JUST RELEASED

April Page II

Summaries of Recently Released Decisions to Be Included In the Next Issue of the Digest (uncorrected)

 

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COURT OF APPEALS

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Evidence of a Defendant's Silence In Response to Questions Posed by the Police Cannot Be Introduced in the People's Case-In-Chief

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, over a two-judge dissent, determined that state evidentiary rules were violated by testimony, during the People's case-in-chief, describing the defendant's silence following some of the questions asked by the police during interrogation. The court noted that although there are (very) limited circumstances when a defendant's silence, or failure to give a timely exculpatory explanation, can be used to impeach a defendant who takes the stand, no such flexibility applies to the case-in-chief.  There can be many reasons for a defendant's silence in response to a question, so the probative value of silence is limited.  On the other hand, there is a real danger a jury will interpret a defendant's silence as evidence of guilt. The error was not harmless as a matter of law--defendant's conviction was reversed and a new trial ordered:

 

If silence could constitute an answer, then the People could meet their burden simply by asking a question. Moreover, evidence of a defendant's selective silence "is of extremely limited probative worth" ... . A defendant who agrees to speak to the police but refuses to answer certain questions may have the same legitimate or innocent reasons for refusing to answer as a defendant who refuses to speak to the police at all ... . Furthermore, the potential risk of prejudice from evidence of a defendant's selective silence is even greater than the risk to a defendant who chooses to remain totally silent. Jurors are more likely to construe a defendant's refusal to answer certain questions as an admission of guilt if the defendant has otherwise willingly answered other police inquiries. The ambiguous nature and limited probative worth of a defendant's selective silence is outweighed by the substantial risk of prejudice to the defendant from admission of such evidence ... . Evidence of a defendant's selective silence therefore generally may not be used by the People during their case-in-chief and may be used only as "a device for impeachment" of a defendant's trial testimony in limited and unusual circumstances ... .

 

The People's use of defendant's selective silence in this case was improper for another reason. In her opening statement, the prosecutor told the jury that defendant did not admit or deny the accusations when he spoke to the detective. Furthermore, during direct examination of the detective, the prosecutor elicited testimony establishing not only that defendant did not answer when asked whether he had sex with the victim, but also that he did not deny it either. In addition to using defendant's selective silence as a purported impeachment device during their direct case, the People also invited the jury to infer an admission of guilt from defendant's failure to deny the accusations. The risk that the jury made such an impermissible inference is substantial where, as here, defendant selectively answered some police questions but not others, and the court refused to provide any curative instruction. The prosecutor's comments regarding defendant's selective silence during opening statements were improper, and the court erred in allowing testimony concerning defendant's selective silence at trial, inasmuch as the comments and testimony allowed the jury to "draw an unwarranted inference of guilt" ... . People v Williams, 2015 NY Slip Op 02866, CtApp 4-7-15

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/ATTORNEYS

 

Reversal Due to Ineffective Assistance Affirmed Over Forceful Dissent

 

The Court of Appeals, in a brief memorandum decision, affirmed the Appellate Division's reversal of defendant's conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel, noting counsel's failure to invoke the court's prior preclusion order and the presentation of an alibi defense for the wrong day.  Judge Pigott wrote a long and detailed dissent.  People v Jarvis, 2015 NY Slip Op 02869, CtApp 4-7-15

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

As Long as a Police Officer's Mistake is "Objectively Reasonable," a Stop Based Upon the Mistake Will Not Be Invalidated/There Is No Analytical Distinction Between a Mistake of Law and a Mistake of Fact in this Context

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, over a dissent, determined that a police officer's objectively reasonable mistake about the law will not invalidate a stop based upon that mistake.  Here the defendant was stopped by the police after she rolled through a stop sign at the exit of a supermarket parking lot.  The defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.  It turned out that the stop sign, although regulation size and color, was not registered with the town and was therefore not "legally authorized." The local court dismissed the charges, finding the initial vehicle stop, based upon a mistake of law, improper. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the mistake of law was "objectively reasonable."  The court noted that a police officer cannot be expected to know the location of every "unregistered" stop sign in his/her jurisdiction. The court made it clear, in deciding whether the actions taken by the police were objectively reasonable, there should be no distinction between mistakes of fact and mistakes of law:

 

...[W]e look to the reasonableness of the officer's belief that defendant violated the Vehicle and Traffic Law, without drawing any distinction between mistakes of fact and mistakes of law. * * * ... [W]e are not saying that it would have been objectively reasonable for the arresting officer to have claimed ignorance of the requirement in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1100 (b) that a stop sign in a parking lot be registered to be valid. We are saying that the stop was nonetheless constitutionally justified because the officer was not chargeable with knowing each and every stop sign that was registered under the Newark Village Code.  People v Guthrie, 2015 NY Slip Op 02867, CtApp 4-7-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Defendant Cannot Be Convicted of Both Intentional and Depraved Indifference Murder Where there Is a Single Victim/"Transferred Intent" Theory Explained and Applied/Insufficient Evidence Defendant Intimidated a Witness---the Witness' Grand Jury Testimony Should Not Have Been Admitted

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, over a partial dissent, resolved a split among the departments and determined a defendant cannot be convicted of both intentional murder and depraved indifference murder where there is a single victim. It was alleged that the defendant fired his weapon at one person, but killed an uninvolved bystander who was several buildings away. The trial judge submitted both the intentional and depraved indifference murder theories to the jury in the conjunctive (not in the alternative). Defendant was convicted of both offenses. The Court of Appeals' analysis turned on "transferred intent."  Conviction under New York's "transferred intent" theory requires the jury to conclude the defendant acted intentionally.  Intentional murder, even where "transferred intent" is involved, is incompatible with depraved indifference murder, which is, by definition, not intentional. Where there is a single victim, only one or the other mental state can apply, not both. The Court of Appeals further determined the trial court erred when it allowed in evidence the grand jury testimony of a witness who refused to testify, purportedly out of fear. There was not sufficient evidence connecting the defendant to any actions or words aimed at instilling fear in the witness.  A new trial was ordered for the intentional, depraved indifference and attempted murder counts:

 

The purpose of the transferred intent theory is "to ensure that a person will be prosecuted for the crime [that person] intended to commit even when, because of bad aim or some other 'lucky mistake,' the intended target was not the actual victim" ... . Given this stated goal, the Court has cautioned that transferred intent "should not be employed to 'multiply criminal liability, but to prevent a defendant who has committed all the elements of a crime (albeit not upon the same victim) from escaping responsibility for that crime" ... . Hence, it should be applied where a defendant "could not be convicted of the crime because the mental and physical elements do not concur as to either the intended or actual victim" ... .

 

... Whether based on the defendant's conscious objective towards the intended victim, or on a transferred intent theory directed at a different, and actual, victim, defendant's conviction depends on a jury finding that defendant harbored the requisite intentional mental state. Defendant cannot then also be guilty of the same murder premised on a depraved state of mind.

 

That the People had at their disposal two bases by which to establish the requisite state of mind — transferred intent and depraved indifference — does not permit the People to seek multiple convictions for the one murder for which the defendant was charged, prosecuted and tried. To hold otherwise is contrary to "the basic principle that a defendant should not be convicted and punished more than once for conduct which, although constituting only one prohibited act, may because of statutory definition, be theorized as constituting separate criminal acts" ... . Under New York law, defendant is held accountable for the murder he committed, even if it was not the one he set out to complete (Penal Law 125.25 [1]). People v Dubarry, 2015 NY Slip Op 02865, CtApp 4-7-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

A Defendant Who Has Been Found Mentally Unfit to Proceed To Trial Cannot Be Subjected to a Parole Revocation Proceeding

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, determined that a defendant who has been deemed unfit to proceed to trial following a psychiatric examination cannot be subjected to a parole violation hearing.  The defendant, who was on lifetime parole for murder and had been committed to the custody of the Office of Mental Health (OMH), assaulted a fellow patient.  After a psychiatric examination, the defendant was deemed unfit to proceed to trial on charges stemming from the assault. Thereafter the Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) brought parole revocation proceedings against the defendant. The defendant was transferred to the custody of DOCCS and, after a hearing, his parole was revoked and he was incarcerated.  The Appellate Division (reversing Supreme Court) granted the defendant's petition to annul the parole revocation, and returned the defendant to parole. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that subjecting the defendant to the parole revocation hearing, after defendant had been deemed mentally incompetent, violated defendant's right to due process.  The Court of Appeals noted that its ruling may result in the release of persons found unfit for trial, something only the legislature can remedy:

 

It is, of course, well established — as a matter of common law and also of due process — that "a person whose mental condition is such that he lacks the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his defense may not be subjected to a trial" ... . The State contends that parole revocation proceedings do not raise the same concerns because parole revocation is not part of a criminal prosecution.

 

It is true that parole revocation deprives an individual only of "a restricted form of liberty" and thus implicates "some form of due process [but] not the full panoply of rights due a defendant in a criminal proceeding" ... . Just as due process requires us to safeguard the liberty of parolees, we must also recognize the state's strong interest in effectively managing parolees without unduly burdensome procedural restraints ... . However, in balancing these competing interests, we conclude that several of the reasons underlying the bar against prosecuting a mentally incompetent defendant apply also to parole revocation hearings. Clearly salient are constitutional concerns about the fundamental fairness of a proceeding in which a defendant who is unable to make decisions about his defense may be returned to prison. But foremost is the concern already mentioned, about the accuracy of the proceedings. An incompetent parolee is not in a position to exercise rights, such as the right to testify and the opportunity to confront adverse witnesses (see 9 NYCRR 8005.18 [b] [2], [4]), that are directly related to ensuring the accuracy of fact-finding. It is true, as the State emphasizes, that the parolee is guaranteed a right to representation by counsel at the revocation hearing. But representation is not enough. A parolee must be able to provide the factual underpinnings of the presentation.

 

We conclude, therefore, that holding a parole revocation hearing after a court has deemed the parolee to be mentally incompetent violates the due process provision in our State Constitution... . Matter of Lopez v Evans, 2015 NY Slip Op 02868, CtApp 4-7-15

 

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/ATTORNEYS

 

Venue Was Not Proper---However, Because the Party Seeking the Change of Venue Did Not Comply With the Statutory Procedure, Whether to Grant a Change of Venue Was Discretionary---In the Exercise of Discretion, Change of Venue Was Properly Denied

 

Respondent law firm filed a default judgment prematurely (re: attorney's fees) and immediately took steps freeze petitioner's assets. Petitioner started the instant proceeding in Ulster County pursuant to CPLR 5240 seeking a protective order and vacation of all the enforcement devices used by the law firm.  The law firm made a cross-motion for a change of venue. Supreme Court denied the cross-motion, found that the law firm had engaged in frivolous conduct, directed the law firm to pay petitioner costs and counsel fees, and ordered the managing attorney of the law firm to complete eight hours of continuing legal education (CLE) in civil practice.  The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court, with the exception of the CLE sanction, which Supreme Court did not have the authority to order. The bulk of the decision is devoted to a discussion of the law surrounding a change of venue.  Supreme Court denied the change of venue cross-motion "as of right," finding that Ulster County was the proper venue for the CPLR 5240 proceeding brought by the petitioner.  The Third Department disagreed, ruling that Ulster County was not the proper venue because the law firm, the respondent in the proceeding, did not have an office in Ulster County as required by the relevant provisions of the CPLR. But, after an extensive analysis, the Third Department concluded the cross-motion to change venue was properly denied as an exercise of discretion. Because the respondent did not follow the statutory procedure (CPLR 511) for seeking a change of venue (no demand for such relief was served before the cross-motion was made), the cross-motion was addressed to Supreme Court's discretion. CPLR 510 allows a change of venue where "(1) the designated county is not a proper county, (2) "there is reason to believe that an impartial trial cannot be had in the proper county" or (3) "the convenience of material witnesses and the ends of justice will be promoted by the change"... .  Although the first criterium was met, the other two were not. Denial of the cross-motion was a proper exercise of discretion:

 

By failing to comply with the statutory procedure for changing venue, respondent was not entitled to a change of venue as of right. Where a respondent believes that a petitioner has chosen an improper venue, the respondent shall serve, with or before service of the answer, a written demand on the petitioner that venue be changed to a county that the respondent specifies as proper (see CPLR 511 [a], [b]). The petitioner has five days after service of the demand to serve a written consent to change venue (see CPLR 511 [b]). If no such consent is served by the petitioner, the respondent must move to change venue within 15 days of service of the demand (see CPLR 511 [b]). If a respondent fails to comply with these procedures and time limits, the respondent is not entitled to have the motion granted as of right, even if the venue was improper; the motion instead becomes one addressed to the court's discretion... ). Here, respondent served a cross motion seeking to change venue without having first served a demand for such relief. Accordingly, the motion was addressed to Supreme Court's discretion... . * * *

 

Petitioners commenced this proceeding in Ulster County pursuant to CPLR 5240, which provides that "[t]he court may at any time, on . . . the motion of any interested person, . . . make an order denying, limiting, conditioning, regulating, extending or modifying the use of any enforcement procedure." If a judgment that is sought to be enforced was entered in Supreme Court anywhere in New York, "a special proceeding authorized by [CPLR article 52] shall be commenced, either in the supreme court or a county court, in a county in which the respondent resides or is regularly employed or has a place for the regular transaction of business in person," if such a county exists in the state (CPLR 5221 [a] [4]). CPLR 5240 is found within CPLR article 52, and the Court of Appeals has stated that a request for court action under CPLR 5240 is properly commenced as a "special proceeding" ... . Respondent, by its very designation in the caption, is the "respondent" as mentioned in CPLR 5221 (a). Respondent is a law firm with its main office in Oswego County, which is considered its residence (see CPLR 503 [c]), and no office or place of business in Ulster County. Under a plain reading of CPLR 5221 (a), the instant special proceeding was required to be commenced in Oswego County (or another county in New York where respondent has an office where it regularly transacts business), rather than Ulster County.* * *

 

Thus, as Oswego County, rather than Ulster County, is the proper venue under either subdivision of CPLR 5221, the first ground under CPLR 510 could support respondent's discretionary motion to change venue.

 

The second ground for discretionary change of venue does not support a change, as the record contains no information that an impartial trial would be difficult to obtain in Oswego County. As for the third ground, petitioners asserted that they are residents of Ulster County and the banks that were served the restraining notices and information subpoenas are all in or around Ulster County, so numerous material witnesses appear to be located in that county. Additionally, it appears that the ends of justice would not be promoted by changing venue. In sum, the first ground would support changing venue, while the second and third grounds do not. Although Supreme Court erred in denying respondent's cross motion as of right, in the exercise of our discretion we reach the same conclusion. Matter of Aaron v The Steele Law Firm, P.C., 2015 NY Slip Op 03018, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Failure to Empanel the First Six Jurors Chosen by the Parties Justified Setting Aside the Verdict

 

The Third Department upheld Supreme Court's setting aside the verdict in a medical malpractice case after the jury had found "no cause for action."  A rule in the Third Judicial District allowed the clerk to randomly select the jurors and alternates.  The plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict because the first six jurors chosen by the parties were not empanelled by the clerk, as required by CPLR 4105.  Under the CPLR jurors 1 through 6 should have constituted the jury and jurors 7 and 8 should have been designated the alternate jurors. The clerk selected jurors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8.  The Third Department perceived no abuse of discretion in setting aside the verdict:

 

After having determined that its application of the Third Judicial District rule contravened plaintiff's substantial right to empanel the first six jurors that had been selected by the parties, pursuant to the "mandatory procedure" set forth in CPLR 4105, Supreme Court exercised its discretion and granted plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict and order a new trial in the interest of justice. In the absence of evidence that the court abused such discretion, we will not disturb Supreme Court's determination in that regard ... . Piacente v Bernstein, 2015 NY Slip Op 03009, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Law of the Case Doctrine Should Not Have Been Invoked---Criteria Explained

 

In a breach of contract action, Supreme Court ruled on a summary judgment motion, finding it premature.  When a second summary judgment motion was made before a different judge, the new judge granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on liability for breach of contract and noted that the first order required the ruling because it was the "law of the case." Although the Third Department ultimately upheld the breach of contract finding, the appellate court explained that the "law of the case" doctrine did not apply because the first order merely found there were issues of fact concerning the amount owed plaintiff and did not determine there was a breach of contract. The court explained that the doctrine of "law of the case" only applies to a ruling upon a "question of law that is essential to the determination of the matter"... :

 

...[W]e reject plaintiff's contention that Supreme Court was required to rule that defendants were liable for breaching the Agreement by the doctrine of the law of the case, which bars courts from reconsidering "pre-judgment rulings made by courts of coordinate jurisdiction" in the same case ... . The doctrine applies only when the prior ruling directly passed upon a question of law that is essential to the determination of the matter .... . Here, the only determination made in the 2012 order was that material issues of fact existed as to the amount owed. Although additional remarks were made in that order, these were merely dicta, and did not constitute a legal determination as to whether defendants breached the Agreement by deducting expenses — an issue that was not directly addressed by the 2012 order ... . Karol v Polsinello, 2015 NY Slip Op 03024, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Failure to Provide Statutory Notice of a Motion to Enter a Default Judgment to a Defendant Who Has Appeared in the Case Is a Jurisdictional Defect Rendering the Default Judgment a Nullity

 

The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Cohen, determined the failure to give a defendant, who has appeared in an action, notice of a motion to enter a default judgment is a defect which deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction (rendering the default judgment a nullity pursuant to CPLR 5015 (a) (4)).  The issue is one of first impression in the Second Department and the Second Department declined to follow a contrary ruling in the Third Department. When the defendant previously appeared in the case, the defendant failed to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for failure to answer the complaint. Therefore, although the plaintiff's failure to provide the notice required by CPLR 3215 (g) (1) mandated vacatur of the default judgment, it did not, under the facts, relieve the appellant of the underlying default. Upon notice of a future motion to enter a default judgment, the defendant here may contest only the sufficiency of the factual allegations in the motion and the amount of damages:

 

The question of whether vacatur of the default judgment pursuant to CPLR 5015(a)(4) is appropriate where the moving party fails to notify the defendant of its motion for leave to enter a default judgment as provided by CPLR 3215(g)(1) is one of first impression in this Court. Under CPLR 5015(a)(4), a rendering court may relieve a moving party of such an order if it lacked the jurisdiction to render it in the first place. Here, it is uncontested that the Supreme Court had personal jurisdiction over the appellant, as well as jurisdiction over the subject matter in this case. However, for the reasons set forth below, we hold that the failure of the plaintiffs to give notice to the appellant of their motion for leave to enter a default judgment pursuant to CPLR 3215(g)(1) deprived the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to entertain the motion, and the court should have vacated the default judgment pursuant to CPLR 5015(a)(4). * * *

 

...[W]e hold that the failure to provide a defendant who has appeared in an action with the notice required by CPLR 3215(g)(1), like the failure to provide proper notice of other kinds of motions, is a jurisdictional defect that deprives the court of the authority to entertain a motion for leave to enter a default judgment. While this defect requires vacatur of the judgment, it does not, standing alone, entitle the appellant to be relieved of the underlying default upon which judgment is sought, and to defend the action on the merits ... . Since the appellant has failed to establish a basis to be relieved from his underlying default in failing to answer, that underlying default remains intact. Accordingly, the appellant is entitled only to statutory notice of any future motion for leave to enter a default judgment. Upon such a future motion, the appellant may not seek to relitigate the issue of whether he is entitled to be relieved of his underlying default in failing to answer. Rather, as relevant to this case, the appellant may oppose entry of a default judgment to the limited extent of contesting the sufficiency of the proof of facts submitted by the plaintiffs in support of the motion, and contesting damages.  Paulus v Christopher Vacirca, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 02944, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Acclaimed Photographer's Surreptitious Taking of Photographs of Plaintiffs Through Apartment Windows Did Not Violate Plaintiffs' Right to Privacy as Codified in Civil Rights Law 50 and 51--Art Is Exempt from the Reach of Those Statutes

 

 

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Renwick, determined that defendant's surreptitious taking of photographs of plaintiffs through the windows of plaintiffs' apartment did not violate the plaintiffs' right to privacy codified in Civil Rights Law sections 50 and 51.  The critically acclaimed photographer assembled the photographs, which were for sale, in an exhibition called "Neighbors" and put them up on his website. The court explained that the "newsworthy and public interest" exemption from the prohibitions of Civil Rights Law 50 and 51 has been extended to works of art by some courts, although the New York Court of Appeals has yet to consider the issue.  The court wrote:  "[We are constrained to conclude] works of art fall outside the prohibitions of the privacy statute under the newsworthy and public concerns exemption. ... [U]nder this exemption, the press is given broad leeway. This is because the informational value of the ideas conveyed by the art work is seen as a matter of public interest. We recognize that the public, as a whole, has an equally strong interest in the dissemination of images, aesthetic values and symbols contained in the art work. In our view, artistic expression in the form of art work must therefore be given the same leeway extended to the press under the newsworthy and public concern exemption to the statutory tort of invasion of privacy:"

 

Applying the newsworthy and public concern exemption to the complaint herein, we conclude that the allegations do not sufficiently plead a cause of action under the statutory tort of invasion of privacy. As detailed above, plaintiffs essentially allege that defendant used their images in local and national media to promote "The Neighbors," an exhibition that included photographs of individuals taken under the same circumstances as those featuring plaintiffs. Plaintiffs further allege that the photographs were for sale at the exhibit and on a commercial website.

 

Accepting, as we must, plaintiffs' allegations as true ..., they do not sufficiently allege that defendant used the photographs in question for the purpose of advertising or for purpose of trade within the meaning of the privacy statute. Defendant's use of the photos falls within the ambit of constitutionally protected conduct in the form of a work of art. Foster v Svenson, 2015 NY Slip Op 03068, 1st Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Subcontractor Could Not Recover From Property Owners Absent Proof the Owners Consented to Pay the Subcontractor---Owners Hired the General Contractor Who In Turn Hired the Subcontractor

 

The Second Department determined the property owners were not liable in quasi contract to a subcontractor. The property owners demonstrated the subcontractor was not working for them, but rather worked for the general contractor hired by the owners. The mere fact that the owners consented to the work done by the subcontractor, and were benefitted by it, is not enough to demonstrate unjust enrichment. The subcontractor must show the owners consented to pay the subcontractor for the work:

 

"[A] property owner who contracts with a general contractor does not become liable to a subcontractor on a quasi contract theory unless it expressly consents to pay for the subcontractor's performance" ... . "The mere fact that the [owners] consented to the improvements and received some benefit from the [subcontractor's] activities is insufficient to recover on such a theory; the [subcontractor] must also show that it was working for the [owners] when it performed its work resulting in unjust enrichment" ... . Sears Ready Mix, Ltd. v Lighthouse Mar., Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 02955, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

 

DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS (INMATES)

 

 

Determination Annulled and Expunged---Hearing Officer Did Not Take Any Steps to Confirm the Reliability of the Confidential Information Upon Which the Determination Was Based

 

The Third Department annulled and expunged the determination that petitioner was properly placed in involuntary protective custody (IPC), finding that the hearing officer did not conduct the necessary independent investigation into the reliability of the confidential information which provided the basis for the IPC.  The hearing officer did not take any steps to learn the details of the investigation or to confirm that the source of relevant information was reliable:

 

...[W]e agree with petitioner that the Hearing Officer did not conduct the necessary independent assessment of the reliability of the confidential information that provided the basis for the IPC recommendation. Although the Hearing Officer took testimony from the captain who obtained the confidential information and issued the IPC recommendation, the Hearing Officer did not conduct an in camera interview of the captain to ascertain further details of his investigation, nor did he review any notes or letters that the captain may have received that threatened petitioner's life ... . Notably, the captain acknowledged that the confidential source who initially disclosed the threat would not identify the inmate who made it. Indeed, the only confirmation of this source's reliability was the captain's conclusory statement that he believed this individual was reliable based upon past dealings. Under the circumstances presented, we find that this was insufficient and that substantial evidence does not support the determination placing petitioner in IPC ... . Matter of Melendez v Commissioner of The Dept. of Corrections & Community Supervision, 2015 NY Slip Op 03011, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Grandfather Did Not Have Standing to Seek Visitation With Grandchildren---Analytical Criteria Explained

 

The Second Department determined Family Court properly concluded that the grandfather did not have standing to seek visitation with the grandchildren.  The analytical criteria include the nature and extent of the grandparent-grandchild relationship and the nature and the basis for the parents' objection to visitation.  Here the grandfather failed to demonstrate mother frustrated his attempts to visit the grandchildren. Mother objected only to the grandfather being accompanied by the grandmother during visits:

 

In considering whether a grandparent has standing to petition for visitation based upon "circumstances show[ing] that conditions exist which equity would see fit to intervene" (Domestic Relations Law § 72[1]), "the essential components to the inquiry are the nature and extent of the grandparent-grandchild relationship' and the nature and basis of the parents' objection to visitation'" ... . "In cases where such a relationship has been frustrated by a parent, the grandparent must show, inter alia, that he or she has made a sufficient effort to establish [a relationship with the child], so that the court perceives [the matter] as one deserving the court's intervention'" ... . " The evidence necessary will vary in each case but what is required of grandparents must always be measured against what they could reasonably have done under the circumstances'" ... .

 

Here, the Family Court properly determined that the grandfather lacked standing to seek visitation with the grandchildren ... . The grandfather failed to demonstrate that the mother frustrated his visitation with the grandchildren ... . Indeed, it is undisputed that the mother had asked the grandfather to visit with the grandchildren, and that he only refused because the mother did not want the grandmother to accompany him. Matter of Troiano v Marotta, 2015 NY Slip Op 02979, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW (FOIL)/EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW

 

Community College Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation, Failed to Utterly Refute the Allegation that It Was a Public Entity Subject to FOIL Requests

 

After petitioners' Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for documents was denied by the Nassau County Community College Foundation (Foundation), petitioners brought an Article 78 proceeding to compel production. The Foundation is a not-for-profit-corporation formed to support the community college. The Foundation argued that it was not a public agency and therefore was not subject to FOIL requests.  Supreme Court dismissed the petition.  The Second Department reversed, finding that the documents submitted by the Foundation did not utterly refute the allegation that the Foundation had the attributes of a public entity. The Second Department noted that public agencies subject to FOIL include "any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature" ... .

 

FOIL "was enacted to promote open government and public accountability' and imposes a broad duty on government to make its records available to the public'" ... . All "public agencies" are subject to FOIL ... . An "agency" is "any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature" ... .Matter of Nassau Community Coll. Fedn. of Teachers, Local 3150 v Nassau Community Coll., 2015 NY Slip Op 02972, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Disabled-Veteran Food Vendors Subject to the General Business Law---"Food" Is Encompassed by the Statutory Terms "Goods" and "Merchandise"

 

The First Department determined that the terms "goods" and "merchandise" in General Business Law 35-a encompass "food."  Therefore the General Business Law regulates New York City's disabled-veteran food vendors .   Most of the violations at issue in the case related to the number of vendors permitted within a block and the related refusal to move when requested. What constituted a "block face" within the meaning of the related regulations was addressed in depth.  Matter of Rossi v New York City Dept. of Parks & Recreation, 2015 NY Slip Op 03047, 1st Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

INSURANCE LAW/LEGAL MALPRACTICE/ATTORNEYS

 

Where a Client's Claims Against an Attorney Arise from the Attorney's Providing Legal Services Which Are Related In Part to the Attorney's Business Enterprise, the "Business Enterprise" Coverage Exclusions In the Legal Malpractice Insurance Policy Are Triggered

 

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Gische, determined the "business enterprise" exclusions in a legal malpractice insurance policy applied. Excluded from coverage were claims arising from the operation of a business enterprise in which the insured attorney was a principal.  The client, who sued for breach of contract and legal malpractice, had loaned money to the attorney's real estate business and the attorney had drawn up the relevant documents and personally guaranteed payment. The fact that the client's claims arose in part from the attorney's involvement in his business enterprise triggered the policy exclusions.  The First Department, in this declaratory judgment action, held that the legal malpractice insurer had no duty to defend:

 

[The attorney] was simultaneously serving two masters, ... his client, and a company of which he was a principal. This is precisely the situation that the policy's Insured Status and Business Enterprise Exclusions exclude from coverage. Since [the client's] claims partly arise from the legal services the attorneys provided her with, but also from [the attorney's] status or activity for his company..., they are of a hybrid nature, and are not covered, meaning that [the insurer] has no duty to defend ... .Lee & Amtzis, LLP v American Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 02919, 1st Dept 4-7-15

 

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Hearsay, Although Admissible, Will Not Alone Raise a Triable Issue of Fact/A "Contractor" (Within the Meaning of Labor Law 240 (1)) Need Only Have the Authority to Control the Work---It Need Not Actually Exercise that Authority

 

The Second Department determined summary judgment was properly granted to the plaintiff for his Labor Law 240 (1) cause of action. A one-ton concrete plank fell from a jack onto plaintiff's hand.  The court noted that the hearsay submitted by the defendant, claiming that plaintiff was injured when he continued to work after being ordered to stop, was not sufficient to defeat plaintiff's summary judgment motion.  Hearsay is admissible in this context but hearsay alone will not suffice to raise a triable issue of fact. The court also found that the defendant was a contractor within the meaning of Labor Law 240 (1).  To meet the definition, the contractor must have the authority to enforce safety measures and hire responsible subcontractors, but need not have exercised that authority:

 

"Although hearsay evidence may be considered in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, such evidence alone is not sufficient to defeat the motion" ... . 

 

... "A party which has the authority to enforce safety standards and choose responsible subcontractors is considered a contractor under Labor Law § 240(1)" ... . [Defendant's] status as a contractor under Labor Law § 240(1) is dependent upon whether it had the authority to exercise control over the work, not whether it actually exercised that right ... . Guanopatin v Flushing Acquisition Holdings, LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 02933, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE

 

Bank May Still Be Lawful Holder of a Note and Mortgage, and Therefore Have Standing to Bring a Foreclosure Action,  After the Loan Has Been Sold

 

The Third Department reversed Supreme Court's grant of summary judgment to defendant in a foreclosure action.  Supreme Court held that the plaintiff, Wells Fargo Bank, did not have standing to bring the foreclosure action because the loan had been sold to Fannie Mae at the time the action was started.  The Third Department explained that if Wells Fargo was the lawful holder of the note and mortgage when the action was brought, even though the beneficial interests in the note had been sold, it would have standing. "Holder status is established where the plaintiff possesses a note that, on its face or by allonge, contains an indorsement in blank or bears a special indorsement payable to the order of the plaintiff ... ." Here a question of fact whether plaintiff physically possessed the note at the time the action was commenced precluded summary judgment:

 

Holder status is established where the plaintiff possesses a note that, on its face or by allonge, contains an indorsement in blank or bears a special indorsement payable to the order of the plaintiff (see UCC 1-201...). Notably, "[t]he holder of an instrument whether or not he [or she] is the owner may transfer or negotiate it[, and] discharge it or enforce payment in his [or her] own name" (UCC 3-301 ... ).. Here, the note was originated by plaintiff and a copy submitted on the motion, alleged to be in plaintiff's possession at the time it commenced this action, is endorsed in blank. Thus, notwithstanding the sale of the beneficial interests of the note to Freddie Mac, plaintiff has the right to enforce the note as its lawful holder so long as it can prove that it physically possessed the note at the time the action was commenced. Wells Fargo Bank, NA v Ostiguy, 2015 NY Slip Op 03015, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/NEGLIGENCE/CRIMINAL LAW

 

City's Possession of Property Seized Upon Arrest, But Which Was No Longer Needed by the People in Connection with the Case, Was Held by the City as a Bailee---the Bailment Did Not Originate in a Contractual Relationship---Therefore the One-Year-Ninety-Days General Municpal Law Statute of Limitations, Not the Six-Year Contract Statute of Limitations, Applied---Action Was Time-Barred

 

The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Leventhal, determined that the City was a bailee with respect to its possession of defendant's computers seized upon defendant's arrest.  When the district attorney determined the computers were no longer needed in connection with defendant's case, defendant was told he could pick them up.  When the defendant attempted to do so, he was told the computers had been destroyed.  The defendant then sued the city under a bailment theory.  The suit was timely if the six-year statute of limitations for contract actions applied, but untimely if the one-year-90-days statute of limitations in the General Municipal Law applied.  The court determined that the bailment did not result from a contractual relationship (seizure upon arrest).  Therefore the General Municipal Law statute of limitations for actions against the city alleging negligent damage to property applied and the action was time-barred:

 

Here, the evidence submitted by the City in support of its motion established, prima facie, that the claim between the parties did not originate by virtue of a contractual relationship. The City took control of the plaintiff's property only in connection with his arrest. Hence, ... it cannot be said that the liability alleged by the plaintiff in the complaint "had its genesis in [a] contractual relationship of the parties" ... . "A contract cannot be implied in fact where the facts are inconsistent with its existence" ... . While the City's act of taking possession of the plaintiff's personal property created a bailment, it has been recognized that a bailment does not necessarily and always arise from a contractual relationship ... . Thus, as General Municipal Law § 50-i(1) applies to all causes of action against the City seeking to recover damages for injury to property because of negligence or a wrongful act, and the complaint asserts that the City destroyed the plaintiff's property, the 1-year-and-90-day statute of limitations, not the 6-year limitations period, applies to this action. Wikiert v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 02960, 2nd Dept 4-8-14

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/ATTORNEYS/APPEALS

 

Prosecutor Acted as an Unsworn Witness and Improperly Suggested Defendant Committed Offenses With Which He Was Not Charged---Conviction Reversed in the Interest of Justice

 

The Second Department determined defendant's weapon-possession conviction must be reversed because of the misconduct of the prosecutor.  Although the errors were not preserved by objection, the court invoked its "interest of justice" power to reach the issue.  The prosecutor functioned as an unsworn witness by indicating, during cross-examination of the defendant, that her office had called a restaurant to find out the closing time and using that information to impeach the defendant's testimony. The prosecutor, in her summation, accused the defendant of lying based on the unsworn "restaurant closing-time" information she had put on the record.  In addition, the prosecutor suggested that defendant intended to use the weapon to harm someone and had committed multiple gun-possession offenses, unsupported claims not relevant to the charged offense:

 

The prosecutor improperly functioned as an unsworn witness when she cross-examined the defendant regarding the closing time of a restaurant in Brooklyn ... .  The police officers who conducted the traffic stop testified on their direct examinations that the traffic stop occurred at 9:35 p.m. On his direct examination, in contrast, the defendant testified that the traffic stop occurred between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., while he and the other occupants of the vehicle were on their way to a restaurant in Brooklyn. During the prosecutor's cross-examination of the defendant, she improperly suggested facts not in evidence when she implied that the District Attorney's office had called the restaurant to ascertain its hours of operation, and asked the defendant whether he testified that the traffic stop occurred between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. because he knew that the restaurant was not open at 9:35 p.m. ... . During summation, the prosecutor again improperly implied, without having submitted any evidence about the closing time of the restaurant, that the defendant had lied about what he was doing at the time of the traffic stop ... .

 

Further, the prosecutor made improper remarks during summation which suggested that the defendant possessed the weapon with an intent to use it to harm someone, even though this was not an element of the crime for which the defendant was on trial ... . Similarly, the prosecutor's questioning of the defendant about one of his tattoos was improper and led to the inflammatory and unsupported inference that the defendant had previously used the weapon to harm someone ... . It was also improper for the prosecutor to argue during summation that the defendant had learned certain information during the pretrial hearing even though there was no evidence to support this assertion ... .

 

In addition, the prosecutor's statement during summation that the defendant did not make any sudden movements during the traffic stop because he had already "played out this exact scenario in his mind . . . every time he left his house with that gun" was improper speculation, without any basis in the record, that the defendant had committed multiple gun possession offenses prior to the subject incident which led to his arrest ... .People v Rowley, 2015 NY Slip Op 02988, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION ACT (SORA)

 

Defendant's Admissions Re: Uncharged Sex Offenses Justified Upward Departure from the Presumptive Level---Criteria for Upward Departures Explained

 

In a risk assessment proceeding pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), the Second Department affirmed the SORA court's upward departure from the presumptive risk level (level two to level three).  The court explained the general criteria for upward departures. First the court must determine if the People have articulated, as a matter of law, a legitimate aggravating factor. And second, the court must determine if the factor has been demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.  If those two criteria are met, departure is discretionary. Here the defendant's admission that he had sexually abused two young girls eight years before the commission of the charged offenses was deemed a legitimate aggravating circumstance not adequately taken into account by the risk assessment guidelines:

 

A court is permitted to depart from the presumptive risk level if "special circumstances" warrant departure (Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 4 [2006]). An upward departure is permitted only if the court concludes "that there exists an aggravating . . . factor of a kind, or to a degree, that is otherwise not adequately taken into account by the guidelines" ... . In determining whether an upward departure is permissible and, if permissible, appropriate, a SORA court must engage in a multi-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the People have articulated, as a matter of law, a legitimate aggravating factor. Next, the court must determine whether the People have established, by clear and convincing evidence, the facts supporting the existence of that aggravating factor in the case before it. Upon the People's satisfaction of these two requirements, an upward departure becomes discretionary. If, upon examining all of circumstances relevant to the offender's risk of reoffense and danger to the community, the court concludes that the presumptive risk level would result in an underassessment of the risk or danger of reoffense, it may upwardly depart (see Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 4...).

 

Here, the People satisfied their burden. An offender's commission of uncharged sex crimes may constitute an appropriate aggravating factor for purposes of an upward departure if, as here, those uncharged sex crimes have not been accounted for in the Risk Assessment Instrument ... . People v DeWoody, 2015 NY Slip Op 02946, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION ACT (SORA)

 

Increasing Defendant's Risk Level Based Upon His Mental Retardation Was an Abuse of Discretion

 

In a risk assessment proceeding pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), the First Department determined Supreme Court should not have increased defendant's risk level from a presumptive level two to level three based upon his mental retardation. The court explained that there had been no "clinical assessment that the offender has a psychological, physical, or organic abnormality that decreases his ability to control impulsive sexual behavior: "

 

The court erred in finding that defendant's mental retardation warranted an upward departure to level three. The essence of the court's reasoning was that defendant lacked the ability to appreciate the inappropriateness of his actions, or could not control his impulsive behavior. A departure from the presumptive risk level is warranted "where there exists an aggravating or mitigating factor of a kind, or to a degree, that is otherwise not adequately taken into account by the guidelines" ... . The guidelines clearly provide for an automatic override to a presumptive level three designation where there has been a clinical assessment that the offender has a psychological, physical, or organic abnormality that decreases his ability to control impulsive sexual behavior. Here, no such clinical assessment has been made, and thus an upward departure on this basis was improper... . People v McKelvin, 2015 NY Slip Op 02914, 1st Dept 4-7-15

 

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

Pre-Discovery Motion for Summary Judgment Should Have Been Granted---Defendant Bus Driver's Affidavit Explained the Collision Was the Result of His Reaction to an Emergency and Plaintiff Submitted No Alternate Factual Account

 

The First Department, over a dissent, determined that pre-discovery summary judgment dismissing the complaint against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) (stemming from a bus-car collision) should have been granted.  The bus driver's affidavit stated that when a van suddenly jumped a guard rail and entered his lane of travel, he veered to the left to avoid the van and collided with the vehicle in which plaintiff, who was asleep, was riding. Even though the MTA's motion was made before the bus driver had been deposed, summary judgment, applying the emergency doctrine, was deemed appropriate because plaintiff submitted no alternate factual account:

 

The emergency doctrine applies in situations where an actor is confronted with a sudden or unexpected circumstance, not of the actor's own making, that leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation, or consideration to weigh alternative courses of conduct ... . The existence of an emergency and the reasonableness of a party's response to it ordinarily present questions of fact warranting the denial of summary judgment ... . Where, however, a driver presents sufficient evidence that he or she did not contribute to the creation of the emergency situation, that his or her actions were reasonable under the circumstances, and that there is otherwise no opposing evidentiary showing sufficient to raise a legitimate question of fact, summary judgment may be granted ... . Speculation concerning the possible accident-avoidance measures of a defendant faced with an emergency is not sufficient to defeat summary judgment ... . Green v Metropolitan Transp. Auth. Bus Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 02897, 1st Dept 4-7-15

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MEDICAL MALPRACTICE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Plaintiff Was Properly Allowed to File a Late Notice of Claim---Criteria Explained

 

The Second Department determined plaintiff was properly allowed to file a late notice of claim in a medical malpractice action.  Plaintiff's baby died in utero days after the plaintiff had gone to the hospital complaining of decreased fetal movement and was assured all was well. Plaintiff asked the hospital repeatedly for the autopsy report, beginning shortly after the baby died. The autopsy report was finally provided many months later.  Within a few days of receiving the autopsy report, the plaintiff sought permission to file a late notice of claim. The Second Department noted that the hospital had acquired actual notice of the substance of the claim within 90 days (demonstrated by the medical records), plaintiff's inability to gain access to the autopsy report was a reasonable excuse for the delay, and the hospital was not prejudiced by the six-month delay because witnesses remained available and there was no showing memories had faded:

 

In determining whether to grant an application for leave to serve a late notice of claim or to deem a late notice of claim timely served nunc pro tunc, the court must consider all relevant circumstances, including whether (1) the public corporation acquired actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting the claim within 90 days after the claim arose or a reasonable time thereafter, (2) the claimant demonstrated a reasonable excuse for the failure to serve a timely notice of claim, and (3) the delay would substantially prejudice the public corporation in its defense on the merits (see General Municipal Law § 50-e[5]..). "While the presence or the absence of any one of the factors is not necessarily determinative, whether the municipality had actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting the claim is of great importance" ... . "A petition for leave to serve a late notice of claim is addressed to the sound discretion of the court" ... . * * *

 

...[T]he petitioner made a sufficient showing that HHC had actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting her claims within 90 days of accrual or within a reasonable time thereafter. "In medical malpractice cases, when the medical records themselves contain facts that detail both the procedures used and the claimant's injuries, and suggest that the relevant public corporation may be responsible for those injuries, the public corporation will be held to have had actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting the claim" ... . The Supreme Court noted that the petition would have been stronger had she submitted an expert affirmation in support of it, but the court nonetheless concluded that the basic facts underlying the malpractice claims could be gleaned from the petitioner's medical records. We agree. Matter of Rojas v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 2015 NY Slip Op 02975, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Application to File Late Notice of Claim Should Have Been Granted---Plaintiff Was Incapacitated for Months and the City Contributed to the Delay by Failing to Respond to Freedom of Information Requests

 

 

Reversing Supreme Court, the First Department determined plaintiff's application for leave to file a late notice of claim in a slip and fall case should have been granted.  Plaintiff was incapacitated by her injuries for months and did not unreasonably delay in making the application after she retained counsel.  Counsel had difficulty determining the owners of the construction site in issue, of which the city was one, and the city contributed to the delay by failing to respond to plaintiff's freedom of information requests:

 

Under these circumstances, where the City contributed to the delay, and the motion was made within the one-year and ninety-day statute of limitations (see CPLR 217-a; see also General Municipal Law § 50-e[5]), the City cannot argue that petitioner unduly delayed in making the motion, or that it did not acquire essential knowledge of the facts underlying petitioner's claim within a reasonable time after the expiration of the 90-day period for filing a timely notice of claim ... . Matter of Rivera v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 03029, 1st Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW/IMMUNITY

 

Cause of Action Based Upon Limited Sight Condition (Line of Sight Blocked by Tree) Should Have Been Dismissed---No Written Notice of the Condition/Cause of Action Based Upon Allegations the Town Created the Dangerous Intersection by the Painting of Roadway Lines and the Absence of a Traffic Control Device Not Subject to the Written Notice Requirement/Because There Was No Study of the Intersection, the Town Could Not Demonstrate Its Entitlement to Qualified Immunity

 

The plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident at an intersection.  The plaintiff sued the town alleging that an evergreen tree created a limited sight condition, and further alleging the painting of roadway lines and the absence of a traffic control device created a dangerous condition.  The Second Department determined the "limited sight condition" cause of action against the town should have been dismissed because there was no showing the town had written notice of the problem.  The cause of action based upon the roadway lines and the absence of a traffic control device properly survived dismissal because the written notice requirement does not apply to dangerous conditions alleged to have been created by the municipality.  The court further held that the town's "qualified immunity" defense was not demonstrated because there was no showing the town relied upon the results of a study addressing the conditions at the intersection... : 

 

Supreme Court properly denied that branch of the Town's motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss so much of the complaint as alleged that the Town negligently created a dangerous condition by painting certain street lines and by failing to install appropriate traffic control devices at the subject intersection. The prior written notice provision of the Town Code does not apply to a claim that a municipality allegedly created a defect or hazard through an affirmative act of negligence ..., such as the Town's allegedly negligent act of painting certain street lines, or to a claim that the municipality failed to provide appropriate traffic control devices at an intersection ... .

 

The Town also failed to establish its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing so much of the complaint as alleged that it negligently created a dangerous condition by painting certain street lines and by failing to install appropriate traffic control devices at the subject intersection, based upon the defense of qualified immunity. "It has long been held that a municipality owe[s] to the public the absolute duty of keeping its streets in a reasonably safe condition. While this duty is nondelegable, it is measured by the courts with consideration given to the proper limits on intrusion into the municipality's planning and decision-making functions. Thus, in the field of traffic design engineering, a municipality is accorded a qualified immunity from liability arising out of a highway planning decision" ... . "However, the doctrine of qualified immunity will not apply where the municipality has not conducted a study which entertained and passed on the very same question of risk" ... . Here, the evidence presented by the Town failed to establish that it undertook a study which entertained and passed on the question of risk that is at issue in this case ... . Poveromo v Town of Cortlandt, 2015 NY Slip Op 02950, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/EMPLOYMENT LAW/EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW

 

Allegations of Abuse of a Student by a School Bus Monitor Raised Questions of Fact Re: Negligent Supervision of the Student, Negligent Supervision and Training of the Monitor, and Whether the Monitor Was Acting Within the Scope of Her Employment

 

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the defendant school district's motion for summary judgment should not have been granted.  The complaint alleged a school bus monitor physically and mentally abused plaintiffs' son, a student with severe mental disabilities.  The court determined the school did not establish it was unaware of the monitor's propensity for the alleged misconduct (there was evidence of prior complaints). For that reason, the causes of action for negligent supervision of plaintiffs' son and negligent supervision and training of the monitor should not have been dismissed. The court further determined the school did not demonstrate the actions taken by the monitor were within the scope of her employment, so the cause of action for negligent supervision and training of the monitor was viable.  The court noted that a negligent supervision and training cause of action would be precluded if the employee were shown to have acted within the scope of her employment, but suit under a "respondeat superior" theory would be possible:

 

Schools have a duty to adequately supervise the students in their care, and may be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision ... . The standard for determining whether the school has breached its duty is to compare the school's supervision and protection to that of a parent of ordinary prudence placed in the same situation and armed with the same information ... . Where the complaint alleges negligent supervision due to injuries related to an individual's intentional acts, the plaintiff generally must demonstrate that the school knew or should have known of the individual's propensity to engage in such conduct, such that the individual's acts could be anticipated or were foreseeable ... .

 

Contrary to the Supreme Court's determination, the school defendants failed to establish, prima facie, that the school district had no specific knowledge or notice of [the monitor's] propensity to engage in the misconduct alleged. ***

 

For the same reason, the Supreme Court erred in directing the dismissal of the plaintiffs' second cause of action insofar as it alleged negligent supervision and training of [the monitor]. A necessary element of such causes of action is that the employer knew or should have known of the employee's propensity for the conduct which caused the injury ... . * * *

 

"Generally, where an employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment, the employer is liable for the employee's negligence under a theory of respondeat superior and no claim may proceed against the employer for negligent hiring, retention, supervision or training".  ... [T]he school defendants did not establish, prima facie, that [the monitor] was acting within the scope of her employment during the alleged incidents. Consequently, the plaintiffs were not precluded from claiming that the school district was negligent in its supervision and training of [the monitor]. Timothy Mc. v Beacon City School Dist., 2015 NY Slip Op 02942, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/ARCHITECT MALPRACTICE/CONTRACT LAW

 

The Breach of Contract Cause of Action Which Was Based Upon Clauses Which Merely Stated the Common Law Standard of Care for Professionals Was Duplicative of the Professional Malpractice Cause of Action and Should Have Been Dismissed/Proper Measure of Damages for Negligent/Defective Building Design Is the Cost of Remediation

 

Plaintiff hospital alleged that the seismic retrofit of one of the hospital buildings would not operate as intended and sued the architectural firm which designed the retrofit under breach of contract and professional malpractice theories.  Plaintiff prevailed on both causes of action in a non-jury trial. The Third Department determined Supreme Court should have dismissed the breach of contract cause of action because it was duplicative of the professional malpractice cause of action. The only relevant clauses in the contract held the architectural firm to the common law standard for professionals.  Breach of those clauses, therefore, duplicated the professional malpractice cause of action. The Third Department affirmed the professional malpractice verdict and the award of damages, 1.7 million, which reflected the cost of remediation:

 

The contract does contain two clauses regarding defendant's performance. They provide that defendant's "services shall be performed as expeditiously as is consistent with professional skill and care and the orderly progress of the [w]ork," and "shall be provided . . . in a manner consistent with the standards of care and skill exhibited in its profession for projects of this nature, type and degree of difficulty." These provisions simply incorporate into the contract the common-law standard of care for a professional. "Making such ordinary obligations express terms of an agreement does not remove the issue [of a violation thereof] from the realm of negligence . . ., nor can it convert a malpractice action into a breach of contract action" ... . Inasmuch as a breach of contract cause of action based on the violation of these particular contract provisions would be duplicative of a professional malpractice cause of action, Supreme Court should have dismissed plaintiff's breach of contract cause of action. * * *

 

We reject defendant's contention that plaintiff's proposed amount of damages constitutes economic waste. The proper measure of damages due to the defective design of a building is the cost to remedy the defect, unless such amount is "grossly and unfairly out of proportion to the good to be attained" by fixing the building ... . The defects here were not trivial, but were substantial as to the seismic function of the building, such that plaintiff was entitled to damages in the amount necessary to remediate the defects ... . Mary Imogene Bassett Hosp. v Cannon Design, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 03016, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW/ATTORNEYS

 

Where It Was Not Clear that Grand Jury Proceedings in Which a County Employee Was Directed to Appear Involved a Criminal Matter, as Opposed to Civil Misconduct or Neglect, the County Was Required to Pay for the Employee's Defense Pursuant to Public Officers Law Section 18

 

The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court's ruling that petitioner, a county employee, was entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to Public Officers Law section 18 in connection his appearances in grand jury proceedings.  The county argued that the statute only requires payment for the defense of an employee "in [a] civil action or proceeding" and a grand jury proceeding is criminal in nature.  The Third Department noted that the district attorney would not divulge the nature of the grand jury proceedings and grand juries can be convened to consider noncriminal misconduct or neglect by public employees.  Therefore the employee was entitled to attorney's fees for his defense:

 

Respondent failed to demonstrate what the object of the grand jury proceeding was, readily admitting that the District Attorney had not made his "intentions [known] in relation to the potential for criminal charges." While grand juries may indict a person for a criminal offense (see CPL 1.20 [18]; 190.60 [1]), they are also empowered "to make presentments as to noncriminal misconduct or neglect by public officers and employees" ... . Thus, because there is no indication that criminal charges are [*3]actually being contemplated, Supreme Court properly "reject[ed] respondent's claim that because the [g]rand [j]ury proceeding[s] could have resulted in criminal charges against petitioner, the proceeding[s] [were] not civil in nature" ... . "Any other holding would defeat the clear intent of the statute, which insulates public employees from litigation expenses arising out of their employment" ... . Matter of Mossman v County of Columbia, 2015 NY Slip Op 03005, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

 

Employer Did Not Exercise Sufficient Control over Claimant's Work---Finding that Claimant Was an Employee Was Not Supported

 

The Third Department reversed the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board's ruling that claimant was an employee of Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC).  The court explained: "Claimant ... executed an agreement that designated him an independent contractor. He further negotiated his own fee, was not reimbursed for expenses, and was not provided with any benefits. SBC did not train, supervise or otherwise direct claimant in the performance of his work, although it did require him to turn over whatever application materials he had helped prepare. SBC also did not perform any substantive review of claimant's work, did not require him to attend any meetings or consult with it, and allowed him to decline assignments and take time off as he saw fit. Moreover, while the parties' agreement required claimant to keep sample application materials provided by SBC confidential and imposed restrictions on his ability to work for competitors in the field, the president of SBC testified without contradiction that she had never enforced those provisions and had permitted claimant to work elsewhere. "  Matter of Jhaveri (Commissioner of Labor), 2015 NY Slip Op 03019, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

The Third Department reversed the Unemployment Insurance Board's ruling that claimant was an employee of Encore, an event staffing company which refers persons, called brand ambassadors,  to clients who want to promote a product at an event. The court wrote: "...[T]he pertinent inquiry is whether Encore exercised control "over the results produced or the means used to obtain those results, with control over the latter being the more important factor to consider" ... Here, the evidence reveals that Encore retained little or no control over either the means or results of the work performed by the brand ambassadors. Significantly, Encore did not conduct interviews, auditions or background checks, did not review credentials or set the rate of pay, did not provide training or supervision at events, did not establish work schedules, did not supply equipment, clothing or props and did not evaluate performance. Notably, it was the clients who directed the brand ambassadors by providing them with instruction on how to promote the specific products or services." Matter of Lee (Commissioner of Labor), 2015 NY Slip Op 03022, 3rd Dept 4-9-15

 

 

 

ZONING/ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

Denial of Area Variance In the Absence of Evidence of a Detrimental Effect on the Community Was Arbitrary and Capricious

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court correctly held that the zoning board of appeals' denial of area variances was arbitrary and capricious.  The court noted that similar variances had been granted to other parties and there was no evidence before the board that the variances would have an undesirable effect on the character of the community, adversely affect the physical and environmental conditions, or otherwise result in a detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood:

 

In determining whether to grant an area variance, a zoning board must consider "the benefit to the applicant if the variance is granted, as weighed against the detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or community by such grant" ... . The zoning board should also consider "(i) whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties will be created by the granting of the area variance; (ii) whether the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some method, feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than an area variance; (iii) whether the requested area variance is substantial; (iv) whether the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and (v) whether the alleged difficulty was self-created, which consideration shall be relevant to the decision of the board of appeals, but shall not necessarily preclude the granting of the area variance" (General City Law § 81-b[4][b]). In applying the statutory balancing test for granting area variances, a zoning board is "not required to justify its determination with supporting evidence with respect to each of the five factors, so long as its ultimate determination balancing the relevant considerations was rational"... . Matter of L & M Graziose, LLP v City of Glen Cove Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 2nd Dept 4-8-15

 

 

ZONING/ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

Criteria for an Application for a Use Variance Explained---Not Met Here

 

The Third Department reversed Supreme Court's dismissal of a petition to annul the zoning board of appeals' grant of a use variance to the respondent.  Respondent operates a manufacturing facility in a residential zone.  The facility pre-dated the ordinance making the zone exclusively residential.  The Third Department, in a previous appeal, determined that an addition to the manufacturing facility constituted an unlawful expansion of a nonconforming use.  Thereafter the respondent procured a use variance from the zoning board of appeals.  In concluding the use variance must be annulled, the Third Department explained that the applicant for a use variance must demonstrate the property cannot "yield a reasonable return if used for any of the purposes permitted as it is currently zoned...".  In this case, the respondent was required to show that using the property for manufacturing without using the disputed addition would not yield a reasonable return. And the respondent was required to demonstrate that converting the entire property, not just the disputed addition, to residential use would not yield a reasonable return.  The respondent indicated only that the addition would be used to store old equipment and only attempted to demonstrate that conversion of the disputed addition (not the entire property) to residential use would not yield a reasonable return. Neither showing was sufficient:

 

An applicant for a use variance bears the burden of demonstrating, among other things, that the property cannot yield a reasonable return if used for any of the purposes permitted as it is currently zoned (see Town Law § 267-b [2] [b]...). Where, as here, a use variance is sought to expand a nonconforming use, "the applicant must demonstrate that the land cannot yield a reasonable return if used as it then exists or for any other use allowed in the zone" ... . Such an inability to yield a reasonable return must be established through the submission of "dollars and cents" proof with respect to each permitted use (... .

 

Since the operation of the industrial manufacturing facility, as it existed at the time the prohibitory zoning ordinance was enacted in 1983, was a nonconforming use that was permitted to continue because the property was devoted to such a use before the ordinance took effect, it was a use that was permitted in that zone. Further, the property is located in an R1 residential district and, thus, residential uses were also permitted in that zone. Therefore, respondents had the burden of proving that their property could not yield a reasonable return if used as a presently existing nonconforming use — i.e., as a manufacturing facility without use of the addition for manufacturing purposes — or if used for any residential use ... . Respondents' proof was insufficient to meet either of these showings.

 

With regard to whether the property could yield a reasonable rate of return if continued to be used for manufacturing purposes without utilizing the 800-square-foot addition, the evidence presented at the hearing established that the addition is used to house older equipment that has been replaced by more advanced, efficient equipment. * * *

 

Even if there were sufficient proof to demonstrate an inability to realize a reasonable return on the property if used as it presently exists for manufacturing purposes, no evidence was presented as to the financial implications of converting the entire property to residential use, [*3]which is a use permitted in that zone. While financial evidence was presented on the cost of converting the addition to a residential use, "[it] is . . . with respect to the whole tract that reasonableness of return is to be measured"... . The fact that respondents' application for a use variance was limited to the addition is of no moment; the inquiry as to an inability to realize a reasonable return may not be segmented to examine less than all of an owner's property rights subject to a regulatory regime ... . Matter of Nemeth v Village of Hancock Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 2015 NY Slip Op 03008, 3rd Dept 4-9-15