New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
BEAUBRUM v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-038-108, Claim No. 125016

Synopsis

Case information

UID: 2019-038-108
Claimant(s): BERTHAL BEAUBRUM
Claimant short name: BEAUBRUM
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 125016
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DeBOW
Claimant's attorney: BERTHAL BEAUBRUM, Pro se
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES, Attorney General
of the State of New York
By: Stephen Barry, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 1, 2019
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an individual incarcerated in a State correctional facility, filed this claim seeking compensation for personal property that was allegedly confiscated by employees of defendant at Green Haven Correctional Facility (CF) on January 19, 2014. The trial of this claim was conducted by videoconference on June 6, 2019, with the parties appearing at Green Haven CF in Stormville, New York and the Court sitting in Albany, New York. Claimant presented his testimony and offered seven exhibits, six of which were received into evidence.(1) Defendant did not put on a case. After listening to claimant testify and observing his demeanor as he did so, and upon consideration of that evidence, the documentary evidence received at trial, and the applicable law, the Court concludes that defendant is liable to claimant in the amount of $283.02

FACTS

Claimant testified that he was in his cell at Green Haven CF on January 19, 2014 when Correction Officer (CO) Sawyer ordered him out of his cell to conduct a cell search. Claimant testified that when he was out of his cell he witnessed CO Sawyer place some of claimant's personal items onto a push cart, which he subsequently removed from claimant's cell and did not return. Specifically, claimant testified that the following items he possessed were removed and not returned: (1) three towels; (2) one washcloth; (3) a sports watch; (4) an AM/FM cassette player; (5) two pairs of shorts; (6) a chess set; (7) one padlock; (8) one sweater; (9) a knit cap; (10) one pair of sunglasses; (11) one hot pot; (12) family photographs and letters; (13) a cartoon book; (14) a military field jacket; (15) three disposable ballpoint pens; (16) a set of magic markers; (17) a box of coloring pencils; (18) a Webster's dictionary; (19) one set of bed sheets; (20) one pair of shower slippers; (21) three library books; (22) two pairs of sneakers; (23) one set of thermal underwear; (24) one sweatshirt; (25) two pairs of sweat pants; (26) three hooded sweat pullovers; (27) two T-shirts; (28) four short-sleeve polo shirts; (29) one storage container; and (30) laundry detergent. Claimant testified that he owned all of the items, with the exception of the chess set, which belonged to a friend, and the library books, which he borrowed and was not held responsible for the loss. Claimant filed an Inmate Claim Form dated February 18, 2014 seeking $416.43 in compensation for the missing items (see Claimant's Exhibit 6). DISCUSSION

The State has a bailee's common-law duty to secure the property of inmates within its prison system, and it may be liable for a breach of that duty (see Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906, 907 [3d Dept 1991]). To make a prima facie case of negligent bailment, an inmate claimant must establish that his or her personal property was in the custody of facility officials and that the property was not delivered to claimant (see Gillard v State of New York, UID No. 2010-044-008 [Ct Cl, Schaewe, J., June 21, 2010], citing Weinberg v D-M Rest. Corp., 60 AD2d 550, 550 [1st Dept 1977]). A prima facie case creates a presumption of negligent bailment, and shifts to defendant the burden to demonstrate that the property was lost "due to circumstances not within its control or . . . that it exercised ordinary care" (Alston v State of New York, 9 Misc 3d 1126[A], *3 [Ct Cl 2005]; see Jackson v State of New York, UID No. 2007-044-010 [Ct Cl, Schaewe, J., Mar. 22, 2007]).

Claimant credibly testified at trial that prior to January 19, 2014, he owned all of the items for which he seeks compensation, except for the chess set and the library books, and the credible evidence establishes that those items were removed by CO Sawyer on January 19, 2014 and were not subsequently returned to claimant, thereby establishing a prima facie case of negligent bailment with regard to the items that claimant owned. Defendant has not offered any evidence to rebut claimant's prima facie case of negligent bailment for any of the items that claimant owned and, therefore, will be held liable for its loss.

The measure of liability for negligently bailed property is its fair market value, which is measured by purchase price minus reasonable depreciation (see Gagne v. State of New York, 14 Misc 3d 1214 [A], *4 [Ct Cl, 2006], citing Phillips v Catania, 155 Ad3d 866 [1989]). "Receipts are the best evidence of fair market value, although uncontradicted testimony concerning replacement value may also be acceptable" (Rush v State of New York, UID No. 2007-030-019 [Ct Cl, Scuccimarra, J., June 18, 2007]; see Gagne 14 Misc 3d 1214 [A], *4). Claimant's testimony about the amounts paid for the lost items of property and the approximate age and condition of the items at the time of their loss was generally credible, the proof of the value of the sheet set was established by a receipt, and none of this proof has been persuasively contradicted by defendant. Therefore, the Court finds that claimant has proven his claim for negligent bailment and damages by a preponderance of the credible evidence, and claimant's loss is valued as follows:

(1) Three towels, purchase price of $16.95 each or $50.85 in total, that were "not that old;"(2) the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $25.43;

(2) One washcloth, purchase price of $2.00, in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $1.00;

(3) One sports watch, purchase price of $4.75, that claimant valued at $2.75 in June 2006 (see Claimant's Exhibit 1); the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% from the value asserted in 2006 and values the loss at $1.38;

(4) One AM/FM cassette player, purchase price of $11.75, in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the loss at $8.81;

(5) Two pairs of shorts, purchase price of $8.75 each or $17.50 in total, in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $8.75;

(6) One padlock, purchase price of $5.03, in fairly new condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 10% and values the loss at $4.53;

(7) One sweater, purchase price of $18.00, in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $9.00;

(8) One knit cap, purchase price of $0.79, approximately eight years old; the Court assigns a depreciation of 75% and values the loss at $0.20;

(9) One hot pot, purchase price of $17.10, approximately nine months old in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 10% and values the loss at $15.39;

(10) One military field jacket, purchase price of $20.00, in excellent condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 10% and values the loss at $18.00;

(11) Three disposable ballpoint pens, total purchase price of $0.75, that were brand new; the Court assigns no depreciation and values the loss at $0.75;

(12) One set of magic markers, purchase price of $4.00 that were new and had been used "a couple of times;" the Court assigns a depreciation of 10% and values the loss at $3.60;

(13) One box of coloring pencils, purchase price of $10.80, that were brand new and had never been used; the Court assigns no depreciation and values the loss at $10.80;

(14) One Webster's Dictionary, purchase price of $5.00, that was in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the loss at $3.75;

(15) One set of bed sheets, purchase price of $34.75, that claimant had slept on for six months and was in excellent condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $17.38;

(16) One pair of used shower slippers, purchase price of $0.94; the Court assigns a depreciation of 90% and values the loss at $0.09;

(17) Two pairs of sneakers, as follows:

(a) One pair purchased at of $17.00 and in "almost new condition;" the Court assigns a depreciation of 10% and values the loss at $15.30;

(b) One pair purchased at $39.95 and in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $19.98;

(18) One set of thermal underwear, purchase price of $12.25, that was in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the loss at $9.19;

(19) One sweatshirt, purchase price of $16.75, that was in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the loss at $8.38;

(20) Two pairs of sweat pants, purchase price of $16.75 each, or $33.50 in total, that were in good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 50% and values the total loss at $16.75;

(21) Three hooded sweat pullovers, purchase price of $19.75 each, or $59.25 in total, that were in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the total loss at $44.44;

(22) Two T-shirts, purchase price of $10.75 each, or $21.50 in total, that were in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the loss at $16.13;

(23) Four short-sleeve polo shirts, purchase price of $6.75 each, or $27.00 in total, that were in very good condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 25% and values the loss at $20.25;

(24) One storage container, purchase price of $10.00, that was approximately nine years old in "very fair" condition; the Court assigns a depreciation of 75% and values the loss at $2.50; and

(25) One container of laundry detergent, purchase price of $1.24, that was in brand new condition; the Court assigns no depreciation and values the loss at $1.24.

Although claimant has proven that defendant is responsible for the loss of his sunglasses and the cartoon book, he did not know how much was paid for those items although he estimated their value on his Inmate Claim Form (see Claimant's Exhibit 6), and thus, no award will be made for the loss of those items. Similarly, although claimant has proven that defendant bears responsibility for the loss of his personal photographs and letters, and while they undoubtedly have sentimental value to claimant, they have no fair market value upon which an award can be made in a bailment claim (see Encarnacion v State of New York, UID No. 2012-049-111 [Ct Cl, Weinstein, J., Sept. 27, 2012]; Kidd v State of New York, UID No. 2004-030-044 [Ct Cl, Scuccimarra, J., Nov. 22, 2004]). Finally, no award will be made for the loss of the chess set and the library books as claimant has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was the owner of that property.

CONCLUSION

Defendant is liable to claimant for lost property in the amount of $283.02, with statutory interest from January 19, 2014. Any motions not previously ruled upon are denied. To the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it is recoverable pursuant to Court of Claims Act  11-a (2).

The Clerk of the Court of Claims is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

August 1, 2019

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. At trial, the Court received into evidence Claimant's Exhibit 6, a copy of the Institutional Claim Form that is the subject of this claim, and inasmuch as the exhibits were in possession of the parties at Green Haven CF and not with the Court in Albany, the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) defending the claim was directed to transmit all of the exhibits offered and received at trial. However, the packet of exhibits that was received by the Court did not contain Claimant's Exhibit 6, and the Court requested that the AAG transmit the missing exhibit to the Court with a copy to claimant, to complete the record. The AAG subsequently transmitted the missing exhibit to the Court on July 26, 2019. Furthermore, decision on the admission of Claimant's Exhibit 7, receipts for copies, the filing of the claim, and for headphones and luncheon meat, all of which postdated the events in the claim and which defendant objected to on relevancy grounds, was reserved pending receipt of the exhibit by the Court. Upon review of the exhibit, the Court now sustains defendant's objection and Claimant's Exhibit 7 will not be received into evidence.

2. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are to the audio recording of the trial of this claim.