Court finds Claimant established at Trial that Defendant was negligent for losing some of Claimant's personal property. Claimant awarded $80.90 for lost property.
|Claimant short name:||GREEN|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||CHRISTOPHER J. McCARTHY|
|Claimant's attorney:||Edward Green, #08-A-5510, Pro Se|
|Defendant's attorney:||ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Thomas R. Monjeau, Esq., AAG
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||January 4, 2018|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Pro se Claimant, Edward Green, has established, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that Defendant was negligent in losing certain items of his personal property when he was incarcerated at Eastern NY Correctional Facility (hereinafter, "Eastern"). The trial of this Claim was held by video conference on October 18, 2017, with the parties at Eastern and the Judge at the Court of Claims in Albany, New York.
At trial, the Court had marked as Court Exhibits 1 and 2, respectively, Claimant's filed Claim and the State's Answer. Claimant submitted into evidence two documents (Exs. 1, 2). The State submitted into evidence one document, a copy of Claimant's facility claim, with Directive 4070 attached (Ex. A). Claimant testified on his own behalf, and Defendant offered the testimony of Lieutenant (hereinafter, "Lt.") Berndt Leifeld(1) at trial.
Claimant testified that, on the morning of October 15, 2013, he placed his laundry bag "on the sheet" in front of the Correction Officers' office, as did the other inmates on the block who were sending their laundry to the facility laundry. When he returned in the afternoon to retrieve his clean laundry, his bag was not "on the sheet" with the other bags of clean laundry. Claimant stated that this procedure for the collection and distribution of laundry is not the procedure set forth in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (hereinafter, "DOCCS") Directive 4070, dated November 28, 2012, entitled "Laundry Collection/Distribution" (Ex. A, pp. 13-15). Claimant stated that the Directive requires a designated inmate to collect laundry bags from the inmates' cells, to bring the bags to the correction officer in charge of the laundry bag system, and the officer is to complete a "Laundry Count-Block" form for each housing unit before the bags from that unit are transported to the laundry (Directive 4070[I][A][5, 6], [II][A][1-6]). A similar procedure is conducted upon the return of the clean laundry( id., [II][D][1-3]). Claimant also noted that no laundry log exists (see Ex. 1).
Claimant testified that he believes that his laundry bag was NOT lost in the laundry room, since his name was on his bag. He stated that he believes that his bag of clean laundry was stolen when the laundry was returned to the unit and placed in front of the office.
Lt. Leifeld testified that he has been employed by DOCCS for more than 31 years. He stated that he is currently employed at Green Haven Correctional Facility and has been there since August 2017. Prior thereto, he was employed at Eastern for 31 years. He stated that, back in October 2013, he was a sergeant and was the security supervisor for the laundry room. He testified that Claimant filed an institutional claim seeking damages for his lost personal items. The witness was assigned to investigate the claim. He was unable to locate any of Claimant's lost items. He determined that Claimant's property was lost but that, since Claimant did not follow Directive 4070(I)(B)(2), in that he did not label his laundry items with his name, the facility was not liable (Directive 4070[I][B]) (see Ex. A, p. 6). The witness also testified that not many items of personal clothing sent to the laundry by inmates are labeled and that he did not make a determination as to how Claimant's laundry bag was lost. He further testified that, from time to time, laundry bags would disappear when they were returned to the units from the laundry and placed in front of the Correction Officers' office. He also testified that, at the time the property was lost, Eastern followed a "local policy" regarding the collection and distribution of inmates' laundry, not Directive 4070. He agreed that laundry bags were not marked in the manner prescribed by the Directive.
To establish a prima facie case of negligence in a bailment transaction, "[C]laimant must demonstrate that his property was deposited with the [D]efendant and the [D]efendant failed to return it … Once [C]laimant meets his burden, there is a rebuttable presumption that the [D]efendant is negligently responsible for the loss, and [D]efendant must come forward with proof explaining the loss" (Rivera v State of New York, UID No. 2008-041-501 [Ct Cl, Milano, J., Jan.10, 2008], quoting Amaker v State of New York, UID No. 2006-032-511 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., Aug. 14, 2006]; see Claflin v Meyer, 75 NY 260, 262 ; Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [3d Dept 1991]; Singer Co. v Stott & Davis Motor Express, 79 AD2d 227, 231 [4th Dept 1981]; Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v Herb's Dodge Sales & Serv., 79 AD2d 1049, 1050 [3d Dept 1981]; Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1st Dept 1977]). "With respect to value, Claimant must satisfy the court of the fair market value of the items in question … Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value [less depreciation], 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]; see Phillips v Catania, 155 AD2d 866 [4th Dept 1989]; Alston v State of New York, 9 Misc 3d 1126[A] [Ct Cl 2005]; Schaffner v Pierce, 75 Misc 2d 21 [Nassau County Dist Ct 1973]).
Based upon the documentary evidence submitted (Exs. 1 & 2), together with Claimant's credible, plausible, and uncontradicted trial testimony, the Court finds and concludes that Claimant has established, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that he possessed numerous items that were under the care and control of Defendant. The State's refusal or inability to return all the bailed items on demand creates a presumption of negligence by Defendant, a presumption that the State has failed to rebut.
The Court finds these items to be: a terrycloth bathrobe; a bath towel; a hand towel; and a pair of shorts. The Court finds and concludes that the value of the items which were in Claimant's possession at the time of their loss had depreciated due to their age and the fact that Claimant had used them (see Ex. A, p. 2). The Court determines the depreciated value to be as follows:
1 terrycloth robe $55.00
1 bath towel $10.95
1 hand towel $ 4.95
1 pair shorts $10.00
Accordingly, the Court finds and concludes that Claimant is entitled to judgment in the sum of $80.90, the depreciated value of the lost property, inclusive of interest, as determined by the Court. To the extent that Claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 11-a(2).
The Chief Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
January 4, 2018
Albany, New York
CHRISTOPHER J. McCARTHY
Judge of the Court of Claims
1. At the time of the incident, the witness was a sergeant, but has since been promoted and will be referred to by the Court by his current title.