jasinski on April 25, 2018.