Gutterman v. State, 2021-21364

CourtNew York Court of Claims
Writing for the CourtMAUREEN T. LICCIONE, J.
Decision Date01 December 2021
PartiesCarole L. Gutterman, Claimant, v. The State of New York, Defendant.
Docket NumberClaim 136118,2021-21364

Carole L. Gutterman, Claimant,
v.

The State of New York, Defendant.

No. 2021-21364

Claim No. 136118

Court of Claims

December 1, 2021


For Claimant: The Law Office of Joseph Monaco, PC By: Joseph D. Monaco III, Esq.

For Defendant: HON. LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL By: Susan M. Connolly, Assistant Attorney General.

MAUREEN T. LICCIONE, J.

The instant claim was filed on March 16, 2021 seeking damages for injuries sustained on March 18, 2019 when claimant fell at the security screening area inside the Suffolk County Supreme Court Building located at 1 Court Street, Riverhead, New York 11901. Claimant, who has disabling conditions and requires the assistance of a quad cane to walk, entered the building and was directed by a court officer, a State employee, to place her cane on a conveyor belt for x-ray inspection. Claimant then walked through the magnetometer and was instructed to collect her items, including her quad cane, from the conveyor belt. When claimant reached for her items, she fell and sustained injuries. The claim alleges eight causes of action including (1) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); (2) violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA); (3) conspiracy to deprive claimant of civil rights in violation of 42 USC § 1985; (4) violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution; (5) violation of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL); (6) violation of the Suffolk County Human Rights Law; (7) violation of New York State Civil Rights Law § 40-c; and (8) common law negligence (see Verified Claim).

Defendant now moves to dismiss the claim on the grounds that (1) the Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim; (2) the claimant lacks standing; and (3) the claim fails to state a cause of action.

Jurisdiction

Defendant argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim to the extent that claimant seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, criminal relief, and punitive damages.

Insofar as the proposed claim seeks a declaration declaring that the State violated certain statutes and regulations, and declaring the rights of the claimant as to the premises, this Court lacks jurisdiction as the Court of Claims "is not the appropriate forum in which to seek declaratory relief" (Shelton v New York State Liq. Auth., 61 A.D.3d 1145, 1151 [3d Dept 2009]; CPLR § 3001; Court of Claims Act § 9). Nor is the Court of Claims the appropriate forum within which to bring a claim for injunctive relief or for punitive damages. The Court of Claims does not have jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief (Matter of Milner v New York State Higher Educ. Servs. Corp., 4 Misc.3d 221 [Ct Cl 2004], affd 24 A.D.3d 977 [3d Dept 2005]), and the waiver of immunity set forth in Court of Claims Act § 8 does not permit punitive damages to be assessed against the State or its political subdivisions (Sharapata v Town of Islip, 56 N.Y.2d 332 [1982]). [1] As to claimant's request to find the State guilty of a misdemeanor, the Court of Claims does not have the authority to prosecute violations of the Penal Law (see Leonichev v NYC Civil Housing Court (Kings County), et al., UID No. 2016-049-044 [Ct Cl, Weinstein, J., Dec. 2, 2016]). [2] The Court therefore lacks the jurisdiction to bring criminal charges against a person or entity.

The Court also lacks jurisdiction over the claim alleging a violation of the Suffolk County Human Rights Law. Suffolk County Code § 528-13, which establishes the procedure for bringing a complaint under the Suffolk County Human Rights Law, states that the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission (the Commission) has jurisdiction to hear claims brought under the Suffolk County Human Rights Law. The Commission investigates the claim and, if probable cause exists, refers the claim to an administrative law judge to hold a hearing and issue a decision (see Suffolk County Code § 528-13). In the event that an action or proceeding is necessary for the enforcement of any order issued by the Commission, such action or proceeding must be brought in New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County (Suffolk County Code § 258-16 [A]). It is clear from these enforcement provisions that jurisdiction for claims brought pursuant to the Suffolk County Human Rights Law lies with the Commission and New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County, not the Court of Claims. This cause of action is therefore dismissed.

To the extent that claimant alleges violations of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over such claims, as they must be brought pursuant to 42 USC § 1983 and may not be maintained in the Court of Claims, given that the State is not a "person" for purposes of the statute (see Brown v State of New York, 89 N.Y.2d 172, 185 [1996]; Zagarella v State of New York, 149 A.D.2d 503, 504 [2d Dept 1989]; Ohnmacht v State of New York, 14 Misc.3d 1231 [A], at *2 [Ct Cl 2007]).

Defendant also argues that claimant's 42 USC § 1983 cause of action must be dismissed. However, claimant does not assert a cause of action under 42 USC § 1983. Rather, claimants assert a cause of action for conspiracy to deprive claimant of civil rights in violation of 42 USC § 1985. However, claimant "is willing to discontinue" her claim under 42 USC § 1985 (Affirmation in Opposition, ¶ 2 [G]). Because claimant has not stated unequivocally that she wishes to discontinue this cause of action and because defendant has failed to address the relevant statute, the Court will not dismiss claimant's 42 USC § 1985 claim at this juncture.

Lastly, defendant argues that causes of action arising under the ADA and seeking monetary damages cannot be heard in the Court of Claims. Defendant cites Lugo v St. Nicholas Assoc., 18 A.D.3d 341 [1st Dept 2005], in support of this argument. However, Lugo analyzed a claim brought pursuant to Title III of the ADA which prohibits disability-based discrimination in public accommodations by private entities. Title II, which applies to claimant's cause of action, prohibits disability-based discrimination in the "services, programs, or activities of a public entity" (42 USC § 12132). Importantly, Title III's remedy provision (42 USC § 12188 [a]), is different from Title II's remedy provision (42 USC § 12133). The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the remedy provisions in Title II of the ADA authorize suits for money damages against states (United States v Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 158-159 [2006]). Therefore, the Court has jurisdiction over claimant's ADA claims,...

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