Pro se inmate was awarded damages plus interest on his bailment claim.
|Claimant short name:||HALL|
|Footnote (claimant name) :|
|Defendant(s):||THE STATE OF NEW YORK|
|Footnote (defendant name) :|
|Judge:||FRANCIS T. COLLINS|
|Claimant's attorney:||Timothy Hall, Pro Se|
|Defendant's attorney:||Honorable Letitia James, Attorney General
By: Shadi Masri, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
|Third-party defendant's attorney:|
|Signature date:||October 2, 2019|
|See also (multicaptioned case)|
Claimant seeks damages for the value of certain personal property allegedly delivered to prison staff but not returned. Trial of this matter was conducted by video conference on September 17, 2019.
Claimant testified that on February 11, 2014 he was transferred to the Special Housing Unit at Washington Correctional Facility. He was given the opportunity to check his personal property, which had been packed in four bags, on February 13, 2014. Claimant testified that at that time all of his property was accounted for as reflected by his signature on the I-64 form of that same date (see I-64 form dated February 13, 2014 attached as Exhibit 2 to the claim, which was received in evidence as Exhibit 1). When claimant's property was again inventoried at Washington Correctional Facility on March 4, 2014, however, only three bags of personal property were accounted for. The correction officer who signed the form checked a box indicating that "Inmate Did Not Have Opportunity to Check Boxes" (see I-64 form dated March 4, 2014 attached as Exhibit 3 to the claim, which was received in evidence as Exhibit 1). Claimant signed the March 4, 2014 I-64 form on March 7, 2014 following his transfer to Fishkill Correctional Facility. Claimant testified that his signature reflected receipt of only the property included on the form. The property claimant claims was not returned to him is not identified on this form.
Claimant filed an administrative claim seeking reimbursement for the lost property in the amount of $256.45 on March 12, 2014 (see Inmate Claim Form dated March 11, 2014 attached as Exhibit 4 to the claim, which was received in evidence as Exhibit 1). The claim was denied on July 17, 2014 for the reason that "[c]laimed items were not in claimant's possession at time of pack up" (id.). Claimant appealed the decision pointing out that all of his property was included on the initial I-64 form dated February 13, 2014. In addition, claimant testified that his property was placed in storage and he had not had access to it since it was delivered into DOCCS' possession for safekeeping on February 11, 2014. The appeal was "disapproved" on August 15, 2014 (id.).
The State as a bailee of an inmate's personal property owes a common-law duty to secure the property in its possession (Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [3d Dept 1991]; see also 7 NYCRR part 1700). A rebuttable presumption of negligence arises where it is established that the property was delivered to the defendant with the understanding that it would be returned, and the defendant failed to return the property or returned it in a damaged condition (7 NYCRR 1700.7 [b]; Wikiert v City of New York, 128 AD3d 128 [2d Dept 2015], lv denied 26 NY3d 902 ; Ramirez v City of White Plains, 35 AD3d 698 [2d Dept 2006]; Feuer Hide & Skin Corp. v Kilmer, 81 AD2d 948 [3d Dept 1981]; Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550 [1st Dept 1977]). Thereafter the burden of coming forward with evidence that the loss or destruction of the property was not its fault is upon the defendant (7 NYCRR 1700.7 [b] ; Feuer Hide & Skin Corp. v Kilmer, supra; Board of Educ. of Ellenville Cent. School v Herb's Dodge Sales & Serv., 79 AD2d 1049 [3d Dept 1981]).
The Court has reviewed the I-64 form dated February 13, 2014, the items of property claimant claims were lost, and the I-64 form dated March 4, 2014 reflecting the property which was returned to the claimant. Based upon this comparison, together with the claimant's testimony, the Court finds that claimant established by a preponderance of the credible evidence that certain of the property he delivered to the defendant for safekeeping was not returned. The Court accepts claimant's valuation of the missing property in light of its age and depreciation as follows: Sony Walkman ($20.80), Sony Headphones ($28.00), Norelco Beard Trimmers ($14.40), lamp ($8.00), fan ($10.00), 9 cassette tapes ($85.50), 16 soap bars ($20.00), 1 pair of sweat pants ($17.00), and baby oil ($2.50). Notably, in addition to the I-64 form evidencing claimant's possession and delivery of these items to the defendant, claimant also submitted various documents demonstrating ownership, including package room records of receipt, correctional facility permits, and purchase receipts. Claimant is awarded $206.20 for the loss of the aforementioned property.
The following items of property did not appear on the February 13, 2014 I-64 form which claimant signed upon the delivery of the property to the defendant for storage: Sony AC Adapter, deodorant, numerous storage containers, handball gloves, 20 writing pens, extension cord and scarf. Consequently, no award is made for the loss of this property.
Based on the foregoing, claimant is awarded $206.20 with interest from March 7, 2014 (the date claimant's property should have been returned to him but was not) to the date of this Decision and thereafter to the date of entry of judgment.
Let judgment be entered accordingly.
October 2, 2019
Saratoga Springs, New York
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims