JUST RELEASED

February Page II

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

COURT OF APPEALS

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Defendant Entitled to Jury Charge on Extreme Emotional Disturbance Despite Lack of CPL 250.10 Notice

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Abdus-Salaam, the Court of Appeals determined the defendant’s request for an “extreme emotional disturbance” jury charge should have been granted, in spite of the defendant’s withdrawing his CPL 250.10 notice re:  offering mental health evidence. At trial the defendant did not introduce any evidence of or cross-examine any witness about the defendant’s mental state. The evidence of defendant’s mental state was contained in defendant’s videotaped confession, which was presented at trial by the People. Because the CPL 250.10 notice concerns only mental-state evidence “offered” by the defendant, the absence of the notice did not preclude the extreme-emotional-disturbance jury charge:

 

A defendant is entitled to a jury charge on EED where the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, is sufficient for the jury "to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the elements of the affirmative defense are satisfied" … . Accordingly, the trial court must grant the defendant's request for an EED charge if the jury could reasonably conclude from the evidence that, at the time of the homicide, the defendant "was affected by an extreme emotional disturbance, and that [the] disturbance was supported by a reasonable explanation or excuse rooted in the situation as he perceived it" … . This is true even if the "[d]efendant did not testify or otherwise present evidence" and the "request for an extreme emotional disturbance charge [i]s based entirely on proof elicited during the People's case" … . * * *

 

In its present form, CPL 250.10 requires notice when a defendant "inten[ds] to present psychiatric evidence" … , which the statute broadly defines as "[e]vidence of mental disease or defect to be offered by the defendant in connection with the affirmative defense of," as relevant to this appeal, "extreme emotional disturbance" … . The Legislature did not specify what qualifies as mental health evidence "offered by the defendant"; however, to "offer evidence," as that legal phrase is traditionally understood, means to put forth evidence and "demand its admission" (Black's Law Dictionary 1081 [6th ed 1991]; see Black's Law Dictionary [9th ed 2009], proffer ["To offer or tender (something, esp. evidence) for immediate acceptance"]). Additionally, the frequently used meaning of "present" is "to bring or introduce into the presence of someone" (MerriamWebster's Collegiate Dictionary 982 [11th ed 2003]). The Legislature's use of these "active" terms suggests that it intended the notice requirement to apply where the defendant affirmatively seeks to admit psychiatric evidence in support of an EED defense. People v Gonzalez, 12, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/ATTORNEYS

No Constitutional Right to a Sua Sponte Inquiry Into Defendant’s Mental Health Before Allowing Defendant to Proceed Pro Se

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, the Court of Appeals acknowledged that a defendant may be competent to stand trial but not competent to proceed pro se, but determined the trial court did not violate defendant’s constitutional rights by not conducting a sua sponte inquiry into his mental health when he asked proceed pro se:

 

Defendant submits that [Indiana v Edwards (554 US 164 [2008])] requires states to adopt a two-tiered competency standard -- a baseline for competency to stand trial and a separate, heightened standard for competency to proceed pro se at trial -- and compels a competency hearing before a defendant may be permitted to proceed pro se. But we do not view Edwards as imposing such a requirement -- and our interpretation is in accord with the federal appellate courts that have addressed the issue … . Although a court has discretion to require representation by counsel in certain circumstances despite a request to proceed pro se, it does not follow that the Constitution is offended if that discretion is not exercised. People v Stone, 5, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

Proof Sufficient to Support Unlawful Surveillance Conviction/Defendant Was Standing on the Front Door Step Videotaping Woman Inside

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined the proof was legally sufficient to support defendant’s “unlawful surveillance” conviction. Defendant videotaped a woman who was in her bathroom with the door open on the second floor of her townhouse. The defendant was standing on the front door step of the woman’s townhouse holding a video camera over his head in front of a small decorative window in the front door. The court determined that defendant’s actions, at 7:30 a.m. on December 24, could be deemed “surreptitious” within the meaning of the statute, even though he was potentially visible to the public while he was videotaping:

 

Here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the People, defendant's conduct was surreptitious in nature. Although he was standing on complainant's front step, potentially exposed to public view, it was at 7:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The argument that defendant's conduct was completely out in the open, for anyone who happened by to see, is undermined given the pre-dawn hour.* Moreover, defendant was holding the small black camera in his black-gloved hand. In addition, he apparently had to hold the camera over his head, in the air, in order to get the proper angle and used the zoom function. Under the circumstances, there is legally sufficient evidence that defendant was acting in a furtive or stealthy manner, attempting to obtain the video of complainant without being discovered -- in other words, that he was acting surreptitiously. People v Schreier, 4, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/APPEALS/EVIDENCE

Appellate Review of Conviction Based Upon Circumstantial Evidence Explained

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, the Court of Appeals determined there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to support defendant’s conviction, even though innocent explanations for the evidence could be offered. The court explained appellate review of circumstantial evidence:

 

…[I]t is well-established that "[t]he standard of appellate review in determining whether the evidence before the jury was legally sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is the same for circumstantial and non-circumstantial cases" … . That standard, of course, is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, "there is a valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences from which a rational jury could have found the elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt" … . A jury, faced with a case in which the proof of a particular charge, or element thereof, consists entirely of circumstantial evidence, "must exclude to a moral certainty every other reasonable hypothesis" … . But an appellate court's duty, when reviewing the jury's finding, is not to determine whether it would have reached the same conclusion as the jury, with respect to a proposed innocent explanation of the evidence (see Grassi, 92 NY2d at 699 ["Defendant has offered myriad innocent explanations or inferences that could be drawn by a jury to counter this evidence. That, however, is not the legal standard by which this Court is bound for reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence appeal"]). Rather, the appellate court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the People, must decide whether a jury could rationally have excluded innocent explanations of the evidence offered by the defendant and found each element of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Reed, 3, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

INSURANCE LAW/CONTRACT LAW

 

Two-Year Time Limit On Bringing Suit Against Insurer for Cost of Replacement of Damaged Property Unreasonable If Replacement Cannot Reasonably Be Done Within Two Years

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals, in answering a question posed by the Second Circuit, determined a two-year time-limit on bringing suit against an insurance company was unreasonable because suit could not be brought until the damaged property was replaced. Therefore, as was true in this case, if the damage-repair takes longer than two years, the insured cannot sue for payment:

 

"[A]n agreement which modifies the Statute of Limitations by specifying a shorter, but reasonable, period within which to commence an action is enforceable" … . We conclude that the contractual period at issue here -- two years from the date of "direct physical loss or damage" (i.e., from the date of the fire) -- is not reasonable if, as the Second Circuit's question requires us to assume, the property cannot reasonably be replaced within two years.It is true, as the District Court pointed out, that there is nothing inherently unreasonable about a two-year period of limitation. In fact, we have enforced contractual limitation periods of one year … . The problem with the limitation period in this case is not its duration, but its accrual date. It is neither fair nor reasonable to require a suit within two years from the date of the loss, while imposing a condition precedent to the suit -- in this case, completion of replacement of the property -- that cannot be met within that two-year period. A "limitation period" that expires before suit can be brought is not really a limitation period at all, but simply a nullification of the claim. It is true that nothing required defendant to insure plaintiff for replacement cost in excess of actual cash value, but having chosen to do so defendant may not insist on a "limitation period" that renders the coverage valueless when the repairs are time-consuming. Executive Plaza LLC v Peerless Insurance Company, 2, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION/LABOR LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Employer Which Hired Undocumented Workers Who Were Injured On the Job Protected from Suit by the Workers’ Compensation Law

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals determined the employer [Microtech] was entitled to the protection of the Workers’ Compensation Law and a suit against the employer by the hospital (which paid out Labor Law claims to the injured workers) was properly dismissed. The employer had hired undocumented workers [the Lemas] who were injured doing demolition work at the hospital. The workers were paid Workers’ Compensation benefits by the employer. The workers sued the hospital under the Labor Law and were awarded a verdict. The hospital then sued the employer which, the Court of Appeals held, was protected from suit by section 11 of the Workers’ Compensation Law:[Quoting the appellate division, the Court of Appeals wrote:]

 

…[T]o rule in the hospital's favor would "effectively deny [Microtech] the economic protections it acquired under the Workers' Compensation Law in return for providing [the Lemas] with compensation for their injuries," as well as "relieve [the hospital] of its responsibility to ensure a safe construction site for workers under the Labor Law"… . New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens v Microtech Contracting Corp, 1, Ct App 2-13-14

 

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

AGENCY/CONTRACT LAW

 

Agent for Partially Disclosed Principal Is Personally Liable on the Contract

 

In finding the agent (Sussman) liable for a contract because the principal was not fully disclosed, the Second Department wrote:

…[The evidence] indicates at best that Sussman was acting as an agent for a "partially disclosed principal," in that the agency relationship was known, but the identity of the principal remained undisclosed (Restatement [Second] of Agency § 4[2]…). As an agent for an undisclosed principal, Sussman became personally liable under the contract (…Restatement [Second] of Agency § 321). Stonhard v Blue Ridge Farms, LLC, 2014 NY Slip Op 00985, 2nd Dept 2-13-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Court-Ordered Period for Bringing Summary Judgment Motion Which Was Shorter than the Statutory Period Cannot Be Modified Absent Good Cause—Law Office Failure Not Enough

 

The First Department determined that the court-ordered deadline for bringing a summary judgment motion could not be modified absent good cause, even though the court-ordered deadline shortened the statutory 120 period:

 

As the Court of Appeals has repeatedly reiterated, court-ordered time frames are requirements to be taken seriously by the parties … . Contrary to the distinction defendant seeks to draw, it does not matter whether a motion for summary judgment has been made more than 120 days after the filing of the note of issue or after the expiration of a shorter time limit set by a court order or stipulation. Whatever the source of the deadline with which a party fails to comply, the lateness may not be excused without a showing of good cause within the meaning of CPLR 3212(a)---a showing of something more than mere law office failure… . Quinones v Joan & Sanford I Weill Med Coll, 2014 NY slip Op 00882, 1st Dept 2-11-13

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/FRAUD/FORECLOSURE

Motion to Vacate Pursuant to CPLR 5015 Should Have Been Granted On “Subject Matter Jurisdiction” and “Fraud Upon the Court” Grounds

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Centra, the Fourth Department determined Wells Fargo had either perpetrated a fraud upon the court or failed to reveal all the facts to the court which granted a nunc pro tunc order adding a second parcel to a foreclosure action. The Fourth Department noted that Wells Fargo knew the foreclosure action did not relate to the second parcel and therefore knew the nunc pro tunc order purporting merely to correct a mistake should not have been granted:

 

First, we agree … that the court … should have granted the motion to vacate the nunc pro tunc order because the court … was without subject matter jurisdiction to issue the nunc pro tunc order (see CPLR 5015 [a] [4]). Wells Fargo moved for the nunc pro tunc order pursuant to CPLR 2001, which provides that a “court may permit a mistake, omission, defect or irregularity . . . to be corrected, upon such terms as may be just, or, if a substantial right of a party is not prejudiced, the mistake, omission, defect or irregularity shall be disregarded.” The court erred in granting the nunc pro tunc motion because Wells Fargo was not seeking to correct a mere ministerial or clerical mistake… . * * *

 

…[W]e agree … that the court … also should have granted the motion to vacate the nunc pro tunc order based on “fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party” (CPLR 5015 [a] [3]…).. In its nunc pro tunc motion, Wells Fargo asserted that the “common address” of 124-128 East Main Street contained both Parcel No. 1 and Parcel No. 2. Wells Fargo failed to advise the court …., however, that the metes and bounds descriptions of the two parcels are different. Wells Fargo does not dispute that, “when there is a discrepancy between the street address and the legal description of a piece of real property, the legal description controls” … . Wells Fargo also failed to advise the court of the second mortgage that encumbered Parcel No. 2, which, as noted earlier, was executed on the same date as the first mortgage. Further, Wells Fargo failed to advise the court that there was a two-family dwelling on Parcel No. 1 and a separate four-family dwelling on Parcel No. 2. Had Wells Fargo made the court aware of those facts, the court may have realized that there was no clerical error in omitting Parcel No. 2 from schedule A. Wells Fargo Bank NA … v Podeswik…, 81, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/PRIVILEGE

 

Public Interest Privilege (Protecting Government Documents from Disclosure) Explained

 

In determining Supreme Court erred when it ordered the county to produce documents sought during discovery without reviewing them to determine the applicability of the asserted public interest privilege, the Second Department wrote:

 

CPLR 3101(a) broadly mandates "full disclosure of all matter material and necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action." This provision is to be liberally interpreted in favor of disclosure … . Nonetheless, a party from whom disclosure is sought may seek to prevent disclosure by properly invoking a recognized privilege. "A party asserting that material sought in disclosure is privileged bears the burden of demonstrating that the material it seeks to withhold is immune from discovery" … ."A public interest privilege inheres in certain official confidential information in the care and custody of governmental entities" … . "This privilege permits appropriate parties to protect information from ordinary disclosure, as an exception to liberal discovery rubrics" … . "Specifically, the privilege envelops confidential communications between public officers, and to public officers, in the performance of their duties, where the public interest requires that such confidential communications or the sources should not be divulged" … "The justification for the privilege is that the public interest might otherwise be harmed if extremely sensitive material were to lose this special shield of confidentiality"… . Ren Zheng Zheng v Bermeo, 2014 NY Slip Op 00979, 2nd Dept 2-13-14

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/ZONING

 

Landowners Who Have Been Granted a Variance Are Necessary Parties In an Action Challenging the Variance (CPLR 1001 (b))

 

The Second Department determined that landowners who were issued a zoning variance were necessary parties in the action challenging the variance. The landowners had not been properly served and Supreme Court went ahead and determined the merits without the landowners in the suit. On appeal the petitioners did not dispute that the landowners were necessary parties, but argued their presence should be excused under the factors in CPLR 1001 (b). The Second Department disagreed, finding that, under the facts, factors 2 through 5 required the landowners to be parties to the action:

 

A court may excuse the failure to join a necessary party and allow an action to proceed in the interest of justice upon consideration of five factors enumerated in CPLR 1001(b):   (1) whether the petitioner has another remedy if the action is dismissed for nonjoinder, (2) the prejudice that may accrue from nonjoinder to the respondent or to the nonjoined party, (3) whether and by whom prejudice might have been avoided or may in the future be avoided, (4) the feasibility of a protective provision, and (5) whether an effective judgment may be rendered in the absence of the nonjoined party… . Matter of Feder v Town of Islip Zoning Board of Appeals, 2014 NY Slip Op 00998, 2nd Dept 2-13-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Warrantless Entry Into Defendant’s Backyard Constituted a Search/Defendant Had a Legitimate Expectation of Privacy in His Backyard

 

The Second Department determined that the police officer’s warrantless entry into defendant’s backyard constituted a search because the defendant had an expectation of privacy there. The fact that the officer was aware of an apparently false report of a fire in the area did not justify the application of the emergency doctrine (also analyzed in the decision). The seized evidence (marijuana and a firearm) should have been suppressed:

 

A search occurs, thereby triggering the protection of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 12 of the New York Constitution, when the police invade an area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy … . A legitimate expectation of privacy exists where a person has manifested a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable … . The curtilage of the home--the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home or the area that is related to the intimate activities of the home---is part of the home itself … . The determination of whether an area falls within the home's curtilage may be made by reference to four factors: "the proximity of the area claimed to be curtilage to the home, whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by" … .Consideration of these factors in connection with the evidence in this record, including two photographs of a portion of the subject premises, compels us to conclude that the defendant's rear yard was within the curtilage of the home. The rear yard was in close proximity to the home, shielded from view by those on the street, and within the natural and artificial barriers enclosing the home. This physical arrangement made manifest the defendant's expectation of privacy, and that expectation is one that society recognizes as reasonable… . People v Theodore, 2014 NY Slip Op 01025, 2nd Dept 2-13-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

No Probable Cause for Arrest---Convictions Stemming from Arrest Reversed

 

The Fourth Department determined the deputy sheriff did not have probable cause to arrest the defendant without a warrant because the defendant had not committed a crime in the deputy’s presence. Therefore all the charges stemming from the illegal arrest were not supported by legally sufficient evidence:

 

We conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient to establish that the deputy’s arrest of defendant was lawful inasmuch as the deputy lacked reasonable cause to believe that defendant committed an offense in her presence (see CPL 140.10 [1] [a]). Because the arrest was not authorized at its inception, the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction of assault, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest …, and reversal therefore is required. People v LaBoy, 96, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

Defendant’s Reaching for Something in His Pocket, Without More, Did Not Justify Police Pursuit

 

The Fourth Department, over a dissent, determined that the defendant’s reaching for something in his pocket, without more, did not justify police pursuit. Therefore defendant’s suppression motion was properly granted:

 

Here, although defendant was reaching for his jacket pocket as he walked or ran away from the second officer, neither officer testified that he saw a bulge or the outline of a weapon in defendant’s jacket. Rather, the second officer believed that defendant had a gun only because, in his experience, if an individual pulled vigorously at an object in his or her pocket, but the object did not come out easily, that object usually was a weapon. While we are mindful that an officer may rely on his or her knowledge and experience in determining whether reasonable suspicion exists, we respectfully disagree with our dissenting colleagues that the above circumstances were sufficient to establish the requisite reasonable suspicion “in the absence of other objective indicia of criminality” … . Here, before pursuing defendant, the second officer knew only that defendant was walking across the street in a high-crime area, in the general vicinity of a house where an unnamed person of unestablished reliability claimed to have seen guns, and that, when the police approached, defendant walked or ran away while grabbing at his jacket pocket. We cannot conclude, based on the totality of those circumstances, that the police were justified in pursuing defendant… . People v Ingram, 1115, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE/APPEALS

 

Whether an Element of a Crime Has Been Proven Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Can Now Be Determined in a “Weight of the Evidence” Review/Such a Determination Is a Matter of Law Identical to a Determination the Evidence Is Legally Insufficient/After Making Such a “Legal” “Weight of the Evidence” Determination, the Court Is Not Constrained to Dismiss the Indictment As It Is When It Makes a “Factual” Determination a Conviction Is Not Supported by the Weight of the Evidence

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Scudder, with concurring and dissenting opinions, the Fourth Department reduced defendant’s conviction from murder to manslaughter after applying a “weight of the evidence” analysis. The court explained it is now well-settled that a “weight of the evidence” review may consider whether the elements of the crime were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Here the court determined there was insufficient evidence of an intent to kill. The stab wounds were inflicted in an attempt to escape the victim’s grasp during an altercation started by the victim. Even though the evidence was analyzed under a “weight of the evidence” review, the court actually concluded the evidence of intent to kill was insufficient as a matter of law. Because a question of law was determinative, the court held that it had the power to reduce the conviction, rather than dismiss the indictment (dismissal of the indictment is the statutory remedy for a “factual” “against the weight of the evidence” finding):

 

…[I]t is now well established that, “in conducting its weight of the evidence review, a court must consider the elements of the crime, for even if the prosecution’s witnesses were credible their testimony must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt” (Danielson, 9 NY3d at 349). Upon our review of the elements of the crime of murder in the second degree, we conclude that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the People, “a jury could [not] logically conclude that the People sustained [their] burden of proof” with respect to the element of intent to kill … . * * *

 

We therefore conclude that, despite the fact that our review is in the context of a contention that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, our assessment of the elements of the crime of murder in the second degree under these circumstances is not a determination on the facts (see CPL 470.15 [5]), i.e., a consideration of the “credible evidence, conflicting testimony and inferences that could be drawn from the evidence” (Danielson, 9 NY3d at 349). Instead, our assessment is a determination on the law that the evidence is legally insufficient with respect to the element of intent (see CPL 470.15 [4] [b]).

 

We respectfully disagree with our dissenting colleague’s conclusion that our review is limited by defendant’s “request for only a weight-based review” and that, based on that request, we must reverse the judgment as against the weight of the evidence and dismiss the indictment. Our conclusion that the judgment should be modified by reducing the conviction to a lesser included offense is supported by our reasoning that a defendant may not usurp our authority to determine the appropriate statutory remedy as set forth in CPL 470.20 by the manner in which he or she challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence, i.e., within the context of a weight of the evidence contention rather than by an express contention that the conviction is not supported by legally sufficient evidence (see generally Bleakley, 69 NY2d at 495). In other words, we conclude that we are not required to afford the remedy of dismissal of the indictment pursuant to CPL 470.20 (5) merely because defendant’s contention that the evidence of the intent to kill was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt is made in the context of a request for a weight of the evidence review, rather than in the context of a contention that the conviction is not supported by legally sufficient evidence, even if that contention is not preserved for our review. People v Heatley, 1051, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

“Summary Exhibits” Improperly Admitted Under “Voluminous Writings” Exception to the Best Evidence Rule

 

The Fourth Department reversed defendant’s conviction finding that summary exhibits were improperly admitted in evidence under the “voluminous writings” exception to the best evidence rule. In addition, the court determined defense counsel was ineffective for failure to review the summary exhibits and object to their admission:

 

We conclude that the summary exhibits were improperly admitted under the voluminous writings exception to the best evidence rule inasmuch as defendant was not provided with the data underlying those exhibits prior to trial …nor were those exhibits based solely upon information already in evidence … . Defendant was thus denied “a full and fair opportunity” to challenge the accuracy of the summary exhibits… . People v Case, 1310, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW/HUMAN RIGHTS LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Plaintiff Raised a Question of Fact About Whether Her Employment Was Terminated in Retaliation for Protected Activity

 

The Fourth Department concluded plaintiff had raised a question of fact about whether the termination of her employment with the county was in retaliation for protected activity. The wife of plaintiff’s boss was a special education teacher working with plaintiff’s son. Shortly after complaining to the school district about the special education plaintiff’s son was receiving, plaintiff’s job was eliminated. The Fourth Department summarized the applicable law as follows:

 

In order to make out a claim for unlawful retaliation under state or federal law, a plaintiff must show that “(1) she has engaged in protected activity, (2) her employer was aware that she participated in such activity, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action based upon her activity, and (4) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action” … .In order to establish entitlement to summary judgment in a retaliation case, a defendant may “demonstrate that the plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie claim of retaliation” or, alternatively, a defendant may “offer legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for the challenged actions,” and show that there are “no triable issue[s] of fact . . . whether the . . . [reasons are] pretextual”… . * * *With respect to the element of a causal connection, we note that such element “may be established either ‘indirectly by showing that the protected activity was followed closely by [retaliatory] treatment, . . . or directly through evidence of retaliatory animus directed against a plaintiff by the defendant’ ”… . Calhoun v County of Herkimer, 1303, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW/CRIMINAL LAW

 

Family Court Should Have Granted an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal as the Least Restrictive Dispositional Alternative in a Juvenile Delinquency Proceeding

 

In a juvenile delinquency proceeding, the First Department, over a dissent, determined the appellant should have been granted an adjournment of contemplation of dismissal (ACD) as the appropriate least restrictive disposition of the case:

 

…[W]e conclude that an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) would have been the least restrictive dispositional alternative consistent with appellant's needs and the community's need for protection … . We note that an ACD could have been made subject to conditions, such as counseling and educational requirements. This was appellant's first offense, and he had an exemplary academic record, along with strong recommendations from school personnel … . There is no indication that he has unsavory friends or a record of school disciplinary problems, truancy or poor grades … . On the contrary, appellant, who has a strong social support network, received an award for perfect school attendance and, upon graduation from eighth grade, an assemblyman and senator from the area awarded him a certificate of merit for academic achievement. He has also demonstrated leadership in sports. Additionally, appellant participated in a sexual behavior program and expressed remorse for his actions. Furthermore, appellant … stayed out of trouble for the 18 months that the case was pending. Based on all these factors, there is no reason to believe that appellant needed any supervision beyond that which could have been provided under an ACD. Matter of Juan P, 2014 NY Slip Op 00879, 1st Dept 2-11-14

 

LABOR LAW/CONTRACT LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Labor Law Suit for Gratuities Not Preempted by Labor Management Relations Act or Prohibited by Collective Bargaining Agreement

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Renwick, the First Department determined the plaintiffs, food and beverages servers at Madison Square Garden, had stated a cause of action against the defendant Garden under Labor Law 196-d. The plaintiffs alleged the Garden was not distributing to the plaintiffs all the “service charges” paid by customers who were led to believe the “service charges” were gratuities for the servers. The First Department rejected the Garden’s argument that the claims were preempted by federal law (Labor Management Relations Act [LMRA]) and, alternatively, subject to mandatory arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement [CBA].

 

Section 301 of the LMRA provides that "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce ... may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties" (29 USC § 185[a]. The Supreme Court has interpreted this section to preempt state law claims "founded directly on rights created by collective bargaining agreements" as well as "claims substantially dependent on an analysis of a collective bargaining agreement'"… . * * *

 

Section 301 [of the LMRA] … does not preempt state claims when state law confers an independent statutory right to bring a claim … .Even if resolution of a state-law claim "involves attention to the same factual considerations as the contractual determination ... such parallelism [does not mandate preemption]" … .

 

A defendant's reliance on the CBA is not enough to "inject---a federal question into an action that asserts what is plainly a state-law claim"… . * * *

 

A CBA cannot preclude a lawsuit concerning individual statutory rights unless the arbitration clause in the agreement is "clear and unmistakable" that the parties intended to arbitrate such individual claims … . "A clear and unmistakable' waiver exists where one of two requirements is met: (1) if the arbitration clause contains an explicit provision whereby an employee specifically agrees to submit all causes of action arising out of his employment to arbitration; or (2) where the arbitration clause specifically references or incorporates a statute into the agreement to arbitrate disputes" … . "Arbitration clauses that cover any dispute concerning the interpretation, application, or claimed violation of a specific term or provision' of the collective bargaining agreement do not contain the requisite clear and unmistakable' waiver because the degree of generality [in the arbitration provision] falls far short of a specific agreement to submit all federal claims to arbitration'"… . Tamburino v Madison Sq Garden LP, 2014 NY Slip Op 0895, 1st Dept 2-11-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Fall from Subway Platform Not the Result of Negligent Crowd Control

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court and dismissed a lawsuit stemming from plaintiff’s decedent’s fall from a subway platform to the tracks below. The court explained the negligence criteria with respect to the crowd on a subway platform:

 

"A subway company is not negligent merely because it permits crowds to gather on its platform. Before proof of negligence in this regard may be said to exist, it must be shown that the crowd was so large and unmanaged that a user of the platform was restricted in his free movements or was unable to find a safe standing place, and that as a result of either of those conditions an injury was sustained" … .Here, there is no evidence that the crowd on the subway platform was so large and unmanaged that it restricted the decedent's freedom of movement to the extent necessary to impose liability on the Transit Authority. The evidence in the record was insufficient to make out a prima facie case of negligence against the Transit Authority and, in effect, was insufficient to establish that any negligence was a proximate cause of the decedent's injuries… . Garcia v New York Tr Auth, 2014 NY Slip Op 00961, 2nd Dept 2-13-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

Hospital Does Not Have a Duty to Prevent a Patient from Leaving the Hospital Against Medical Advice or to Ensure Patient’s Safe Return Home

 

The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, concluded a cause of action against defendant hospital brought by a patient who suffered frostbite after leaving the hospital against medical advice should have been dismissed:

 

…[P]laintiffs alleged that defendant was negligent in failing to prevent plaintiff from leaving the hospital and in failing to ensure plaintiff’s safety when he left the hospital inasmuch as defendant’s staff did not contact plaintiff’s wife or make arrangements for someone to pick him up. We agree with defendant that, pursuant to Kowalski v St. Francis Hosp. & Health Ctrs. (21 NY3d 480, 484-485), which was decided after the court rendered its decision …, it did not have a duty to prevent plaintiff from leaving the hospital against medical advice. We further agree with defendant that it did not have the concomitant duty to ensure plaintiff’s safe return home … . Inguitti v Rochester General Hospital, 1302, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

Evidence Sufficient to Demonstrate No Constructive Notice of Ice on Step

 

Over a dissent, the Fourth Department determined defendants had demonstrated they did not have constructive notice of ice alleged to be on a step. The proof submitted by the defendants included evidence that the step was routinely inspected every morning, although no evidence of such an inspection on the morning in question was submitted:

 

The facilities supervisor testified that he routinely inspects the bank’s steps and sidewalk upon his arrival at the bank between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. He or his employees salt or shovel “first thing” in the morning, if the conditions require such action. In addition to inspecting the property upon their arrival, facilities personnel regularly monitor conditions throughout the day and “re-salt or re-shovel” as needed, and do so more frequently during inclement weather or if a customer complains. Defendants did not receive any complaints about snow, ice, or any other dangerous condition on the step prior to the accident. After the accident, which occurred at approximately 12:15 p.m., the facilities supervisor did not salt the steps or direct an employee to do so because he saw nothing to salt. Defendants also submitted the deposition testimony of their regional manager, who testified that there was no ice on the step when he arrived at the bank between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on the morning of the accident and that, after the accident, he inspected the step and the surrounding area and did not observe any snow or ice. A bank security officer testified that he photographed the step approximately two hours after the accident, at which time there was no snow or ice on the step. The security officer testified that he was “perplex[ed]” when he viewed the accident scene because he observed “nothing . . . to slip or fall on.” The postaccident photographs of the step depict what appears to be salt residue, but no ice. Austin v CDGA National Bank Trust and Canandaigua National Corporation…, 1298, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

Skiers Do Not Assume the Risk of Recklessness on the Part of Another Skier

 

The Fourth Department determined the doctrine of assumption of the risk did not rule out a novice skier’s lawsuit against a skier who ran into her. There was a question whether defendant’s conduct was reckless:

 

It is well established that, “by engaging in a sport orrecreational activity, a participant consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport generally and flow from such participation” … . “While awareness or appreciation of such risks must be ‘assessed against the background of the skill and experience of the particular plaintiff’ . . . , ‘[t]he risk of injury caused by another skier is an inherent risk of downhill skiing’ ” … . Nevertheless, “a sporting participant ‘will not be deemed to have assumed the risks of reckless or intentional conduct’ ” … . “ ‘Generally, the issue of assumption of [the] risk is a question of fact for the jury’ ”… . Moore… v Hoffman, 138, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

REAL PROPERTY LAW

 

Questions of Fact About Whether Covenants Restricting Use of Land Were Violated

 

The Fourth Department explained the analytical criteria for covenants restricting the use of land:

 

The law favors the free and unrestricted use of real property, and therefore covenants restricting such use are strictly construed against those seeking to enforce them … . Plaintiffs, as the parties seeking to enforce the covenants at issue, were required to “prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the scope . . . of the restriction” … . In addition, “where the language used in a restrictive covenant is equally susceptible of two interpretations, the less restrictive interpretation must be adopted” … . Viewing the language of the covenants in light of those rules, we conclude that plaintiffs failed to establish that the structure erected by defendant violates the covenant prohibiting erection or maintenance of a fence … . We further conclude that plaintiffs failed to establish that the structure violates the covenant prohibiting the obstruction of established trails or roads or otherwise interferes with plaintiffs’ rights of access to White Lake … . Rather, triable issues of fact remain whether the covenants at issue were intended to prohibit the structure in question and thus whether defendant violated those covenants… . Halfond… v White Lake Shores Association Inc, 1380, 4th Dept 2-14-14

 

 

ZONING

 

“Vested Right” Doctrine Explained

 

The Second Department concluded that the plaintiffs, who were seeking to effect a development plan under less restrictive R-3 zoning regulations, did not have a “vested right” in the plan such that the plan could be carried out after the area was rezoned to implement the more restrictive R-1 zoning regulations. Plaintiffs had negotiated a boundary change and had demolished some structures in furtherance of the development plan. The Planning Board, however, had never granted final unconditional approval of the plan. In explaining the “vested interest” doctrine, the Second Department wrote:

 

"In New York, a vested right can be acquired when, pursuant to a legally issued permit, the landowner demonstrates a commitment to the purpose for which the permit was granted by effecting substantial changes and incurring substantial expenses to further the development" … . "Neither the issuance of a permit . . . nor the landowner's substantial improvements and expenditures, standing alone, will establish the right. The landowner's actions relying on a valid permit must be so substantial that the municipal action results in serious loss rendering the improvements essentially valueless"… ."Reliance" is an essential element of the doctrine … . Although many cases speak in terms of reliance on permits …, a right may vest in certain situations when "subdivisions" have been given a "final grant of approval" … . Whether a planning board's final unconditional approval of a site plan may, even in the absence of a building permit, satisfy the first prong of the test has not been settled in New York …, and it is not before us now. Matter of Exeter Bldg Corp v Town of Newburgh, 2014 NY Slip Op 00996, 2nd Dept 2-13-14