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New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
D.D. v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2020-038-513, Claim No. 133324, Motion No. M-94471

Synopsis

Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim granted. The 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: 2020-038-513
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): 133324
Motion number(s): M-94471
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 seeking compensation for an unspecified irregularity related to his mail. Defendant now moves to dismiss the claim for lack of subject matter 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 merely that "IGRC [the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee] recommends that grievant's mail is processed in accordance with legal mail Directive 4421" (Claim No. 133324, 2).(2) The claim alleges that it accrued on May 16, 2019 at Green Haven Correctional Facility (CF) (see id. at 3-4).

In support of its motion, defendant argues that the claim must be dismissed for failure to comply with the strict pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) because "[t]he [c]laim fails to include: 1) the location of the incident; 2) the date of the incident (claimant includes a date of accrual of 5/16/19 but fails to allege what happened on that date[;] 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 in Support of Motion, 9). 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).(3) 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 (Court of Claims Act 11 [b]) inasmuch as it simply states that the IGRC recommended that claimant's mail be "processed in accordance with legal mail Directive 4421," which is merely a statement of fact, from which it is impossible to determine the nature of the instant claim. The claim does not indicate what actions were taken with respect to claimant's mail, it does not identify who took those actions, and it does not plead any theory of liability. In the absence of any detailed allegations that would allow the State to investigate this claim, it must be dismissed for failure to plead the nature of the claim (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"]), the claim fails to include any allegations of the injuries claimant sustained as a result of the unspecified irregularity with his mail (see Claim No. 133323, 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, 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]).

In support of its motion, defendant argues that "the claim fails to state a cause of action against the State" because it "merely recites the finding of the inmate grievance committee," which "does not raise a cognizable claim in the New York State Court of Claims" (Rubinstein Affirmation, 12). As noted above, claimant has not offered substantive opposition to this argument.

Here, as noted above, the sole allegation contained in the claim is that the IGRC recommended that claimant's mail be "processed in accordance with legal mail Directive 4421" (Claim No. 133324, 2). DOCCS Directive 4421 "contains and describes the policies and procedures governing privileged correspondence," which "is entitled to a greater degree of confidentiality during processing within the facility than that which is accorded general correspondence" (7 NYCRR 721.1). The claim is "devoid of specific factual allegations and [does] not indicate the material elements of a claim and how they would apply to the case" (Megna v Becton Dickinson & Co., 215 AD2d 542, 542 [2d Dept 1995], appeal dismissed & lv denied 86 NY2d 868 [1995], rearg denied 87 NY2d 969 [1996]), and it must be dismissed. In any event, even if the claim could be read to assert a violation of DOCCS Directive 4421, it fails to state a cause of action inasmuch as the proper avenue for redress for an alleged violation of that rule is through the inmate grievance process, followed by a CPLR article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court, and not through a claim for money damages in the Court of Claims (see generally Matter of Johnson v Annucci, 153 AD3d 1059 [3d Dept 2017], lv denied 30 NY3d 904 [2017]; Matter of Jones v Fischer, 110 AD3d 1295 [3d Dept 2013], appeal dismissed 23 NY3d 955 [2014]; see also Johnson v State of New York, UID No. 2015-038-537 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., June 12, 2015]; Campolito v State of New York, UID No. 2000-015-507 [Ct Cl, Collins, J., Apr. 27, 2000]).

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED, that defendant's Motion No. M-94471 is GRANTED, and Claim No. 133324 is DISMISSED.

January 30, 2020

Saratoga Springs, New York

W. BROOKS DeBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers considered:

1. Claim No. 133324, filed July 8, 2019, with unnumbered attachments;

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

3. Affirmation of Heather R. Rubinstein in Support of Motion, dated August 16, 2019, with Exhibit 1;

4. Correspondence of D.D., dated December 3, 2019.


1. Inasmuch as claimant alleges in his opposition to the motion to dismiss that he was a victim of 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. Attached to the claim are the transcripts from defendant's June 27, 2000 guilty plea to one count of assault in the first degree, the July 11, 2000 sentencing hearing for that conviction, and a February 7, 2011 predicate felony hearing and sentencing hearing related to a second criminal proceeding (see Claim No. 133323, unnumbered attachments), as well as several other documents related to the calculation of claimant's release date. However, these documents are not relevant to this claim, which is related only to claimant's receipt of legal mail during his incarceration.

3. 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. 2020-038-509 [Ct Cl, DeBow, J., Jan. 30, 2020]; 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]). 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.