JUST RELEASED

Updated March 2, 2014

The January and February Summaries Here on the "Just Released" Pages Are Now Included in Digest Issue 7

COURT OF APPEALS

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

“Rubbing” Constitutes “Forcible Touching”

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined that the allegation defendant “rubbed” his exposed penis on a subway passenger’s buttocks was sufficient to meet the pleading requirements for “forcible touching” in violation of Penal Law 130.52:

 

…[W]e hold that, when done with the relevant mens rea, any bodily contact involving the application of some level of pressure to the victim's sexual or intimate parts qualifies as a forcible touch within the meaning of Penal Law § 130.52. The allegation in the information here easily meets this test. People v Guaman, 29, Ct App 2-25-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

No “Exigent Circumstances”/Warrantless Search of Defendant’s Purse Incident to Arrest for Trespassing Not Justified

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, over a partial dissent, the Court of Appeals determined the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement did not apply and, therefore, the search of defendant’s purse incident to a “trespassing” arrest was not justified. The loaded handgun in the purse should have been suppressed. The court explained the relevant law:

 

Under the State Constitution, to justify a warrantless search incident to arrest, the People must satisfy two separate requirements. The first imposes spatial and temporal limitations to ensure that the search is "not significantly divorced in time or location from the arrest" … .The second, and equally important, predicate requires the People to demonstrate the presence of exigent circumstances … . We have recognized two interests underlying the exigency requirement: "the safety of the public and the arresting officer; and the protection of evidence from destruction or concealment" … . Exigency must be affirmatively demonstrated. Accordingly, even a bag "within the immediate control or 'grabbable area' of a suspect at the time of his arrest may not be subjected to a search incident to arrest, unless the circumstances leading to the arrest support a reasonable belief that the suspect may gain possession of a weapon or be able to destroy evidence located in the bag" … . People v Jimenez, 23, Ct App 2-25-14 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/ATTORNEYS

Counsel’s Failure to Object to Prosecutor’s PowerPoint Presentation Did Not Require Reversal for Ineffective Assistance

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals determined that defense counsel’s failure to object to a PowerPoint presentation used by the prosecutor in summation did not require reversal. During the presentation, the postmortem image of the child, Justice (whom the defendant was accused of suffocating), faded to white at 30-second intervals over six minutes:

 

Defendant does not dispute that the postmortem photograph itself was properly admitted at trial … . The slides depicting an already admitted photograph, with captions accurately tracking prior medical testimony, might reasonably be regarded as relevant and fair, albeit dramatic, commentary on the medical evidence, and not simply an appeal to the jury's emotions. The jury was being asked to decide not only whether defendant killed Justice, but also whether she intended to do so, an issue to which the question of how long she would have had to cover Justice's mouth and nose was certainly relevant. On the other hand, the relevance of the visual device whereby the postmortem picture faded at 30-second intervals over a six-minute period – with each slide fading more and more to white, and the final slide appearing totally white – is difficult to discern. This did not show how Justice's death occurred nor would it have aided the jury in its fact-finding function.If the issue had been preserved for our review by timely objection – and had the trial court ruled against defendant and the issue reached our Court – this Court would have had the opportunity to decide whether the trial court abused its discretion and the error required a reversal of the judgment of conviction. But that did not occur and the objection to the PowerPoint presentation that defendant now raises is not so "clear-cut" or "dispositive" an argument that its omission amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel… . People v Santiago, 22, Ct App 2-25-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

Defendant Implicitly and Explicitly Waived His Right to Be Present During Side-Bar Conferences

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals determined defendant had implicitly and explicitly waived his right to be present during side-bar conferences (the “Antommarchi” right). The implicit waiver was the defendant’s inaction after the trial judge informed him he was welcome to attend the side-bar conferences. And the explicit waiver was defense counsel’s statement to the judge, which was made outside the hearing of the defendant, that the defendant has waived his right to attend the conferences:

 

Defendant waived his Antommarchi right both implicitly and explicitly. He did so implicitly when, after hearing the trial judge say that he was "welcome to attend" the bench conferences, he chose not to do so. And he waived it explicitly by his lawyer's statement to the court. People v Flinn, 20, Ct App 2-25-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/CONTRACT LAW

 

Allegedly Flawed Service Overlooked Under CPLR 5304 Where Defendant Agreed by Contract that English Courts Would Have Jurisdiction Over Disputes and Defendant Had “Fair Notice” of the Lawsuit/Motion for Judgment In Lieu of Complaint Granted

 

The Court of Appeals determined summary judgment in lieu of complaint should have been granted to the plaintiff. Under the terms of a contract to provide wholesale seafood, the parties agreed the courts of England would have exclusive jurisdiction over disputes. The defendant was served in England and defaulted, but argued in opposition to the summary judgment motion in New York that the person upon whom the documents were served was not authorized to accept service. The Court of Appeals held that service was sufficient under CPLR 5304 because the defendant had agreed by contract that the English courts have jurisdiction and the defendant had “fair notice” of the lawsuit:

 

Although CPLR article 53 generally provides that a foreign judgment will not be enforced in New York if the foreign court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant (CPLR 5304[a][2]), an exception may be made if, "prior to the commencement of the proceedings [defendant] had agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign court with respect to the subject matter involved" (CPLR 5305[3]) and was afforded fair notice of the foreign court proceeding that gave rise to the judgment. We applied this principle in Galliano [15 NY3d 75], where we explained that enforcement of a foreign judgment is not repugnant to our notion of fairness if defendant was a party to a contract in which the parties agreed that disputes would be resolved in the courts of a foreign jurisdiction and defendant was aware of the ongoing litigation in that jurisdiction but neglected to appear and defend. We clarified that, so long as the exercise of jurisdiction by the foreign court does not offend due process, the judgment should be enforced without "microscopic analysis" of the underlying proceedings … . Landauer Limited v Monani Fish Co Inc, 27, Ct App 2-25-14

 

 

INSURANCE LAW/NEGLIGENCE/AGENCY

 

Question of Fact Whether a “Special Relationship” Had Developed Such that the Insurance Broker Might Be Liable for Negligent Advice About Coverage

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals determined there was a question of fact whether the relationship between the insurance broker and the plaintiff was a “special relationship” such that the broker might be liable for negligent advice about sufficient coverage. Plaintiff was a business owner who suffered losses for business interruption caused by several roof-failures. The issue was whether the insurance the broker advised plaintiff to purchase was sufficient for plaintiff’s needs. The court explained the general principles involved:

 

As a general principle, insurance brokers "have a common-law duty to obtain requested coverage for their clients within a reasonable time or inform the client of the inability to do so; however, they have no continuing duty to advise, guide or direct a client to obtain additional coverage" … . Hence, in the ordinary broker-client setting, the client may prevail in a negligence action only where it can establish that it made a particular request to the broker and the requested coverage was not procured. * * *Where a special relationship develops between the broker and client, we have also indicated that the broker may be liable, even in the absence of a specific request, for failing to advise or direct the client to obtain additional coverage … . In Murphy [90 NY2d at 272] , we recognized that "particularized situations may arise in which insurance agents, through their conduct or by express or implied contract with customers and clients, may assume or acquire duties in addition to those fixed at common law" and that the question of whether such additional responsibilities should be "given legal effect is governed by the particular relationship between the parties and is best determined on a case-by-case basis" … . We identified three exceptional situations that may give rise to a special relationship, thereby creating an additional duty of advisement:"(1) the agent receives compensation for consultation apart from payment of the premiums; (2) there was some interaction regarding a question of coverage, with the insured relying on the expertise of the agent; or (3) there is a course of dealing over an extended period of time which would have put objectively reasonable insurance agents on notice that their advice was being sought and specially relied on" … . Voss v The Netherlands Insurance Company…, 11, Ct App 2-25-14

 

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/LANDLORD-TENANT/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Termination of Petitioner’s Tenancy Based Upon An Isolated Angry Outburst Targeting a Housing Authority Employee Is “Shocking to the Conscience”

 

The First Department, after finding substantial evidence to substantiate the charges made by the housing authority (NYCHA) against the tenant-petitioner, determined the termination of the tenancy was “shocking to the conscience.” Petitioner had acted out angrily in a confrontation with a housing authority employee:

 

…[W]e find that termination of petitioner's tenancy, is, based on the reviewable facts in this record, a penalty that is shocking to the conscience and that must be vacated. We have found this to be so in similar cases of tenants engaging in fits of rage targeted at NYCHA employees, where the conduct was isolated or specifically related to circumstances that gave some explanation for the behavior. For example, in Matter of Winn v Brown …, this Court found that, while NYCHA's determination of nondesirability was supported by substantial evidence of the petitioner's actions, which "[included] screaming profanities, racial epithets and making threats to respondent's employees," the termination of the petitioner's tenancy was shocking to the conscience given that the incidents in question occurred when the tenant was having difficulty securing a transfer despite threats being made against the life of her son. In Matter of Spand v Franco …, this Court remanded to NYCHA for imposition of a lesser penalty where the tenant engaged in conduct that was "serious" and "appropriately condemned," but eviction was disproportionate because the incident was isolated, the tenant was the mother of three small children and there was no evidence of other problems which posed a risk to other people or property. Even where a tenant "accosted" a NYCHA representative, termination was considered too harsh because the incident was isolated and because, like here, the target of the tenant's wrath was not seriously injured … . Matter of Rock v Rhea, 2014 NY Slip Op 01268, 1st Dept 2-25-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Criteria for a Civil Contempt Finding

 

The Second Department, in finding defendant had violated a court order with respect to discovery (and therefore was in contempt), explained the criteria for civil contempt:

 

"To sustain a finding of civil contempt, a court must find that the alleged contemnor violated a lawful order of the court, clearly expressing an unequivocal mandate, of which that party had knowledge, and that as a result of the violation a right of a party to the litigation was prejudiced" … . The movant bears the burden of proving the civil contempt by clear and convincing evidence… . DeMaio v Capozello, 2014 NY Slip Op 01291, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Court Has Common-Law “Interest of Justice” Authority to Modify Its Own Order and/or a Stipulation Entered Into During Litigation

 

In affirming Supreme Court’s modifying its own order in the interest of justice, the Third Department explained the common law power to do so.  The order concerned the terms of a stipulation entered into during litigation:

 

A court has the common-law authority to, in its discretion, grant relief from a judgment or order in the interest of justice, considering "'the facts of the particular case, the equities affecting each party and others affected by the judgment or order, and the grounds for the requested relief'" … . Even if the stipulation had not merged into an order of the court, the court has the "discretionary power to relieve parties from the consequences of a stipulation effected during litigation" … . Here, Supreme Court correctly noted that it had the authority to modify its own order. Hodge v Development at Helderberg Meadows LLC, 517046, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/HUMAN RIGHTS LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Plaintiff Estopped from Bringing State Retaliation Claim/Issue Decided by District Court Which Dismissed Plaintiff’s Federal Title VII Constructive Discharge Claim

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Acosta, the First Department determined plaintiff was estopped from bringing her retaliation action in state court because the issue raised had necessarily been determined when the District Court dismissed her federal complaint. The plaintiff alleged she was retaliated against after she told management about allegedly discriminatory practices. The retaliation was alleged to have been the failure to act quickly to address a dispute with a coworker:

 

The doctrine of collateral estoppel applies where "[f]irst, the identical issue necessarily must have been decided in the prior action and be decisive of the present action, and second, the party to be precluded from relitigating the issue . . . had a full and fair opportunity to contest the prior determination" … . "The party seeking the benefit of collateral estoppel has the burden of demonstrating the identity of the issues in the present litigation and the prior determination, whereas the party attempting to defeat its application has the burden of establishing the absence of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior action" (id. at 456).In considering plaintiff's Title VII constructive discharge claim, the District Court examined, as it was obliged to do, the question of whether defendant "intentionally subjected her to an intolerable work environment"… . An integral part …of the court's determination that defendant had not done so was its explicit finding that defendant "responded promptly after [p]laintiff's complaint" and "the next day … attempted to address [p]laintiff's concerns within the constraints of [defendant's] staffing situation"… . Simmons-Grant v Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, 2014 NY Slip Op 01407, 1st Dept 2-27-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/CONTRACT LAW

 

Despite the Contractual Agreement to Apply Delaware Law, Because There Was No Conflict Between Delaware and New York Law, and Because the Parties Disagreed About Which Law to Apply, the Court Applied New York Law

 

The First Department determined there was no conflict between Delaware and New York law concerning non-solicitation agreements. Therefore, because the parties disagreed about which law should be applied (despite the contractual agreement to apply Delaware law), the court applied New York law, the law of the forum state:

 

By their own terms, all of the nonsolicitation agreements were to be governed by and construed in accordance with Delaware law. Nonetheless, the parties differ as to whether New York law or Delaware law should be applied.In light of the parties' disagreement as to which state's law should apply, our first step is to determine whether there is an actual conflict between the laws of the jurisdictions involved … . For an actual conflict to exist, "the laws in question must provide different substantive rules in each jurisdiction that are relevant' to the issue at hand and have a significant possible effect on the outcome of the trial'" … . Under New York law, an employee's noncompetition agreement is reasonable and, therefore, enforceable "only if it: (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of the legitimate interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public" … . The parties' briefs disclose no conflict of laws that would have a " significant possible effect on the outcome of the trial'" … . To be sure, the moving defendants argued before the motion court that "Delaware law does not differ significantly from New York law as to the test for enforceability" and that applying New York law "should not make a material difference to the outcome" of the case. Thus, we apply the law of New York, the forum state… . TBA Global LLC v Proscenium Events LLC 2014 NY Slip Op 01266, 1st Dept 2-25-14

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Unjust Enrichment Does Not Require a Wrongful Act by the One Enriched

 

The Second Department explained the criteria for determining a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action and the elements of an unjust enrichment cause of action. Unjust enrichment does not require a wrongful act:

 

"On a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) for failure to state a cause of action, the court must afford the pleading a liberal construction, accept all facts as alleged in the pleading to be true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every possible inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory" … . "Whether the complaint will later survive a motion for summary judgment, or whether the plaintiff will ultimately be able to prove its claims, of course, plays no part in the determination of a prediscovery CPLR 3211 motion to dismiss" … ."The essential inquiry in any action for unjust enrichment or restitution is whether … it is against equity and good conscience to permit the defendant to retain what is sought to be recovered" … . A plaintiff must show that (1) the other party was enriched, (2) at the plaintiff's expense, and (3) that it is against equity and good conscience to permit the other party to retain what is sought to be recovered … ."Unjust enrichment . . . does not require the performance of any wrongful act by the one enriched" … . "Innocent parties may frequently be unjustly enriched" … . "What is required, generally, is that a party hold property under such circumstances that in equity and good conscience he ought not to retain it'" … . Alan B Greenfield MD PC v Beach Imaging Holdings LLC, 2014 NY Slip Op 01285, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Post-Conviction DNA Test Results Warranted New Trial Under 2012 Amendment to CPL 440.10

 

The First Department determined defendant was entitled to a new trial based on DNA evidence which was not analyzed until after the defendant was convicted. The DNA collected from under the victim’s fingernails did not match the defendant’s. The defendant’s conviction was based solely on the victim’s identification of the defendant made three weeks after she was attacked. The defendant had produced an alibi witness at his trial. The court explained the application of the recent amendment of Criminal Procedure Law 440.10:

 

Pursuant to CPL 440.10(1)(g-1), which became effective October 1, 2012, the court may grant a defendant's motion to set aside the judgment when forensic DNA testing is performed after the entry of judgment upon a conviction and "the court has determined that there exists a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant." Unlike a motion under CPL 440.10(1)(g), a defendant relying on the results of DNA testing no longer has to show that the results of such testing is newly discovered evidence in order to seek vacatur of a judgment of conviction. The defendant only has to show that there is a reasonable probability that he would have obtained a more favorable verdict. The newly amended statute, permitting relief at any time after the entry of judgment, applies to this case… . People v Hicks, 2014 NY Slip Op 01376, 1st Dept 2-27-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Statements to Police Officer by Victim at the Scene Were “Nontestimonial” and Were Admissible as Excited Utterances

 

The Third Department determined a police officer’s testimony about what the assault victim, Stokes, said at the scene and a video of the officer’s encounter with the victim did not violate the defendant’s right to confront witnesses because the admitted statements were “nontestimonial” and “excited utterances.” Stokes had died before the trial:

 

The officer testified that Stokes said that she had been hit in the head with a bat, described her assailant, and said that he was in a nearby community center. The officer further testified that police then began looking for defendant. The video reveals that the officer encountered Stokes immediately upon arriving at the scene. She was bleeding profusely from her head and complaining of dizziness. The officer asked Stokes about her assailant's location, description and name, where the attack had occurred, and whether there were other victims, promptly relaying her answers to other police officers and emergency medical personnel who were dispatched to locate and assist Moore and pursue defendant. After the first few minutes, the officer asked no further questions about the incident, concentrating instead on attempting to calm Stokes as she became increasingly agitated and apprehensive about, among other things, the fact that defendant had not been found. County Court correctly determined that the statements by Stokes were admissible as excited utterances … . Further, we find no constitutional violation. The video reveals that the officer's primary purpose in questioning Stokes was "to enable the police to meet an ongoing emergency and apprehend the perpetrator, not to provide evidence for later prosecution," and Crawford [541 US 36} does not preclude such nontestimonial statements…. People v Anderson, 105060, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

DEFAMATION

 

Questions of Fact About Defamatory Meaning and Malice Re: Statements Concerning a Public Figure

 

The Third Department determined plaintiff, a public figure, had raised questions of fact about whether defamatory advertisements were done with malice:

 

Plaintiff was a public figure … and, as such, he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that defendant made a false statement with actual malice … . Distinguishing actionable fact from a protected expression of opinion is a question of law in which several factors are weighed, including whether the allegedly defamatory words have a precise meaning that is readily understood, whether the statement can be proven as true or false, and whether the context and surrounding circumstances would indicate that the comment is an opinion … . Further, summary judgment dismissing a defamation action may be avoided where the statement is a "'mixed opinion' implying a basis in undisclosed fact" or "'pure opinion' that accuses the plaintiff of engaging in criminal conduct"… .Since defendant's statement includes both a strong inference that he knows undisclosed facts that support his assertion that plaintiff engaged in "numerous unscrupulous dealings" when he previously was Town Supervisor and includes an example that indicated possible unlawful abuse of that office, we agree with Supreme Court that the statements are sufficiently susceptible to a defamatory meaning to avoid summary judgment … . Moreover, defendant essentially acknowledged at his deposition that he had no basis for some of his accusations, and when this proof is viewed most favorably to the nonmovant, there is adequate evidence in the record to raise a triable issue of fact regarding whether defendant acted with actual malice… . Baker v Galusha, 517125, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

EMINENT DOMAIN/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Criteria for Valuation of Vacant Land Explained

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court properly valued the condemned vacant land. Supreme Court rejected the village’s contention that Supreme Court had improperly incorporated the enhancement of value resulting from the inclusion of the property in the village’s urban redevelopment plan. The court explained the criteria for determining the value of vacant land:

 

In a case involving the taking of property, "[t]he measure of damages must reflect the fair market value of the property in its highest and best use on the date of the taking, regardless of whether the property is being put to such use at the time" … .Where an increment is added to the value of vacant land to reflect its development potential, "the specific increment which is selected and applied must be based on sufficient evidence and be satisfactorily explained" … . Moreover "[i]t is … necessary to show that there is a reasonable possibility that the property's highest and best asserted use could or would have been made within the reasonably near future, and a use which is no more than a speculative or hypothetical arrangement may not be accepted as the basis for an award" … ."[A] condemnee may not receive an enhanced value for its property where the enhancement is due to the property's inclusion within a redevelopment plan" … . Thus, for example, property zoned for industrial use "should be valued in accordance with the industrial zoning designation which would apply if the redevelopment plan did not exist," for "[a] condemnee is only entitled to compensation for what it has lost, not for what the condemnor has gained"… . Matter of Village of Haverstraw (AAA Electricians Inc), 2014 NY Slip Op 01332, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Defendant’s Failure to Comply with Stipulated Custody Arrangement Warranted Awarding Sole Custody to Plaintiff

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court had correctly found a change in circumstances justifying a change in the custody arrangement (sole custody awarded to the plaintiff). Despite the stipulation allowing liberal visitation by the plaintiff, the defendant did not comply with the agreement:

 

"Where parents enter into an agreement concerning custody, it will not be set aside unless there is a sufficient change in circumstances since the time [*2]of the stipulation and unless the modification of the custody agreement is in the best interests of the children'" … . In determining the child's best interests, the court must look to the totality of the circumstances … . "As custody determinations turn in large part on assessments of the credibility, character, temperament, and sincerity of the parties, the [c]ourt's determination should not be disturbed unless it lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record" … .In this case, the critical issue facing the Supreme Court was the parties' relative abilities to foster a relationship with the noncustodial parent and to cooperate in coordinating long-distance visitation. As we have stated, "one of the primary responsibilities of a custodial parent is to assure meaningful contact between the children and the noncustodial parent, and the willingness of a parent to assure such meaningful contact between the children and the other parent is a factor to be considered in making a custody determination" … . In contrast, "[w]illful interference with a noncustodial parent's right to visitation is so inconsistent with the best interests of the children as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as a custodial parent" … . Alvarez v Alcarez, 2014 NY Slip Op 01286, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW

Stipulation of Settlement Not Unconscionable/Provision Relating to Child Support Invalid Because No Indication Parties Were Advised of the Relevant Portions of the Child Support Standards Act

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court should not have vacated a stipulation of settlement as unconscionable. However, the provision in the stipulation relating to child support was invalid because it did not indicate the parties were advised of the relevant portions of the Child Support Standards Act. The court explained the criteria for unconscionability in this context:

 

"A stipulation of settlement which is made in open court by parties who are represented by counsel and who unequivocally agree to its terms will not be set aside absent a showing that the stipulation was tainted by mistake, fraud, duress, overreaching or unconscionability" … . As relevant here, a stipulation of settlement is unconscionable if it "is one which no person in his or her senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and no honest and fair person would accept on the other, the inequality being so strong and manifest as to shock the conscience and confound the … judgment of any person of common sense" … . However, a stipulation of settlement is not unconscionable "simply because it might have been improvident or one-sided" … . The defendant here, as the party seeking to vacate the stipulation of partial settlement, had the burden of showing that its terms were unconscionable … . O’Hanlon v O’Hanlon, 2014 NY Slip Op 01303, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW

Father Demonstrated Child Was Constructively Emancipated/Child Support Obligation Terminated

 

The Second Department determined Family Court should have terminated father’s child support obligation because the child was “constructively emancipated:

 

”"It is fundamental public policy in New York that parents are responsible for their children's support until age 21" … . "However, under the doctrine of constructive emancipation, a child of employable age who actively abandons the noncustodial parent by refusing all contact and visitation may forfeit any entitlement to support. A child's mere reluctance to see a parent is not abandonment"… . " [W]here it is the parent who causes a breakdown in communication with his [or her] child, or has made no serious effort to contact the child and exercise his [or her] visitation rights, the child will not be deemed to have abandoned the parent'… . Such a breakdown in communication between a parent and a child may result from the parent's "malfeasance, misconduct, neglect, or abuse" … . Where a child justifiably refuses to continue a relationship with a parent due to such parental conduct, the child will not be deemed to be self-emancipated … . "The burden of proof as to emancipation is on the party asserting it"… . * * *The evidence at the hearing established that the father consistently made a serious effort to maintain a relationship with the subject child during the relevant time period. The testimony adduced at the hearing demonstrated that the father regularly called the subject child at the mother's home, but his calls would either go unanswered, or, according to the mother, the subject child would refuse to speak with him. The father testified that he left messages indicating his willingness to participate in counseling with the subject child, but these offers were not accepted. On special occasions, the father left gifts and cards for the child that the child did not acknowledge. The father also contacted the child's therapist and suggested therapeutic visitation with the child. However, the child refused this offer. In addition to demonstrating the father's serious efforts to maintain a relationship with the child, the evidence demonstrated that, during the relevant period of time, the father's behavior was not a primary cause of the deterioration in his relationship with the subject child. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the father satisfied his burden of demonstrating that the subject child was constructively emancipated, and a finding in the father's favor in connection with this issue is warranted by the facts. Matter of Jurgielewicz v Johnston, 2014 NY Slip Op 01325, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Mother’s Failure to Seek Medical Care for Child Coupled With Mother’s Mental Illness Supported Neglect Finding

 

The Third Department determined Family Court’s neglect finding was supported by evidence mother did not seek needed dental and medical care for her child and suffered from psychological problems which created an imminent risk of harm to the child:

 

To establish neglect, a petitioner must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the child's physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired due to the failure of the parent or caretaker to exercise a minimum degree of care (see Family Ct Act §§ 1012 [f] [i]…). In determining the minimum degree of care, courts must objectively evaluate parental behavior in terms of whether "a reasonable and prudent parent [would] have so acted, or failed to act, under the circumstances then and there existing" … . On this basis, a failure to provide adequate medical care and/or follow through with necessary medical treatment constitutes neglect… . * * *"While evidence of mental illness, alone, does not support a finding of neglect, such evidence may be part of a neglect determination when the proof further demonstrates that a respondent's condition creates an imminent risk of physical, mental or emotional harm to a child"… . Matter of Josephine BB …, 516132, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW

Summary Judgment Finding Derivative Neglect Should Not Have Been Granted

 

The Third Department determined Family Court should not have granted summary judgment finding derivative neglect. Despite the recent finding of neglect of three other children (by consent), there were questions of fact about whether the conditions leading to the previous neglect determination were being addressed:

 

Family Court erred in granting summary judgment because triable issues of fact remain. Summary judgment is rarely used in Family Court proceedings, and is only appropriate when no triable issue of fact exists … . While proof that respondent previously neglected three other children was admissible on the issue of whether he neglected Karm'ny (see Family Ct Act § 1046 [a] [i]), such proof alone typically is not sufficient to establish derivative neglect … . "Derivative neglect is established where the evidence demonstrates an impairment of parental judgment to the point that it creates a substantial risk of harm for any child left in that parent's care, and the prior neglect determination is sufficiently proximate in time to reasonably conclude that the problematic conditions continue to exist" … . The prior neglect determination here occurred less than three months before the instant petition was filed, sufficiently proximate so as to give rise to an inference that the conditions leading to such determination still existed … . Despite that inference, the testimony from the Family Ct Act § 1028 hearing raised questions of fact regarding whether respondent was appropriately dealing with those conditions… . Matter of Karm’ny…, 516250, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

FAMILY LAW/CONTRACT LAW

Criteria for Interpreting a Settlement Agreement Which Is Incorporated But Not Merged Into the Judgment of Divorce

 

In finding that a settlement agreement was not ambiguous and had been complied with by the mother, the Third Department explained the status of a separation agreement which is incorporated but not merged into a judgment of divorce:

 

A settlement agreement that is incorporated into, but not merged with, a judgment of divorce remains an independent contract, binding on the parties and subject to the rules of contract interpretation … . "Where the language of the agreement is clear, the court must determine the intent of the parties by examining the agreement itself" … ."Whether language is ambiguous is a matter of law to be determined by the court, and in rendering this determination a court may not add or excise terms, nor distort the meaning of those used" … . Matter of Drake v Drake, 516960, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW

 

Operating a Scaffold for the Benefit of an Enumerated Activity Done by Others (Caulking) Entitles Scaffold Operator to Coverage Under Labor Law 240 (1)

 

The First Department determined a scaffold operator was entitled to summary judgment on his Labor Law 240 (1) claim. The scaffold was being operated for the benefit of caulkers who could not do their work without the scaffold operator:

 

Although plaintiff …. was not operating the scaffold in his capacity as a window washer at the time of the accident, he was operating it for the caulkers who could not have safely discharged their duties without him. Since caulking is an activity of the sort enumerated in Labor Law § 240(1) …, plaintiff is entitled to the same statutory protection as the caulkers, and his Labor Law § 240(1) claim against 888 Seventh Avenue should not be dismissed. Further, given the evidence that the lanyard and harness provided to plaintiff proved inadequate to shield him from falling through the rail track, plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability on that claim … . DeJesus v 888 Seventh Ave LLC, 2014 NY Slip Op 01273, 1st Dept 2-25-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

Defendant Not Entitled to Dismissal of Complaint On Ground that Condition of the Property Was Open and Obvious

 

The Second Department determined defendant was not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the condition causing plaintiff’s injury was open and obvious. Plaintiff stepped back when fireworks were being set off in defendant’s yard. Plaintiff tripped on blocks forming a border around a tree and was impaled on a wooden stake within the border. The Second Department also determined the defendant was not entitled to dismissal of the negligent supervision cause of action (re: third persons setting off fireworks):

 

A property owner is charged with the duty of maintaining its premises in a reasonably safe condition … . A property owner has no duty to protect or warn against an open and obvious condition, which as a matter of law is not inherently dangerous … . Whether a dangerous or defective condition exists on the property so as to give rise to liability depends on the particular circumstances of each case and is generally a question of fact for the jury … . The issue of whether a dangerous condition is open and obvious is also fact-specific, and usually a question of fact for a jury to resolve … . Whether a hazard is open and obvious cannot be divorced from the surrounding circumstances … . A condition that is ordinarily apparent to a person making reasonable use of his or her senses may be rendered a trap for the unwary where the condition is obscured or the plaintiff is distracted …. .The evidence relied upon by the defendant in support of his motion, which included the photographs attached to his affidavit as well as the parties' deposition testimony, did not establish his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that the subject condition was open and obvious under the circumstances of this case… . Pelligrino v Trapasso, 2014 NY Slip Op 01304, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

NEGLIGENCE

 

Height Differential Between Concrete Slabs in Sidewalk “Trivial” As a Matter of Law

 

The Second Department determined a defect which caused plaintiff to trip was “trivial” as a matter of law. The defect was a difference in height between two concrete slabs in a sidewalk:

 

A property owner may not be held liable for trivial defects, not constituting a trap or nuisance, over which a pedestrian might merely stumble, stub his or her toes, or trip … . In determining whether a defect is trivial, the court must examine all of the facts presented, including the "width, depth, elevation, irregularity and appearance of the defect along with the time, place and circumstance of the injury" … . "[T]here is no minimal dimension test' or per se rule that a defect must be of a certain minimum height or depth in order to be actionable" … . Photographs which fairly and accurately represent the accident site may be used to establish that a defect is trivial and not actionable… . Slattery v Sachen N High Sch, 2014 NY Slip Op 01310, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

LEGAL MALPRACTICE/NEGLIGENCE/ATTORNEYS

Failure to Allege that But for the Legal Malpractice the Causes of Action Would Have Succeeded Required Dismissal

 

The Third Department determined plaintiff did not make out a prima facie case of legal malpractice because there was no allegation the causes of action would have been successful but for the alleged malpractice:

 

…[D]efendants correctly argue that Supreme Court should have granted their motion to dismiss the legal malpractice claim. It is well established that, "[i]n order to sustain a claim for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must establish both that the defendant attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession which results in actual damages to a plaintiff, and that the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action but for the attorney's negligence" … . Here, although the complaint is replete with allegations of [the attorney’s] alleged failures to use reasonable and ordinary skill in connection with both of plaintiff's underlying claims, it contains no allegation that, but for these alleged failures, plaintiff would have been successful on either claim. Therefore, even if we accept the allegations as true and liberally construe the complaint to allege negligent representation by [the attorney] …, the allegations are insufficient to make out a prima facie case of legal malpractice… . Hyman v Schwartz, 516728, 3rd Dept 2-27-14

 

 

REAL PROPERTY LAW

 

Setback Dimensions Drawn on Subdivision Map Not Reflected in Documents in Defendants’ Chain of Title/Setback Restrictions, Therefore, Did Not Run With the Land

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court, finding that the setback lines drawn on a subdivision map were not reflected on the documents in defendants’ chain of title and, therefore, did not run with the land:

 

"[T]he policy of the law is to favor free and unobstructed use of realty" … . "[A] purchaser takes with notice from the record only of incumbrances in his direct chain of title. In the absence of actual notice before or at the time of his purchase or of other exceptional circumstances, an owner of land is only bound by restrictions if they appear in some deed of record in the conveyance to himself or his direct predecessors in title" … . "A purchaser is not normally required to search outside the chain of title" … . Deed restrictions are strictly construed against those seeking to enforce them and will be enforced only where their existence has been established by clear and convincing proof … .In this case, the plaintiffs failed make a prima facie showing that the front and rear yard setback lines drawn on the subdivision map are deed restrictions that run with the land. Contrary to the plaintiffs' contention, there is nothing in the defendants' chain of title which indicates that these setback lines are deed restrictions that run with the land… . Butler v Mathisson, 2014 NY Slip Op 01289, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

 

 

REAL PROPERTY LAW

Plaintiff’s Alleging a Deed Executed Within the Ten-Year Statute of Limitations for Adverse Possession Is Void Creates a Presumption of Possession by the Plaintiff Within the Ten-Year Period

 

The Second Department determined that plaintiff’s action to quiet title was not time-barred. Plaintiff alleged decedent’s signature on a deed was forged. By alleging the 1998 deed was void, plaintiff is presumed to have had possession of the premises within the statutory 10-year statute of limitations for adverse possession:

 

CPLR 212(a) provides that "[a]n action to recover real property or its possession cannot be commenced unless the plaintiff, or his predecessor in interest, was seized or possessed of the premises within ten years before the commencement of the action" (CPLR 212[a]…). However, CPLR 212(a) must be read together with RPAPL 311, which provides that "the person who establishes a legal title to the premises is presumed to have been possessed thereof within the time required by law; and the occupation of the premises by another person is deemed to have been under and in subordination to the legal title unless the premises have been held and possessed adversely to the legal title for ten years before the commencement of the action" (RPAPL 311 [emphasis added]…)..Here, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged possession of the subject premises within 10 years of commencing this action by asserting that the 1998 deed …, as well as each subsequent deed in the chain of title, was void. Under these circumstances, "the plaintiff, as the alleged legal title holder of the premises, is presumed to have possession of the premises within the time required" … . Elam v Altered Ego Realty Holding Corp, 2014 NY Slip Op 01292, 2nd Dept 2-26-14

REAL PROPERTY TAX LAW/RELIGION/CIVIL PROCEDURE/FORECLOSURE

 

Application to Vacate Default Judgment in Tax Foreclosure Proceeding Governed by Two-Year Statute of Limitations (Under the Facts, the One-Month Statute Did Not Apply)/Deed Purporting to Transfer Property from Religious Organization Invalid for Failure to Comply with the Religious Corporation Law/Notice of Tax Foreclosure Sufficient Even Though Actual Owner Not Notified

 

The Third Department determined petitioner’s application to set aside a tax foreclosure judgment was timely, but determined the application was properly denied because the notice of the foreclosure proceeding was adequate, even though petitioner, the actual owner of the property, was not notified. Petitioner, a religious organization, had transferred the property by deed to Forbes, a minister, in 1985. Forbes paid property taxes for several years, but when the payments ceased the county moved to foreclose, naming Forbes as the owner. It turned out that the deed to Forbes was invalid because the transfer did not comply with the Religious Corporation Law. The actual owner, petitioner, was not notified of the foreclosure proceedings. In affirming the judgment of foreclosure, the court discussed the appropriate statute of limitations under the facts, the property-transfer requirements of the Religious Corporation Law, and the tax-foreclosure notice requirements:

 

Initially, Supreme Court erred in determining that petitioner's application was untimely. Unlike a motion to vacate a default judgment in a tax foreclosure proceeding, which "may not be brought later than one month after entry of the judgment" (RPTL 1131…), a person or entity challenging the validity of a deed transferred in connection with a tax foreclosure proceeding faces a two-year statute of limitations (see RPTL 1137…). As petitioner was not a party to the foreclosure proceeding and now seeks to set aside the judgment on the basis that respondent failed to provide notice to the rightful owner, the application was timely (see RPTL 1137).The 1985 deed to Forbes was invalid. A religious corporation shall not sell "any of its real property without applying for and obtaining leave of the court" pursuant to N-PCL 511 (Religious Corporations Law § 12 [1]…). Under N-PCL 511 (b), the Attorney General must be notified before any sale may be finalized. Petitioner did not seek court approval in 1985 or thereafter (see Religious Corporations Law § 12 [1], [9]), nor was the Attorney General notified of the transfer of the property. Where court approval is not obtained for the transfer of real property from a religious corporation, the conveyance is invalid … . Accordingly, the 1985 deed was invalid and Forbes should not have had any legal right to the property. * * *When determining the reasonableness of the taxing authority's attempts to provide notice to interested parties, the court may take into account the conduct of such parties … Here, petitioner indicated that it intended to convey the property to Forbes – its then-minister – in 1985 and was only unsuccessful due to their lack of legal knowledge. Additionally, petitioner did not take any action against Forbes to regain title, despite the deed having been filed for nearly 27 years at the time the foreclosure proceeding was commenced. Under the circumstances, including respondent's provision of proper statutory notice to the owner of record, respondent complied with due process and satisfied its obligation of searching for interested parties, and petitioner has not demonstrated that any additional steps or more exhaustive search was required here… . Matter of City of Hudson…, 516690, 3rd Dept 2-27-14