New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
SCOTT v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-041-034, Claim No. 127416, Motion No. M-91879

Synopsis

Claim alleging that defendant improperly withheld inmate mail is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction where claim was served on Attorney General more than ninety days after accrual and where Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claim sounding in equity.

Case information

UID: 2018-041-034
Claimant(s): RASHAD SCOTT
Claimant short name: SCOTT
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 127416
Motion number(s): M-91879
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant's attorney: RASHAD SCOTT
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN
New York State Attorney General
By: Thomas R. Monjeau, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: May 2, 2018
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Defendant moves to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction because the claim was served more than ninety days after its accrual, the claim fails to state a cause of action and the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim, which sounds in equity. Claimant opposes the defendant's motion.

The claim alleges that it "is for negligence and an absolute, intentional breach of duties on the part of . . . employees . . . in Clinton [Main] Correctional Facility." In particular, the inmate-claimant alleges that on July 21, 2015, defendant refused to deliver to claimant "a 'letter in a box' from an unknown/unrevealed source [and refused to] let the [c]laimant read, touch, see, or return said letter/box to the sender . . . due to it allegedly being a 'threat to the safety and security' of the facility."

Claimant unsuccessfully pursued both an inmate facility grievance and an inmate lost property claim.

Court of Claims Act section 10 requires that a claim to recover damages caused by the tortious conduct of an employee of the state, whether the defendant's conduct was intentional or unintentional, be served upon the Attorney General within ninety days after the accrual of the claim (see Court of Claims 10 [3] and 10 [3-b]).

Courts have consistently held that "[a]s a condition of the State's limited waiver of sovereign immunity, those requirements [timely filing and service] are strictly construed and a failure to comply therewith is a jurisdictional defect compelling the dismissal of the claim" (Welch v State of New York, 286 AD2d 496, 497-498 [2d Dept 2001]; see Robinson v State of New York, 38 AD3d 1030 [3d Dept 2007]; Pizarro v State of New York, 19 AD3d 891, 892 [3d Dept 2005], lv denied 5 NY3d 717 [2005]; Roberts v State of New York, 11 AD3d 1000, 1001 [4th Dept 2004]; Pristell v State of New York, 40 AD3d 1198 [3d Dept 2007]).

The claim alleges an accrual date of July 21, 2015 for the defendant's allegedly negligent and intentional acts (whether based upon provisions of the state or federal constitutions or upon the common law) in refusing to deliver claimant's "letter in a box" to claimant. The claim was not served on the Attorney General until February 16, 2016, more than ninety days after accrual.

The causes of action in the claim based upon defendant's negligent or intentional refusal to deliver the "letter in a box" to claimant on July 21, 2015 are untimely and are dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Further, the claim fails to state a constitutional tort cause of action against the State of New York. Although the Court of Appeals has recognized a narrowly defined cause of action for a state constitutional tort in the Court of Claims (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172, 177-178 [1996]), "no such claim will lie where the claimant has an adequate remedy in an alternate forum" (Shelton v New York State Liquor Authority, 61 AD3d 1145, 1150 [3d Dept 2009]; see Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78, 83-84 [2001]; Waxter v State of New York, 33 AD3d 1180, 1181 [3d Dept 2006]; Augat v State of New York, 244 AD2d 835, 837 [3d Dept 1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 814 [1998]). Claimant could have raised the allegations underlying his state constitutional claim in the context of a CPLR Article 78 proceeding in New York State Supreme Court (see e.g. Johnson v Anucci, 153 AD3d 1059 [3d Dept 2017]; McKethan v Stallone, 134 AD3d 1561 [4th Dept 2015]).

With respect to the allegation that claimant's federal constitutional rights were violated, the law is settled that "claims for damages against the State based on alleged deprivations of rights under the US Constitution are beyond the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims" (Shelton, 61 AD3d at 1151; see Matter of Gable Transport, Inc. v State of New York, 29 AD3d 1125 [3d Dept 2006]; Welch v State of New York, 286 AD2d 496, 498 [2d Dept 2001]; Zagarella v State of New York, 149 AD2d 503 [2d Dept 1989]; Davis v State of New York, 124 AD2d 420, 423 [3d Dept 1986]).

Claimant's causes of action alleging violation of his state and federal constitutional rights fail to state a cause of action.

The claim also purports to state a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The claim fails to state a cause of action in this regard because the law is clear that where, as here, "the act complained of constituted official conduct, public policy prohibits the maintenance of a suit against the State for intentional infliction of emotional distress" (Augat v State of New York, 244 AD2d 835, 836 [3d Dept 1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 814 [1998]).

Additionally, the claim alleges that in denying him access to his "letter in a box," defendant made administrative determinations involving facility safety and security with which claimant disagreed. Claimant challenged defendant's administrative determinations through the facility's grievance program.

The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is invoked where money damages are the essential object of the claim, unlike an instance where the principal claim is equitable in nature (such as to review action by a state agency), with monetary relief being incidental to the principal claim (see Harvard Fin. Servs. v State of New York, 266 AD2d 685, 685 [3d Dept 1999]; Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988]).

In City of New York v State of New York, 46 AD3d 1168, 1169-1170 [3d Dept 2007]), the court explains that:

"Two inquiries must be made to determine if the Court of Claims has subject matter jurisdiction. As that court has 'no jurisdiction to grant strictly equitable relief' (Psaty v Duryea, 306 NY 413, 416 [1954]), but may grant incidental equitable relief so long as the primary claim seeks to recover money damages in appropriation, contract or tort cases (see Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home v State of New York, 241 AD2d 670, 671 [1997]), 'the threshold 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"' (Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d 759, 760 [2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 704 [2005], quoting Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [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, 642 [2007]), as review of such determinations are properly brought only in Supreme Court in a CPLR article 78 proceeding (see Matter of Scherbyn v Wayne-Finger Lakes Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 77 NY2d 753, 757 [1991])."

In order for the Court to award claimant damages in this action, it would necessarily have to review the administrative determination of the defendant's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision which, as set forth above, it cannot do. As stated in City of New York (46 AD3d at 1170), claimant's remedy with respect to the defendant's administrative determination is prescribed in CPLR Article 78.

To the extent the claim alleges a cause or causes of action based upon the claimant's facility grievance[s], such causes of action are dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Finally, while claimant appears to have filed an inmate lost property claim (see 7 NYCRR Part 1700) at Clinton Correctional Facility with respect to his "letter in a box," the claim does not state an inmate lost property cause of action pursuant to Court of Claims Act 10 (9).

For all of the foregoing reasons, the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted. The claim is dismissed.

May 2, 2018

Albany, New York

FRANK P. MILANO

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Defendant's Notice of Motion To Dismiss, filed February 23, 2018;

2. Affirmation of Thomas R. Monjeau, dated February 23, 2018, and attached exhibits;

3. Affidavit of Rashad Scott, sworn to March 5, 2018.