New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
FINCH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2018-044-528, Claim No. 130601, 130647, Motion Nos. M-91817, M-91819, Cross-Motion Nos. CM-92015, CM-92016

Synopsis

Claims for damages allegedly suffered in relation to a criminal adjudication against claimant in a town court was dismissed by the Court, as the Court lacks jurisdiction over the Town Justice, and the claims failed to adequately set forth a legitimate cause of action.

Case information

UID: 2018-044-528
Claimant(s): STEPHEN FINCH
Claimant short name: FINCH
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) : Claimant initially named the Town of Conklin, Broome County and the State of New York as defendants in both Claim No. 130601 and Claim No. 130647. However, because this Court lacks jurisdiction over Broome County and the Town of Conklin (see NY Const, Art VI, 9; Court of Claims Act 9; Fisher v State of New York, 10 NY2d 60 [1961]; Whitmore v State of New York, 55 AD2d 745, 746 [3d Dept 1976], lv denied 42 NY2d 810 [1977]), the Court previously sua sponte amended the caption to reflect the State of New York as the sole proper defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 130601, 130647
Motion number(s): M-91817, M-91819
Cross-motion number(s): CM-92015, CM-92016
Judge: CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Claimant's attorney: CRAIG R. FRITZSCH, ESQ.
Defendant's attorney: HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: James E. Shoemaker, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: May 7, 2018
City: Binghamton
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

On November 22, 2017, claimant filed Claim No. 130601 to recover damages allegedly suffered in relation to the adjudication of a criminal action against him in Town of Conklin Justice Court. On December 1, 2017, claimant filed an identical claim which was assigned Claim No. 130647.(2) Court records indicated that defendant State of New York (defendant) has not filed an answer to either Claim No. 130601 or Claim No. 130647. Accordingly, the Court, sua sponte, issued two Orders to Show Cause dated January 23, 2018 which directed claimant to submit written statements relating to the service of Claim No. 130601 and Claim No. 130647 (Motion No. M-91817 and Motion No. M-91819, respectively) on the Office of the Attorney General, including copies of any documentary evidence establishing such service. The Court also invited the Attorney General's Office to submit a statement from someone with personal knowledge of the records of the Department of Law concerning the service of Claim Nos. 130601 and 130647, or the lack thereof.

In response to Motion Nos. M-91817 and M-91819, defendant has moved to dismiss both Claim Nos. 130601 and 130647 (Cross Motion Nos. CM-92015 and CM-92016, respectively). Claimant has also submitted responses to the motions and cross motions. Because Claim Nos. 130601 and 130647 are identical,(3) the Court, in the interests of judicial economy, will consider all the documentation submitted by both parties with respect to all motions and cross motions and address the issues in this single Decision and Order.

As they are potentially dispositive of the Filed Claims, the Court will initially address defendant's Cross Motion Nos. CM-92015 and CM-92016. Defendant argues that this Court lack jurisdiction over these matters as the Filed Claims fail to comply with Court of Claims Act  11. Defendant also asserts that the Filed Claims fail to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7). Defendant further contends that the State is not liable in respondeat superior for actions taken by a town justice, as such justice is not a State Employee but instead is an officer of the town he or she serves.

Conversely, claimant asserts that he has served defendant with the claim. He also contends that he has been wronged by the conduct of the Town of Conklin Justice, a member of the State Court System Judiciary who was subsequently removed from the bench.

In the Filed Claims, claimant asserts that he was charged in the Town of Windsor Justice Court with charges of disorderly conduct, criminal tampering, and petit larceny. He states that defendant, which operates the Unified Court System, thereafter assigned the criminal action to Town of Conklin Justice Court. He alleges that because the Justice's conduct in the case "was so unfair and in violation of the underlying principles of justice,"(4) the Commission on Judicial Conduct removed the Justice from the bench. Claimant indicates that he suffered damages in the amount of $100,000 as a result of the Justice's conduct in resolving the criminal action.

On February 15, 2018 (and in apparent reaction to this Court's Orders to Show Cause), claimant's counsel served a document entitled "Notice of Claim" (the Served Document) and dated May 22, 2017.(5) The Served Document contains the hand-written notation "Claim No. 130647 Filed 12/15/17."(6) , (7) The Served Document, which is substantially different than the Filed Claims, states that the nature of the claim is malicious prosecution, theft, and intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by the alleged misconduct of a Town of Conklin Justice. Claimant alleges that because of the misconduct, the Commission on Judicial Conduct removed the Justice from the bench. The Served Document asserts that claimant has suffered continuous damages, including defamation of character.

Section 11(b) of the Court of Claims Act requires that "[t]he claim shall state the time when and place where such claim arose, the nature of same, and the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and, . . . the total sum claimed." Pleading with absolute exactness is not required, and the guiding principle underlying Court of Claims Act 11 (b) is whether the State is able " 'to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances' " (Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201, 207 [2003], quoting Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767, 767 [4th Dept 1980]). A claimant's "[f]ailure to abide by [the] pleading requirements [of Court of Claims Act 11 (b)] constitutes a jurisdictional defect mandating dismissal of the claim, even though this may be a harsh result" (Morra v State of New York, 107 AD3d 1115, 1116 [3d Dept 2013]; see Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d 277, 281 [2007]).

The Court has reviewed the Filed Claims and finds that claimant has failed to set forth any allegations indicating when the claim accrued. Moreover, the allegedly wrongful conduct is not described or discussed in any manner. Claimant's conclusory and general statements of misconduct and unfair treatment are insufficient to provide defendant with an opportunity to investigate the claim and ascertain its potential liability. The Court finds that claimant has completely failed to satisfy the requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b).

On a motion to dismiss the claim for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7), the Court must "accept the facts as alleged in the [claim] as true, accord [claimant] the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]; see also Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d 314, 326 [2002]). The Court finds that even accepting the truth of claimant's conclusory allegations, there is no legitimate cause of action pleaded in either of the Filed Claims.(8)

Because the Filed Claims fail to comply with the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) and also fail to state any cognizable cause of action, Claim Nos. 130601 and 130647 are hereby dismissed.

Even if the Filed Claims were not dismissed on these grounds, Court of Claims Act  11(a) provides, in relevant part, that "[t]he claim shall be filed with the clerk of the court; and . . . a copy shall be served . . . upon the attorney general." The Court notes that the copy served on the Attorney General need not be an identical copy, as some variation between the claim which is filed and the copy that is served on defendant is acceptable.(9) However, in this instance, the Served Document is significantly different from the Filed Claims and cannot be considered a copy thereof (see Gordon v State of New York, UID No. 2003-032-133 [Ct Cl, Hard, J., Dec. 31, 2003]; Van Buskirk v State of New York, 22 Misc 3d 953, 957 [Ct Cl 2008], affd 70 AD3d 1313 [4th Dept 2008], lv denied 72 AD3d 1659 [4th Dept 2010]). Claimant has not provided any further evidence that he served any other document which could be considered a copy of the Filed Claims. Accordingly, claimant's failure to serve a copy of the Claim upon the Attorney General in compliance with Court of Claims Act 11 (a) is fatal and the Filed Claims are dismissed on this ground as well.

In any event, the Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction and is charged with "exclusive jurisdiction over actions for money damages against the state," based upon the acts or omissions of its agencies or employees, where the State is the real party in interest (Monreal v New York State Dept. of Health, 38 AD3d 1118, 1119 [3d Dept 2007]; NY Const., Art. VI, 9; Court of Claims Act 9). As defendant aptly notes, "[a] [t]own [j]ustice is a town officer (Town Law 20 [1] [a], [b] ) and, as such, is a town employee," (Cunningham v Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 125 AD2d 950, 951 [4th Dept 1986]; see Roth v State of New York, UID No. 2003-030-530 [Ct Cl, Scuccimarra, J., Apr. 4, 2003]). Because the Town of Conklin Justice is not an employee of the State, defendant is not liable for the Justice's conduct on the basis of respondeat superior. Accordingly, this Court lacks jurisdiction as the State is not the real party in interest.

In conclusion, neither Claim No. 130601 nor Claim No. 130647 comply with the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) or state a legitimate cause of action. Further, claimant has failed to serve defendant with a copy of either Claim No. 130601 or Claim No. 130647. Moreover, because the Town of Conklin Justice is not a State employee, this Court lacks jurisdiction.

Accordingly, defendant's Cross Motion Nos. CM-92015 and CM-92016 are granted and Claim Nos. 130601 and 130647 are dismissed in their entirety. Motion Nos. M-91817 and M-91819 are hereby withdrawn.

May 7, 2018

Binghamton, New York

CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE

Judge of the Court of Claims

The following papers were read on the Court's Orders to Show Cause and defendant's cross motions:

1) Order to Show Cause (Motion No. M-91817) filed February 16, 2018.

2) Order to Show Cause (Motion No. M-91819) filed February 16, 2018.

3) Affirmation of Craig R. Fritzsch, Esq., dated March 6, 2018.

4) "Notice of Claim" filed March 8, 2018.

5) Notice of Cross Motion (Cross Motion No. CM-92015) filed March 26, 2018; Affirmation of James E. Shoemaker, Assistant Attorney General (AAG), dated March 26, 2018, and attached exhibits.

6) Notice of Cross Motion (Cross Motion No. CM-92016) filed March 26, 2018; Affirmation of James E. Shoemaker, AAG, dated March 26, 2018, and attached exhibits.

7) Affirmation in Opposition of Craig R. Fritzsch, Esq., dated April 17, 2018.

Filed Papers: Claim No. 130601 filed November 22, 2017; Verified Answer to Claim No. 130601 filed March 22, 2018; Claim No. 130647 filed December 1, 2017; Verified Answer to Claim No. 130647 filed March 22, 2018.


2. The claims appear to be duplicate originals.

3. These claims shall be collectively referred to as the Filed Claims through the remainder of this Decision and Order.

4. Claim, 3.

5. The Court notes that claimant's counsel has utilized terminology applicable to actions against municipalities pursuant to General Municipal Law 50. This statute and associated terminology have no application to practice in the Court of Claims, which is governed by the Court of Claims Act. In order to avoid any confusion, the Court will refer to the document received by the Attorney General's Office as the Served Document throughout the remainder of this Decision and Order.

6. Defendant has admitted that this document was served on an employee of the Attorney General's Office. However, defendant argues that to the extent that the Served Document constitutes a claim, it was not properly served upon an assistant attorney general as required by statute (Court of Claims Act 11; CPLR 307 [1]). In light of the Court's holding infra, resolution of this issue will not be necessary.

7. In response to the Served Document, defendant filed and served answers to both Claim No. 130601 and Claim No. 130647, raising several affirmative defenses.

8. To the extent that claimant may be contending that the Served Document constitutes a claim, it neither complies with Court of Claims Act 11 nor states a valid cause of action. For that matter, even the cumulative contents of the Filed Claims and the Served Document fail to satisfy the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) or state a cognizable cause of action.

9. In general, a variance between the filed claim and the served claim is more likely to occur when the claims are hand-written (see Gordon, UID No. 2003-032-133).