New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
WILLIAMS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2019-059-004, Claim No. 133093-A, Motion No. M-94272

Synopsis

Case information

UID: 2019-059-004
Claimant(s): OZAN WILLIAMS
Claimant short name: WILLIAMS
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 133093-A
Motion number(s): M-94272
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: MAUREEN T. LICCIONE
Claimant's attorney: OZAN WILLIAMS, pro se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL
By: Dorothy M. Keogh, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: August 26, 2019
City: Central Islip
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

The claimant ("Claimant"), an inmate proceeding pro se, filed and served a claim on May 15, 2019 in which he seeks to hold defendant State of New York ("Defendant") liable for personal injuries he allegedly sustained on April 11, 2019 and for Defendant's alleged deprivation of proper medical treatment for him thereafter.

Specifically, the claim alleges that at 5:30 p.m. on April 11, 2019 while Claimant was returning to his cell from "the A-Block Mess hall" at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a corrections officer ("C.O. Miley"), who weighed "approximately 400 pounds" and who was responding to an alarm "crashed into [Claimant] with full force" and "smash[ed]" Claimant into metal bars "head first." Claimant further alleges that his face immediately began bleeding. He contends that rather than immediately taking Claimant to the infirmary, C.O. Miley "threw everything Claimant had on the floor" and directed him back to his cell. He further alleges that after other inmates who witnessed the event reported it to a sergeant, Claimant was taken to the infirmary. Claimant alleges that he suffered injuries to his back, wrist and hand and that on the day after the incident he discovered a cracked tooth, which eventually fell out. Claimant contends that his wrist and hand were x-rayed and treated at a hospital the day after the incident, but asserts that his requests for dental treatment for his tooth were ignored and denied.

Claimant also alleges that he filed a "facility grievance pursuant to N.Y.S.D.O.C.C.S. Directive 4040 ("Directive 4040") for "the complete deprivation of medical attention and attempts by the Defendant's [sic] to cover-up what took place on April 11th, 2019." In the ad damnum clause of his claim Claimant refers to Defendant's actions as "willful" and does not use the word "negligent" anywhere in the claim.

Defendant has brought a pre-answer motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2) and Court of Claims Act 11(b) ("Section 11(b)") asserting that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this claim. In particular, Defendant argues that Claimant has not described "the nature" of the claim as required by Section 11(b) because it alleges in the ad damnum clause that he is making a claim for "willful" acts but the body of the claim describes only C.O. Miley's negligent act of accidently "crash[ing]" into him. Defendant further contends that the claim should be dismissed because it does not allege a causal connection between the loss of Claimant's tooth and the incident on April 11, 2019. Finally, Defendant proffers that Directive 4040 does not allow for an inmate to file a "facility grievance" for "complete deprivation of medical attention and attempts by Defendant to cover-up what took place on April 11, 2019" such as the Claimant has done. Finally, Defendant proffers that the claim should be dismissed because the grievance is not attached to it.

Court of Claims Act 11 (b) provides that:

"The 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, except in an action to recover damages for personal injury, medical, dental or podiatric malpractice or wrongful death, the total sum claimed."

A claim against the State is permissible only as a result of the State's waiver of sovereign immunity and the statutory requirements conditioning suit must therefore be strictly construed (see Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d 277, 280 [2007]). The requirements of Section 11 (b) are "substantive conditions upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity" (id. at 280-281, quoting Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201, 207 [2003]) and that the failure to satisfy any of the conditions is a jurisdictional defect (see Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d at 280-281).

The purpose of the Section 11(b) requirement that a claimant allege the "nature" of the claim is "to enable the State . . . to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances" (Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d at 207, quoting Heisler v State of New York, 78 AD2d 767, 767 [4th Dept 1980]). A claim need not be pled with "absolute exactness" (see Santos v State of New York, 291 AD2d 851, 851 [4th Dept 2002]; Wharton v City Univ. of N.Y., 287 AD2d 559, 559 [2d Dept 2001]), but must allege the required elements with "sufficient definiteness to enable the State to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances" (Cobin v State of New York, 234 AD2d 498, 499 [2d Dept 1996], lv dismissed 90 NY2d 925 [1997]; see also Rodriguez v State of New York, 8 AD3d 647, 647, [2d Dept 2004] ["The statement must be specific enough so as not to mislead, deceive or prejudice the rights of the State"]). "This is true even accepting that it may have been poorly drafted" (Ferrugia v State of New York, 237 AD2d 858, 859 [3d Dept 1997]).

Here, Claimant has alleged the "willful" denial of his medical care and a "cover-up." These terms denote intentional conduct on the part of Defendant. The reference only to willful behavior in the damages clauses does not deprive this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim or of the portions which sound in negligence. Furthermore, Claimant's allegation that his face was "smashed" into bars creates a reasonable inference as to the cause of Claimant's tooth cracking and eventfully falling out. A pro se inmate's reference to an allegedly incorrect DOCCS directive number when referring to the grievance he filed is not a jurisdictional defect warranting dismissal. Nor is the failure to attach the grievance; a document undoubtedly in Defendant's possession.

Notably, Defendant does not assert that it was unable to investigate the matter or that it was mislead in any fashion. The Court finds, therefore, that the claim herein complies with the substantive pleading requirements of Section 11(b).

Based upon the foregoing, Defendant's motion is denied. Defendant shall serve and file an answer to the claim within thirty days of the filing of this decision and order.

August 26, 2019

Central Islip, New York

MAUREEN T. LICCIONE

Judge to the Court of Claims

The following papers were read and considered on defendant's motion:

1. Defendant's Notice of Motion to Dismiss, dated June 13, 2019, Affirmation in Support Defendant's Motion to Dismiss by Dorothy M. Keogh, AAG, dated June 13, 2019.

2. Claimants "Reply to Defendants' [sic] Motion to Dismiss," sworn to on June 30, 2019.

3. Reply Affirmation in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, dated July 17, 2019.

4. Claim dated May 7, 2019.

August 26, 2019

Central Islip, New York

MAUREEN T. LICCIONE

Judge of the Court of Claims