JUST RELEASED

January Page II

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

COURT OF APPEALS

 

NEGLIGENCE/EMPLOYMENT LAW/FIDUCIARY DUTY, BREACH OF

 

Medical Corporation Not Responsible for Unauthorized Disclosure of Medical Information by Employee Acting Outside the Scope of Employment

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals answered a certified question from the Second Circuit in the negative.  The question was: “Whether, under New York law, the common law right of action for breach of the fiduciary duty of confidentiality for the unauthorized disclosure of medical information may run directly against medical corporations, even when the employee responsible for the breach is not a physician and acts outside the scope of her employment?”:

 

… [A] medical corporation's duty of safekeeping a patient's confidential medical information is limited to those risks that are reasonably foreseeable and to actions within the scope of employment.  Doe v Guthrie Clinic Ltd, 224, Ct App 1-9-14

 

 

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

ARBITRATION/MUNICIPAL LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Court Does Not Have the Power to Determine Whether Arbitrator Misinterpreted Collective Bargaining Agreement/Court Can Not Review Merits of Arbitrator’s Determination

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court should not have vacated the arbitrator’s award because the award was not “irrational:”

 

"[J]udicial review of arbitration awards is extremely limited" … . In determining any matter arising under CPLR article 75, "the court shall not consider whether the claim with respect to which arbitration is sought is tenable, or otherwise pass upon the merits of the dispute" (CPLR 7501). Accordingly, it is " not for the courts to interpret the substantive conditions of [a] contract or to [otherwise] determine the merits'" … . "An arbitration award must be upheld when the arbitrator offer[s] even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached'" … .

 

The Court of Appeals has recognized "three narrow grounds that may form the basis for vacating an arbitrator's award—that it violates public policy, is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power"… . As relevant here, an arbitrator exceeds his or her power if the award "g[ives] a completely irrational construction to the provisions in dispute and, in effect, ma[kes] a new contract for the parties" …

 

The petitioner's contention that the arbitrator misinterpreted the terms of the collective bargaining agreement constitutes a challenge to the merits of the arbitrator's determination … . Since the arbitrator's determination was not "completely irrational" … , the petitioner's challenge to the merits of the arbitrator's determination does not provide a ground for vacating that determination… . Matter of Sheriff Officers Assn Inc v Nassau County, 2014 NY Slip Op 00108, 2nd Dept 1-8-14

 

 

ARBITRATION/CONTRACT LAW

 

Federal Arbitration Act Applies When Interstate Commerce Involved

 

The Second Department determined the parties had entered an agreement to arbitrate and, because interstate commerce was involved, federal arbitration law applied.  A New York architectural firm was hired re: the renovation and construction of buildings in Connecticut:

 

As a threshold matter, the defendants are correct in asserting that this action is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (hereinafter the FAA) (9 USC § 1 et seq.), which applies to any arbitration agreement evidencing a transaction involving interstate commerce (see 9 USC § 2). * * *

 

Through the FAA, Congress has declared "a strong federal policy favoring arbitration as an alternative means of dispute resolution" … . In accordance with this policy, doubts as to the arbitrability of a claim are to be resolved in favor of arbitrability … .

 

On the other hand, arbitration is "a matter of consent, not coercion" … and "a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which [it] has not agreed so to submit" … . Under the FAA, the determination as to whether the parties have entered into an agreement to arbitrate is made by applying ordinary state law principles governing the formation of contracts… . Highland HC, LLC v Scott, 2014 NY Slip Op 00089, 2nd Dept 1-8-14

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/EMINENT DOMAIN/EVIDENCE/COURT OF CLAIMS

 

Disclosure of Appraisal Documents Not Entitled to Conditional Immunity Even If Prepared Solely for Litigation/No Other Way for Claimants to Obtain Relevant Evidence

 

In a matter related to the taking of property for the construction of a highway, the Third Department determined the claimants were entitled to an appraisal done by the defendants, even if the documents were prepared solely in anticipation of litigation.  The claimants demonstrated that they had no other avenue to obtain the evidence relevant to their claims:

 

Even if the documents were prepared solely in anticipation of litigation, claimants demonstrated that the conditional immunity should not prevent disclosure because they have a substantial need and an inability to otherwise obtain the documents.  … The Court of Claims … acknowledged that the subpoenaed documents were relevant to the claim for property damage, to prove the condition of the property immediately before the construction.  Thus, even if the documents were drafted solely for litigation purposes, the appraisal and supporting documents would be subject to disclosure based on claimants' substantial need and their lack of another source for that proof (see CPLR 3101 [d] [2]). Lerner v State of New York, 516774, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Crude Conduct Not Motivated by Petitioners’ Gender/Case of Same Sex Discrimination Not Made Out

 

The Third Department determined a case of “same sex” sex discrimination had not been made out.  The petitioners (Bargy and Colon) are male.  The conduct complained of related to the supervisor’s (Andross’) bringing a woman to the hotel room in which all three men were staying during a construction project and having sex with her.  After a dispute between the petitioners and the woman, the supervisor fired them:

 

Here, neither the written complaints nor testimony of Bargy or Colon set forth any allegations or indication of how Andross' conduct was motivated by their gender or that their grievances to petitioner were ignored because of their gender.  The ALJ's decision does not refer to any proof supporting a finding that complainants' gender was relevant to, or a reason for, the conduct.  Of the recognized paths for showing same-sex discrimination, the only one even arguably applicable is harassment based on gender-stereotyping.  However, the ALJ made no such finding.  … We fully agree that Andross' conduct was crude, coarse and grossly unprofessional; nevertheless, in the absence of proof of gender-based discrimination, such conduct does not establish a claim.  We are constrained by the record to conclude that there is not substantial evidence that the conduct was caused by or related in any relevant fashion to complainants' gender … . Matter of Arcuri v Kirkland…, 516735, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/UTILITIES/ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Valid State Purpose (Conserving Drinking Water) Did Not Relieve State of Liability Re: Breach of an Agreement to Provide a Certain Amount of Water to a Hydroelectric Power Provider

 

The Third Department determined that a contract with a hydroelectric power provider requiring a certain amount of water to be released from a reservoir was unambiguous and therefore must be enforced.  The amount of water released was less than called for in the contract due to a drought and concerns about the drinking water supply:

 

The parties to the agreement intended to resolve a dispute after defendants took claimant's predecessor's land in eminent domain.  Claimant's predecessor wanted to ensure that sufficient water would reach its hydroelectric generation facility and accepted a considerably smaller amount of money than it sought, in exchange for the rights associated with the water release rates from the reservoir.  These rights would be far less valuable if defendants could deviate from the operating diagram's release rates, and avoid liability in doing so, as long as defendants supported their actions with any State purpose. Pursuant to the agreement, defendants could only avoid liability if they deviated from the operating diagram's release rates for a State canal use or purpose.  Because defendants altered the release rate for the purpose of preserving safe drinking water during a drought – a legitimate public and State purpose (see ECL 15-0105 [5]) – and not for a canal-related purpose, defendants are liable for breaching the contract… .  Erie Boulevard Hydropower v State, 516510, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Waiver of Indictment and Guilty Plea Invalid---Superior Court Information Charged a Greater Offense than that Charged in the Original Misdemeanor Information

 

The Third Department determined defendant’s conviction must be reversed because the superior court information to which defendant pled guilty charged a greater offense (conspiracy fourth degree) than was charged in the misdemeanor complaint (criminal solicitation fourth degree).  In addition, because the defendant’s guilty plea to another offense (criminal sexual act first degree) was induced by the court’s promise of a lesser sentence to run concurrently with the overturned conspiracy sentence, the sexual act plea must be vacated.  With respect to the invalid superior court information, the court wrote:

 

In New York, felony charges must be prosecuted by indictment, unless a defendant "held for the action of a grand jury upon a charge for such an offense, other than one punishable by death or life imprisonment, with the consent of the district attorney, . . . waive[s] indictment by a grand jury and consent[s] to be prosecuted on an information filed by the district attorney" (NY Const, art I, § 6; see CPL 195.10 [1]).  Where an indictment waiver has been secured, however, the People may not charge in a superior court information a "'greater offense[], which [has] additional aggravating elements'" … .  This is precisely what occurred here.  The misdemeanor complaint charged defendant with criminal solicitation in the fourth degree and the superior court information impermissibly charged the greater offense of conspiracy in the fourth degree.  Inasmuch as the improper inclusion of a greater offense is a jurisdictional infirmity …, notwithstanding defendant's appeal waiver and plea, we must reverse his conviction of conspiracy in the fourth degree and dismiss the superior court information… . People v Price, 2014 NY Slip Op 00140 [113 AD3d 883] 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Post-Readiness Delay Ran Out Speedy Trial Clock

 

The Third Department determined defendant’s indictment must be dismissed because of the People’s post-readiness delay.  There were seven days left on the speedy trial clock when the People obtained a superseding indictment. The People requested an adjournment.  The record did not demonstrate the length of the requested adjournment, so the People were charged with the actual length of the adjournment, which was more than seven days:

 

…[W]here the People have requested an adjournment, "it is the People's burden to ensure, in the first instance, that the record of the proceedings at which the adjournment was actually granted is sufficiently clear to enable the court considering the subsequent CPL 30.30 motion to make an informed decision as to whether the People should be charged" … .  The People failed to discharge that burden here.  The calendar call at which the adjournment was granted was not transcribed and, although the People are only chargeable with the length of the adjournment actually requested … – as opposed to the length of the adjournment ultimately granted – the record does not establish the length of the adjournment requested by the People. Accordingly, we have no choice but to charge the People with the entire 21 days occasioned by the adjournment, which brings them beyond the seven days remaining on the speedy trial clock… . People v Miller, 104500, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

No Probable Cause to Search Car Interior After Occupants Were Out of the Car and Patted Down

 

The Second Department determined the police officer who stopped the car in which defendant was a passenger did not have probable cause to search the interior of the car after the occupants were out of the car and had been patted down.  The court explained the relevant law:

 

" [A] police officer acting on reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and on an articulable basis to fear for his [or her] own safety may intrude upon the person or personal effects of the suspect only to the extent that is actually necessary to protect himself [or herself] from harm'" … . Therefore, "absent probable cause, it is unlawful for a police officer to invade the interior of a stopped vehicle once the suspects have been removed and patted down without incident, as any immediate threat to the officers' safety has consequently been eliminated" … . A "narrow exception" to this rule exists in circumstances where:

 

" following a lawful stop, facts revealed during a proper inquiry or other information gathered during the course of the encounter lead to the conclusion that a weapon located within the vehicle presents an actual and specific danger to the officer's safety sufficient to justify further intrusion, notwithstanding the suspect's inability to gain immediate access to that weapon'"… . People v Baksh, 2014 NY Slip Op 00112, 2nd Dept 1-8-14

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

Defense Counsel Should Have Been Present During Exchange Between Judge and Juror Which Resulted in Disqualification of Juror/Judge Should Have Disclosed Reason for Disqualification

 

The Second Department determined defense counsel’s absence from an exchange between the judge and a juror, which led to the disqualification of the juror, required reversal:

The juror reported that a third party had told him that the defendant had an "aggressive demeanor," was a "little wild," was "somebody you don't mess around with," and was someone he "should avoid." The trial court, in discharging the juror, merely told defense counsel that this juror had lied to the court and, thus, was grossly unqualified to continue serving pursuant to CPL 270.35.

"[A]n inquiry to determine the existence and extent of prejudice affecting the gross disqualification of a sworn juror . . . is inextricably related to defendant's entitlement to a fair hearing … . Therefore, the unique, indispensable presence of at least the single-minded counsel for the accused' … is minimally necessary to safeguard that fundamental fairness to defendant" … .

Here, the absence of defense counsel from the in camera interview, coupled with the court's failure to disclose what the juror said, deprived the defense of the opportunity to inquire as to whether the juror made similar prejudicial statements to any other jurors… . People v Otigho, 2014 NY Slip Op 00128, 2nd Dept 1-8-14

 

 

DEBTOR-CREDITOR LAW/FRAUD

 

Conveyance from Mother to Son Not Made in “Good Faith” and Therefore Was Constructively Fraudulent

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Tom, the First Department determined that a conveyance of an apartment from mother to son, after an arbitration award against the mother, was not done in “good faith” and therefore constituted a constructively fraudulent conveyance under Debtor and Creditor Law sections 273-a and 278:

 

The Debtor and Creditor Law identifies two indicia of "fair consideration" for conveyed property: the adequacy of what is given in exchange for it and "good faith." With regard to value, § 272(a), governing a conveyance made in exchange for the property, provides for the receipt of something that is "a fair equivalent therefor," and § 272(b), governing an antecedent debt or present advance, applicable herein, provides for an "amount not disproportionately small as compared with the value of the property." * * *

 

"Fair consideration" under Debtor and Creditor Law § 272 is not only a matter of whether the amount given for the transferred property was a "fair equivalent" or "not disproportionately small," which the parties vigorously dispute, but whether the transaction is made "in good faith," an obligation that is imposed on both the transferor and the transferee … . The determination of whether such obligation has been met is one that rests on the circumstances of the individual matter … . Sardis v Frankel, 2014 NY Slip Op 00080, 1st Dept 1-7-14

 

 

FAMILY LAW/APPEALS

 

In Order for Family Court to Review a Support Magistrate's Order, Specific Objections Must Have Been Made to Preserve the Issues Raised in Family Court

The Third Department determined that Family Court’s order must be vacated because it was based upon issues not raised in objections to the Support Magistrate’s order.  Because Family Court acts as an appellate court with respect to orders by the Support Magistrate, any errors must be preserved by objections:

 

…"[A]n order from a Support Magistrate is final and Family Court's review under Family Ct Act § 439 (e) is tantamount to appellate review and requires specific objections for issues to be preserved" … .  The issues noted by the court were not included in the father's objections …. Matter of Porter v D’Amano. 516522, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

 

Proof of Indemnification Agreement Insufficient

 

The Third Department determined the employer did not demonstrate that the contractor hired by the employer had agreed to indemnify the employer for damages related to the injury of the contractor’s employee:

 

Workers' Compensation Law § 11 precludes third-party indemnification claims against employers unless the claim is "based upon a provision in a written contract entered into prior to the accident or occurrence by which the employer had expressly agreed to contribution to or indemnification of the . . . person asserting the cause of action for the type of loss suffered" … . "When a party is under no legal duty to indemnify, a contract assuming that obligation must be strictly construed to avoid reading into it a duty which the parties did not intend to be assumed" … .  "Whether the parties did in fact have such an agreement involves a two-part inquiry.  First, we consider whether the parties entered into a written contract containing an indemnity provision applicable to the site or job where the injury giving rise to the indemnity claim took place. Second, if so, we examine whether the indemnity provision was sufficiently particular to meet the requirements of [Workers' Compensation Law §] 11… . Trombley v Socha…, 516943, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/EVIDENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Dismissal of Slip and Fall Case at Summary Judgment Stage Was Premature Where Relevant Evidence Is Entirely Within the Control of the Defendants

 

The Third Department determined summary judgment granted to the village and county in a slip and fall case should have been denied.  Plaintiff tripped on patched pavement on an approach to a bridge.  There was a question of fact whether the county or the village was responsible for repairs in that area.  Because the information regarding the repairs was totally beyond the control of the plaintiff, dismissal at the summary judgment stage was premature:

 

…[P]laintiffs have not produced any direct evidence that either the County or the Village performed the patching that plaintiffs' expert says caused plaintiff's injury.  Notably, however, neither defendant produced written policies, repair logs, inspection reports or other documentation – other than the survey – to support their respective claims; both deny that any pertinent records exist and rely exclusively upon the testimony of their officials.  The pertinent facts are entirely outside plaintiffs' knowledge and within the exclusive knowledge of the parties moving for summary judgment – a circumstance in which summary judgment is inappropriate … .  In the absence of direct evidence, plaintiffs are forced to rely solely on circumstantial evidence to oppose defendants' summary judgment motion – that is, the inference that, given the claim of each defendant that the other bears responsibility for maintaining the bridge approach, and the dearth of evidence that any other entity has such responsibility or authority, one of them must have performed the repairs that allegedly caused plaintiff's accident … .   In these circumstances, "[a]lthough plaintiffs clearly will bear the burden of proof on the issue at trial, they raised sufficient issues of fact in the context of [these] summary judgment motion[s] to warrant having the circumstantial evidence and defendants' credibility concerning the [creation of the defect] tested by cross-examination and assessed by the trier of fact"… . Guimond v Village of Keeseville, 515869, 516320, 3rd Dept 1-9-13

 

 

NUISANCE/ANIMAL LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Violation of a Local Law Did Not Demonstrate a Horse Pen Constituted a Private Per Se Nuisance

 

The Third Department determined summary judgment was properly denied for a nuisance cause of action.  The fact that a horse pen was 100 feet from a home, and was therefore in violation of a local law requiring a distance of 500 feet, did not demonstrate per se nuisance:

 

The per se nuisance claim is based upon the undisputed location of plaintiffs' horse pen about 100 feet from defendants' home, in alleged violation of a local law that requires such pens to be separated from dwellings by at least 500 feet (see Local Law No. 1 [2010] of Village of Valley Falls § 9).  We disagree with defendants that the declaration in the local law that such a violation is a "nuisance" (see Local Law No. 1 [2010] of Village of Valley Falls § 7) is sufficient, without more, to establish their claim of nuisance per se….  A showing that the pen is unlawful excuses defendants only from proving that plaintiffs' actions were negligent or intentional; the other elements of a nuisance cause of action must still be shown … .  A private nuisance claim requires a showing of "intentional action or inaction that substantially and unreasonably interferes with other people's use and enjoyment of their property" … . Defendants did not prove entitlement to summary judgment on the per se nuisance claim, as they relied exclusively on the alleged local law violation and offered no proof that the horse pen's placement caused a substantial or unreasonable interference – and notably, such determinations "ordinarily turn[] on questions of fact"… . Overocker v Madigan, 516957, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

REAL PROPERTY LAW

 

Sunset Provision in a Deed Which Referred to “Restrictions” Did Not Affect “Easements” or “Reservations”

 

The Third Department determined that a sunset provision in a deed which referred to restrictions did not affect easements or reservations.  The provision in the deed which created an easement for utilities, therefore, was valid and enforceable:

 

Restrictions "restrain servient landowners from making otherwise lawful uses of their property" …, and Schedule A contains various paragraphs restricting, for example, the construction of certain kinds of buildings and the raising of animals on defendants' property.  These are sometimes referred to as negative easements, as opposed to a reservation to the grantor of an affirmative easement to maintain utility lines on defendants' property … .  We view the common grantor's failure to refer to reservations in the sunset provision as a deliberate choice to avoid the termination of easements on January 1, 2005.  Johnson v Zelanis, 516184, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

TRUSTS AND ESTATES


Question of Fact Whether Wife of Decedent Had Abandoned Decedent

 

The Third Department determined that a question of fact had been raised about whether decedent’s wife had abandoned decedent such that she should be disqualified as surviving spouse:

 

A person may be disqualified from inheriting from his or her deceased spouse where the surviving "spouse abandoned the deceased spouse, and such abandonment continued until the time of death" (EPTL 5-1.2 [a] [5]).  The party asserting abandonment bears the burden of establishing that the surviving spouse departed from the marital abode and that such departure was both "unjustified and without the consent of the other spouse" ,,, .  In determining whether one spouse has abandoned the other, a court employs the same standards as are applied in the context of an action for a separation or divorce based on abandonment … . Matter of Yengle…, 516840, 3rd Dept 1-9-14

 

 

WORKER’S COMPENSATION

 

Employer Reimbursed for Personal Leave Credits Used During Employee's Disabilty

 

The Third Department determined that the employer should be reimbursed for the personal leave credits used by an employee during the period of disability.  The employee’s receiving full wages plus the leave time pay justified the reimbursement:

 

The circumstances presented here are distinguishable from Matter of Poupard v Mohonasen Cent. School Dist. (56 NY2d 764, 765 [1982]) and Matter of Jefferson v Bronx Psychiatric Ctr. (55 NY2d at 71), the cases relied on by the Board.  There, the employees charged time during disability to their accrued sick leave credits and, pursuant to their respective collective bargaining agreements, such used sick leave credits could not be restored.  Because the employees could later convert their accrued sick leave credits into retirement service credits, the loss of those credits resulted in a permanent benefit to the employers.  …

 

…[H]ere, the denial of reimbursement for payments related to personal leave credits would result in claimant receiving both full wages and compensation benefits for the time in question.  Such a result is disfavored and requires that reimbursement be granted to the employer… . Matter of Mott v Central New York Psychiatric Center…, 516708, 3rd Dept 1-9-14