JUST RELEASED

August Part IV

Summaries of recently released decisions to be included in the next issue of the Digest (uncorrected)

LABOR LAW

 

Injury from Falling Piece of Concrete-Pour-Form Raised Question of Fact About Liability Under Labor Law 240 (1)

 

The Second Department affirmed the denial of summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff’s Labor Law 240 (1) claim. Plaintiff was removing wooden forms used to pour concrete. After removing one piece of a form, the piece above it fell and struck plaintiff. The Second Department explained:

 

Labor Law § 240(1) requires property owners and contractors to provide workers with “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection” to the workers (Labor Law § 240[1]). The purpose of the statute is to protect against “such specific gravity-related accidents as falling from a height or being struck by a falling object that was improperly hoisted or inadequately secured” .. . However, not every object that falls on a worker gives rise to the extraordinary protections of Labor Law § 240(1) …. Thus, in order to recover damages for violation of the statute, the “plaintiff must show more than simply that an object fell causing injury to a worker” .. . A plaintiff must show that, at the time the object fell, it was “being hoisted or secured” … or “required securing for the purposes of the undertaking” … . The plaintiff must also show that the object fell “because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute”… .  . The evidence submitted by the defendants in support of their motion did not establish “the absence of a causal nexus between the worker’s injury and a lack or failure of a device prescribed by section 240(1)”.. . Ross v DD 11th Ave LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 05686, 2nd Dept 8-21-13

 

 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

 

Applying New Jersey Law—Removal of Safety Guard from Machine Did Not Destroy the Applicability of Workers’ Compensation as the Exclusive Remedy

 

The First Department, over a two-justice dissent, reversed Supreme Court and dismissed a complaint alleging that a work-related injury was the result of an “intentional wrong” by the employer and, therefore, workers’ compensation was not the exclusive remedy.  The case required the application of New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act, and the interpretation of the statutory term “intentional wrong” pursuant to New Jersey case law.  The injury to plaintiff’s fingers occurred on a machine from which a safety guard had been removed.  The First Department wrote:

 

…[I]n the present case there were no prior incidents or injuries caused by this machine; there is no evidence of deliberate deceit or fraudulent conduct on defendant's part; and there were no OSHA violations issued to defendant prior to this incident. Although plaintiff testified that he requested on a number of occasions that the safety guard be replaced, he and other employees continued to use the machine without incident. Significantly, the accident would not have occurred absent plaintiff's decision to retrieve a piece of stuck leather with his hand, rather than using a long-handled brush or long-handled screwdriver, which was the normal procedure to clear machine jams over the past 13 years that the machine had been in use. In fact, plaintiff testified at his deposition that he used such a long-handled screwdriver over the years to clear jams in the machine. … Thus, there is an insufficient basis for finding that defendant knew that its conduct in not replacing the safety screens was "substantially certain" to result in plaintiff's injury …, or that there was a "virtual certainty" of injury … . The probability or knowledge that such injury "could" result, or even that an employer's action was reckless or grossly negligent, is not enough… . Lebron v SML Veteran Leather, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 05664, 1st Dept 8-20-13

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW

 

Constructive Condition Precedent Properly Fashioned by Court

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Friedman, the First Department agreed with Supreme Court’s fashioning of a constructive condition precedent for the collection of additional rent under a lease. The First Department quoted the controlling law from the Court of Appeals:

 

"A condition precedent is an act or event, other than a lapse of time, which, unless the condition is excused, must occur before a duty to perform a promise in the agreement arises' … . Most conditions precedent describe acts or events which must occur before a party is obliged to perform a promise made pursuant to an existing contract, a situation to be distinguished conceptually from a condition precedent to the formation or existence of the contract itself . . . .

 

"Conditions can be expressed or implied. Express conditions are those agreed to and imposed by the parties themselves. Implied or constructive conditions are those imposed by law to do justice' … . Express conditions must be literally performed, whereas constructive conditions, which ordinarily arise from language of promise, are subject to the precept that substantial compliance is sufficient. The importance of the distinction has been explained by Professor Williston:

 

Since an express condition . . . depends for its validity on the manifested intention of the parties, it has the same sanctity as the promise itself. Though the court may regret the harshness of such a condition, as it may regret the harshness of a promise, it must, nevertheless, generally enforce the will of the parties unless to do so will violate public policy. Where, however, the law itself has imposed the condition, in absence of or irrespective of the manifested intention of the parties, it can deal with its creation as it pleases, shaping the boundaries of the constructive condition in such a way as to do justice and avoid hardship'. (5 Williston, Contracts § 669, at 154 [3d ed].)" Oppenheimer & Co. v Oppenheim, Appel, Dixon & Co. (86 NY2d 685, 690-691 [1995]).  Mount Sinai Hosp v 1998 Alexander Karten Annuity Trust, 2013 NY Slip Op 05667, 1st Dept 8-20-13

 

 

 

ELECTION LAW/PREEMPTION

 

 

County Law Setting Term Limits for

District Attorney Preempted by State Law

 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling that the county law limiting the terms of the district attorney is preempted by state law:

 

The office of district attorney is plainly subject to comprehensive regulation by state law, leaving the counties without authority to legislate in that respect.  In this light, we view the limitation on the length of time a district attorney can hold office to be an improper imposition of an additional qualification for the position … .

 

Permitting county legislators to impose term limits on the office of district attorney would have the potential to impair the independence of that office because it would empower a local legislative body to effectively end the tenure of an incumbent district attorney whose investigatory or prosecutorial actions were unpopular or contrary to the interests of county legislators.  The state has a fundamental and overriding interest in ensuring the integrity and independence of the office of district attorney. Matter of Hoerger v Spota, 237, CtApp 8-22-13

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Defendant Denied Constitutional Right to

Present a Defense---Evidence Victim Identified Another as the Perpetrator Wrongly Exluded

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Miller reversing defendant’s conviction, the Second Department determined defendant had been deprived of his constitutional right to present a defense.  The primary problem identified by the Second Department (among many others not mentioned here but worth reading about) was the preclusion of evidence that the victim had repeatedly identified someone other than the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime.  Two crucial pieces of such evidence, an entry in the victim’s diary and a statement made to a third party by the victim, were hearsay.  The court found that the People’s hearsay objection was waived because it wasn’t raised before the appeal. Concerning the failure to allow evidence of the victim’s identification of another as the perpetrator, the Second Department wrote:

 

"Before permitting evidence that another individual committed the crime for which a defendant is on trial, the court is required to determine if the evidence is relevant and probative of a fact at issue in the case, and further that it is not based upon suspicion or surmise" … . "Then, the court must balance the probative value of the evidence against the prejudicial effect to the People and may, in an exercise of its discretion, exclude relevant evidence that will cause undue prejudice, delay the trial, or confuse or mislead the jury" … . Although a trial court has "broad discretion to keep the proceedings within manageable limits and to curtail exploration of collateral matters" …, "the trial court's discretion in this area is circumscribed by the defendant's constitutional rights to present a defense and confront his accusers" … . 

 

Here, the evidence that the victim identified Uppal as the perpetrator was exculpatory evidence that was directly relevant to the fundamental issue in this case---the identity of the attacker. Furthermore, such evidence of third-party culpability, coming from the victim of the crime herself, cannot be properly characterized as "rest[ing] on mere suspicion or surmise"… People v Thompson, 2013 NY Slip Op 05707, 2nd Dept 8-21-13

 

 

Uniform Act to Secure Attendance of Witnesses from Without the State in Criminal Cases Allowed Colorado Court to Subpoena a Reporter for Purposes of Testifying About Her Confidential Sources in a Matter Related to the Aurora Movie-Theater Shootings

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Clark, over a two-justice dissent in an opinion by Justice Saxe, the First Department determined a reporter could be compelled to testify, under Criminal Procedure Law section 640.10, in a Colorado proceeding which sought to identify law enforcement personnel who leaked information to the press.  The relevant facts are laid out in the dissenting opinion.  The petitioner in the case is James Holmes, the accused shooter in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater massacre. The respondent is a reporter who interviewed two law-enforcement persons about the contents of a package allegedly sent by James Holmes to his treating psychiatrist.  A Colorado court issued a subpoena to the reporter.  Supreme Court enforced the subpoena under the Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without the State in Criminal Cases (CPL 640.10).  Because the reporter has already appeared in Colorado, the controversy is moot.  But the First Department determined the exception to the mootness doctrine should be applied (important issue likely to recur, etc.). The reporter’s testimony about her confidential sources is protected in New York under Civil Rights Law section 79-h (b). But Colorado’s privilege statute is much weaker. The majority determined the privilege issue was irrelevant to the enforcement of the subpoena.  The dissent argued that the reporter would suffer “undue hardship” within the meaning of the statute if she were forced to reveal her confidential sources (because her livelihood depended on witness-confidentiality).  The majority wrote:

 

Petitioner furnished the court with a certificate issued, pursuant to the Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without the State in Criminal Cases (CPL 640.10), by the Araphoe County District Court Judge, and demonstrated that respondent's testimony was "material and necessary" …, and that she would not suffer undue hardship because petitioner would pay the costs of her travel and accommodations … . …

 

The narrow issue before the Supreme Court was whether respondent should be compelled to testify, and privilege and admissibility are irrelevant for this determination … . Respondent is entitled to assert whatever privileges she deems appropriate before the Colorado District Court. Compelling respondent to testify is distinguishable from compelling her to divulge the identity of her sources.  Matter of Holmes v Winter, 2013 NY Slip Op 05666, First Dept 8-20-13

 

 

 

ARTICLE 78

 

Overriding Village Legislative Cap on Number of Taxicab Licenses Not a Proper Subject of Mandamus Action---Applicability of Mandamus Explained

 

In reversing Supreme Court, the Second Department determined the Article 78 proceeding which sought to override a legislative cap on the number of taxicab licenses which could be issued by the village was not a proper subject of a mandamus action:

 

"The extraordinary remedy of mandamus is available in limited circumstances only to compel the performance of a purely ministerial act which does not involve the exercise of official discretion or judgment, and only when a clear legal right to the relief has been demonstrated" .. . "A discretionary act involves the exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results whereas a ministerial act envisions direct adherence to a governing rule or standard with a compulsory result" … . Thus, mandamus may be employed "to compel acts that officials are duty-bound to perform" … . However, mandamus will not lie to compel the performance of a purely legislative function … . "[T]he courts must be careful to avoid . . . the fashioning of orders or judgments that go beyond any mandatory directives of existing statutes and regulations and intrude upon the policy-making and discretionary decisions that are reserved to the legislative and executive branches"… .  Matter of Gonzalez v Village of Port Chester, 2013 NY slip Op 05691, 2nd Dept 8-21-13

 

 

 

ARTICLE 78/CRIMINAL LAW

 

 

Writ of Prohibition Granted to Prevent Trial Judge from Precluding Testimony of Complainant---Complainant Would Not Release His Psychiatric Records

 

The First Department granted a writ of prohibition to prevent a trial judge from precluding the testimony of the complainant in a robbery case. The judge had precluded the testimony after the complainant refused to sign a HIPAA form to release his psychiatric records.  The complainant had acknowledged that he received psychiatric treatment and that he had auditory and visual hallucinations which were controlled by medication.  The First Department wrote:

 

An article 78 proceeding seeking relief in the nature of a writ of prohibition is an extraordinary remedy and is available to prevent a court from exceeding its authorized powers in a proceeding over which it has jurisdiction … . "The writ does not lie as a means of seeking a collateral review of an error of law, no matter how egregious that error might be . . . but only where the very jurisdiction and power of the court are in issue" … . Here, the court had no authority to issue this preclusion order since the records were neither discoverable nor Brady material … . It is undisputed that the People did not have the complainant's records and did not know where he had been treated … . The People had no affirmative duty to ascertain the extent of the complainant's psychiatric history or obtain his records … . The People advised the defense of the information they had regarding the complainant's diagnosis and also apprised the defense of the complainant's statements regarding his hallucinations. Therefore, no claim can be made that the People concealed any information from the court or the defense.  Matter of Johnson v Sackett, 2013 NY Slip Op 05663, 1st Dept 8-20-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/FRAUD

 

Fraud Sufficiently Pled/Six-Year Statute of Limitations Applied

 

In reversing Supreme Court, the Second Department determined plaintiff had adequately pled a cause of action sounding in fraud and that, therefore, the six-year statute of limitations applied to both the fraud and the related breach of fiduciary duty causes of action.  In explaining the pleading requirements for fraud, the Second Department wrote:

 

To state a cause of action sounding in fraud, a plaintiff must allege that "(1) the defendant made a representation or a material omission of fact which was false and the defendant knew to be false, (2) the misrepresentation was made for the purpose of inducing the plaintiff to rely upon it, (3) there was justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation or material omission, and (4) injury"… . "A cause of action to recover damages for fraudulent concealment requires, in addition to allegations of scienter, reliance and damages, an allegation that the defendant had a duty to disclose material information and that it failed to do so"… .

 

In assessing a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a cause of action, the facts pleaded are accepted as true and the plaintiff is accorded every possible favorable inference … . The court is then to "determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" … . Pursuant to CPLR 3016(b), a cause of action alleging fraud must be pleaded with particularity so as to inform the defendant of the alleged wrongful conduct and give notice of the allegations the plaintiff intends to prove .. . This pleading requirement "should not be confused with unassailable proof of fraud," and "may be met when the facts are sufficient to permit a reasonable inference of the alleged conduct.” … .  McDonnell v Bradley, 2013 NY Slip Op 05681, 2nd Dept 8-21-13