West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission

Volume Number: 29
Category(s): BERMS
Opinion Issued October 26, 2011
     J. Mark Sutton, Attorney at Law, for Claimant.
     Gretchen A. Murphy, Assistant Attorney General, for Respondent.
      Claimant Mary Balmer-Gage brought this claim to recover the value of certain personal property items that she alleges were lost by the Respondent. Claimant was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and transported to Eastern Regional Jail, a facility of the Respondent, where the Claimant alleges her engagement and wedding rings were taken from her and were not returned to her when she was released. Claimant placed a value of $2,245.00 on her personal property.
      The Claimant testified at the hearing of this matter that she was arrested on September 29, 2008, and taken to Eastern Region Jail where all of her personal items were removed and inventoried, except for her engagement and wedding rings, which had been soldered together to form one ring, and were too tight to remove during her initial admission. A few hours after Claimant was admitted she and two officers were able to remove her ring with the aid of butter. Claimant testified that in her haste to leave the jail when she was released the following day she took the personal property given to her by the officer, signed the property transaction report, and left without making sure she had everything. Claimant testified that on the car ride home with her husband after leaving the jail she noticed that her wedding rings were missing. Both the Claimant and her husband, Charles Gage, testified that she called Eastern Regional Jail the same day to report the rings missing, but that they were never located and returned to her.
      Claimant submitted into evidence an invoice which lists the “regular price” and “purchase price” for each of the rings. Claimant seeks to recover the “regular price” of the rings in the amount of $2,245.00 ($450 for the wedding band and $1,795.00 for the engagement ring), although she testified that she and her husband paid the “purchase price” of $1,571.00 for both rings.
      It is the Claimant’s position that a bailment was created once she surrendered her rings to the officers, and as such, Respondent was responsible for the safekeeping of her property until it was returned to her.
      Respondent contends that it not liable for Claimant’s property and that it followed proper procedure in inventorying her personal property.
      April Grona, Sergeant at Eastern Regional Jail, testified that she was present for both the admission and discharge of the Claimant. Sgt. Grona testified that when Claimant was brought to the jail she appeared to be very inebriated, stumbling, and falling asleep. Sgt. Grona testified that she removed from the Claimant a watch and two rings, which she placed on the counter to be inventoried and then sealed in an envelope to be placed in Claimant’s property bag. However, because the Claimant’s wedding rings were too tight they were not removed during her admission and Sgt. Grona testified that she informed Sgt. Holliday, who was working the next shift, that Claimant’s wedding rings needed to be removed. The next day, Sgt. Grona was informed that the rings had been removed, however the property transaction report continued to reflect that the rings were “retained” by the Claimant. When the Claimant was discharged, Sgt. Grona gave her her property bag which contained an envelope full of jewelry. Sgt. Grona testified that she saw the Claimant take the jewelry out of the envelope, ball up the envelope, and throw it away. When asked by Sgt. Grona if she received all of her property back the Claimant stated that she had.
      Michelle Holliday, Sergeant at Eastern Regional Jail, testified that after the Claimant was admitted and showered, she and another officer were able to remove the Claimant’s wedding rings with butter. Once the ring was removed, Sgt. Holliday testified that they were placed in an empty envelope, and handed to Officer Alexander who sealed the envelope with tape. Sgt Holliday did not see what happened to the envelope containing the rings after it was given to Officer Alexander.
      Claudia Alexander, Officer at Eastern Regional Jail, testified that she was present with the Claimant and Sgt. Holliday when Claimant’s rings were removed with butter. Officer Alexander testified that once removed the rings were sealed in an envelope and then placed in the Claimant’s property bag. According to Officer Alexander there were two jewelry envelopes in the property bag.
      This Court has held that a bailment exists when Respondent records the personal property of an inmate and takes it for storage purposes, and then has no satisfactory explanation for not returning it. Page v. Division of Corrections, 23 Ct. Cl. 238 (2000); Heard v. Division of Corrections, 21 Ct. Cl. 151 (1997).
      In the present claim, the evidence adduced at the hearing established that Claimant arrived at Respondent’s facility with her wedding rings on; she could not remove the rings during the initial property inventory; and, that they were subsequently removed by the officers and retained by Respondent for storage. The Court finds that although the officers did not record Claimant’s wedding rings on her Property Transaction Report, bailment was nonetheless created when Respondent took control and possession of Claimant’s rings. The evidence adduced at hearing established that two envelopes should have been present in Claimant’s property bag when she was released, however only one envelope (the one that did not contain the wedding rings) was accounted for. The Court finds that Respondent was responsible for safeguarding Claimant’s property while she was confined and failed to take appropriate actions to do so. Therefore, the Court is of the opinion to make an award to the Claimant for the purchase price of her wedding rings in the amount of $1,571.00.
      Accordingly, the Court is of the opinion to and does make an award to the Claimant in the amount of $1,571.00.
      Award of $1,571.00.

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