New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
DISTEFANO v. STATE OF NEW YORK, LAWRENCE F. VOIGTSBERGER, SUFFOLK COUNTY COMMISSIONER OF JURORS and NEW YORK STATE UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM, # 2018-045-006, Claim No. 130491, Motion No. M-91590

Synopsis

Defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) 3211(a) (7). Claim occurred outside courthouse on the curb.

Case information

UID: 2018-045-006
Claimant(s): VIRGINIA DISTEFANO
Claimant short name: DISTEFANO
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK, LAWRENCE F. VOIGTSBERGER, SUFFOLK COUNTY COMMISSIONER OF JURORS and NEW YORK STATE UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 130491
Motion number(s): M-91590
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: GINA M. LOPEZ-SUMMA
Claimant's attorney: Roccanova Law, P.C.
By: Joseph T. Roccanova, Esq.
Defendant's attorney: Hon. Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General
By: Antonella Papaleo, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: March 14, 2018
City: Hauppauge
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The following papers were read and considered by the Court on this motion: Defendant's Notice of Motion, Defendant's Affirmation in Support with annexed Exhibit A, Claimant's Affirmation in Opposition and Defendant's Reply.

Defendant, the State of New York, has brought this motion to dismiss the claim pursuant to Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) 3211 (a) (7).

At the outset the Court notes that the claim improperly listed Lawrence F. Voigtsberger, Suffolk County Commissioner of Jurors and the New York State Unified Court System as defendants in this matter. The Court of Claims is a court of limited jurisdiction wherein claims primarily seeking monetary damages against the State of New York and certain public authorities are brought (Court of Claims Act [CCA] 9). Individuals cannot be sued in their individual capacity in the Court of Claims (CCA 9). It is well settled that the State of New York is the real party in interest for claims against state agencies (Morell v Balasubramanian, 70 NY2d 297 [1987]). It is equally clear that claims against a state officer for conduct undertaken in an official capacity and in the exercise of an official governmental function are essentially claims against the State of New York (id.; Woodward v State of New York, 23 AD3d 852, 856 [3d Dept 2005]). Consequently, the only properly listed defendant in the claim is the State of New York. As a result, the Court, sua sponte, dismisses the claim against Lawrence F. Voigtsberger, Suffolk County Commissioner of Jurors and shall amend the caption to reflect the State of New York as the only properly named defendant in this matter.

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7), the court is required to "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]). The review entails "whether the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he has stated one" (id. at 88).

Claimant, Virginia DiStefano, alleges that on July 19, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. she was injured when she tripped and fell while traversing a defective condition in the curb portion of an outdoor handicap ramp located along the east side of the main entrance to the John P. Cohalan, Jr. Courthouse in Central Islip.

Defendant argues the claim should be dismissed since claimant cannot show that defendant owed a duty of care to him, that defendant breached a duty owed under Judiciary Law 39-b (2) or that the sidewalk is within the defendant's maintenance jurisdiction. Defendant provided an affidavit from Warren Clark, District Executive, 10th Judicial District, Suffolk County. Mr. Clark is employed by the New York State Unified Court System. He stated that defendant did not own, operate or control the area where claimant fell. He affirmed that defendant was not responsible for inspecting, managing or maintaining the exterior sidewalks and walkways of the Court complex.

By virtue of the Unified Court Budget Act of 1976, defendant assumed control over the court system's budget, however the localities retained responsibility for maintaining all court facilities in their jurisdictions which they previously financed and furnished (Matter of Drew v Schenectady County, 88 NY2d 242 [1996]). Judiciary Law 39-b (2), provides in pertinent part that defendant's only responsibility shall be for the cleaning of court facilities. The term cleaning of court facilities includes all services and activities necessary to ensure the courthouse is and remains a clean and healthful environment in which to transact the business of the Unified Court System. These activities include, but are not limited to: removal of trash; maintenance of appropriate standards of hygiene; painting; pest control; replacement of consumable materials such as light bulbs, soap, toilet paper and paper toweling. They should also include the making of minor repairs in accordance with the rules of the chief judge (Judiciary Law 39-b [1] [b]).

The claim fails to implicate defendant's limited responsibilities in regard to court facilities. Claimant's arguments regarding special duty are patently without merit.

Therefore, for the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted.

March 14, 2018

Hauppauge, New York

GINA M. LOPEZ-SUMMA

Judge of the Court of Claims