New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
HEDRICH v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2021-041-042, Claim No. 136288, Motion No. M-96852

Synopsis

Defendant's motion to dismiss negligence claim in lieu of answer, pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7) and the Court of Claims Act, on the ground that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim because the claim fails to state a cause of action, is granted.

Case information

UID: 2021-041-042
Claimant(s): JOHN HEDRICH
Claimant short name: HEDRICH
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 136288
Motion number(s): M-96852
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: FRANK P. MILANO
Claimant's attorney: JOHN HEDRICH
Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
New York State Attorney General
By: Michael T. Krenrich, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: July 22, 2021
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Defendant moves, in lieu of answering, to dismiss the claim pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7) and Court of Claims Act sections 10 and 11 because the claim fails to state a cause of action against the State of New York. Claimant opposes the defendant's motion.

The claim seeks money damages for the alleged "negligent handling of documents by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles" [DMV] in failing to process, and losing or misplacing, "the title and bill of sale to a 2003 Mercedes CLK55 AMG" which claimant had purchased and intended to "restore and sell." Claimant alleges that he is "now unable to sell this vehicle."

In particular, claimant alleges that:

"On or around October 5th, 2020 Claimant sent the required documents for a new title, registration, and license plates to the NYS DMV at 6 Empire State Plaza in Albany NY. This paperwork was sent in the same package as a set of license plate Claimant was surrendering. In November 2020 after receiving the receipt for the surrendered plates but receiving no new title Claimant reached out to the DMV. Claimant was informed to be patient as the process could take up to 90 days. On January 27th, 2021 Claimant contacted the DMV again and was informed by a representative of the Title bureau that there was no record of the paperwork being received. Somewhere between the plates being surrendered and Title Bureau the Claimants paperwork was lost."

In reviewing a motion brought pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7) alleging failure to state a cause of action, the court should determine "whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]).

Court of Claims Act 11 (b) provides, at relevant part, as follows:

"The claim shall 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."

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 (Kolnacki v State of New York 8 NY3d 277, 280 [2007]). The Kolnacki court noted that the requirements of section 11 (b) are "substantive conditions upon the State's waiver of sovereign immunity" (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 (Kolnacki, 8 NY3d at 280-281). The Kolnacki decision stresses that "nothing less than strict compliance with the jurisdictional requirements of the Court of Claims Act is necessary" (Kolnacki, 8 NY3d at 281).

The strict pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) were reiterated in Rivera v State of New York (52 AD3d 1075, 1076 [3d Dept 2008]):

"Statutory conditions placed on claims against defendant must be strictly construed, mandating a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction if the claim does not meet the substantive pleading requirements found in Court of Claims Act 11 (b)."

The claim fails to state a cause of action against the State of New York and fails to satisfy the pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b) because the claim fails to allege facts showing that defendant owed a legal duty of care to claimant sufficient to support the claim's negligence-based cause of action.

"To establish a prima facie case of negligence, the [claimant] is required to demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty to him or her, that the defendant breached that duty and that such breach was a proximate cause of the injuries sustained" (Evarts v Pyro Engineering, Inc., 117 AD3d 1148, 1150 [3d Dept 2014]). In Di Ponzio v Riordan (89 NY2d 578, 583 [1997]), the court reminded that "[t]he existence and scope of an alleged tortfeasor's duty is, in the first instance, a legal question for determination by the court."

Valdez v City of New York (18 NY3d 69, 75 [2011]), explains that where a "case involves . . . a classic governmental, rather than proprietary, function . . . [it is a] fundamental obligation of a [claimant] pursuing a negligence cause of action to prove that the putative defendant owed a duty of care."

Defendant's statutory mandate to process and record motor vehicle title information is a governmental function (see Ford Motor Credit Co. v State of New York, 133 AD2d 980 [3d Dept 1987]).

In McLean v The City of New York (12 NY3d 194, 203 [2009]), the Court of Appeals recited the law as to the state's duty of care with respect to the negligent performance of a governmental function:

"Government action, if discretionary, may not be a basis for liability, while ministerial actions may be, but only if they violate a special duty owed to the plaintiff, apart from any duty to the public in general."

The defendant's statutorily mandated duty with respect to its governmental function of processing and recording motor vehicle title information is owed to the public generally and not to any applicant or licensee individually (Valdez, 18 NY3d at 75: "Under the public duty rule, although a municipality owes a general duty to the public at large . . . this does not create a duty of care running to a specific individual sufficient to support a negligence claim").

The claim does not allege that defendant negligently exercised discretion in handling claimant's documents and McLean (12 NY3d at 203) mandates that discretionary actions of the defendant "may not be a basis for liability."

Additionally, claimant fails to state a ministerial negligence cause of action. McLean (12 NY3d at 203), and subsequent case law, demand that, in a ministerial negligence cause of action, the claimant plead facts tending to show that the claimant was owed a special duty by defendant (see Applewhite v Accuhealth, Inc., 21 N.Y.3d 420 [2013]; Metz v State of New York, 20 NY3d 175 [2012]; Valdez v City of New York, 18 NY3d 69 [2011]).

A "[special] duty is born of a special relationship between the [claimant] and the governmental entity. When such a relationship is shown--and it is [claimant's] burden to establish it--the government is under a duty to exercise reasonable care toward the [claimant]" (Pelaez v Seide, 2 NY3d 186, 198-199 [2004]). The Pelaez opinion explains that a "special relationship can be formed in three ways: (1) when the [defendant] violates a statutory duty enacted for the benefit of a particular class of persons; (2) when it voluntarily assumes a duty that generates justifiable reliance by the person who benefits from the duty; or (3) when the [defendant] assumes positive direction and control in the face of a known, blatant and dangerous safety violation" (Pelaez, 2 NY3d at 199-200 [2004]).

In opposing the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim, claimant argues that defendant, by requiring him to file the original bill of sale and original title received from the prior owner, voluntarily assumed a ministerial duty to claimant that generated justifiable reliance by claimant.

The Court disagrees. The defendant's duty to process certificates of title for motor vehicles, whether in person or otherwise, is set by statute and is a duty owed to the public at large and is not a special relationship duty assumed by the defendant with respect to each and every one of defendant's customers.

Claimant has not alleged in the claim, or shown in his opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim, facts to show the existence of "a special relationship" between defendant and the claimant as required by Pelaez.

The Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the claim fails to comply with Court of Claims Act 11 (b) in that it fails to adequately particularize the nature of the claim by alleging facts sufficient to state a negligence cause of action.

Consequently, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. As DeHart v State of New York (92 Misc 2d 631, 634 [Ct Cl 1977]), explains:

"Although the precise wording of section 11 does not appear to require that a claim state a valid cause of action, the cases are clear that without such a statement a claim is legally deficient and subject to fatal attack, Patterson v State of New York, 54 AD2d 147; Davis v State of New York, 28 AD2d 609; Weinstein v New York State Thruway Auth., 27 Misc 2d 503."

Artale v State of New York (140 AD2d 919, 919 [3d Dept 1988]), further demonstrates the requirement that a claim "must state a cause of action" in order to satisfy Court of Claims Act 11 (b), as does Jackson v State of New York (85 AD2d 818, 819 [3d Dept 1981], lv dismissed, lv denied 56 NY2d 568 [1982]):

"We also reject claimant's contention that his notice of intention to file a claim should be treated as a claim. A fair reading of the statement clearly establishes that it fails to state a cause of action. It does not allege how the State was negligent in causing claimant's injuries. Such allegations are essential"

To summarize, the claim fails to state a cause of action and thus fails to allege facts sufficient to satisfy the jurisdictional pleading requirements of Court of Claims Act 11 (b).

The defendant's motion to dismiss the claim is granted.

The claim is dismissed.

July 22, 2021

Albany, New York

FRANK P. MILANO

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers Considered:

1. Defendant's Notice of Motion to Dismiss, filed June 3, 2021;

2. Affirmation of Michael T. Krenrich, dated June 3, 2021, and attached exhibit;

3. Claimant's Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, sworn to by John Hedrich on July 5, 2021.