New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
WASHINGTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-054-084, Claim No. 129565

Synopsis

Inmate bailment claim. State found liable for claimant's loss of his property.

Case information

UID: 2019-054-084
Claimant(s): JAMES WASHINGTON
Claimant short name: WASHINGTON
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 129565
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: WALTER RIVERA
Claimant's attorney: JAMES WASHINGTON
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
Attorney General for the State of New York
By: Douglas Kemp, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: October 8, 2019
City: White Plains
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant seeks damages for the loss of his property during his incarceration when his property was transferred from Eastern NY Correctional Facility to Upstate Correctional Facility and, on October 23, 2016, claimant discovered that his property was missing. A trial was held in this matter on September 23, 2019 via video conferencing technology.

The State, as a bailee of an inmate's personal property, owes a common law duty to secure the property in its possession (see Pollard v State of New York, 173 AD2d 906 [3d Dept 1991]). A rebuttable presumption of negligence arises where it is established that the property was delivered to defendant with the understanding that it would be returned to claimant and that defendant subsequently failed to return the property or returned it in a damaged condition (see Reed v Cornell Univ., 138 AD3d 816 [2d Dept 2016]). Claimant's failure to make a prima facie showing requires dismissal of the claim. If, however, claimant makes a prima facie showing, then there is a presumption of liability and the burden shifts to defendant to come forward with evidence to overcome the presumption by establishing a non-negligent explanation for the loss of claimant's property.

Claimant testified on his own behalf. The State did not present any witnesses. Exhibits A, B, and C, were received in evidence on behalf of the State.

Upon consideration of all the evidence, including claimant's credible and forthright testimony, the Court finds that claimant has met his burden of establishing that the State should be held liable for the loss of his property and the State did not rebut the presumption of liability. Notably, the State's exhibits are consistent with claimant's testimony that, while four bags of claimant's property were packed up, claimant received only one bag (Ex. C, pp 11-13). In this respect, the Court credits claimant's testimony that he did not sign Form 2064 dated October 23, 2016. The subject form lists all claimant's property, even though only one of the four bags was referenced on the form.(1)

Accordingly, the Court finds that claimant is entitled to an award of $442.00 in damages for the loss of his property. Specifically, the Court calculates the value of the lost items as follows:

(2) Boots (1) Sneakers (2) Baseball Caps $ 70.00
(3) Winter hats (2) Scarves (5) Shirts 45.00
(6) T-Shirts (6) Boxers (2) Shorts 34.00
(2) Thermal Sets 20.00
Food: (27) Cans (43) Pouches (13) Bottles 85.00
(1) Blanket (1) Sheet Set (2) Towels 25.00
(50) Cigars (25) Cassettes 75.00
(52) Soaps (6) Lotions 44.00
(2) Sweat Pants (1) Sweatshirt 30.00
(7) Religious Books 14.00
TOTAL $442.00

The Court did not award claimant any damages for his claim of 400 lost photographs because the Court cannot speculate as to the fair market value of claimant's photographs and the record is devoid of the reproduction costs for said photographs (see Castillo v State of New York, UID No. 2018-038-111 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Sept. 11, 2018]; Hernandez v State of New York, UID No. 2018-054-005 [Ct Cl, Rivera, J., May 10, 2018]).

Claimant shall also receive interest from the date of accrual, which the Court finds to be October 23, 2016.

It is further ordered that, to the extent that claimant has paid a filing fee, it may be recovered pursuant to Court of Claims Act 11-a (2).

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

October 8, 2019

White Plains, New York

WALTER RIVERA

Judge of the Court of Claims


1. There is a reference on the form to claimant's musical instrument, which is not at issue.