New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
BEST v. STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-015-090, Claim No. 134756, Motion No. M-95985

Synopsis

Claim against a Village Justice and County Jail was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Case information

UID: 2020-015-090
Claimant(s): TIMOTHY BEST
Claimant short name: BEST
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 134756
Motion number(s): M-95985
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney: No Appearance
Defendant's attorney: Honorable Letitia James, Attorney General
By: Glenn C. King, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: November 16, 2020
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Defendant moves to dismiss the instant claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (2) and (8) on the ground this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim.

Claimant alleges that from September 5, 2019 to February 11, 2020 he was wrongfully confined at the Ulster County Jail due to procedural errors of constitutional magnitude committed by a Justice of the Village Court of Ellenville. Defendant contends in support of its dismissal motion that the Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter as the State may not be held vicariously liable for the conduct of a Village Court Justice or a County in the operation of its jail facility. The Court agrees.

The Court of Claims is a Court of limited jurisdiction empowered to award damages in appropriation, contract or tort for claims against the State of New York (see NY Const, art VI, 9; Court of Claims Act 9) and certain other specified entities (see, e.g., Education Law 6224 [4]; Public Authorities Law 361-b and 2622; Mitchell v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 27, 2005, Collins, J., claim No. 110085, UID # 2005-015-025).(1) A Village Justice, however, is not an officer of the State for whose conduct the State may be liable. The Unified Court System Act of 1977 made "all justices, judges, and nonjudicial officers and employees of the courts and court-related agencies of the unified court system set forth in subdivision one of this section . . . employees of the state of New York" (Judiciary Law 39 [6]). Subdivision one of this section, which specifies the courts for which the State must pay the expenses, does not include Village Courts (Judiciary Law 39 [1]).(2) Moreover, while Public Officers Law 2 includes justices of the Supreme Court within the definition of "state officer", it does not include justices of a Village Court. Rather, the term "local officer" is stated to include "every officer of a political subdivision or municipal corporation of the state" (Public Officers Law 2 ). A Village Justice is a "local officer" within the meaning of 2 as he or she is an officer of a village (Village Law 3-301), which is included within the definition of municipal corporation (General Construction Law 66 [2]; see also Village Law 1-102). Inasmuch as the tort liability of the State may only be predicated on the conduct "of its officers and employees while acting as such officers or employees" (Court of Claims Act 9 [2]), liability may not be imputed to the State for the conduct of a local officer such as the Village Justice in the instant claim (cf. Mullen v State of New York, 122 AD2d 300 [3d Dept 1986], appeal denied 68 NY2d 609 [1986], cert denied 480 US 938 [1987]; Saunsen v State of New York, 81 AD2d 252 [2d Dept 1981]).

To the extent the claim alleges a cause of action for wrongful confinement to the Ulster County Jail, it fails for the same reason. Custody and control of county jails was conferred upon Sheriffs by Correction Law 500-c and a sheriff is a "local officer" within the meaning of Public Officers Law 2 (see County Law 3, 217, 400). Since the State may bear no liability for the conduct of a local officer, the claim must be dismissed as a matter of law.

Based on the foregoing, defendant's motion is granted and the claim is dismissed.

November 16, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

FRANCIS T. COLLINS

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

  1. Notice of motion dated October 7, 2020;
  2. Affirmation in support dated October 7, 2020, with Exhibit A.

1. Unreported decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the internet at http//www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us./decision.htm.

2. Courts listed in Judiciary Law 39 (1) are "the supreme court and appellate divisions and appellate terms thereof, county courts, family courts, surrogate's courts, civil court of the city of New York, criminal court of the City of New York, district courts, city courts, the county clerk's offices in the city of New York and those portions of the county clerk's offices outside the city of New York . . . and commissioners of jurors."