OPINION ISSUED DECEMBER 4, 2000
WENDELL K. ASH
DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS
(CC-00-199 & CC-00-238)
Claimant appeared pro se.
Joy M. Bolling, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.
Claimant, an inmate at Mount Olive Correctional Complex,
brought this claim to recover the value of colored paper taken from
his cell, funds deducted from his prison trustee account for items
he did not receive, overcharges on postage paid on outgoing mail,
and a rug that was lost in the prison laundry.Claimant
originally filed this claim as CC-00-199. However, claimant later
filed the claim CC-00-238, which revised, incorporated and added to
CC-00-199. Afterwards, claimant dismissed CC-00-199. Mount Olive
Correctional Complex is a facility or respondent in Fayette County.
Each claim will be addressed separately by the Court. The Court is
of the opinion to make an award in part II of this claim and deny
the rest of the claims for the reasons more fully set forth below.
On the 8th day of August, 2000, Mount Olive Correctional
Complex was under a state of emergency. All items, except for
clothing were removed from each inmates cell. Eventually, the
property was returned to the inmates. When claimant received his
property, he discovered that his colored paper was missing.
Respondent informed claimant that the paper had been confiscated
because it was considered contraband in the administrative
segregation unit, pursuant to Revised Operational Procedure Number
3.10, which was established on the 23rd day of August, 1996.
According to Unit Manager for the Segregation Unit Lieutenant
Robert Daniel, any item not specifically mentioned in the policy is
considered contraband. Respondent gave claimant the option of
either returning the paper or having it destroyed. Claimant
testified that the paper was necessary for his legal work, pursuant
to Rules of the United States Supreme Court Rule 33. Claimant
filed a grievance in order to be allowed to have the colored paper.
Before claimant's grievance was heard, the colored paper was
destroyed. The value of the paper was estimated to be the amount
Claimant testified that he placed an order at the prison
exchange, but did not receive any of the items that he ordered, nor
were any items returned by him. According to claimant, receipts
before and after the week of the 2nd day of November, 1999,
establish that his account was charged $13.13 for items he did not
receive. According to Exchange Supervisor Angela Carpenter, an order was placed, but she did not know what happened to it. Ms.
Carpenter testified that items are placed in bags and then placed
in carts. Afterwards, the carts are placed in the multi-purpose
room where inmates sign for packages. Respondent did not have any
receipts accounting for the $13.13 difference in the aforementioned
receipts. Claimant's requests for his account to be credited the
$13.13 difference have thus far been denied by personnel at the
In early December of 1999, claimant signed a blank money
voucher in order to have a package mailed. The voucher cleared his
prison trustee account on the 17th day of December, 1999. When
claimant received a printout of his mail transactions, he
discovered that the voucher had been made for the amount of $4.18.
Claimant testified that he had been notified that the package cost
only $1.60 to mail. According to Account Technician Rita Dunlap,
money vouchers are not to be completed unless completely filled
out. Ms. Dunlap testified that the Post Office checks vouchers and
that her responsibility is to clear the amount of the vouchers for
the Post Office. Moreover, Post Office Supervisor Patricia Hanshaw
testified that only legal letters are logged. Personal letters by
inmates are not logged. Thus, if an inmate has more that one
personal letter, then these are totaled together and placed on one
voucher. Ms. Hanshaw further testified that vouchers are not
always filled out. In addition, Ms. Hanshaw testified that if an
inmate was overcharged, then the Post Office reimburses that
In June of 2000, claimant sent two bags of laundry to the
prison laundry. One bag contained a three feet wide by five feet
long rug. Claimant had purchased the rug from the prison exchange
for the amount of $17.00. Upon receiving his returned laundry
items, claimant inspected his laundry and discovered that the rug
was missing. Claimant filed a grievance, but the rug was not
The position of respondent is that it was not responsible for
personal items lost in the laundry. Pursuant to Mount Olive
Correctional Complex Operational Procedure Number 3.49, the
facility is not responsible for personal property items lost in the
prison laundry. According to Supervisor I Benton Petry, the
facility's policy was in place at the time of the incident and made
known to inmates. Mr. Petry stated that when a mix-up occurs in
the laundry, efforts are made to determine ownership and to return
the laundry items. Further, Correctional Magistrate Joseph B. Coy
testified that efforts have been made to reduce the loss of laundry
items due to extortion.
With regard to laundry items in part I of this claim,
respondent allows inmates to have personal property items. If an inmate chooses to have such personal property items, then that
inmate has a duty to secure and document such items. On prior
occasions, this Court has held that inmates assume the risk for
personal property items that are sent to the prison laundry.
Skaggs vs. Division of Corrections, 21 Ct. Cl. 181 (1997).
In the present claim, claimant chose to have a rug in his
cell. He assumed the risk of loss when the rug was sent to the
prison laundry. Consequently, there is insufficient evidence of
negligence on the part of respondent upon which to base an award
for the missing rug.
With regard to part II of this claim, the amount of $13.13
appears to the Court to be an amount due and owing to the claimant.
The respondent maintains these accounts at the prison exchange for
and on behalf of each inmate and it is responsible for these
accounts. Respondent could not establish that claimant's account
was maintained accurately; therefore, the Court is of the opinion
that claimant may recover the $13.13 which is missing from this
As to the other claims as described herein above, the Court is
of the opinion that claimant may have sustained a loss as a result
of the actions of respondent. However, the Court is further of the
opinion that the maxim de minimis non curat lex is applicable to
this claim. This venerable principle of the common law stands for
the proposition that the law does not care for, or take notice of,
very small or trifling matters. Black's Law Dictionary, 297 (6th
ed. 1990). Under this principle, mere nominal damages proved as a
matter of set-off or recoupment are disregarded in the
ascertainment of the amount due a claimant. Harper vs. Coal & Land
Co., 80 W.Va. 246; 92 S.E. 565 (1917). The Court has determined
that the controversy in these claims involves damages which are
inconsequential in regards to the sustained loss. Consequently,
the rest of the claims should be disallowed.
In accordance with the findings of fact and conclusions of law
stated herein above, the Court is of the opinion to make an award
in the amount of $13.13 and to deny the remainder of the claim.
Award of $13.13.