New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
ROUNDTREE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2021-053-536, Claim No. 134004, Motion No. M-96650

Synopsis

Pro se inmate's motion for a default judgment is denied. Claimant failed to meet his burden to demonstrate when the claim was served. Claimant's additional grounds for default are also denied.

Case information

UID: 2021-053-536
Claimant(s): JUEL ROUNDTREE
Claimant short name: ROUNDTREE
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 134004
Motion number(s): M-96650
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: J. DAVID SAMPSON
Claimant's attorney: JUEL ROUNDTREE, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: HON. LETITIA JAMES
New York State Attorney General
BY: Thomas G. Ramsay, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: July 23, 2021
City: Buffalo
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, Juel Roundtree, an inmate proceeding pro se, seeks to recover against the State for personal property that was allegedly lost and damaged when he was transported between multiple correctional facilities. According to Mr. Roundtree, he had property lost and/or damaged at Orleans Correctional Facility on February 22, 2019, and at Marcy Correctional Facility on April 19, 2019 and May 20, 2019.

Claimant alleges that he served the claim on the date it was verified, October 31, 2019.(1) According to Defendant, the claim was served on November 22, 2019. Defendant affirms that it served its verified answer on December 29, 2019. Now before the Court is Mr. Roundtree's motion for a default judgment. For reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion.

CPLR 3215 provides that a party may seek a default judgment against a Defendant who has failed to appear in an action. Mr. Roundtree argues that he is entitled to a default judgment because Defendant's answer was not filed within 30 days of service of the claim, and he did not receive Defendant's answer. Claimant also argues that Defendant's answer is defective because it contains boilerplate language and it does not include the claim number.

As the proponent of the motion for a default judgment, it is Claimant's burden to submit proof of service to demonstrate when the claim was served (see CPLR 3215 [f]; Atlantic Cas. Ins. Co. v RJNJ Servs., Inc., 89 AD3d 649, 651 [2d Dept 2011]). The Court finds that Mr. Roundtree has failed to meet this burden. As discussed in detail below, Claimant has not submitted proof as to when he served his claim.

A claim is considered served for purposes of the Court of Claims Act when it is received by the Attorney General's Office (Court of Claims Act 11 [a] [i]). The copy of the claim included with the motion papers does not include an affidavit of service indicating when and how the claim was served, nor is there a copy of a green return receipt card for service by certified mail, return receipt requested, indicating when the claim was received by the Attorney General's Office.(2) The copy of the first page of the claim attached to Defendant's opposition papers is stamped as being received by the Attorney General's Office on November 22, 2019 (Affirmation in Opposition of Thomas G. Ramsay, affirmed April 26, 2021 ["Ramsay affirmation"], exhibit A [claim]). On the first page of the claim served upon Defendant, someone has written a tracking number for delivery by certified mail (Id.). The Court finds that Mr. Roundtree has failed to demonstrate that the claim was received by the Attorney General's Office on October 31, 2019, the same day that it was notarized inside a correctional facility. The Court finds that Claimant has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating when the claim was served and, as such, he is not entitled to a default judgment. Next, the Court will briefly address Mr. Roundtree's further arguments offered in support of his motion, which must fail because he has not met his initial burden of demonstrating when he served the claim.

Claimant argues inconsistently that he is entitled to a default judgment because he did not receive Defendant's answer and that he received the answer, but he was not able to correlate it to this claim because it did not contain the claim number (Roundtree affidavit, para A; Roundtree reply affidavit, para 2). The governing rules provide that the deadline for service of an answer in the Court of Claims is 40 days from receipt of a claim (22 NYCRR 206.7 [a]). According to Defendant, its verified answer was served on December 29, 2019, within 40 days of its receipt of the claim on November 22, 2019 (Ramsay affirmation, para 6).(3) Mr. Roundtree has offered inconsistent statements about whether he received the answer. The Court finds that Claimant has failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a default judgment as it pertains to Defendant's service of the answer. Claimant also argues that he is entitled to a default judgment because the answer was not timely filed. Answers are to be filed with the Clerk of the Court within 10 days of service (22 NYCRR 206.7 [a]). According to Defendant, the answer was filed on the same date it was served, December 29, 2019 (Ramsay affirmation, para 6). The Court finds that Mr. Roundtree has failed to demonstrate that the answer was not timely filed, and further that he has offered no authority that any such failure would warrant entry of a default judgment.

To the extent Claimant argues that he is entitled to a default judgment because there is boilerplate language in the answer that renders it defective, the Court will deny his motion. Mr. Roundtree fails to identify the alleged boilerplate language. In addition, the motion papers as filed do not include a copy of Defendant's verified answer.(4) Considering the arguments made in support of this motion and the representation that a copy of the answer was attached to the motion papers served upon Defendant, it appears that Claimant is in possession of the answer. The failure to include the answer with the motion papers as filed prevents this Court from making any findings with regard to the propriety of the substance of the answer. Moreover, the remedy for alleged vague or ambiguous language in an answer would be a motion to correct the pleadings pursuant to CPLR 3024 (a), not a motion for a default judgment.

Finally, Mr. Roundtree argues that he is entitled to a default judgment because the answer does not include the claim number. The rules require that parties utilize the claim number on papers tendered for filing, after a claimant has been notified of the claim number assigned by the Clerk of the Court (22 NYCRR 206.5 [b]). Defendant argues that the parties were not notified of the claim number assigned until after the answer was served and filed (Ramsay affirmation, para 7, and exhibit B [correspondence from Chief Clerk dated Jan. 2, 2020]). There is no indication that the answer Defendant submitted for filing was rejected by the Clerk's Office because it did not contain a claim number. The Court finds that the alleged failure to include the claim number on the answer did not violate any applicable rules and may not serve as a basis for a default judgment. To the extent Claimant seeks a default judgment based upon his argument that the answer is defective because it allegedly contains boilerplate language and does not include the claim number it is denied.

Based upon the above, it is hereby

ORDERED, that Claimant's motion for a default judgment is denied.

July 23, 2021

Buffalo, New York

J. DAVID SAMPSON

Judge of the Court of Claims

The following were read and considered by the Court:

1. Notice of Motion for Default Pursuant to CPLR 3215, dated April 2, 2021, filed April 7, 2021;

2. Affidavit of Support for Motion for Default Pursuant to CPLR 3215 of Juel Roundtree, sworn to April 2, 2021, with attachments;

3. Affirmation in Opposition of Thomas G. Ramsay, affirmed April 26, 2021, filed April 26, 2021, with attached exhibits;

4. Affirmation in Response to Defendant's Opposition of Juel Roundtree, sworn to April 30, 2021, filed May 6, 2021, with attachments.


1. In his initial motion papers, Claimant alleges that he served the claim on or around January 31, 2019, before his claim accrued (Affidavit of Support for Motion for Default Pursuant to CPLR 3215 of Juel Roundtree, sworn to April 2, 2021 ["Roundtree affidavit"], para A). In his reply papers, Claimant indicates that the January 31, 2019 date was a typographical error and that the claim was served on October 31, 2019 (Affirmation in Response to Defendant's Opposition of Juel Roundtree, sworn to April 30, 2021 ["Roundtree reply affidavit], para 1).

2. The acceptable means for service of a claim are personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested (Court of Claims Act 11 [a] [i]).

3. Service of an answer is complete upon mailing (see CPLR 2103 [c]; Engel v Lichterman, 62 NY2d 943, 944-945 [1984]).

4. According to Defendant, the copy of Claimant's motion papers that it received includes a copy of its verified answer (Ramsay affirmation, para 3).