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New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
D.D. v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-038-509, Claim No. 133322, Motion No. M-94450

Synopsis

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim granted. Claim failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b), thus depriving the Court of subject matter jurisdiction, and it failed to state a cause of action.

Case information

UID: 2020-038-509
Claimant(s): D.D.(1)
Claimant short name: D.D.
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 133322
Motion number(s): M-94450
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DeBOW
Claimant's attorney: D.D., Pro se
Defendant's attorney: LETITIA JAMES, Attorney General
of the State of New York
By: Heather R. Rubinstein, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: January 30, 2020
City: Saratoga Springs
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an individual currently incarcerated in a State facility, filed this claim that appears to seek compensation in connection with a federal habeas corpus proceeding and a motion to vacate a judgment of conviction. Defendant moves to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a cause of action. Claimant opposes the motion.

The Court will first address defendant's argument that the claim fails to comply with the pleading requirements set forth in Court of Claims Act 11 (b), as it implicates the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court to entertain the claim. The Court of Claims Act requires that "[t]he claim . . . state the time when and place where such claim arose, the nature of same, the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained and . . . the total sum claimed" (Court of Claims Act 11 [b]). The facts set forth in the claim must be sufficiently definite "to enable the State . . . to investigate the claim[s] promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances" (Lepkowski v State of New York, 1 NY3d 201, 207 [2003] [internal quotation marks omitted]). "Although absolute exactness is not required, the claim must provide a sufficiently detailed description of the particulars of the claim," and "defendant is not required to ferret out or assemble information that [Court of Claims] section 11 (b) obligates the claimant to allege" (Morra v State of New York, 107 AD3d 1115, 1115-1116 [3d Dept 2013] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). The failure to comply with the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) is a fatal defect in subject matter jurisdiction that requires dismissal of the claim (see Lepkowski, 1 NY3d at 209; see also Kolnacki v State of New York, 8 NY3d 277, 281 [2007], rearg denied 8 NY3d 994 [2007]).

The claim alleges as follows:

"Claimant filed a federal habeas corpus 28 USC 2254 and a motion to vacate[] the [judgment] of [conviction] on the above date of 4/3/14. I was notified by Deputy M. Kopp on 9/19/18. She informed me that security had the matters in the above, and its been over a 120 days as of today. As this time GHCF/DOCCS is barred in the above matters and has waived all rights on the States [sic] behalf U.S. Const. Art. 4 2, cl. 1 NY Const. Art. 1 6-9-11, on United State [sic], 384 US 394"

(Claim No. 133322, 2).(2) Attached to the claim are the minutes of claimant's June 27, 2000 guilty plea to assault in the first degree and the July 11, 2000 sentencing hearing for that conviction (see id., unnumbered attachments), which reveal that claimant pleaded guilty to assault in the first degree in exchange for a sentence of ten years imprisonment and five years of postrelease supervision. Also attached to the claim is a February 7, 2011 sentencing transcript related to a separate criminal proceeding, during which claimant was sentenced, following a jury trial, to seven years imprisonment for a conviction for assault in the second degree, twenty-five years imprisonment for a conviction for kidnapping in the first degree, and twenty-five years imprisonment for a conviction for robbery in the first degree, all to run concurrently, plus five years of postrelease supervision (Claim No. 133322, unnumbered attachments [Hearing/Sentence Transcript, February 7, 2011, p. 18, line 23 - p. 19, line 18]). During the predicate felony hearing preceding the February 7, 2011 sentencing, claimant appeared to assert that the five years of postrelease supervision included in his sentence for the assault conviction constituted an unconstitutional "enhanced sentence" that effectively sentenced him to fifteen years in prison instead of the ten years he had agreed to as part of the plea bargain (see id. at p. 12, line 23 - p. 13, line 9]).(3)

In support of its motion, defendant argues that the claim must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it "fails to include: 1) the location of the incident; 2) the date of the incident (claimant simply states February 28, 2019 but his factual allegations state 9/19/18 and 4/3/17)[;] 3) a viable cause of action; 4) the theory of liability and [5]) any discernable actions on the part of the State (or a State actor) for which the State would be liable" (Rubinstein Affirmation, 10). In opposition, claimant argues that defendant's motion to dismiss should be denied because "the State of New York has conceded to the above matter" by "fail[ing] to answer . . . the foregoing matter prior to the above claims being filed with this Court" and thus defendant should be "administratively collateral[ly] estoppe[d]" (D.D. Correspondence, dated December 3, 2019).(4) Even affording claimant the liberal review accorded to submissions by pro se litigants (see Ali v State of New York, UID No. 2006-028-516 [Ct Cl, Sise, J., Feb. 7, 2006]), the claim patently fails to comply with the pleading requirements set forth in Court of Claims Act 11 (b), for the reasons that follow.

First, the claim fails to include sufficiently definite allegations regarding the "nature" of the claim inasmuch as it is unclear from the limited allegations in the claim what cause of action claimant is attempting to assert and against whom he seeks to assert it (Court of Claims Act 11 [b]). The Court is unable to discern the meaning of claimant's allegation that approximately a year and a half after he allegedly filed the federal habeas corpus proceeding and motion to vacate, he was informed "that security had the matters in the above" (Claim No. 133322, 2). Moreover, the claim provides no indication of the significance of the 120-day time period it mentions. Finally, although the claim alleges that Green Haven CF and DOCCS are "barred in the above matters and has waived all rights on the [State's] behalf," it does not include any theory of liability to indicate how or why defendant has allegedly waived its rights with respect to this claim (id.). Further contributing to the lack of clarity is that the claim purports to address a motion to vacate a judgment of conviction, but the transcripts attached to the claim address two separate criminal proceedings, and the claim does not indicate which judgment of conviction it is attempting to challenge.(5) Thus, inasmuch as the claim manifestly fails to plead the nature of the claim, it must be dismissed (see e.g. Dinerman v State of New York, UID No. 2019-038-525 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Apr. 15, 2019] [claim that did not "include any factual allegations that would demonstrate the nature of the claim . . . patently fail(ed) to comply with the requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b)"]; Jones v State of New York, UID No. 2018-038-548 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., May 24, 2018 [claim that failed to adequately plead theory of negligence dismissed as "manifestly noncompliant with Court of Claims Act 11 (b)"]; Pinckney v State of New York & New York State Justice Center, UID No. 2017-038-516 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J, Feb. 10, 2017 [dismissing claim for failure to comply with Court of Claims Act 11 (b) where the claim was "devoid of particularization of any actions that were taken, by whom they were taken, and when and where any tortious acts occurred"]).

Moreover, and notwithstanding that the claim demands $10 million in damages (see Court of Claims Act 11 [b] ["the total sum claimed"]), it fails to include any allegations of the injuries claimant sustained as a result of the unspecified actions or inactions of defendant's agents (Claim No. 133321, 2), and thus the claim is jurisdictionally defective and must be dismissed (see Maldonado v State of New York, UID No. 2019-038-520 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Apr. 11, 2019 [dismissal of claim for failure to comply with Court of Claims Act 11 (b) mandated where "the claim contain(ed) no allegations of the injuries sustained by claimant with regard to any of its causes of action"]; Johnson v State of New York, UID No. 2019-038-501 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 2, 2019 [claim that was "bereft of any allegation of injuries allegedly sustained as the result of the allegedly inadequate food portions" was jurisdictionally defective for failure to comply with Court of Claims Act 11 (b)]).

Turning to defendant's alternate ground for dismissal, defendant argues that this claim fails to state a cause of action because it "merely references a federal habeas corpus matter," which "does not raise a cognizable claim in the New York State Court of Claims" (Rubinstein Affirmation, 13). As noted above, claimant has not offered substantive opposition to this argument.

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action,

"claimant's claim is liberally construed and all facts asserted therein, as well as its submissions in opposition to defendant's motion, are accepted as true (see CPLR 3026; 511 W. 232nd Owners Corp. v Jennifer Realty Co., 98 NY2d 144, 152 [2002]; see also Nonnon v City of New York, 9 NY3d 825, 827 [2007]; State of New York v Shaw Contract Flooring Servs., Inc., 49 AD3d 1078, 1079 [2008]). Where, as here, the motion is premised upon claimant's failure to state a claim (see CPLR 3211 [a] [7]) . . . the dispositive inquiry is whether it has a cause of action and not whether one has been stated, i.e., 'whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory' (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]; accord Nonnon v City of New York, 9 NY3d at 827)"

(IMS Engrs.-Architects, P.C. v State of New York, 51 AD3d 1355, 1356 [3d Dept 2008], lv denied 11 NY3d 706 [2008]). "The allegations of the pleading cannot be vague and conclusory, but must contain sufficiently particularized allegations for which a cognizable cause of action reasonably could be found" (V. Groppa Pools, Inc. v Massello, 106 AD3d 722, 723 [2d Dept 2013]).

"It is well settled that '[t]he test of the sufficiency of a [claim] is whether it gives sufficient notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences intended to be proved and whether the requisite elements of any cause of action known to our law can be discerned from its averments' "

(Moore v Johnson, 147 AD2d 621, 621 [2d Dept 1989], quoting Pace v Perk, 81 AD2d 444, 449 [2d Dept 1981]).

As an initial matter, the federal habeas corpus proceeding and motion to vacate the unspecified judgment of conviction referenced in the claim are not properly before this Court, which cannot grant any relief claimant may be seeking with respect to those proceedings (see Dorsey v People of the State of New York, UID No. 2012-038-518 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., March 30, 2012] [subject matter jurisdiction of the Court of Claims limited to money damages against the State and does not encompass a motion to vacate a judgment of conviction]). More to the point, the claim "fails to allege facts that would constitute a legally cognizable cause of action" (Blum v Citibank, NA, 162 AD3d 631, 632 [2d Dept 2018]). As noted above, the claim appears to seek money damages as compensation for some sort of malfeasance by defendant's agents at Green Haven CF with respect to claimant's federal habeas corpus proceeding and motion to vacate a judgment of conviction. However, the claim does not clearly state the malfeasance or misfeasance that Green Haven CF officials allegedly committed with regard to his legal filings, and it does not provide a factual basis for the allegations that Green Haven CF and DOCCS are "barred" with respect to claimant's two court filings and "waived all rights on the [State's] behalf" as a result of their alleged misconduct (Claim No. 133322, 2). In short, the allegations in the claim are "impermissibly vague and conclusory" (Lester v Braue, 25 AD3d 769, 769 [2d Dept 2006]), and the claim "fails to allege any wrongdoing by [the State]" (Phillips v Trommel Const., 101 AD3d 1097, 1098 [2d Dept 2012]), and as a result, defendant's motion to dismiss the claim for failure to state a cause of action will be granted.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED, that defendant's motion number M-94450 is GRANTED, and claim number 133322 is DISMISSED.

January 30, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers considered:

1. Claim number 133322, filed July 8, 2019, with unnumbered attachments;

2. Notice of Intention to File a Claim, dated February 28, 2019 (attached to Claim number 133322);

3. Plea Transcript, dated June 27, 2000 (attached to Claim number 133322);

4. Sentence Transcript, dated July 11, 2000 (attached to Claim number 133322);

5. Hearing/Sentence Transcript, dated February 7, 2011 (attached to Claim number 133322);

6. Notice of Motion, dated August 16, 2019;

7. Affirmation of Heather R. Rubinstein, AAG, in Support of Motion, dated August 16, 2019, with Exhibits 1-2;

8. Correspondence of D.D., dated December 3, 2019;

9. Correspondence of Kimberley Broad, Principal Law Clerk, dated December 17, 2019.


1. Inasmuch as claimant alleges in his opposition to the motion to dismiss that he was a victim of a sexual assault as defined in Article 130 of the Penal Law, the caption has been amended in accordance with Civil Rights Law 50-b (1).

2. 28 USC 2254 (a) provides: "The Supreme Court, a Justice thereof, a circuit judge, or a district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States."

3. The court found claimant's testimony at the predicate felony hearing "incredulous" and declined to credit it and held that "there [were] no constitutional infirmities to the plea" (Claim No. 133321, unnumbered attachments [Hearing/Sentence Transcript, dated Feb. 7, 2011, p. 14, line 21 - p. 15, line 1]).

4. Claimant currently has five claims pending before this Court, including the instant claim, each of which is the subject of a motion to dismiss (see D.D. v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-510 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 30, 2020]; D.D. v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-511 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 30, 2020]; D.D. v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-512 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 30, 2020]; D.D. v State of New York, UID No. 2020-038-513 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 30, 2020]). His December 3, 2019 correspondence opposes all five motions to dismiss on the same ground. Although claimant's opposition is untimely, having been served one day prior to the return date of the instant motion to dismiss, the Court recognizes the interest in all parties being heard and will consider claimant's submission.

5. Defendant correctly argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over claims alleging violations of the United States Constitution (see Carver v State of New York, 79 AD3d 1393, 1395 [3d Dept 2010], lv denied 17 NY3d 707 [2011]) and that claims alleging violations of the State Constitution "are barred when a claimant has an alternative legal remedy to protect his or her constitutional rights" (DeMaille v State of New York, 166 AD3d 1405, 1408 [3d Dept 2018] [internal quotation marks omitted]).