JUST RELEASED

Updated December 31, 2013

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

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Administrative Decision Maker, Who Had Previously Ruled Against Petitioner/Employee in Disciplinary Proceedings, Should Have Been Disqualified from Reviewing Hearing Officer’s Recommendations Made in a Related Subsequent Proceeding

 

The Third Department, over a partial dissent, determined the mayor (Bertoni), who ruled against the petitioner/employee on disciplinary charges, should have been disqualified from reviewing the hearing officer’s recommendations made in a subsequent PERB hearing.  After noting petitioner could properly be punished for testifying falsely in the hearings, the Third Department explained:

 

Reversal is required … because Bertoni should have been disqualified from reviewing the Hearing Officer's recommendations.  To be sure, an administrative decision maker is not deemed biased or disqualified merely on the basis that he or she reviewed a previous administrative determination and ruled against the same employee, or presided over a prior proceeding involving a similar defense or similar charges … .  However, where, as here, there is evidence indicating that the administrative decision maker may have prejudged the matter at issue, disqualification is required… . Botsford v Bertoni, 516709, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

FAMILY LAW/APPEALS

 

Family Court Has No Power to Add to Terms of Remittitur

 

The Second Department determined Family Court had failed to comply with the terms of its remittitur.  On appeal, the Second Department previously determined that the mother’s commitment to jail for failure to comply with a court order should be reduced from six months to 30 days.  Family Court then committed the mother to 30 days but added she was not to receive allowances for good behavior.  Because the “no allowances for good behavior” was not part of the appellate remittitur, that portion of Family Court’s order was invalid:

 

Upon a remittitur, a court is " without power to do anything except to obey the … mandate of the higher court'" … . Here, the Family Court erred in failing to adhere to the terms of this Court's remittitur by including in the amended order of commitment a provision directing that the mother would not receive time allowances for good behavior. We note that, although the mother is eligible for such time allowances (see Correction Law § 804-a[1]… ), the determination as to whether they should be granted is to be made by the person in charge of the institution where she is committed (see Correction Law § 804-a[3]… . Accordingly, we remit the matter to the Family Court, Nassau County, for the issuance of a second amended order providing that the mother is to be committed to the Nassau County Correctional Facility for a term of 30 days "unless sooner discharged according to law."  Matter of Cunha v Urias, 2013 NY Slip Op 08624, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Untimely Summary Judgment Motion Denied—No Showing of Good Cause for the Delay/Motion Was Mislabeled as a Cross Motion

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Feinman, over a dissent, the First Department determined an untimely motion for summary judgment was properly denied because there was no explanation for the delay.  The court noted the motion was mislabeled as a cross-motion because it did not address the issues raised in the original motion, but rather addressed the allegations in the complaint:

 

Brill v City of New York (2 NY3d 648 [2004]) addressed the "recurring scenario" of litigants filing late summary judgment motions, in effect "ignor[ing] statutory law, disrupt[ing] trial calendars, and undermin[ing] the goals of orderliness and efficiency in state court practice" (2 NY3d at 650). Brill holds that to rein in these late motions, brought as late as shortly before trial, CPLR 3212(a) requires that motions for summary judgment must be brought within 120 days of the filing of the note of issue or the time established by the court; where a motion is untimely, the movant must show good cause for the delay, otherwise the late motion will not be addressed … .  * * * Brill draws a bright line based on the two elements of CPLR 3212(a): the statutorily imposed or court-imposed deadlines for filing summary judgment motions, and the showing of good cause by a late movant in order for its motion to be considered. * * *

 

We do not hold that when a summary judgment motion is filed past the deadline, the court must automatically reject it. Rather, we enforce the law as written by the legislature, and as explained in Brill. It is up to the litigant to show the court why the rule should be flexible in the particular circumstances, or, in the words of the statute, that there is "good cause shown" for the delay. * * *

 

To the extent [the] motion was directed at the complaint, as opposed to any cross claims …, and was not made returnable the same day as the original motion, it was not a cross motion as defined in CPLR 2215. The rule is that a cross motion is an improper vehicle for seeking relief from a nonmoving party… . Kershaw v Hospital for Special Surgery, 2013 NY Slip Op 08548, 1st Dept 12-24-13

 

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

 

French Court Never Had Personal Jurisdiction Over New York Defendant/Service Not Accomplished In Accordance with Hague Convention

 

The Second Department determined a foreign (French) judgment could not be enforced in New York because the plaintiff did not demonstrate the French court had personal jurisdiction over the defendant.  The defendant was not served in the French action in accordance with the Hague convention:

 

…[A] foreign country judgment is not conclusive, and thus may not be recognized, if (1) it was "rendered under a system which does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law" or (2) "the foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant" (CPLR 5304[a][1]…). A plaintiff seeking enforcement of a foreign country judgment bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that the mandatory grounds for nonrecognition do not exist … .

 

Here, the plaintiff failed to make a prima facie showing that the Superior Court of Paris had personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Pursuant to the Hague Convention, service in a signatory country may be made, inter alia, "by a method prescribed by its internal law for the service of documents in domestic actions upon persons who are within its territory" (20 UST 361[5][a]). In the United States, the methods prescribed for service under the Hague Convention are set forth in Rule 4(e)(1) and (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure … . Rule 4(e)(1) authorizes service to be made by "following state law for serving a summons in an action brought in courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located or where service is made," and Rule 4(e)(2) sets forth three specific authorized methods of service. …[P]laintiff submitted the affidavit of a process server indicating that service was effected by delivering the writ of summons to a person of suitable age and discretion at the defendant's place of business in New York. Delivery of the summons to a person of suitable age and discretion at the defendant's actual place of business is a state law method of service authorized by CPLR 308(2), and thus permissible under Rule 4(e)(1). However, CPLR 308(2) additionally requires that the summons be mailed to either the defendant's last known address or actual place of business, and personal jurisdiction is not acquired pursuant to CPLR 308(2) unless both the delivery and mailing requirements have been complied with … . Since the affidavit of the plaintiff's process server did not aver that the writ of summons was additionally mailed to the defendant, it was insufficient to establish, prima facie, that service was properly effected pursuant to CPLR 308(2) …, and therefore conformed to Rule 4(e)(1). Daguerre, S.A.R.L. v Rabizadeh, 2013 NY Slip Op 08587, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

 

Dismissal for Failure to Show Up at a Conference with the Judge Constituted a Dismissal for Neglect to Prosecute within the Meaning of CPLR 205/2008 Amendment to CPLR 205 Did Not Apply Retroactively

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Dickerson, the Second Department determined the plaintiffs could not recommence a lawsuit which was dismissed pursuant to 22 NYCRR 202.27 when the plaintiffs failed to show up at a conference with the judge. CPLR 205 precludes the recommencement of a lawsuit dismissed for neglect to prosecute. In 2008 CPLR 205 was amended to require the judge to put on the record the specific conduct constituting neglect and to specify that the conduct involved a general pattern of delay.  In order for the plaintiffs to prevail in their attempt to restart the suit, the 2008 amendment would have to be deemed to apply retroactively.  The Second Department determined that the dismissal for failure to show up at the conference was a dismissal for neglect to prosecute, and the 2008 amendment did not apply retroactively. Therefore the plaintiffs attempt to restart the suit failed:

 

…[W]e conclude that the prior action commenced by the plaintiffs was dismissed for failure to prosecute. We further conclude that the 2008 amendment to CPLR 205(a) is not to be applied retroactively and, thus, the plaintiffs may not avail themselves of the saving provision of CPLR 205(a) regardless of whether the Supreme Court set forth in the record the specific conduct constituting the plaintiffs' neglect to prosecute or evidence that the plaintiffs were engaged in a general pattern of delay. Marrero v Nails, 2013 NY Slip Op 08599, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Criteria for “Insanity Toll” of Statute of Limitations Pursuant to CPLR 208 Not Met

 

The Second Department determined the “insanity toll” of a statute of limitations (CPLR 208) did not apply to plaintiff’s decedent, and the lawsuit was therefore time-barred.  Plaintiff alleged plaintiff’s decedent was unable to protect his legal rights when he was hospitalized:

 

CPLR 208 provides, in pertinent part, that where the plaintiff is suffering from the disability of insanity at the time the cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations is extended "by the period of disability." The toll for insanity applies "to only those individuals who are unable to protect their legal rights because of an over-all inability to function in society," and should be narrowly interpreted … . "The provision of CPLR 208 tolling the Statute of Limitations period for insanity, a concept equated with unsoundness of mind, should not be read to include the temporary effects of medications administered in the treatment of physical injuries" … . Further, the fact that the plaintiff's decedent was able to retain an attorney, and arrange for the service of notices of claim during his hospital stay, indicated that he was not mentally incapacitated during that period… . Thompson v Metropolitan Transp Auth, 2013 NY Slip Op 08614, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW

 

Defendant Estopped from Claiming He Was Not Properly Served Because He Never Notified DMV of His Change of Address

 

The Second Department determined the defendant, who brought a motion to vacate a default judgment in an automobile-accident case, was estopped from claiming he was not properly served because he never notified the Department of Motor Vehicles of his change of address:

 

Since the respondent failed to notify the DMV of his change of residence, as required by Vehicle and Traffic Law § 505(5), he was estopped from raising a claim of defective service … . Accordingly, that branch of the respondent's motion which was pursuant to CPLR 5015(a)(4), based on lack of personal jurisdiction, should have been denied. Likewise, the respondent was not entitled to relief pursuant to CPLR 5015(a)(1), based upon excusable default; the respondent's purported change of residence is not a reasonable excuse, because he failed to comply with Vehicle and Traffic Law § 505(5) … .

 

Moreover, the respondent was not entitled to relief pursuant to CPLR 317, since his failure to receive notice of the summons was a deliberate attempt to avoid such notice… . Canales v Flores, 2013 NY Slip Op 08584, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Not Clear Superior Court Information (SCI) Charged Same Offense as Felony Complaint/SCI and Related Waiver of Indictment Not Valid

 

The Second Department determined a discrepancy between the felony complaint and the superior court information (SCI) rendered the SCI jurisdictionally defective:

 

Where a defendant waives the right to be prosecuted by indictment and consents to be prosecuted by SCI, the SCI "must either charge [the] defendant with the same crime as the felony complaint or a lesser included offense of that crime" (…see NY Const, art I, § 6; CPL 195.10[a]…). Under the circumstances of this case, this Court cannot conclude that the defendant was charged in the SCI with the same offense with which he was charged in the felony complaint. There is a factual discrepancy between the two documents, in that they charge the defendant with assaulting two different victims, and there are insufficient surrounding facts to reveal that the assault charges actually refer to the same incident… .  People v Siminions, 2013 NY Slip Op 08670, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Reversible Error to Deny Challenge to Juror Who Was a Federal Agent Currently Working with the District Attorney’s Office

 

The Third Department determined the trial court committed reversible error in denying a challenge to a prospective juror, a federal agent, who worked with the prosecuting district attorney’s office:

 

…[W]e find that the prospective juror's current, ongoing investigative work on a pending matter in cooperation with and under the direction of the prosecuting agency required that juror's dismissal for cause … .  The nature of that relationship as purely professional, while certainly a very weighty factor, is not alone determinative of the absence, or presence, of implied bias, as other factors must be taken into consideration, such as the frequency, scope and recency of the contact  * * *.

 

Under the circumstances presented here, we conclude that the prospective juror…'s current law enforcement cooperative relationship with the prosecuting agency "create[d] the perception that the accused might not receive a fair trial before an impartial finder of fact"… .  People v Greenfield, 104378, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION ACT (SORA)

 

Burden Is on Defendant in SORA Reclassification Proceeding/Fact that Defendant Was Not Provided With All the Documents Reviewed by the Board Did Not Violate Due Process

 

In a SORA reclassification proceeding, the Third Department, over a dissent, determined the defendant was not deprived of due process by the SORA court’s denial of an adjournment for the purpose gathering all the documents reviewed by the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders in making its updated recommendation.  The Third Department noted that, unlike in the initial SORA proceeding where the burden of proof is on the People, in a reclassification proceeding the burden is on the defendant:

 

Correction Law § 168-o (2) provides a sex offender who is required to register pursuant to SORA with the opportunity to periodically seek a downward modification of his or her risk level classification.  However, the burden falls upon the sex offender to establish by clear and convincing evidence that a modification is warranted (see Correction Law § 168-o [2]), and the trial court's determination will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion… . * * *

 

We do not take issue with the argument that defendant was entitled to discovery of the materials in question.  However, all discovery is subject to certain limitations and the court has "considerable discretion to supervise the discovery process" … .  In our view, the question before us distills to whether County Court abused its discretion in refusing to adjourn the hearing in order for defendant to belatedly gain access to the requested documents. In this regard, County Court's decision to deny defendant's request must be evaluated with full consideration of the attendant circumstances before the court, including the timeliness thereof …, and we cannot agree that reversal is required based solely on the fact that defendant did not obtain the requested materials prior to the hearing. People v Lashway, 514859, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Expert Evidence to Explain an Adolescent’s Reactions to Sexual Abuse Properly Admitted

 

The Second Department determined expert testimony about “adolescent sexual abuse” was properly admitted in a sex-crime trial to explain delay in reporting, imprecise memory, accommodation, and a “flat affect” during testimony:

 

"Expert testimony is properly admitted if it helps to clarify an issue calling for professional or technical knowledge, possessed by the expert and beyond the ken of the typical juror'" … . "[E]xpert testimony regarding rape trauma syndrome, abused child syndrome or similar conditions may be admitted to explain behavior of a victim that might appear unusual or that jurors may not be expected to understand" … . The expert's testimony was properly admitted to explain the issue of delayed disclosure and to counter the defense claim that the complainant fabricated the sexual abuse allegations when her parents objected to her having a boyfriend … . The testimony was also properly admitted to explain why the complainant did not recall with specificity when certain of the alleged incidents occurred, and why victims of adolescent sexual abuse may manifest a "flat affect" when testifying. The testimony was "general in nature and does not attempt to impermissibly prove that the charged crimes occurred" … . To the extent the expert testified as to an abuser's behavior patterns, such testimony was admissible to help explain "why victims may accommodate abusers and why they wait before disclosing the abuse" … . People v Gopaul, 2013 NY Slip Op 08659, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

DEFAMATION/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Criteria for Pre-Action Disclosure and Defamation Explained

 

The Second Department determined that a request for pre-action disclosure of the name of an anonymous blogger (whom petitioners alleged posted defamatory remarks during an election campaign) should not have been granted.  Pre-action disclosure should only be allowed when the petitioner has alleged facts indicating the existence of a cause of action.  Here the facts alleged did not make out a cause of action for defamation:

 

Before an action is commenced, "disclosure to aid in bringing an action" may be obtained by court order (CPLR 3102[c]), including "discovery in order to obtain information relevant …to determining who should be named as a defendant" … . A petition for pre-action discovery limited to obtaining the identity of prospective defendants should be granted where the petitioner has alleged facts fairly indicating that he or she has some cause of action … 

 

Contrary to the Supreme Court's determination, the petitioners failed to allege facts fairly indicating that they have a cause of action to recover damages for defamation based on the two posts at issue by the blogger Q-Tip. "The elements of a cause of action for defamation are a false statement, published without privilege or authorization to a third party, constituting fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence standard, and it must either cause special harm or constitute defamation per se" … . "In determining whether a complaint states a cause of action to recover damages for defamation, the dispositive inquiry is whether a reasonable listener or reader could have concluded that the statements were conveying facts about the plaintiff"… . Further, "[a] false statement constitutes defamation per se when it charges another with a serious crime or tends to injure another in his or her trade, business, or profession" … .

 

Here, given the context in which the challenged statements were made, on an Internet blog during a sharply contested election, a reasonable reader would have believed that the generalized reference to "downright criminal actions" in a post entitled "Would You Buy A Used Car From These Men?" was merely conveying opinion, and was not a factual accusation of criminal conduct … . Further, the petitioners failed to demonstrate that the remaining portions of the challenged statements by Q-Tip constituted defamation per se… .  Matter of Konig v CSC Holdings LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 08632, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

EMINENT DOMAIN/ENVIRONMENTAL LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Criteria for Review of Agency’s Condemnation of Land Explained/Failure to Consider Future Development of Land Did Not Constitute Improper Segmentation of Environmental Impact Review

 

The Fourth Department determined the condemnation of land by the Lockport Industrial Development Agency (LIDA) and the related State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review were properly done. The court determined that the failure to consider future development of the land did not amount to an improper segmentation of the SEQRA review process: The court explained its review powers in this context as follows:

 

It is well settled that the scope of our review of LIDA’s determination is “very limited” … .  We must “ ‘either confirm or reject [LIDA’s] determination and findings,’ and [our] review is confined to whether (1) the proceeding was constitutionally sound; (2) [LIDA] had the requisite authority; (3) its determination complied with SEQRA and EDPL article 2; and (4) the acquisition will serve a public use” (id.; see EDPL 207 [C]).  “The burden is on the party challenging the condemnation to establish that the determination ‘was without foundation and baseless’ . . . Thus, ‘[i]f an adequate basis for a determination is shown and the objector cannot show that the determination was without foundation, the [condemnor’s] determination should be confirmed’… . * * *

 

Although LIDA considered only the impact of the acquisition and not the impact of potential development, we reject [the] contention that LIDA thereby improperly segmented the SEQRA review process (see 6 NYCRR 617.2 [ag]).  Although LIDA intends to sell the property to a potential developer, there was no identified purchaser or specific plan for development at the time the SEQRA review was conducted …, and thus we conclude that under these facts the acquisition is not a “separate part[] ‘of a set of activities or steps’ in a single action or project”… . Matter of GM Components Holdings LLC v Town of Lockport Industrial Development Agency, 1275, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

 

Strict Liability for Clean Up of Petroleum Spilled Between 1890 and 1935

 

The Fourth Department determined the current owners of land contaminated with petroleum between 1890 and 1935 were strictly liable for clean-up under the Navigation Law, despite intervening use of the land as a scrap yard:

 

We conclude that plaintiffs established their entitlement to a determination that defendants are contributing “dischargers” pursuant to Navigation Law § 172 (8) and thus are strictly liable under section 181 (1) for, inter alia, the cleanup and removal costs..., despite the fact that the parcels subsequently were the sites for various commercial operations that also may have contributed to the contamination of the properties, including a scrap yard.  …

 

Plaintiffs provided the affidavits of two experts explaining that samples taken from depths of 6 to 14 feet below the surface contained contaminants that are consistent with refinery operations and that, based upon the age and depths of the samples, could only have been caused by the refinery operations. One Flint St LLC… v Exxon Mobil Corporation…, 1281, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Petitioner Met Burden of Establishing His Acknowledgment of Paternity Was Signed by Reason of a Mistake of Fact/Petitioner Not Estopped from Denying Paternity

 

The Second Department, over a dissent, determined petitioner met his burden of proof in establishing his acknowledgment of paternity (AOP) was signed by reason of mistake of fact and sent the matter back for a determination of paternity:

 

Here, the petitioner testified that he signed the AOP because, during the relevant time period, he and the respondent were having sexual relations and the respondent represented that he was the biological father. He also testified that it was only after he executed the AOP that he learned from coworkers that another man may be the child's actual biological father, causing him to question his paternity. The petitioner's testimony was sufficient pursuant to Family Court Act § 516-a(b)(ii) to establish a material mistake of fact … .

 

Further, in light of the Family Court's finding that the petitioner did not meet his initial burden of proof, no hearing was held on the matter of the child's best interests. However, since it is undisputed that the parties were never married to each other and did not live together at any time during the child's life, the petitioner had only visited with the child approximately five or six times before visitation ceased altogether when the child was less than eight months old, and the respondent testified that the petitioner had no relationship with the child, it would not be appropriate to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel to preclude the ordering of genetic marker or DNA tests for determination of the child's paternity. Under these circumstances, there is no evidence that the child "would suffer irreparable loss of status, destruction of her family image, or other harm to her physical or emotional well-being if this proceeding were permitted to go forward"… . Matter of Sidney W v Chanta J, 2013 NY Slip Op 08645, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Family Court Erred in Allowing Court Appointed Special Advocates Access to Confidential Records and Proceedings

 

The Third Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Spain, determined Family Court had improperly allowed Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to have access to confidential records and proceedings concerning children who were in foster care.  The court first noted that CASA was not a party and therefore did not have the right or capacity to seek relief from the court.  After finding that the petitioner (Social Services) did not have the power to direct the foster parents not to speak with CASA volunteers, the Third Department held that Family Court had erred in allowing CASA access to certain confidential records and proceedings:

 

With regard to Family Court's unqualified directive that a CASA volunteer be permitted to attend all family service plan review meetings, and requiring petitioner to provide notice thereof, we find that the court exceeded its authority.  Service plan reviews, which are aimed at ultimately achieving permanent discharge of children in foster care, require petitioner "to review progress made through implementation of the previous service plan, identify issues of concern and suggest modifications that impact on and inform the development of a new service plan for the case" (18 NYCRR 430.12 [c] [2] [i]; see 18 NYCRR 428.9).  The reviews will often entail in-depth sharing, discussion and consideration of confidential information, such as medical and mental health information of the children or parents and reports of abuse and maltreatment… . * * *

 

Family Court lacked the authority to direct petitioner to "provide [the] CASA [volunteer] with the names of individuals and agencies providing mental health services to the children" subject only to the "providers, using their own professional judgment," determining "what if any information regarding the children may be shared with [the] CASA [volunteer]."  Mental Hygiene Law § 33.13 (c) prohibits the release of mental health records contained in foster care records except in limited circumstances, including "pursuant to an order of a court of record requiring disclosure upon a finding by the court that the interests of justice significantly outweigh the need for confidentiality" (Mental Hygiene Law § 33.13 [c] [1]). The court here expressly declined to make such a finding, and petitioner is statutorily bound to keep such information confidential… .  Matter of Evan E…, 516055, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

FAMILY LAW/EVIDENCE

 

In a Neglect Proceeding, the Review of Sealed Documents by the Evaluating Psychologist Required that His Testimony Be Entirely Discounted

 

In a neglect proceeding, the Third Department, in the full-fledged opinion by Justice Spain noted the evaluating psychologist’s testimony must be entirely discounted because the psychologist reviewed sealed documents to which he should not have had access:

 

…Steven Silverman, [the evaluating psychologist] reviewed not only the subject reports, but also many of the other juvenile delinquency records that were properly – and undeniably – sealed under Family Ct Act § 375.1.  Although it is unclear how Silverman came into possession of the sealed materials, his review of such documents plainly was error – as was his review of the subject reports, the latter of which Family Court and counsel expressly agreed would not be made available to him.  As Silverman clearly reviewed a multitude of documents to which he should not have had access, and as there is no meaningful way to gauge the impact of those materials upon the opinion he ultimately rendered, we agree with respondent that Silverman's testimony should be discounted in its entirety.  Matter of Dashawn Q…, 2013 NY Slip Op 08565 [114 AD3d 149], 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

INSURANCE LAW

 

Insurance Company’s Failure to Submit Second Request for Verification of No-Fault Claim Precluded Tolling of 30-Day Payment Period

 

The Second Department determined that defendant insurance company’s failure to issue a second request for verification to the hospital which had submitted a no-fault claim precluded the insurance company from asserting the hospital’s failure to reply to the request for verification as a basis for not paying the claim within 30 days:

 

Upon the hospital's failure to timely comply with the defendant's initial request for verification within "30 calendar days after the original request [for verification]" (11 NYCRR 65-3.6[b]), the defendant was under a regulatory duty to issue a second request for verification within 10 days after the expiration of that 30-day period (see 11 NYCRR 65-3.6[b]…). In the absence of any such second request for verification, there is no merit to the defendant's contention that the 30-day period within which it had to pay, deny, or request verification of the claim had been extended. The defendant "failed to submit any evidence that it mailed a second or follow-up request for verification at the end of the 30-day period subsequent to [its] mailing [of] the initial request for verification"… . Westchester Med Ctr v Allstate Ins Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 08616, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS LAW/CONCERTED ACTION LIABILITY

 

“Concerted Action Liability” Causes of Action Dismissed/No Evidence Media Defendants Conspired with the Police to Use Excessive Force During Filmed Execution of Search Warrant

 

The Second Department affirmed the dismissal of causes of action against media defendants who filmed the execution of a search warrant by the police.  Plaintiff was shot during the incident.  Plaintiff alleged that the media defendants (including Yates and HBO) had conspired with the police to use excessive force to maximize the entertainment value:

 

A theory of "[c]oncerted action liability rests upon the principle that [a]ll those who, in pursuance of a common plan or design to commit a tortious act, actively take part in it, or further it by cooperation or request, or who lend aid or encouragement to the wrongdoer, or ratify and adopt his acts done for their benefit, are equally liable with him [or her]'" … . As stated in our prior decision in this action, the liability of HBO and Yates under a concerted action theory "cannot stem from the mere act of filming the NYPD's use of excessive force" … . Such liability must be predicated on proof that HBO and Yates "formed a common plan with the NYPD to use excessive force in the execution of the warrant, and that such plan created an unreasonable danger to persons such as the plaintiff and was a proximate cause of her injuries" … .

 

Here, Yates and HBO established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them by demonstrating that they did not participate, either directly or indirectly, in a common plan or design to commit the allegedly tortious act that caused the plaintiff's injuries… . Rodriguez v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 08609, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

CONVERSION/CONTRACT LAW

 

Conversion Cause of Action Cannot Be Based Solely Upon Allegations of Breach of Contract

 

In a detailed decision construing contract language, the Fourth Department noted that the conversion cause of action should be dismissed because no tortious conduct over and above the failure to fulfill the contract was alleged:

 

“[I]t is well established that a cause of action to recover damages for conversion cannot be predicated on a mere breach of contract” … .  Because plaintiff “failed to show . . . that [defendant] engaged in tortious conduct separate and apart from [its alleged] failure to fulfill its contractual obligations,” the cause of action for conversion must be dismissed… . Lehr, Inc v T-Mobile USA Inc…, 1085, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

 

FALSE IMPRISONMENT/MALICIOUS PROSECUTION/CRIMINAL LAW/IMMUNITY

 

Imprisonment and Prosecution Based Upon the Violation of an Administratively Imposed Period of Post Release Supervision Gave Rise to Valid False Imprisonment and Malicious Prosecution Causes of Action Against the State

 

In a lengthy and thorough opinion by Justice Spain, the Third Department determined that the claimant, who was imprisoned and prosecuted based upon an administratively imposed “post release supervision” (PRS) violation, was entitled to summary judgment on his false imprisonment cause of action and had stated a cause of action for malicious prosecution.  The claimant was held in custody and prosecuted after the Court of Appeals had ruled that only the sentencing court can impose a term of post release supervision (Garner v NYS Dept of Correctional Services, 10 NY3d 358 [2008]):

 

…[C]aimant sufficiently alleged that his confinement was not privileged and it was defendant's burden to establish that its confinement of claimant after Garner was privileged; defendant failed in the Court of Claims to produce a Division of Parole arrest warrant or a court order so as to demonstrate their validity or that the arrest or confinement of claimant was privileged … .   Further, to clarify, claimant does not challenge his arrest prior to Garner but, rather, premises his claims on his continued detention and reincarceration – after Garner – for a parole violation based upon an administrativelyimposed PRS term that Garner clearly held was invalid, i.e., he raises a claim for false imprisonment and not for false arrest. * * *

 

…[D]efendant does not have immunity for the actions of its parole officials.  To be sure, inherently discretionary parole decisions of government officials have been recognized to be quasi-judicial decisions entitled to absolute immunity … .  "Where, however, the official has stepped outside the scope of his [or her] authority and acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction or without a colorable claim of authority, there is plainly no entitlement to absolute immunity, even if the underlying acts are . . . quasi-judicial in nature" … .  That is, "[t]here is a distinction between acts performed in excess of jurisdiction and acts performed in the clear absence of any jurisdiction over the subject matter.  The former is privileged, the latter is not"… . * * *

 

We similarly conclude that claimant stated a cause of action for malicious prosecution.  To make out a claim for malicious prosecution, claimant must establish: "(1) the commencement or continuation of a criminal proceeding by the defendant against the [claimant], (2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the accused, (3) the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding and (4) actual malice" …. .  … On the second prong, claimant need not "demonstrate innocence" of the parole violation in order to satisfy that favorable termination prong; rather, claimant can satisfy it by showing that "there can be no further prosecution of the [alleged parole violation]" … .  We believe it self evident, under the facts here and despite the lack of state law on point, that defendant could not, after Sparber and Garner, ever lawfully prosecute claimant on a parole violation that occurred before those decisions, where the PRS in effect at the time of the alleged violation was imposed by DOCS and was, as such, a nullity… Moulton v State of New York, 515096, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW

 

Labor Law 241(6) Action Should Not Have Been Dismissed/Power Washing Was Integral to the Painting Process and Was Not “Routine Maintenance”

 

The Second Department determined the Labor Law 241(6) action should not have been dismissed because the work plaintiff was doing, power-washing a building in preparation for painting, was not “routine maintenance,” but rather was an integral part of the painting process:

 

The defendants failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, since they did not demonstrate that the plaintiff, who was injured while power washing buildings in preparation for painting them, was not engaged in a specifically enumerated activity under 12 NYCRR 23-1.4(b)(13). Painting is an activity enumerated under that provision …, and the power washing performed here … was in preparation for, and a contractual part of, the painting work. Accordingly, the power washing did not constitute "routine maintenance" excluded from the ambit of Labor Law § 241(6), but rather, constituted surface preparation, an integral part of the painting process contemplated by the parties.  Dixson v Waterways at Bay Pointe Home Owners Assn Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 08591, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

“Wheel Stop” in Parking Lot Does Not Present an Unreasonable Risk of Harm

 

In this slip and fall case, the Second Department determined that a “wheel stop” or concrete divider in a parking lot is an open and obvious condition that does not present an unreasonable risk of harm:

 

While a landowner has a duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe manner for its patrons …, there is no duty to protect or warn against an open and obvious condition that is not inherently dangerous … . Generally "[a] wheel stop or concrete parking lot divider which is clearly visible presents no unreasonable risk of harm" … . Bellini v Gypsy Magic Enters Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 08581, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/CIVIL PROCEDURE

Rear-End Collision: No Rational Process By Which Jury Could Have Found Plaintiff Negligent

 

The Second Department determined there was no rational process by which the jury could have found the plaintiff negligent in a rear-end collision case.  Plaintiff's CPLR 4401 motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted. The plaintiff was stopped to allow a pedestrian, who had run in front of the vehicle, to cross.  The defendant acknowledged that he took his eyes off the road briefly to look at the pedestrians and then struck the rear of plaintiff’s car:

 

" A rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle creates a prima facie case of negligence with respect to the operator of the moving vehicle and imposes a duty on that operator to rebut the inference of negligence by providing a nonnegligent explanation for the collision'" … . Moreover, although the issue of comparative fault generally presents a question of fact …, that issue should be submitted to a jury "only where there is a triable issue of fact as to whether the frontmost driver also operated his or her vehicle in a negligent manner" … .

 

Here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant, there is no rational process by which the jury could find that the defendant had a nonnegligent explanation for the accident, or that the plaintiff was, to any extent, at fault in the happening of the accident. Clarke v Phillps, 2013 NY Slip Op 08585, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

Defendant Shoveled Sidewalk and Snow Piled on Either Side Melted/Question of Fact Whether Defendant Created the Dangerous Condition Resulting from Subsequent Freezing of Melted Snow

 

The Second Department determined a question of fact existed about whether defendant created the hazardous condition (ice on a sidewalk) which caused plaintiff to fall.  Defendant testified she shoveled the sidewalk which left one-foot high piles of snow on either side of the sidewalk.  She also testified that she observed the piles of snow melting.  The temperature subsequently fell below freezing and was below freezing at the time of the accident:

 

The defendant, as the property owner, failed to establish as a matter of law that her snow removal activities did not create the allegedly hazardous icy condition which resulted in the plaintiff's injuries … . The defendant's submissions failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether the ice upon which the plaintiff slipped was formed when snow piles created by the defendant's snow removal efforts melted and refroze … . Viera v Rymdzionek, 2013 NY Slip Op 08615, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/TOXIC TORTS

 

 

No Constructive Notice of Peeling Paint in Lead-Paint Exposure Cases

 

The Third Department determined summary judgment was properly granted to defendants in a lead-paint exposure case.  Plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact about whether the defendants were aware of peeling paint in the apartment:

 

To raise a triable issue of constructive notice, plaintiff was required to show "that the landlord (1) retained a right of entry to the premises and assumed a duty to make repairs, (2) knew that the apartment was constructed at a time before lead-based interior paint was banned, (3) was aware that paint was peeling on the premises, (4) knew of the hazards of lead-based paint to young children and (5) knew that a young child lived in the apartment. Plaintiff failed to make that showing with respect to the Chapman factor requiring defendants' awareness that paint was peeling in the apartment.  Cunningham v Keehfus, 516733, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

The Third Department affirmed the same result in another lead-paint exposure case:

 

Here, defendant acknowledged that he knew that the building was old, was aware that young children lived in the basement apartment, had the right to enter the apartment to make repairs, and did so.  However, he testified that he "didn't know anything about lead poisoning" before the October 1990 inspection, did not remember peeling or chipping paint in the apartment and did not know that lead hazards had twice been identified in the building before he purchased it.   This testimony was sufficient to establish on a prima facie basis that defendant did not have constructive notice of a lead hazard before October 1990, shifting the burden to plaintiff to establish triable issues of fact… .

 

…[T]he record includes no evidence that the prior owner told defendant about the building's previous lead problems or that defendant otherwise had an opportunity to learn about them; the mere fact that they were acquainted does not give rise to a triable issue of fact. Nor was it shown that defendant – who testified that his education and reading skills were limited – was sophisticated in the ownership and maintenance of rental properties or otherwise experienced in areas that should have familiarized him with lead poisoning issues … Accordingly, plaintiff failed to establish the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether defendant had constructive notice of a lead hazard before the October 1990 inspection… . Williams v Thomas, 516741, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

 

Homeowner Did Not Create Dangerous Condition (Wet Leaves on a Slope)/Condition Was Open and Obvious (No Duty to Warn)

 

The Third Department affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants homeowners in a slip and fall case.  Plaintiff, who was following the homeowner as they walked around the house counting windows, slipped on a slope adjacent to the house which was covered with wet leaves.  The court determined defendants did not create the hazardous condition and had no duty to warn of the condition:

 

"Generally, landowners both owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining their property in a reasonably safe condition and have a duty to warn of a latent, dangerous condition of which the landowner is or should be aware" … . However, the landowner's duty to warn "does not extend to open and obvious conditions that are natural geographic phenomena which can readily be observed by those employing the reasonable use of their senses" … .  As the movants, defendants were required to "make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law" … .

 

Defendants satisfied their threshold burden, as the moving parties, by establishing … that they exercised reasonable care by maintaining the premises year round and in a seasonally appropriate manner, and that they did not create the condition, which occurred as a result of natural seasonal changes.  Notably, plaintiff's fall did not occur on a pathway, walkway or driveway but, rather, on the surface of the ground along the side of the house on the unaltered natural contour of the land in an area that was exposed to the elements; it was not foreseeable that someone would traverse on this obviously slippery terrain so as to impose an obligation on the owners to take precautions such as clearing the ground area of leaves and debris … .

 

Moreover, defendants' proof established that the slippery condition of the leaf and debris-covered natural, unimproved downward slope was an open and obvious hazard, as opposed to a latent or concealed one, in that the danger "could not be overlooked by any observer reasonably using his or her ordinary senses"…. . Freeese v Bedford, 516863, 3rd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

 

Restaurant Chair Collapsed: No Question of Fact About Constructive Notice of Condition of the Chair/Res Ipsa Loquitur Did Not Apply

 

The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, affirmed the grant of summary judgment to defendant restaurant owner.  A chair at the restaurant collapsed when plaintiff sat down.  The court determined the defendant did not have constructive notice of the condition of the chair and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply:

 

The duty of a property owner to inspect his or her property “is measured by a standard of reasonableness under the circumstances” … .  Here, defendant testified that she wipes down the chairs at the end of each day and that, “every month or so,” she performs a “major cleaning” of the restaurant, which includes an inspection of the chairs.  In the absence of any prior complaints, incidents, accidents, or any other circumstances that should have aroused defendant’s suspicion that the chairs were defective …, we conclude that plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact concerning the reasonableness of defendant’s inspection practices, and thus whether defendant had constructive notice of the alleged defective condition of the chair.

 

We reject plaintiffs’ alternative contention that notice to defendant was not required because the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies.  That doctrine “does not apply here because, inter alia, defendant was not in exclusive control of the instrumentality that allegedly caused plaintiff’s injuries,” i.e., the chair… . Catalano v Tanner, 1087, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

 

Res Ipsa Loquitur Cause of Action Should Not Have Been Dismissed/Question of Fact About Whether Handrail Which Came Loose Was In Exclusive Control of Defendant

 

The Fourth Department determined Supreme Court should not have granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s res ipsa loquitur case of action.  Plaintiff was injured when a handrail came loose from the wall in her apartment building:

 

Supreme Court … erred in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that defendant established as a matter of law that it did not have exclusive control of the handrail, i.e., one of the necessary conditions herein for the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur ….  We conclude that plaintiff raised an issue of fact whether the handrail was in the exclusive control of defendant, and thus that the court erred in granting defendant’s motion … .  …

 

“The exclusive control requirement . . . is that evidence must afford a rational basis for concluding that the cause of the accident was probably such that the defendant would be responsible for any negligence connected with it . . . The purpose is simply to eliminate within reason all explanations for the injury other than defendant’s negligence” … .  Here, plaintiff established that access to the internal stairway is limited to the residents of the three units in the building and defendant’s maintenance staff …, and a former maintenance staff person testified that railings in other buildings had become loose and were tightened as needed.  We therefore conclude that plaintiff raised an issue of fact “that the cause of the accident was probably such that the defendant would be responsible for any negligence connected with it”… . Herbst v Lakewood Shores Condominium Association, 1337, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

ANIMAL LAW

 

Growling and Baring Teeth Insufficient to Raise Question of Fact About a Dog’s Vicious Propensities

 

The First Department noted that a dog’s growling and baring its teeth is not sufficient evidence to raise a question of fact re: the dog’s vicious propensities:

 

No court has found that a dog's growling at one or two other dogs is sufficient to establish vicious propensities, and the Third Department has specifically held that growling and baring of teeth, even at people, is insufficient to give notice of a dog's vicious propensities … . Here, the evidence, which establishes only that defendant's dog growled at two other dogs, one of whom had bitten her, and never growled or bared her teeth at any people, is insufficient to raise an issue of fact as to the dog's vicious propensities. Accordingly, defendant is entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint.   Gervais v Laino, 2013 NY Slip Op 08819, 1st Dept 12-31-13

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

No Special Duty Owed to Claimant/County Clerk Cannot Be Sued For Failure to Properly Docket a Judgment

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Angiolillo, the Second Department determined that the County Clerk could not be sued by a judgment debtor based on the clerk’s failure to properly docket a judgment.  The court held that no special duty of care was owed by the municipality to the claimant, and therefore it was unnecessary to address the “sovereign immunity” and “discretionary” versus “ministerial” issues:

 

A "special duty" is "a duty to exercise reasonable care toward the plaintiff," and is "born of a special relationship between the plaintiff and the governmental entity" (Pelaez v Seide, 2 NY3d 186, 189, 198-199; see McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d at 199).

 

"A special relationship can be formed in three ways: (1) when the municipality violates a statutory duty enacted for the benefit of a particular class of persons; (2) when it voluntarily assumes a duty that generates justifiable reliance by the person who benefits from the duty; or (3) when the municipality assumes positive direction and control in the face of a known, blatant and dangerous safety violation" (Pelaez v Seide, 2 NY3d at 199-200; see McLean v City of New York, 12 NY3d at 199). * * *

 

To satisfy the first and second prerequisites, the claimant must be "one of the class for whose particular benefit the statute was enacted," and it must be shown that "recognition of a private right of action would promote the legislative purpose" of the governing statutes … . A determination that these two prerequisites are met here would require us to conclude that the class for whose particular benefit the governing statutes were enacted comprises judgment creditors, and that the legislative purpose of the statutory scheme was to make judgment creditors whole for their losses. This is simply not the case. * * *

 

In any event, even if the first two prerequisites have been met, the third one has not. "[T]he most critical inquiry in determining whether to recognize a private cause of action where one is not expressly provided is whether such action would be consistent with the over-all legislative scheme" … . A private right of action for a new type of claim should not be judicially recognized by implication "where the statutes in question already contain[ ] substantial enforcement mechanisms, indicating that the Legislature considered how best to effectuate its intent and provided the avenues for relief it deemed warranted" … . The judgment lien created by CPLR 5018 and 5203 is simply one weapon in the "arsenal of enforcement mechanisms under CPLR article 52" provided to judgment creditors… .  Flagstar Bank FSB v State of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 08592, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Imposition of a Recreation Fee on New Construction In Lieu of Land for a Park Was Proper Pursuant to Town Law 277

 

The Fourth Department determined Supreme Court should not have annulled the town’s imposition of a recreation fee upon each apartment and townhouse in a subdivision plat, in lieu of land for a park, pursuant to Town Law 277:

 

Inasmuch as the Court of Appeals has rejected the notion that section 277 (4) is a “taxing” statute …, we must decide whether respondent’s determination that the Town needs “additional funds to develop parks and recreational facilities,” not additional land, is consistent with the legislative purpose of that statute.  The Court of Appeals has recognized that section 277 (4) “ ‘represents a legislative reaction to the threatened loss of open land available for park and recreational purposes resulting from the process of development in suburban areas and the continuing demands of the growing populations in such areas for additional park and recreational facilities’ ” … .  In that vein, section 277 (4) (b) provides that a set-aside of land for a park or other recreational purposes may be required if the planning board has made a finding that a proper case for such land exists.  That section further provides that “[s]uch findings shall include an evaluation of the present and anticipated future needs for park and recreational facilities in the town based on projected population growth to which the particular subdivision plat will contribute” (id. [emphasis added]).  Section 277 (4) (c) provides that, in the event the planning board determines that a park may not be suitably located on the subdivision plat, “[a]ny monies required by the planning board in lieu of land for park, playground or other recreational purposes, pursuant to the provisions of this section, shall be deposited into a trust fund to be used by the town exclusively for park, playground or other recreational purposes, including the acquisition of property” (emphasis added).

 

Here, the court concluded that the assessment of recreation fees was unjustified because respondent found that the Town did not need more recreational land.  As noted, however, Town Law § 277 (4) provides that concern over population demand for additional recreational facilities and the unsuitability of the plat at issue may justify the assessment of recreation fees.  Furthermore, contrary to petitioners’ contention, the application of section 277 involves a town-based review, not a plat-based review.  We thus conclude that the court erred in determining that respondent acted irrationally in imposing the recreation fees at issue… . Matter of Legacy at Fairways LLC… v Planning Board of Town of Victor, 1063, 4th Dept 12-27-13

 

 

TRUSTS AND ESTATES

 

No Rigid Formula for a Constructive Trust

 

The Second Department determined that a petition seeking to impose a constructive trust on an IRA properly survived a motion for summary judgment. The petitioners are the children of James (now deceased) and the former beneficiaries of James’ Oppenheiner Funds IRA.  The respondent, Holbrook, is the executor of the estate of James’ second wife (the decedent) and the current beneficiary of the Oppenheimer IRA.  The petitioners alleged that, in return for James’ naming the decedent the beneficiary of the Oppenheimer IRA, the decedent promised to sign a consent form making petitioners the beneficiaries of another IRA.  The petitioners alleged that, when presented with the consent form, the decedent refused to sign it:

 

…[T]he petition seeking to impose a constructive trust adequately states a cause of action to impose a constructive trust on the proceeds of the Oppenheimer Funds IRA. "The usual elements of a constructive trust are (1) a confidential or fiduciary relation[ship], (2) a promise, (3) a transfer in reliance thereon and (4) unjust enrichment'" … . However, these factors "are not an unyielding formula which limits a court's freedom to fashion this equitable remedy' and the requirements are not to be rigidly applied" … . Thus, a constructive trust "will be erected whenever necessary to satisfy the demands of justice" … .

 

Here, the marital relationship between James and the decedent provides the necessary confidential relationship …. . The petitioners have sufficiently alleged a promise by the decedent, a change in beneficiary of the Oppenheimer Funds IRA to the decedent in reliance upon that promise, and the decedent's, and then Holbrook's, unjust enrichment therefrom. Contrary to Holbrook's contention, the petitioners possessed a sufficient interest as the previously designated beneficiaries of the Oppenheimer Funds IRA to seek to impose a constructive trust on the proceeds … . Matter of Harold, 2013 NYSlip Op 08629, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

TRUSTS AND ESTATES

 

 

Relatives of Persons Buried in Defendant Cemetery Could Not Sue As Beneficiaries of the Charitable Trust Set Up to Ensure Perpetual Care of the Cemetery Plots

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Saxe, the First Department determined that the relatives of persons buried in defendant cemetery did not have standing to sue as beneficiaries of a charitable trust which was supposed to ensure perpetual care of the cemetery plots.  [However, one of the plaintiffs, who himself was a donor to the charitable trust, did have standing to sue:]

 

EPTL article 1, which governs charitable trusts, specifically includes trusts for the perpetual care of graves: "Dispositions of property in trust for the purpose of the perpetual care ... of cemeteries or private burial lots in cemeteries ... shall be deemed to be for charitable and benevolent purposes" (EPTL 8-1.5). The statute directs the State Attorney General to protect and enforce the interests and rights of the beneficiaries: "The attorney general shall represent the beneficiaries of such dispositions for religious, charitable, educational or benevolent purposes and it shall be his duty to enforce the rights of such beneficiaries by appropriate proceedings in the courts" (EPTL § 8-1.1[f] [emphasis added]). "The obvious purpose of this provision was to provide a mechanism for enforcement of trusts whose beneficiaries were unascertainable" … . * * *

 

… [A]llowing relatives to bring lawsuits as to each lot, plot or grave could create endless litigation, substantially depleting the trust assets. Enforcement of the subject charitable trusts is therefore best left to the Attorney General, so as not to expose the trust funds to money-draining multiple lawsuits, and to avoid setting a precedent of allowing a broad, vague beneficiary base to commence multiple actions against a charitable trust. Lucker v Bayside Cemetary, 2013 NY Slip Op 08835, 1st Dept 12-31-13

 

 

LAND USE

 

Petitioners Did Not Have Standing to Challenge Construction of Shopping Mall/No Showing of Unique Environmental Injury

 

The Second Department determined that members of a “Neighborhood Preservation Coalition” did not have standing to challenge the construction of a shopping mall.  The petitioners lived approximately 1300 to 2000 feet away from the proposed construction site:

 

Contrary to the petitioners' contention, the Supreme Court properly concluded that they lacked standing. " [I]n land use matters . . . the plaintiff[s], for standing purposes, must show that [they] would suffer direct harm, injury that is in some way different from that of the public at …large'" … . Here, the individual petitioners, none of whom allege that the site of the proposed mall is visible from their homes, do not live close enough to the site to be afforded a presumption of injury-in-fact based on proximity alone … . Further, the individual petitioners' allegations are insufficient to demonstrate that the construction of the proposed mall would cause them to suffer an environmental injury different from that of members of the public at large, who use Fairway Drive for access, inter alia, to a golf course… . Matter of Riverhead Neighborhood Preserv Coalition Inc v Town of Riverhead Town Bd, 2013 NY Slip Op 08640, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

 

 

 

ZONING/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW/LAND USE/ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Zoning Law Requiring Minimum Lot Size Not Unconstitutional/Law Consistent With Comprehensive Land Use Plan Re: Quality of Life and Aesthetics

 

The Second Department determined a Local Law which rezoned corner lots requiring a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet, and prohibiting subdivision unless the corner lot has a minimum size of 40,000 square feet, was not unconstitutional:

 

"The power to zone is derived from the Legislature and must be exercised in the case of towns and villages in accord with a comprehensive plan'" (…see Town Law § 263; Village Law § 7-704). The function of land regulation is to implement a plan for the future development of the community … . Thus, when a plaintiff fails to establish a "clear conflict" with a formal comprehensive plan, a zoning classification may not be annulled for incompatibility with the comprehensive plan … .

 

The record establishes that the local law is not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan of the Village. The local law is reasonably related to the legitimate stated purpose of preserving larger corner lots on the larger boulevard-style streets within the Central Section of the Village. Municipalities can "enact land-use restrictions or controls to enhance the quality of life by preserving the character and desirable aesthetic features of a city"… . Nicholson v Incorporated Vil of Garden City, 2013 NY Slip Op 08600, 2nd Dept 12-26-13

 

ZONING/REAL PROPERTY/ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Density and Open Space Requirements Were In the Nature of Zoning Regulations and Were Not Encumbrances Which Must Be in the Chain of Title to Be Enforced

 

The Fourth Department determined that the density and open space requirements imposed by the town planning board on a site plan were in the nature of zoning regulations and not encumbrances which must be in the chain of title to be enforceable:

 

…[T]he density and open space restrictions on further development of plaintiff’s property are the result of zoning regulations and do not amount to encumbrances that must be recorded in plaintiff’s chain of title … .  Here, the Planning Board imposed the density and open space restrictions at issue when it originally approved the cluster development in 1999 (see Town Law § 278 [3] [b]).  Defendant’s subsequent 2005 application made use of those same density and open space restrictions, despite the subdivision of the property into two parcels, and the application was approved by the Planning Board.  “The use that may be made of land under a zoning ordinance and the use of the same land under an easement or restrictive covenant are, as a general rule, separate and distinct matters, the ordinance being a legislative enactment and the easement or covenant a matter of private agreement” … .  We conclude that here, as in O’Mara, the density and open space conditions that restrict further development of plaintiff’s property are the result of the Town’s “ability to impose such conditions on the use of land through the zoning process,” which conditions are “meaningless without the ability to enforce those conditions, even against a subsequent purchaser” … .  Indeed, it is well settled that, “ ‘where a person agrees to purchase real estate, which, at the time, is restricted by laws or ordinances, he will be deemed to have entered into the contract subject to the same [and] [h]e cannot thereafter be heard to object to taking the title because of such restrictions’ ” … . Ellison Heights Homeowners Association Inc v Ellison Heights LLC…, 1193, 4th Dept 12-27-13