JUST RELEASED

July Part I

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

FAMILY LAW

 

Father Estopped from Denying Paternity---Best Interests of Child Prevail

 

In upholding Family Court’s determination the father was estopped from denying paternity, in spite of his executing the acknowledgment based upon a mistake of fact, the Second Department explained the relevant legal principles:

 

A party seeking to challenge an acknowledgment of paternity more than 60 days after its execution must prove that it was signed by reason of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact (see Family Ct Act § 516-a[b][ii]). If the petitioner meets this burden, the court is required to conduct a further inquiry to determine whether the petitioner should be estopped, in accordance with the child's best interests, from challenging paternity…. If the court concludes that estoppel is not warranted, the court is required to order genetic marker tests or DNA tests for the determination of paternity, and to vacate the acknowledgment of paternity in the event that the individual who executed the document is not the child's father (see Family Ct Act § 516-a[b][ii];…). * * *

The purpose of equitable estoppel "is to prevent someone from enforcing rights that would work injustice on the person against whom enforcement is sought and who, while justifiably relying on the opposing party's actions, has been misled into a detrimental change of position" …. Thus, "a man who has held himself out to be the father of a child, so that a parent-child relationship developed between the two, may be estopped from denying paternity," in light of the child's justifiable reliance upon such representations, and the resulting harm that his denial of paternity would engender…. "The doctrine in this way protects the status interests of a child in an already recognized and operative parent-child relationship" …. In all cases, "the doctrine of equitable estoppel will be applied only where its use furthers the best interests of the child" … . Matter of Angelo AR v Tenisha NW, 2013 NY Slip Op 05084, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Nonparent Must Show Extraordinary Circumstances in Face of Custody Petition Even If Nonparent Has Custody Pursuant to Prior Consent Order

 

In upholding Family Court’s denial of mother’s petition for sole custody, the Second Department determined the paternal grandparents, who were sharing custody under a consent order, met their “extraordinary circumstances” burden.  The Second Department noted that even where there is a prior order granting custody to a nonparent, the nonparent still has the burden of demonstrating “extraordinary circumstances” to continue the arrangement in the face of a petition for custody:

 

In a custody proceeding between a parent and a nonparent, " the parent has the superior right to custody that cannot be denied unless the nonparent establishes that the parent has relinquished that right due to surrender, abandonment, persisting neglect, unfitness, or other like extraordinary circumstances'"…. The nonparent has the burden of establishing extraordinary circumstances even where, as here, there is a prior order awarding physical custody of a child to the nonparent that had been issued on the consent of the parties…. Where extraordinary circumstances are present, the court must then consider the best interests of the child in awarding custody….   Matter of DiBenedetto v DiBenedetto, 2013 NY Slip Op 05064, 2nd Dept 7-3-12

 

 

Criteria for Permanent Neglect Explained

 

The Second Department determined Family Court properly found father had permanently neglected the child and explained the criteria as follows:

 

"To establish permanent neglect, there must be clear and convincing proof that, for a period of one year following the child's placement with an authorized agency, the parent failed to substantially and continuously maintain contact with the child or, alternatively, failed to plan for the future of the child, although physically and financially able to do so, notwithstanding the agency's diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship"…. According to the statute, planning for the future of the child means taking such steps as may be reasonably necessary to provide an adequate, stable home and parental care for the child within a period of time that is reasonable under the financial circumstances available to the parent (see Social Services Law § 384-b[7][c]). The plan must be realistic and feasible, and good-faith effort shall not, of itself, be determinative …. At a minimum, planning for the future of the child requires the parent to take steps to correct the conditions that led to the child's removal from the home… .  Matter of Egypt AAG, 2013 NY Slip Op 05065, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Mother Should Not Have Been Required to Contribute to Children’s Educational Expenses

 

In determining Family Court abused its discretion in ordering mother to contribute to the children’s educational expenses (where father affirmatively stated he was not seeking the contribution), the Second Department explained:

 

"Unlike the obligation to provide support for a child's basic needs, support for a child's college education is not mandatory'"…. "Pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 240(11-b)(c)(7), the court may direct a parent to contribute to a child's education, even in the absence of special circumstances or a voluntary agreement of the parties, as long as the court's discretion is not improvidently exercised in that regard"…. Here, however, the Family Court improvidently exercised its discretion in directing the mother to pay 29% of the subject children's educational expenses, since the father affirmatively stated that he was not seeking such contribution from the mother. Matter of Grubler v Grubler, 2013 NT Slip Op 05068, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Criteria for Modification of Existing Visitation Arrangement

 

The Second Department explained the principles relevant to a modification of an existing visitation arrangement as follows:

 

An existing visitation arrangement may be modified "upon [a] showing . . . that there has been a subsequent change of circumstances and modification is required" (Family Ct Act § 652 [a];…). "Extraordinary circumstances are not a prerequisite to obtaining a modification; rather, the standard ultimately to be applied remains the best interests of the child when all of the applicable factors are considered'"… .. "The best interests of the child generally lie in being nurtured and guided by both parents"…. "In order for the noncustodial parent to develop a meaningful, nurturing relationship with her [or his] child, visitation must be frequent and regular. Absent extraordinary circumstances, where visitation would be detrimental to the child's well-being, a noncustodial parent has a right to reasonable visitation privileges"….  Matter of Grunwald v Grunwald, 2013 NY Slip Op 05068, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Prima Facie Case of Family Offenses Not Established (Forcible Touching and Sexual Abuse)

 

The Second Department found that Family Court properly determined mother failed to establish a prima facie case of the family offense of forcible touching and sexual abuse and properly ruled hearsay inadmissible:

 

The mother presented no direct evidence that the father touched the child "for the purpose of degrading or abusing" the child or "gratifying [his] sexual desire" (Penal Law § 130.52; see Penal Law §§ 130.00[3]; 130.55;…. Furthermore, although, in some instances, the element of intent may be inferred from the nature of the acts committed and the circumstances in which they occurred…, an intent to gratify sexual desire on the part of the father cannot be inferred from the totality of the circumstances here…. * * *

Contrary to the mother's contention, the Family Court properly refused to permit her to admit hearsay testimony pursuant to Family Court Act § 1046(a)(vi). That section, by its own terms, is limited to a "hearing under . . . article [10] and article ten-A" of the Family Court Act (Family Ct Act § 1046[a]), and although the hearsay exception contained in Family Court Act § 1046(a)(vi) has been applied in the context of custody proceedings commenced pursuant to Family Ct Act article 6 where the basis of the custody proceeding is founded on neglect or abuse such that the issues are "inextricably interwoven"…, the Family Court properly refused to apply Family Court Act § 1046(a)(vi) in this case…. Matter of Khan-Soleil v Rashad, 2014 NY Slip Op 05074, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Revocation of Suspended Judgment Proper

 

The Second Department determined Family Court had properly revoked father’s suspended judgment for failure to comply with its terms and conditions:

 

The Family Court may revoke a suspended judgment after a hearing if it finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the parent failed to comply with one or more of its conditions…. "When determining compliance with a suspended judgment, it is the parent's obligation to demonstrate that progress has been made to overcome the specific problems which led to the removal of the child[ren] . . . [A] parent's attempt to comply with the literal provisions of the suspended judgment is not enough" … . Matter of Kimble G II, 2013 NY Slip Op 05066, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Permanent Neglect Established—Mental Illness

 

In affirming Family Court’s finding that mother had permanently neglected her child and, because of her mental illness, would not be able to adequately care for the child in the future, the Second Department wrote:

 

…[T]he petitioner established by clear and convincing evidence that it made diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship by, among other things, developing a service plan, facilitating regular visitation with the child, and making referrals for mental health evaluations and counseling …. Additionally, the petitioner established that, despite these efforts, the mother failed to plan for the children's future…. The mother failed to complete a mental health program, and her continued lack of insight into the reasons why the child was removed from her care prevented her from correcting such problems and reflected her failure to plan for the child's future. Accordingly, the Family Court properly determined that the mother permanently neglected the child.  Further, the Family Court properly found that there was clear and convincing evidence that the mother is presently and for the foreseeable future unable, by reason of mental illness, to provide proper and adequate care for the child (see Social Services Law § 384-b[4][c]).  Matter of Kira J, 2013 NY Slip Op 05070, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Not Enough Evidence Before Family Court to Make Custody Determination

 

In remitting the matter to Family Court for a hearing in a custody proceeding with controverted allegations, the Second Department noted that, although a hearing is not always required, there was not enough evidence before the court for an informed determination in this case:

 

" [A]s a general rule, it is error as a matter of law to make an order respecting custody based upon controverted allegations without the benefit of a full hearing'"…. " Since the court has an obligation to make an objective and independent evaluation of the circumstances, a custody determination should be made only after a full and fair hearing at which the record is fully developed'"…. However, " it is not necessary to conduct such a hearing where the court already possesses sufficient relevant information to render an informed determination in the child's best interest'" … .Under the circumstances of this case, the Family Court lacked sufficient information to render an informed determination as to the best interests of the subject children … . Matter of Labella v Murray, 2013 NY Slip Op 05076, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

In determining Family Court committed reversible error by depriving father of his right to self-representation, the Second Department wrote:

 

The father, as a respondent in a proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act article 6, had a right to be represented by counsel (see Family Ct Act § 262[a][iii];…). A party, however, may waive the right to counsel and opt for self-representation… .. Before permitting a party to proceed pro se, the court must determine that the party's decision to do so is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily …, by conducting a "searching inquiry" of that party…. Where a respondent has made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary choice to represent himself or herself, "forcing a lawyer upon [him or her] is contrary to his [or her] basic right to defend himself [or herself]" … .  Matter of Massey v Van Wyen, 2013 NY Slip Op 05078, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Criteria for Allowing Parent Relocation

 

In affirming Family Court’s allowing a parent’s relocation, the Second Department explained the criteria:

 

A parent seeking to relocate bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed move would be in the child's best interests …. In determining whether relocation is appropriate, the court must consider a number of factors, including the children's relationship with each parent, the effect of the move on contact with the noncustodial parent, the degree to which the lives of the custodial parent and the child may be enhanced economically, emotionally, and educationally by the move, and each parent's motives for seeking or opposing the move …. Inasmuch as "[t]he weighing of these various factors requires an evaluation of the testimony, character and sincerity of all the parties involved" …, the Family Court's credibility determinations are entitled to deference and its decision will be upheld if supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record… . Matter of Pietrafesa v Pietrafesa, 2013 NY Slip Op 05082, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Factual Question About Whether Family Court Had Jurisdiction Over Visitation Modification Where Supreme Court Originally Ordered Visitation

 

In remitting the matter to Family Court, the Second Department determined Family Court should have examined the evidence to determine whether it had jurisdiction over a petition to modify visitation where the initial visitation determination was part of a divorce action in Supreme Court:

 

The Family Court erred in declining to sign the order to show cause accompanying the father's petition to modify visitation …. Since the initial visitation determination in this matter was made as part of a stipulation of settlement entered into during the parties' divorce proceedings before the Supreme Court, it was error for the Family Court to summarily decline to sign the order to show cause on jurisdictional grounds. Instead, the Family Court should have signed the order to show cause and then directed the parties to submit evidence on the issue of whether the Family Court retained exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over the visitation issues…. Matter of Ramirez v Gunder, 2013 NY Slip Op 05086, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Consent Order Not Appealable/Open Court Stipulation Valid

 

The Second Department noted that an order made on consent is not appealable and affirmed Family Court’s determination that a stipulation entered into in open court was valid:

 

Stipulations of settlement are favored by the courts and a stipulation made on the record in open court will not be set aside absent a showing that it was the result of fraud, overreaching, mistake, or duress"…. Here, the Family Court conducted a proper allocution of the mother, determining that she understood the terms of the stipulation, that she had sufficient time to consult with her attorney, and that she consented to the terms of the stipulation, and thus properly determined that she voluntarily and knowingly accepted the terms of the stipulation…. The mother's contentions in support of her motion that she felt "forced into settling" and "misle[]d" by her attorney, and that she "did not fully understand what [she] was agreeing to" are insufficient to establish a claim of mistake or duress so as to warrant setting aside the stipulation of settlement… . Matter of Strang v Rathbone, 2013 NY Slip Op 05088, 2nd Dept 05088

 

 

Court Can Not Order Treatment as Condition of Future Visitation---Okay to Order Treatment as Component of Supervised Visitation

 

The Second Department noted that Family Court should not have ordered a parent to undergo treatment as a condition of future visitation.  Rather treatment should have been ordered as a component of supervised visitation:

 

…"[A] court may not order that a parent undergo counseling or treatment as a condition of future visitation or reapplication for visitation rights, but may only direct a party to submit to counseling or treatment as a component of visitation"…. Thus, the Family Court should have directed the mother to enroll in an assisted outpatient treatment program as a component of supervised visitation. Matter of Torres v Ojeda, 2013 NY Slip Op 05091, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Neglect Based on Failure to Provide Child with Cleft Palate Proper Nutrition

 

The Third Department affirmed Family Court’s finding of neglect based upon the father’s failure to ensure that the child (born with a cleft palate) was receiving adequate nutrition and medical care. 

 

Here, the record establishes that the father attended many of the  child's pediatric appointments,  as  well as  the  evaluation conducted by the feeding and swallowing specialist, during the course of which medical professionals repeatedly explained that the child's cleft palate made  it difficult for her to feed, stressed the importance of ensuring that the child was fed consistently and gained weight at a steady rate and offered instruction and specific recommendations for different feeding techniques. Matter of Mary YY, 514692, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Career-Related Relocations Did Not Result in Change of Domicile

 

In affirming Supreme Court’s finding that the plaintiff in a divorce action met the durational residency requirements of Domestic Relations Law section 230, in spite of several career-related relocations, the Third Department wrote:

 

Given the absence of any proof that plaintiff intended to abandon her existing New York domicile and adopt any of the temporary locations as her new  permanent  home,  neither the fact that the parties – of necessity or convenience – established homes  and  all of the accouterments of family and  community  life in each location where  defendant's career took the family nor that they generally paid income  taxes as residents of the respective locations demonstrates a change of domicile. Black v Black, 516094, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

Grandparents Had Standing to Seek Visitation

 

The Fourth Department noted that the grandparents had standing to seek visitation with their grandchildren, in addition to mother’s and father’s visitation:

 

…[W]e conclude that the grandparents established “a prima facie case of standing to seek visitation with the subject child[ren]” inasmuch as they demonstrated “the existence of a sufficient relationship with the child[ren] to warrant the intervention of equity”….  The record establishes that the grandparents regularly visited with the children before the mother ceased permitting such visits. In addition, the grandmother provided full-time daycare for the children before they reached school-age, took the children to pre- kindergarten, and engaged in activities with them after school, and the grandfather attended the children’s school activities. Matter of Dubiel v Schaefer, 672, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Denial of Visitation With Incarcerated Father Upheld

 

The Fourth Department affirmed Family Court’s denial of an incarcerated father’s petition for visitation with his children:

 

Although we recognize that the rebuttable presumption in favor of visitation applies when the parent seeking visitation is incarcerated…, we conclude that respondents rebutted the presumption by establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that visitation with petitioner would be harmful to the children …. A parent’s failure to seek visitation with a child for a prolonged period of time is a relevant factor when determining whether visitation is warranted…, and, here, petitioner has never met the daughter or the son.  In fact, before commencing these proceedings, petitioner did not seek visitation with either child.  Thus, petitioner is “essentially a stranger to the child[ren]”….  Matter of Brown v Terwilliger…, 576, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Respondents in Visitation Proceeding Have Right to Assigned Counsel

 

The Fourth Department reversed and remitted a visitation proceeding to Family Court because Family Court had relieved assigned counsel, noting that the Fourth Department had recently held respondents in visitation proceedings are entitled to assigned counsel:

 

Family Court erred in relieving his assigned counsel after the modification petition, which sought full legal custody of the three children at issue, was amended to seek only a modification of respondent’s visitation (amended petition).  While this appeal was pending, we held that respondents in visitation proceedings are entitled to assigned counsel… .  Matter of Brown v Patterson, 768, 4th Dept 7-5-13

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW/ZONING

 

Criteria for Review of Planning Board’s SEQRA Determination and Zoning Board’s Granting a Variance

 

In upholding the approval of a site plan, the Third Department determined the planning board met the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and zoning board properly granted a height variance. In explaining the criteria for both reviews, the Third Department wrote:

 

"'Judicial review of an agency determination under SEQRA is limited to whether the [lead] agency identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a hard look at them, and made a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its determination'….   "While judicial review must be meaningful, the courts may not substitute their judgment for that of the agency for it is not their role to 'weigh the desirability of any action or [to] choose among alternatives'"….  The lead agency's determination will only be annulled if it is arbitrary, capricious or unsupported  by  the evidence (see CPLR  7803  [3];…).     * * *

 

The [zoning board’s] determination to grant the variance is also valid.  In determining whether to grant a variance, the local zoning board must "'engage in a balancing test, weighing the proposed  benefit to [the applicant] against the possible detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the community, as well as consider the five statutory factors enumerated in Town Law § 267-b (3)'"….  "Local zoning boards have broad discretion in considering applications for variances, and  judicial review is limited to determinating whether the action taken by the board was illegal, arbitrary or an abuse of discretion"….  Matter of Schaller, 515824, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

PAROLE

 

Parole Board Should Have Used Risk Assessment Instrument

 

The Third Department determined an inmate was entitled to a new hearing on his request for discretionary parole release because the Board did not use the required written procedure for risk assessment:

 

[The inmate argued] the Board improperly failed to utilize a "COMPAS Risk and Needs Assessment" instrument in connection with the relevant amendments to Executive Law § 259-c (4), which became effective October 1, 2011 (see L 2011, ch 62, § 49 [f]). Significantly, Executive Law § 259-c (4) requires that the Board "establish written procedures for its use in making parole decisions as required by law," and the Board acknowledges  that the statute requires it to incorporate risk and needs principles into its decision-making process. According to the record, the Board was trained in the use of the COMPAS instrument prior to petitioner's hearing. Moreover, the Board acknowledges that it has used the COMPAS instrument since February 2012 and will use it for petitioner's next appearance. Under these circumstances, we find no justification for the Board's failure to use the COMPAS instrument at petitioner's October  2011  hearing. Matter of Garfield, 515986, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

PARTNERSHIP LAW

 

Proceeds of Sale of Property After Dissolution of Partnership Not “Profits”

 

The Second Department determined that the appreciation in the value of commercial real estate owned by a partnership after the date of dissolution did not constitute “profits” within the meaning of Partnership Law 73:

 

Partnership Law § 73 provides, in relevant part, "[W]hen any partner retires or dies, and the business is continued . . . he or his legal representative . . . shall receive as an ordinary creditor an amount equal to the value of his interest in the dissolved partnership with interest, or, at his option or at the option of his legal representative, in lieu of interest, the profits attributable to the use of his right in the property of the dissolved partnership." * * *

…[T]he Appellate Division, Fourth Department, held that the plaintiff's share of the fair market value of a parcel of real property was fixed as of the date the partnership dissolved, and thus determined that the profits the plaintiff was entitled to in that case did not include increases in the value of real property after the date of dissolution. Here, since the partnership dissolved on April 12, 2000, the plaintiffs were not entitled to a share in the appreciation of partnership assets after that date… . Breidbart v Wiesenthal, 2013 NY Slip Op 05040, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Claim for Undistributed Goodwill Re: Dissolved Partnership Dismissed


The Fourth Department determined that Supreme Court should have granted summary judgment on a counterclaim which sought damages for undistributed goodwill of a partnership.  The partnership had been dissolved after the death of one of the partners and did not continue under the same structure. The Fourth Department explained:

 

Here, even assuming, arguendo, that the partners’ course of dealings or partnership agreement provided that goodwill is a distributable asset of the partnership, we conclude that defendants met their initial burden on that part of the motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint to the extent it sought damages for undistributed goodwill.  Indeed, defendants established that there is no goodwill to distribute because the partnership has been dissolved and no longer exists.  In the circumstances presented here, it is incomprehensible that the partnership’s goodwill could survive the demise of the partnership, and the Court of Appeals decision in Dawson does not suggest otherwise.  In Dawson, although the Court of Appeals indicated that a dissolving partnership may have distributable goodwill, the partnership in that case was dissolved but was immediately reformed with the same partners, minus one, with the same firm name, using the same offices and servicing the same clients. Thus, in essence, the partnership was dissolved in name only. Here, in contrast, the same partnership did not reform after dissolution. Instead, two entirely new partnerships were formed.  Thus, plaintiffs failed to raise an issue of fact with respect to the existence of goodwill after the dissolution of the partnership… .  Moore… v Johnson…, 744, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE

 

Question of Fact About Whether Plaintiff Had Standing to Bring Foreclosure Proceeding

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court, finding that the plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment in a mortgage foreclosure proceeding.  The defendant alleged plaintiff did not have standing to bring the action. The Second Department determined the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence of its standing to support summary judgment in plaintiff’s favor.  In explaining the underlying legal principles, the Second Department wrote:

 

"In a mortgage foreclosure action, a plaintiff has standing where it is both the holder or assignee of the subject mortgage and the holder or assignee of the underlying note at the time the action is commenced"…. "Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note prior to the commencement of the foreclosure action is sufficient to transfer the obligation, and the mortgage passes with the debt as an inseparable incident"…. However, "a transfer or assignment of only the mortgage without the debt is a nullity and no interest is acquired by it," since a mortgage is merely security for a debt and cannot exist independently of it…. "Where, as here, the issue of standing is raised by a defendant, a plaintiff must prove its standing in order to be entitled to relief"…. Homecomings Financial, LLC v Guldi, 2013 NY Slip Op 05048, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

LANDLORD TENANT

 

No Need for Proof of Agent’s Authority—Five-Day Notice Demanding Rent Valid

 

The Second Department determined a five-day notice demanding unpaid rent under a lease was not invalid because it was signed by a purported agent of the landlord without proof of the agent’s authority to act for the landlord.  In so finding, the Second Department distinguished a case relied upon by the tenant:

 

…[T]he Appellate Term properly distinguished this Court's decision in Siegel v Kentucky Fried Chicken of Long Is. (108 AD2d at 221). … Siegel is limited to the "factual peculiarities" of the lease in that case. The lease in Siegel, unlike the lease in the case at bar, designated certain rights that were to be exercised by "the Landlord or Landlord's agent[ ]" and designated the landlord's attorney by name, while the three-day forfeiture notice that was the subject of that dispute was sent by another attorney, who was unknown to the tenant …. The relevant provision of the lease herein (hereinafter the notice provision), provided that the "Landlord shall give Tenant written notice of default stating the type of default," and, unlike the lease in Siegel, did not expressly obligate [landlord] to act only personally or through an identified agent. Consequently, although the notice indicated that it was signed by [landlord’s] previously unidentified agent, the failure to include evidence of the agent's authority to bind the landlord, which we found necessary in Siegel, did not render [landlord] noncompliant with the requirements of the notice provision (see RPAPL 711[2]), and did not render the notice invalid. Matter of QPII-143-45 Sanford Ave, LLC v Spinner, 2013 NY Slip Op 05083, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

REAL ESTATE

 

Criteria for Easement Granted in General Terms

 

In determining Supreme Court should have denied defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Second Department explained the criteria for an easement granted in general terms:

 

Where, as here, an easement is granted in general terms, "the extent of its use includes any reasonable use necessary and convenient for the purpose for which it is created"…. Further, the holder of an access easement "cannot materially increase the burden of the servient estate or impose new and additional burdens on the servient estate" … . Shuttle Contr Corp v Peikarian, 2013 NY Slip Op 05057, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

INSURANCE LAW

 

Policy Exclusions Not Affected by Additional Insured Endorsement

 

The Second Department explained how the exclusion provisions of a policy are affected by the language of an additional insured endorsement:

 

Here, the plain meaning of the exclusion … was that the …policy did not provide coverage for damages arising out of bodily injury sustained by an employee of any insured in the course of his or her employment…. Contrary to the plaintiffs' contentions, the fact that the blanket additional insured endorsement contained its own additional exclusions did not eliminate the exclusions contained in the …policy. In construing an endorsement to an insurance policy, the endorsement and the policy must be read together, and the words of the policy remain in full force and effect except as altered by the words of the endorsement…. Accordingly, since the employee exclusion clause in the …policy unambiguously recited that coverage was precluded, the Supreme Court properly granted … a judgment declaring that [the insurer] is not obligated to defend and indemnify the plaintiffs in the underlying action. Soho Plaza Corp v Birnbaum, 2013 NY Slip Op 05058, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

SEX OFFENDER COUNSELING AND

TREATMENT PROGRAM (INMATES)

 

Participation in Program Can Be Delayed Until Close to Release Date

 

In affirming Supreme Court, in the face to the inmate’s request that he be placed in the sex offender counseling and treatment program (SOCTP) in 2015, the Third Department determined  the inmate’s participation in the program could be delayed until 2023, 36 months before his conditional release date:

 

An inmate's evaluation by a case review team  under  Mental  Hygiene  Law  §  10.05 is triggered by notice to the Office of Mental  Health that the inmate  is "nearing anticipated release," which is to be provided at least 120 days prior to such  "anticipated release" (Mental Hygiene  Law  §  10.05 [b]). In accordance with the foregoing, DOCCS has developed guidelines for administering sex offender treatment programs throughout the state. The guidelines recognize the need to allocate limited resources and provide that inmates shall be placed in sex offender treatment programs "as they get closer to their release date.”  Matter of Wakefield, 515002, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

 

Employer’s Late Request for a Hearing Could Not Be Excused

 

In affirming the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s ruling that an employer’s request for a hearing was untimely, the Third Department noted there was no provision allowing an extension of time:

 

"Pursuant to Labor Law § 620 (2), an employer has 30 days from the mailing or personal delivery of a contested determination  to  request a  hearing"….  The employer acknowledged receiving the determination, but was unsure of the date of such receipt. Pursuant to the unrebutted presumption found in 12 NYCRR 461.2, the determination was deemed mailed on January 12, 2009 and received by the employer within five days thereafter. Although the employer contends that the admittedly late written request for a hearing was due to law office failure, "the statutory time period in which to request a hearing is to be strictly construed, and the statute contains no  provision permitting an extension of time in which an employer can request a hearing"… . Matter of Agarwal, 515007, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Employee’s Use of Personal Checking Account Did Not Amount to Misconduct

 

The Third Department reversed the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s denial of benefits finding that, although the practice of depositing money in the employee’s bank account for reimbursement to her and others for out of pocket expenses violated company policy, it did not amount to misconduct:

 

Even  where  an  employee  has been  fired for legitimate reasons, the "behavior may  fall short of misconduct and, therefore, he  or she  may  still be  entitled to receive benefits"….   Although a knowing violation of an employer's established policies that has a detrimental effect on  the employer's interests can  constitute disqualifying  misconduct  …, we find that claimant's misconduct  in this case did not rise to a disqualifying    level.    While we do not quarrel with the Board's finding that claimant violated the employer's established policies, which  provided a basis for terminating her employment, the hearing testimony reveals that claimant's actions were  in keeping  with a longstanding practice that was at least partially condoned by her former supervisor and were necessary because claimant did not have  check  writing authority… . Matter of Lopresti, 516109, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

 

Disability Pre-dated Work at World Trade Center---Worker Entitled to Workers’ Compensation

 

In reversing a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board which ruled the employer was not entitled to reimbursement from the Special Disability Fund on the ground that the employee’s lung disease was solely related to work at the World Trade Center, the Third Department wrote:

 

[The treating doctor] repeatedly expressed  his  opinion  that claimant's interstitial lung disease was  related to both his exposure at the WTC site and certain exposures throughout his career with the employer, which included exposure to asbestos. …Thus, although reimbursement pursuant to Workers' Compensation Law § 15 (8) (d) may be denied when a work-related injury is the sole  cause  of  a  permanent  disability…, there is no medical evidence present here to support the Board's conclusion that claimant's disability was solely caused by his WTC  site exposure and, therefore, the Fund was inappropriately discharged… . Matter of Surianello, 515055, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Employer Policy Re: Firing of Employees Injured in Preventable Accidents Was Discriminatory

 

The Third Department determined a policy which required probationary employees injured in a preventable accident to be fired, but did not require the firing of uninjured probationary employees who were observed working unsafely, improperly served to dissuade injured employees from seeking Workers’ Compensation:

 

Workers' Compensation Law § 120 prohibits an employer from discriminating against  an  employee  because  that employee  either claimed or attempted  to claim workers' compensation  benefits….  In enacting Workers' Compensation Law § 120, the Legislature intended "to insure that a claimant [could] exercise his [or her] rights under the [Workers'] Compensation Law  . . . without fear that doing so [might] endanger the continuity of [his or her] employment… .

 

…[T]he policy …has a discernible impact upon probationary employees who are injured in work-related accidents, i.e., employees who  potentially could seek workers' compensation  benefits.    The policy  effectively categorizes probationary employees into two groups: those who violate safety rules but are not injured, and those who violate safety rules and  are injured – with only the latter group automatically forfeiting their right to work  for the employer….   Such a policy dissuades those probationary employees who are injured in the course of their employment and wish to remain employed from reporting their injury and pursuing workers' compensation benefits, which, in turn, runs counter to the Legislature's intended purpose of insuring that employees  can exercise  their rights under  the  compensation  statutes  "without fear that doing  so may  endanger  the continuity of [their] employment"… .  Matter of Rodriguez v C& S Wholesale Grocers, Inc, 516124, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Wage Parity Law Which Conditions Medicaid Reimbursement Upon Paying Home Health Services Workers a Minimum Wage Is Constitutional

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice McCarthy, the Third Department determined the Wage Parity Law (Public Health Law section 3614-c), which conditions Medicaid reimbursement upon paying home health services providers a minimum wage as set in New York City’s Living Wage Law, was constitutional. The court rejected arguments that: (1) the Legislature improperly delegated its authority to New York City; (2) the law improperly incorporated the Living Wage Law by reference; (3) extending the New York City law violated the home rule provision of the NY Constitution; and (5) the statute violated the substantive due process requirements.  Matter of Concerned Home Care Providers, Inc v State of New York, 515737, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

NEGLIGENCE

 

Res Ipsa Loquitur Applied to Garage Door Suddenly Coming Down

 

The First Department explained the application of res ipsa loquitur, where it was alleged a garage door suddenly came down on plaintiff’s head, as follows:

 

The motion court correctly determined that res ipsa loquitur applies in this action involving an accident that occurred, according to plaintiff's testimony, when a garage door suddenly fell and struck him on the head, since this is the type of event that does not normally occur in the absence of negligence … . Notwithstanding defendants' contentions that others could have had access to the garage door, plaintiff demonstrated sufficient exclusivity of control. "[R]es ipsa loquitur does not require sole physical access to the instrumentality causing the injury and can be applied in situations where more than one defendant could have exercised exclusive control" … . Hutchings v Yuter, 2013 NY Slip Op 04988, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Testimony that Bus Company Held to Higher Standard Required Reversal

 

In an action based on the allegation a bus was traveling too close to the curb when it struck plaintiff, the First Department (over a dissent) determined testimony that bus drivers’ operating criteria “are much higher than anyone else’s, so I would look at the accident by our standards a lot different from anyone else” required a new trial on liability:

 

The admission of testimony that holds a defendant to a higher standard of care than required by common law is clearly erroneous…. Moreover, the admitted testimony cannot be considered harmless error because it concerns the ultimate issue to be decided and corroborates unsupported theories of liability proffered by plaintiff's expert, thereby lending them an unwarranted air of authority. It is well settled that "the duty owed by one member of society to another is a legal issue for the courts"…. Only after the extent of a duty has been established as a matter of law may a jury resolve — as a question of fact — whether a particular defendant has breached that duty with respect to a particular plaintiff…. As this Court has noted numerous times, "Where the offered proof intrudes upon the exclusive prerogative of the court to render a ruling on a legal issue, the attempt by a plaintiff to arrogate to himself a judicial function under the guise of expert testimony will be rejected"….  Williams v NYC Tr Auth, 2013 NY Slip Op 04975, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Leaky Condominium Roof Supported Negligence and Nuisance

 

In an action based on a leaky roof in a condominium, the First Department determined plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on the negligence cause of action against the sponsor and the cause of action for nuisance, also sounding in negligence, should not be dismissed:

 

The sponsor owed a nondelegable duty to plaintiffs to keep the condominium, including its roof, in good repair (see Multiple Dwelling Law § 78[1];…) . The sponsor breached that duty: Its principal… admitted that the original roof that the sponsor had caused to be installed did not render the condominium watertight and that there were instances of water infiltration into plaintiffs' unit that needed to be addressed by the sponsor. * * *

 

Plaintiffs are correct that nuisance can be negligent; it does not have to be intentional…. In any event, they raised a triable issue of fact whether the sponsor's allowing water to continue infiltrating their unit was intentional….  Liberman v Cayre Synergy 73rd LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 04996, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Garbage on Sidewalk May Create Liability

 

The Second Department determined that defendant’s motion for summary judgment should have been denied.  The plaintiff was injured when his bicycle struck garbage and debris on a sidewalk abutting a building owned by defendants. 

 

New York City Administrative Code § 7-210 imposes a duty upon property owners to maintain the sidewalk adjacent to their property. That duty includes the duty to remove "dirt or other material from the sidewalk," which includes debris on the sidewalk which came from garbage bags placed on the sidewalk by the property owner (New York City Administrative Code § 7-210 [b];…). On their motion for summary judgment, the defendants bore the burden of establishing that they neither created the hazardous condition nor had actual or constructive notice of its existence…. The defendants failed to establish their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. They failed to demonstrate that they did not create a dangerous condition, nor did they establish that they properly maintained the sidewalk as required by Administrative Code of the City of NY § 7-210… .  Weinberg v 2345 Ocean Assoc, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 05060, 2nd  Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Standard for Liability of Members of Volunteer Fire Company

 

In affirming the denial of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Second Department explained the standard for finding liability on the part of members of volunteer fire companies:

 

Members of volunteer fire companies may not be held liable for acts done in the performance of their duties in the absence of "willful negligence or malfeasance" (General Municipal Law § 205-b;…. Here, the plaintiff failed to establish, prima facie, that the manner in which [defendant]. operated the vehicle at the time of the accident constituted willful negligence or malfeasance….  Schleger v Jurcsak, 2013 NY Slip Op 05056, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

“Employer” of Independent Contractor Not Liable for Contractor’s Alleged Negligence

 

The Fourth Department reversed Supreme Court and granted summary judgment dismissing claims which alleged Sirota, who worked as an independent contractor for defendant Ridgeway, was negligent in advising plaintiff to purchase “certain security and investment vehicles.”  The Fourth Department determined Ridgeway was entitled to summary judgment as Ridgeway had demonstrated it owed no duty of care to plaintiff to supervise Sirota (an independent contractor) because it did not direct or control Sirota’s providing investment advice:

 

…“[O]rdinarily, a principal is not liable for the acts of independent contractors in that, unlike the master-servant relationship, principals cannot control the manner in which the independent contractors’ work is performed”… . Although there are exceptions to that general rule …, we conclude that none apply to the circumstances presented here.  Although plaintiff’s claim sounds in negligent supervision, one of the recognized exceptions…, it is well settled that “the mere retention of general supervisory powers over an independent contractor cannot form a basis for the imposition of liability against the principal”,,,  Wendt v Bent Pyramid Productions, LLC, et al, 448, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

4 ½ Inch Drop Raised Question of Fact About Dangerous Condition and Failure to Warn

 

The Fourth Department determined a 4 ½ inch drop just inside the entrance to a bowling alley raised a question of fact about whether the drop was a dangerous condition, even though no building codes applied.  In addition, there was a question of fact about the failure-to-warn cause of action.  Belsinger v M & M Bowling & Trophy Supplies, Inc, 558, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 


DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS (INMATES)

 

Failure to Transcribe Entire Hearing Required Annulment

 

In annulling the disciplinary determination, the Third Department explained that the apparent failure to transcribe the entire tape recording of the hearing made it impossible to know whether evidence favorable to the inmate’s defense was presented:

 

It appears from the transcript that only the first side of the audiotape was transcribed as the stenographer made a notation, "[s]econd side of tape not audible-runs on fast speed only," and then abruptly ended the transcript.    We cannot ascertain what was on the second side of the tape or if it would have been beneficial to petitioner's defense… ..Notably, the transcript does not reveal the disposition of petitioner's request to have his wife and family members testify as witnesses at the hearing. In view of this, and given the potentially significant testimony that may be missing, the determination must be annulled… . Matter of Farrell, 514504, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Denial of Inmate’s Request for Evidence and Failure to Include Confidential Testimony Required Annulment

 

In annulling the disciplinary determination, the Third Department noted the Hearing Officer’s failure to explain the denial of the inmate’s request for evidence and failure to include confidential testimony which was relied upon:

 

Inasmuch as the record before us fails to include any  explanation for the denial of the requested evidence, which may have prejudiced his defense, and is incomplete in that it does not include the confidential testimony taken and relied upon by the Hearing Officer in reaching the determination, we  are unable to undertake meaningful review… .  Matter of Gallagher, 514650, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Violation of Inmate’s Right to Call a Witness Required Expungement

 

The Third Department expunged a disciplinary determination because the inmate’s right to call a witness was violated and a rehearing was not possible:

 

Although  [the] witness  agreed  to testify, the  Hearing Officer denied  the  request  for this witness  on  the  basis that the conversation  took  place  after the  incident that is the  subject of the administrative segregation recommendation. Under the circumstances  presented,  we  conclude  that the  testimony  of this witness  was  not  irrelevant and thus the request  was  improperly denied….  As such, the Hearing Officer's ruling constituted a violation of petitioner's conditional, regulatory right to call witnesses …. Matter of DeBoue, 515486, 3rd Dept, 7-3-13

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Complaint Against Town for Sewage Backup in Home Dismissed

 

The Fourth Department affirmed the dismissal of a negligence complaint against a town arising from the backup of sewage in plaintiffs’ house.  The decision includes a concise but complete explanation of the issues relevant to municipal liability for negligence:

 

In an action against a municipality such as defendant, it is “the fundamental obligation of a plaintiff pursuing a negligence cause of action to prove that the putative defendant owed a duty of care.  Under the public duty rule, although a municipality owes a general duty to the public at large to [perform certain governmental functions], this does not create a duty of care running to a specific individual sufficient to support a negligence claim, unless the facts demonstrate that a special duty was created.  This is an offshoot of the general proposition that ‘[t]o sustain liability against a municipality, the duty breached must be more than that owed the public generally’ ” … ..“The second principle relevant here relates not to an element of plaintiffs’ negligence claim but to a defense that [is] potentially available to [defendant]—the governmental function immunity defense . . . [T]he common-law doctrine of governmental immunity continues to shield public entities from liability for discretionary actions taken during the performance of governmental functions . . . [pursuant to which] ‘[a] public employee’s discretionary acts—meaning conduct involving the exercise of reasoned judgment—may not result in the municipality’s liability even when the conduct is negligent’ ” … ..  Middleton v Town of Salina, 604, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Exception to Written Notice of Defect Prerequisite Did Not Apply;

 

Question of Fact Whether Municipality Created Dangerous Condition (Gap in Bridge-Roadway)

 

The Fourth Department, over a dissent, determined the exception to the written notice requirement (notice to a municipality re: a dangerous condition) did not apply, but there was a question of fact whether the municipality created the dangerous condition, a gap in the roadway on a bridge, which caused the infant plaintiff to fall off his bicycle.  The Fourth Department wrote:

 

Where the municipality establishes that it lacked prior written notice, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the applicability of an exception to the rule, i.e., that the municipality affirmatively created the defect through an act of negligence or that a special use resulted in a special benefit to the municipality …. The affirmative negligence exception is “limited to work by the [municipality] that immediately results in the existence of a dangerous condition” ….    An omission on the part of the municipality “does not constitute affirmative negligence excusing noncompliance with the prior written notice requirement”…. We conclude that defendant met its initial burden of establishing as a matter of law that it did not receive prior written notice of any defective or dangerous condition on or near the bridge as required by Local Law No. 1 …. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as we must …, we conclude, however, that plaintiff raised an issue of fact whether defendant created a dangerous condition that caused the accident ….  Hawlwy v Town of Ovid, 450, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/LEGAL MALPRACTICE

 

Legal Malpractice Action Accrues When Committed, Not When Client Learns of It

 

The Fourth Department explained when a legal malpractice action accrues (when it is committed, whether or not the aggrieved party is aware of it):

 

“ ‘A cause of action for legal malpractice accrues when the malpractice is committed’ ”….  “In most cases, this accrual time is measured from the day an actionable injury occurs, ‘even if the aggrieved party is then ignorant of the wrong or injury’ ”….“ ‘What is important is when the malpractice was committed, not when the client discovered it’ ” … .  Elstein v Phillips Lytle, LLP, 631, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Breach of Fiduciary Duty Allegations Not Specific Enough

 

The First Department determined plaintiff’s allegations in support of a breach of fiduciary duty cause of action were not specific enough to survive a motion to dismiss:

 

Because the underlying allegations of wrongdoing were inadequately pleaded, the fiduciary breach and injunction causes of action were not sustainable. Although plaintiff alleges, among other things, that defendant tried to prevent her from having any meaningful participation in the companies' operation, her allegations are vague and conclusory, made without any specific instances of the alleged misconduct…. The lack of particularity with respect to plaintiff's allegations of breach of fiduciary duty (CPLR 3016[b]) is not excused by the individual defendant's alleged refusal to provide information or by the lack of discovery, as information regarding the alleged denial of participation in corporate management was not solely in the individual defendant's possession…. Moreover, plaintiff failed to assert specific dates that she had requested information, or to specify the information she had requested….  Berardi v Beradi, 2013 NY Slip Op 04976, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Summary Judgment Premature—Disclosure Necessary

 

In finding Supreme Court should have treated defendant’s motion, which was made after issue was joined, as a motion for summary judgment (not a motion to dismiss), the Second Department determined the motion should not have been granted because facts essential to oppose the motion may exist but could not yet be stated:

 

An award of summary judgment would be premature at this stage of the case. CPLR 3212(f) permits a court to deny a motion for summary judgment where it appears that the facts essential to oppose the motion "exist but cannot then be stated" (CPLR 3212[f];…). " This is especially so where the opposing party has not had a reasonable opportunity for disclosure prior to the making of the motion'"…. Here, the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint was made prior to the parties conducting depositions. Since the plaintiffs had no personal knowledge of the relevant facts, they should be afforded the opportunity to conduct discovery, including depositions of the defendant's employees and other witnesses that were present during the incident complained of….  Wesolowski v St Francis Hosp, 2013 NY Slip Op 05061, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

Attorney’s Illness Was Adequate Excuse---Vacation of Preclusion Order Allowed

 

The Fourth Department affirmed Supreme Court’s allowing plaintiff in a medical malpractice action to respond to discovery demands, after the court had precluded plaintiff for not responding.  Plaintiff’s attorney’s illness provided a reasonable excuse, and the expert’s affirmation (later converted to an affidavit as directed by the court) demonstrated a meritorious action:

 

“It is well established that the illness of an attorney may constitute a reasonable excuse for a default… . In support of the motion, plaintiff’s counsel averred that, from early 2010 until shortly before his motion to vacate the default order, he was suffering from recurring health issues stemming from two heart attacks, a serious infection requiring hospitalization, and uncontrolled Type II diabetes. According to counsel, those medical issues “affected [his] health in an ongoing manner and prevented [him] from diligently and timely responding to [defendants’] demands in this case.” There is no evidence that counsel’s neglect in this case was “willful, contumacious or manifested bad faith” … . Particularly in light of New York’s “strong public policy . . . [in favor of] disposing of cases on their merits”…, we conclude that “[w]here, as here, there is no evidence of willfulness, deliberate default, or prejudice to the defendants, the interest of justice is best served by permitting the case to be decided on its merits” ….  Loucks v Klimek, 477, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

Motion to Amend Answer Should Have Been Allowed---Prejudice in this Context Explained

 

In reversing Supreme Court in a case concerning whether an assault was covered under an insurance policy, the Fourth Department determined the defendant insurance company’s motion for leave to amend its answer should have been granted and plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment should have been denied.  After finding that the amendment was meritorious, the Fourth Department explained how to analyze whether an amendment would “prejudice” the defendant:

 

“ ‘Prejudice may be found where a party has incurred some change in position or hindrance in the preparation of its case which could have been avoided had the original pleading contained the proposed amendment’ ”… . Here, the alleged prejudice would not have been avoided had the original answer contained the proposed amendment.    “[T]he fact that an amended pleading may defeat a party’s cause of action is not a sufficient basis for denying [a] motion to amend”….  Williams… v New York Central Fire Insurance Company, 705, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Law Office Failure Can Be a Valid Excuse Re: Vacating a Default Judgment

 

In reversing Supreme Court’s denial of a motion to vacate a default judgment, the Fourth Department explained that law office failure can be excused:

 

The court erred in rejecting that excuse on the ground that “law office failure is not an excuse that is accepted by the Court of Appeals.”    It is well established that law office failure may be excused, in the court’s discretion, when deciding a motion to vacate a default order (see CPLR 2005;…). With respect to other relevant factors, we note that defendants had contested plaintiff’s claims in federal court for more than a year before this action was recommenced in Supreme Court, and their attorneys had filed timely notices of appearances in Supreme Court and had been communicating with plaintiff’s attorney before the answer was due. We further note that plaintiff was not prejudiced by defendants’ inadvertent default, and that the extent of the delay was minimal. Calaci v Allied Interstate, Inc…, 750, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/INSURANCE LAW

 

Order to Compel Acceptance of Answer Upheld---Delay Caused by Insurance Carrier is Valid Excuse—Precedent to the Contrary Overruled


In a personal injury action, the Fourth Department affirmed Supreme Court’s order compelling plaintiff to accept the answer as timely.  In so finding, the Fourth Department noted that a prior decision holding that a delay caused by the defendant’s insurance carrier is not a reasonable excuse should no longer be followed:


It is well settled that “ ‘[p]ublic policy favors the resolution of a case on the merits, and a court has broad discretion to grant relief from a pleading default if there is a showing of merit to the defense, a reasonable excuse for the delay and it appears that the delay did not prejudice the other party’ ”….  Furthermore, “[t]he determination whether an excuse is reasonable lies within the sound discretion of the motion court”…. Here, defendant met her burden with respect to a meritorious defense by demonstrating that there is factual support for her defenses… .  * * *
Insofar as we indicated in our decision in Smolinski v Smolinski (13 AD3d 1188, 1189) that “ ‘an excuse that the delay in appearing or answering was caused by the defendant’s insurance carrier is insufficient’ ” to establish a reasonable excuse for a delay in answering, it is no longer to be followed. Rather, the determination whether delay caused by an insurer constitutes a reasonable excuse for a default in answering lies “in the discretion of the court in the interests of justice” (Castillo v Garzon-Ruiz, 290 AD2d 288, 290; see CPLR 2005).   Accetta v Simmons, 676, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/APPEALS

 

Only Attorney Can Represent Voluntary Association---Appeals Dismissed


In dismissing the appeals, the First Department held that only an attorney can represent a voluntary association


Petitioner is a voluntary association comprised of rent-regulated tenants in the subject building. Patricia Pillette is a member of the association and appears pro se purportedly on behalf of the association. However, Pillette is not an attorney, and a voluntary association may only be represented by an attorney and not by one of its members who is not an attorney admitted to practice in the state of New York (see CPLR 321[a]). Accordingly, petitioner's failure to appear by attorney requires dismissal of the appeals… .  Matter of Tenants Comm of 36 Gramercy Park v NYS Div of Hous & Community Renewal, 2013 NY Slip Op 04984, 1st Dept 7-2-13
 

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Detention and Frisk of Juvenile Supported by Reasonable Suspicion

 

The First Department determined the following scenario provided reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the detention and frisk of the juvenile:

 

A police officer testified that she was investigating an unruly crowd when she observed appellant walking towards her with his arm under his shirt, clutching an object held at his waist. Based on the rigidity of his body and how tightly he held the object, she believed it to be a weapon. As he passed by, she heard him say that he was "going to get him." When she approached with her shield visible around her neck, appellant moved towards her, whereupon she grabbed his hand and felt the handle of a knife. During a brief struggle, the knife fell to the ground. Appellant was placed under arrest and the knife, which had a six-inch blade, was recovered.  Matter of Daquan B, 2013 NY Slip Op 04974m 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Elements of Tampering with Physical Evidence

 

The First Department explained the elements of the offense of tampering with physical evidence as follows:

 

…[A] person is guilty of the completed crime of tampering with physical evidence when, "[b]elieving that certain physical evidence is about to be produced or used in an official proceeding or a prospective official proceeding, and intending to prevent such production or use, he suppresses it by any act of concealment" (Penal Law 215.45[2]). 

 

The offense of tampering does not require the actual suppression of physical evidence, but only that a defendant perform an act of concealment while intending to suppress the evidence…. Regardless of whether the defendant is successful in suppressing the evidence, once an act of concealment is completed with the requisite mens rea, the offense of tampering has been committed.  People v Eaglesgrave, 2013 NY Slip Op 05001, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Judge’s Mistrial Order Precluded Retrial---Double Jeopardy

 

In precluding a retrial on double jeopardy grounds after the trial judge ordered a mistrial over defendant’s objection, the Second Department explained the relevant criteria:

 

In a jury trial, once the jury is empaneled and sworn, jeopardy attaches (see CPL 40.30[1][b];..), and the defendant has a "valued right to have his [or her] trial completed by a particular tribunal" ….  " [W]hen a mistrial is granted over the defendant's objection or without the defendant's consent, double jeopardy will, as a general rule, bar retrial'"…. "However, the right to have one's case decided by the first empaneled jury is not absolute, and a mistrial granted as the product of manifest necessity will not bar a retrial"… ."Manifest necessity" means "a high degree of necessity"; "the reasons underlying the grant of a mistrial must be necessitous, actual and substantial" …. " Even if the reasons for granting a mistrial are deemed actual and substantial, the court must explore all appropriate alternatives prior to granting a mistrial'"…. Mistrials premised on the prejudicial effect of improper evidence or argument are entitled to "great deference" …, since "the Trial Judge, better than any other, . . . can detect the ambience of partiality"…. Nonetheless, the trial judge must "temper the decision whether or not to abort the trial by considering the importance to the defendant of being able, once and for all, to conclude his [or her] confrontation with society through the verdict of a tribunal he [or she] might believe to be favorably disposed to his [or her] fate" … . Matter of Taylor v Dowling, 2013 NY Slip Op 05089, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Writ of Coram Nobis Granted---Ineffective Assistance of Appellate Counsel

 

The Second Department granted defendant’s writ of coram nobis to vacate (dismissing the indictment), on the ground of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.  Among the grounds for appeal not raised were: repugnant verdicts, erroneous and missing jury charges (including the statutory elements), failure to give a limiting charge with respect to evidence of defendant’s prior criminal record, and prosecutorial misconduct.  People v Morales, 2013 NY Slip Op 05094, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

Jury Was Given Written Copies of Portions of Jury Instructions;

Judge’s Responses to Subsequent Requests for Jury Instructions and Testimony Read-Back Required Reversal

 

The Third Department reversed defendant’s conviction on two grounds.  First, the trial judge’s response to the jury’s request for jury instructions (written copies of portions of the jury instructions had already been given to the jury) was not “meaningful” and required reversal in the absence of an objection.  And second, the read-back of testimony requested by the jury did not match the request and did not include crucial cross-examination:

 

As it was unclear from the jury's note whether the jury simply was seeking the portion of the written charge previously promised by County Court or some other unidentified portion of the charge  (or even  the  charge  in its entirety), it was  incumbent upon County Court to explore this inquiry with the jury and clarify the  nature of the  jury's request or, at the  very least, ascertain whether its response to the jury's request was satisfactory….Although defense counsel did not object to the manner in which County Court  responded  to the  jury's inquiry, County  Court  failed "to provide  a  meaningful response  to the  jury" and, in so  doing, failed to fulfill its "core responsibility" in this regard  ….    Accordingly, no objection was required to preserve this issue for appellate review… . * * *

 

Although CPL 310.30 affords a trial court a certain degree of latitude in responding to a jury request for additional information, the court's response must be meaningful … . Additionally, "[a] request for a reading of testimony generally is presumed to include cross-examination which impeaches the testimony to be read back, and any such testimony should be read to the jury unless the jury indicates otherwise"… .  People v Clark, 105237, 3rd Dept 7-3-1

 

 

Evidence of Pornography Allowed as Molineux Evidence to Show Intent

 

In affirming the defendant’s conviction for sexual offenses against a young child, the Third Department determined the trial court properly allowed “Molineux” evidence about pornography found on and/or searched for on defendant’s computer. Among the reasons for letting the evidence of pornography in evidence was to demonstrate defendant’s intent.  The Third Department wrote:

 

While  intent can  often be inferred from the sexual act itself…, here, defendant claimed to the police investigator and the CPS caseworker that much  of the sexual contact and the child's knowledge occurred accidentally. The foregoing  was,  thus, admissible  to  prove  that defendant's  charged  sexual contact  was not accidental or mistaken but, rather, was intentional and sexual … and motivated by his unusual sexual interest in young children. Supreme Court carefully considered  the  prejudicial  effect  of  the  evidence, limited or excluded much  of it, including the actual images and videos, and provided numerous contemporaneous and appropriate limiting  instructions. We  cannot conclude that the court abused its discretion in finding that the  probative  value  of the admitted evidence outweighed the potential for undue prejudice… People v Sorrell, 103426, 3rd Dept 7-3-13.

 

 

Evidence Needed to Corroborate Accomplice Testimony and Evidence Admissible at Restitution Hearing Explained

 

In affirming the conviction, the Fourth Department explained the criteria for corroboration of accomplice testimony, and the admissible evidence in a restitution hearing:

 

“New York’s accomplice corroboration protection requires only enough nonaccomplice evidence to assure that the accomplices have offered credible probative evidence that connects the accomplice evidence to the defendant”…. Even the most “[s]eemingly insignificant matters may harmonize with the accomplice’s narrative so as to provide the necessary corroboration” (id. [internal quotation marks omitted]).    Here, defendant’s accomplice testified that he assisted defendant in burglarizing the victim’s home and stealing the victim’s car, and that testimony was corroborated by the testimony of other witnesses that defendant was seen driving the victim’s stolen car the day after the burglary.* * *

 

The victim testified at the restitution hearing and provided a detailed breakdown of the value of the stolen items as well as documents establishing the cost of replacing the ignition and locks on her vehicle, which was returned to her. In addition, the amount of restitution owed to the victim’s insurance company, which was financially harmed by reimbursing the victim for a portion of the cost of changing the ignition and locks on her vehicle, was supported by the claim it submitted to the Genesee County Probation Department. It is immaterial that an employee of the insurance company did not testify at the restitution hearing because “[a]ny relevant evidence, not legally privileged, may be received [at a restitution hearing] regardless of its admissibility under the exclusionary rules of evidence” (CPL 400.30 [4] …). People v Wilson, 275, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Sentence Deemed Unduly Harsh and Severe

 

The Fourth Department reduced defendant’s sentence for criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree from 2 to 7 years to 7 months.  The People conceded the original sentence was unduly harsh and severe.  People v Raszl, 596, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

440 Motion Seeking DNA Testing of Evidence Properly Denied

 

In affirming the denial of a 440 motion by a defendant convicted of murder seeking DNA testing of blood evidence, the Fourth Department wrote:

 

We conclude that the court properly denied that part of the motion seeking testing … “because defendant failed to establish that there was a reasonable probability that, had those items been tested and had the results been admitted at trial, the verdict would have been more favorable to defendant”… .  People v Swift, 617, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Evidence Insufficient to Support Criminal Contempt in the First Degree---No Evidence of Intent to Harass (Two Dissenting Justices)

 

The Fourth Department, over a dissent by two justices, determined the evidence was legally insufficient to support criminal contempt in the first degree:

 

Even assuming, arguendo, that the evidence is legally sufficient to establish that defendant repeatedly made telephone calls to his ex-girlfriend, we agree with him that the evidence is legally insufficient to establish that he intended by those calls to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm her, with no purpose of legitimate communication (see § 215.51 [b] [iv];….    Rather, the only inference to be drawn from the evidence is that defendant made the calls with the intent to discuss issues of child support and visitation, not to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm his ex-girlfriend. We therefore modify the judgment accordingly.  People v Webb, 619, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Motion to Vacate Conviction Based upon Co-Defendant’s Affidavit Stating Defendant Not Involved Denied

 

In affirming the denial of a 440 motion to vacate defendant’s conviction based upon a co-defendant’s affidavit stating the defendant was not involved in the crimes, the Fourth Department wrote:

 

It is well settled that on a motion to vacate a judgment of conviction based on newly discovered evidence, the movant must establish, inter alia, that “there is newly discovered evidence: (1) which will probably change the result if a new trial is granted; (2) which was discovered since the trial; (3) which could not have been discovered prior to trial; (4) which is material; (5) which is not cumulative; and[] (6) which does not merely impeach or contradict the record evidence” ….  People v Smith, 642, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Officer Outside Village Limits Did Not Have Jurisdiction to Arrest for Traffic Offenses but Arrest for DWI Okay

 

The Fourth Department determined a police officer, who was outside his jurisdiction when he arrested the defendant for DWI and traffic offenses, did not have the authority to arrest for the “petty offenses” but did have the authority to arrest for DWI:

 

The authority of a police officer to arrest an individual for a “petty offense” is limited to circumstances in which the officer “has reasonable cause to believe that such person has committed such offense in his or her presence” (CPL 140.10 [1] [a]), and “only when .. . [s]uch offense was committed or believed by him or her to have been committed within the geographical area of such police officer’s employment or within one hundred yards of such geographical area” (CPL140.10 [2] [a]).  The term “petty offense” is defined as “a violation or a traffic infraction” (CPL 1.20 [39]). Here, the arresting officer is employed by the Village of Gowanda, and it is undisputed that the arrest did not take place within 100 yards of the village limits. Thus, we conclude that the officer exceeded his jurisdictional authority when he arrested defendant for committing the traffic infractions, and the court should have granted defendant’s motion insofar as it sought dismissal of those counts.

 

We further conclude, however, that the court properly refused to dismiss counts one and four of the indictment, charging defendant with felony driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest, respectively. Pursuant to CPL 140.10 (3), a police officer may arrest a person for a crime, as opposed to a petty offense, “whether or not such crime was committed within the geographical area of such police officer’s employment, and he or she may make such arrest within the state, regardless of the situs of the commission of the crime.”  People v Twoguns, 668, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Defendant Was Lawfully Seized by Police Under these Facts

 

The Fourth Department affirmed Supreme Court’s denial of defendant’s suppression motion, finding that the defendant was not unlawfully seized under the following facts:

 

At the suppression hearing, a police officer testified that he stopped defendant because defendant was riding the motorbike in the road without a helmet.  When the officer asked defendant whether he had any identification, defendant answered, “no,” and took a step back, whereupon the officer reached toward defendant in an attempt to frisk him.  Before the officer could detain him, however, defendant ran away and, during his flight, punched another officer who had joined in the pursuit. Defendant was soon apprehended and found to be in possession of a loaded firearm, 20 bags of marihuana, and more than $2,000 in cash. People v Bradley, 685, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

All But Rape First Charges Were Time-Barred---Different Statute of Limitations for Rape First

 

The Fourth Department determined all charges but the Rape in the First Degree charge had to be dismissed as time-barred.  A change in the statute of limitations for Rape First applied to all such charges not time-barred at the time of the statutory change:

 

in 2002, when the crimes were committed, the statute of limitations for the charged offenses was five years (see CPL 30.10 former [2] [b]).  Because he was not charged until more than seven years later, defendant raised a facially viable statute of limitations defense, and the burden thus shifted to the People to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute of limitations was tolled or otherwise inapplicable  We conclude that the People satisfied their burden with respect to the charge of rape in the first degree.  As the People correctly contend, the legislature amended CPL 30.10 in 2006 so as to abolish the statute of limitations for four sex offenses, including rape in the first degree and criminal sexual act in the first degree (see L 2006, ch 3, § 1).  The amendment applied not only to crimes committed after its effective date of June 23, 2006, but also to offenses that were not yet time-barred (see L 2006, ch 3, § 5 [a]).  People v Burroughs, 590, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

Suppression of Evidence Reversed---Search of Interconnected Rooms Did Not Violate Terms of Search Warrant

 

The Fourth Department reversed County Court’s suppression ruling.  The Fourth Department determined that a search warrant for “a business store front style building…” allowed the officers to search a series of inter-connected rooms behind the storefront area:

 

We agree with the People that the warrant sufficiently described the premises to be searched …. Although “a warrant to search a subunit of a multiple occupancy structure is void if it fails to describe the subunit to be searched and . . . describes [only] the larger structure” …, here the series of interconnected rooms were not “subunits,” but were instead part of the single rental unit ….  People v Cook, 601 7-5-13

 

 

 

Valid Waiver of Appeal Did Not Encompass Challenge to Severity of Sentence in this Case

 

The Fourth Department noted that a valid waiver of the right to appeal does not encompass a challenge to the severity of the sentence when the defendant was not advised of the potential periods of incarceration or the potential maximum term of incarceration.  The court, however, concluded the sentence was not unduly harsh or severe. People v Virgil, 783, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Statement Correctly Admitted as Dying Declaration

 

In affirming the conviction, the Fourth Department held that a statement was correctly admitted as a dying declaration:

 

{The trial court admitted] as a dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule the testimony of a prosecution witness that, after being shot in the inner thigh, the victim stated, “I got robbed” and “I got shot.”    The People presented evidence establishing that, when the witness arrived at the scene, the victim was bleeding heavily from a femoral artery wound, his clothes were soaked in blood from the waist down, and he was inhaling and exhaling very hard.  The victim stated to the witness, “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die”; he then became totally unresponsive and, shortly thereafter, he died. Thus, we conclude that the court properly determined that the victim’s statements were made with “a sense of impending death, with no hope of recovery” …  .  People v Elder, 713, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Evidence Insufficient to Support Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree—No One In Line of Fire

 

The Fourth Department reversed defendant’s conviction for reckless endangerment in the first degree in a shooting case where there was no evidence anyone was near the line of fire:

 

“A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct [that] creates a grave risk of death to another person” (Penal Law § 120.25). The evidence at trial established only that defendant stood on a street corner and fired up to five shots from a handgun. The People “presented no evidence that any person . . . ‘was in or near the line of fire’ ” so as to create a grave risk of death to any such person… .  People v Stanley, 757, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

Affidavit Stating that Third Party Confessed to Murder Required a Hearing Pursuant to a Motion to Vacate the Judgment of Conviction Based Upon Newly Discovered Evidence

 

The Fourth Department reversed Supreme Court finding that a hearing should be held on defendant’s motion to vacate his conviction based on newly discovered evidence.  The evidence was an affidavit from a person to whom a third person is alleged to have confessed to the murder.  The Fourth Department determined the hearsay statement could be considered as a basis for the 440 motion because it met the criteria of a statement against penal interest and, although there was no showing the declarant was unavailable (a criterium for admissibility under this hearsay exception), it was reasonable to assume the declarant would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to testify (thereby becoming unavailable).

 

We agree with defendant that where, as here, the declarations exculpate the defendant, they “are subject to a more lenient standard, and will be found ‘sufficient if [the supportive evidence] establish[es] a reasonable possibility that the statement might be true’ ”…. That is because “ ‘[d]epriving a defendant of the opportunity to offer into evidence [at trial] another person’s admission to the crime with which he or she has been charged, even though that admission may . . . be offered [only] as a hearsay statement, may deny a defendant his or her fundamental right to present a defense’ ” ….  Although the People contend that there is no evidence that the third party is unavailable, we conclude that, inasmuch as the statements attributed to the third party implicate him in a murder, there is a likelihood that, if called to testify at a trial, he would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and thus become unavailable … .  People v McFarland, 729, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Right of Confrontation Not Violated by Results of Tests by Persons Who Were Not Called as Witnesses

 

In determining defendant’s right to confrontation was not violated by evidence of DNA testing:

 

The court properly admitted files prepared by the New York City Medical Examiner's Office containing DNA profiles derived from the testing of evidence recovered from the crime scenes, since the documents containing the DNA profiles, which were prepared prior to the defendant's arrest, "did not, standing alone, link [him] to the crime" …. The testimony of the People's expert witness established that she conducted the critical analysis at issue by comparing the DNA profiles derived from the crime scene evidence to the defendant's DNA profile and concluding that all of the profiles matched…. Moreover, the DNA profile generated from the swab of the defendant's cheek, standing alone, shed no light on the issue of the defendant's guilt in the absence of the expert's testimony that it matched the profiles derived from the crime scene evidence….  People v Washington, 2013 NY Slip Op 05096, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

References to Fingerprint Evidence Processed by Non-testifying Technician Did Not Violate Right to Confrontation

 

In determining defendant’s right to confrontation was not violated by latent fingerprint evidence processed by a technician who did not testify, the Fourth Department explained:

 

The technician who processed and photographed the fingerprint did not compare the latent print to the fingerprints of defendant or any other suspect. Thus, the technician’s findings were not testimonial because the latent fingerprint, “standing alone, shed[s] no light on the guilt of the accused in the absence of an expert’s opinion that the [latent fingerprint] match[es] a known sample”… .Moreover, the analyst who determined that the latent print matched one of defendant’s fingerprints in fact testified at trial and was available for cross-examination.    Therefore, defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him was not violated… .  People v Jackson, 645, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/MENTAL HYGIENE LAW

 

Reference to Old Offense that Was Dismissed Okay in “Mental Abnormality/Dangerous Sex Offender” Proceeding

 

The Fourth Department determined that evidence of a 1991 offense that was dismissed with the record sealed was admissible in a Mental Hygiene Law article 10 “dangerous sex offender” proceeding to determined whether defendant had a mental abnormality:

 

Evidence of prior crimes is commonly admissible in article 10 proceedings because it is probative of whether a designated felony was sexually motivated and whether a respondent has a mental abnormality…, and evidence of uncharged crimes likewise is admissible in article 10 proceedings because “Mental Hygiene Law article 10 does not limit the proof to acts that resulted in criminal convictions when considering the issue of mental abnormality”… . Matter of State of New York v Schrainkler,, 657, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 


DEFAMATION

 

Plaintiff Unable to Prove Actual Malice—Summary Judgment to Defendant

 

In determining a libel complaint brought by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) against defendants based upon an ad defendants placed in the New York Times which was captioned “Why is [HSUS] Helping a Terrorist Group Raise Money?”, the First Department wrote:

 

The court should have dismissed the amended complaint as against all of the defendants. Contrary to plaintiff's contention, it is a public figure…. It thrust itself to the forefront of the public controversy on animal cruelty and sought to influence public action on this issue. Accordingly, as a public figure, plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that defendants published the ad at issue with actual malice in order to prevail on any claim of libel…. 

 

"[A] libel defendant's burden in support of summary judgment is not . . . to prove as a matter of law that it did not publish with actual malice, but to point to deficiencies in the record that will prevent plaintiff from proving that fact by clear and convincing evidence" …. Here, defendants were entitled to summary judgment because they cited deficiencies in the record that prevent plaintiff from proving actual malice (i.e., that defendants "entertained serious doubts as to the truth of [its] publication or acted with a high degree of awareness of . . . probable falsity . . . at the time of publication") by clear and convincing evidence…. Humane League of Phila Inc v Berman & Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 04989, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

Libel Action Against Reporter Dismissed—No Showing of Gross Irresponsibility in Gathering and Verifying Information

 

In dismissing a libel action against a reporter who erroneously alleged in a newspaper story that plaintiff used money collected from students for workbooks to buy faculty lunches and an air conditioner for the faculty workroom, the Second Department wrote:

 

"[W]hen the claimed defamation arguably involves a matter of public concern, a private plaintiff must prove that the media defendant acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties'"…. The "standard of gross irresponsibility' demands no more than that a publisher utilize methods of verification that are reasonably calculated to produce accurate copy" …. 

 

Here, the record reveals that …some of the factual claims in the article and accompanying editorial were true, some of the claims were not, … .However, we nevertheless conclude that the defendants met their prima facie burden of demonstrating their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by establishing that the article involved matters of public concern …, and that [the reporter] did not act in a grossly irresponsible manner while gathering and verifying information for the article…. Matovik v Times Beacon Record Newspapers,. 2013 NY Slip Op 05051, 2nd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

TRUSTS AND ESTATES

 

Criteria for Domicile Explained

 

In upholding Surrogate Court’s determination decedent’s domicile was New York, the First Department explained the relevant criteria as follows:

 

The Surrogate's Court Procedure Act defines domicile as "[a] fixed, permanent and principal home to which a person wherever temporarily located always intends to return" (SCPA 103[15]). "The determination of an individual's domicile is ordinarily based on conduct manifesting an intent to establish a permanent home with permanent associations in a given location"…. A person's domicile is generally a mixed question of fact and law, which the court must determine after reviewing the pertinent evidence…. No single factor is dispositive…, and the unique facts and circumstances of each case must be considered…. A party alleging a change of domicile has the burden of proving that change by clear and convincing evidence … .  Matter of Ranftle, 2013 NY Slip Op 05006, 1st Dept 7-2-13

 

 

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW/CONTRACT

 

Collective Bargaining Agreement Unambiguous—Lifetime Health Benefits Mandated

 

In concluding the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) unambiguously provided lifetime health insurance coverage to the petitioners pursuant to the CBA in effect upon their retirement, the Third Department wrote:

 

A  written agreement that is clear and complete on its face must  be  enforced  according  to the  plain meaning  of its terms  …Extrinsic evidence may  be considered to discern the  parties' intent only  if the  contract is ambiguous,  which  is a question of law for the court to resolve…. In  determining  whether  an  ambiguity  exists, "'[t]he court  should examine  the  entire contract and  consider the relation of the parties and the circumstances under which it was executed. Particular words  should be  considered, not as if isolated from the context, but in the light of the obligation as a whole  and the intention of the parties as manifested thereby'"… . Pursuant to the CBAs in effect at the time each petitioner retired, an employee who had completed 10 years of service was entitled to health insurance coverage  "in retirement."    In order to receive that coverage at a rate of 100% per individual and 75% per dependent, the only requirement was that the individual "retire during the term of the contract."    Matter of Warner, 516038, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

 

LABOR LAW

 

Unsafe Access to Roof Supported Summary Judgment

 

In affirming the grant of summary judgment to the plaintiff pursuant to Labor Law 240 (1) based on the failure to provide equipment which would allow safe access to the roof where the window-washing equipment in need of repair was located, the First Department explained:

 

The record demonstrates that the Met and Lincoln Center failed to provide adequate safety devices to protect plaintiff from the risks associated with gaining access to the Opera House roof and the steel carriage rail, and therefore they are liable for plaintiff's injuries under Labor Law § 240(1)…. Not only did plaintiff have to be elevated to the roof of the Opera House from the sixth floor, for which a ladder was provided, but he also had to use both hands to close the hatch door while standing on the ladder. No safety device was provided to protect him against the risk associated with breaking three-point contact with the ladder so as to use both hands to close the hatch door. Mayo v Metropolitan Opera Assn Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 04993, 1st Dept 7-2-13

CONTRACT

 

Written Notice of Defect Under Housing Merchant Implied Warranty Waived by Undertaking Repair

 

The homeowners (defendants) refused to pay the builder (plaintiff) the final payment under a custom home building contract because of alleged defects in the home.  The homeowners counterclaimed for breach of the housing merchant implied warranty.  The Fourth Department determined the written-notice-of-the-defect warranty-requirement was not an express condition precedent and the  builder had waived the requirement by undertaking the repairs in the absence of written notice:

 

…[W]e agree with plaintiff that defendants failed to provide written notice of the alleged defects, which is a constructive condition precedent to asserting such a counterclaim (see General Business Law § 777-a [4] [a];…, plaintiff waived the written notice requirement by addressing the defects after receiving defendants’ oral notification of those defects… .We reject plaintiff’s contention that written notice of the alleged defects was an express condition precedent that was bargained for by the parties and could therefore not be waived. Contrary to plaintiff’s contention, the requirements of General Business Law § 777-a, including the written notice req uirement, are implied in every contract for the sale of a new home as a matter of public policy (§ 777-a [5]) and thus may be applied by the courts “to do justice andavoid hardship”….  Rich v Orlando, 521, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

TAX LAW/REAL ESTATE

 

Violation of Zoning Ordinance Precludes Property Tax Exemption

 

The Fourth Department affirmed the determination the petitioner (a hospital) was not entitled to a property tax exemption because the use of the property was in violation of a zoning law.  After noting that a proceeding pursuant to RPTL article 7, and not an Article 78 proceeding, is the proper vehicle for challenging a tax assessment, the Fourth Department wrote:

 

The fact that petitioner used the subject property for “hospital purposes” as that term is used in the RPTL is not contested (RPTL 420-a [5]). Nevertheless, a property owner who uses its property for exempt purposes in violation of an applicable zoning law is prohibited from receiving a tax exemption pursuant to RPTL 420-a… . Matter of Geneva General Hospital v Assessor of Town of Geneva…,559, 4th Dept 7-5-13

ARBITRATION/CONTRACT/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Arbitrator Exceeded Powers Afforded by Collective Bargaining Agreement Re: Time Limitations for Filing Grievances

 

In affirming Supreme Court’s determination that an arbitrator had exceeded a limitation on his power enumerated in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Third Department explained:

 

It is well established that an arbitrator's award is largely unreviewable….  However, such an award may be      vacated upon a showing that it "'violates a strong public policy, is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on  the arbitrator's power'" ….  Here, Supreme Court properly concluded that the arbitrator exceeded a specifically enumerated limitation on his power by failing to recognize the grievance and arbitration procedures as outlined in the CBA and, more particularly, the time limitation for filing grievances that is contained therein.  Matter of Adirondack Beverages Corporation…, 516022, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/TOWN LAW

 

Solid Waste Facility Operating Agreement Not a Lease—No Permissive Referendum Required

 

The Third Department determined that a Solid Waste Facility Operating Agreement between the Town of Colonie and Capital Region Landfills, Inc (CRL) was not a lease, and therefore a permissive referendum was not a pre-requisite to the agreement.  The Third Department wrote:

 

Town  Law  § 64 (2) provides that, upon adopting a resolution, a town board may "convey or lease real property in the name  of the town, which resolution shall be subject to a permissive referendum." The petition and amended petition  allege  that, as  the  agreement  is "the  functional equivalent of a lease," the Town violated Town Law § 64 (2) by adopting  the resolution and  entering into the agreement  without first conducting  a  permissive referendum … . * * *

 

In view of the significant restrictions on CRL's authority and control of the landfill and the rights and powers retained by the Town, the agreement does not convey "absolute control and possession" to CRL and is not a lease as a matter of law….

 

Accordingly, petitioners' claim  that a  permissive referendum was required by Town Law § 64 (2) is without merit. Matter of Connors v Town of Colonie, 516058, 3rd Dept 7-3-13

INTENTIONAL TORTS

 

Elements of Malicious Prosecution, False Arrest, False Imprisonment, Libel and Slander Explained

 

In affirming Supreme Court, which dismissed some causes of action and allowed others to stand, the Fourth Department explained elements of several intentional torts, including malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment, libel and slander.

 

Malicious prosecution:

 

“The elements of the tort of malicious prosecution are:(1) the commencement or continuation of a criminal proceeding by the defendant against the plaintiff, (2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the accused, (3) the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding and (4) actual malice” . ;. . “In the context of a malicious prosecution cause of action, probable cause ‘consists of such facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances to believe plaintiff guilty’ ”…Actual malice “means that the defendant must have commenced the . . . criminal proceeding due to a wrong or improper motive, something other than a desire to see the ends of justice served”… . * * *

 

False arrest, false imprisonment:

 

It is well settled that a plaintiff’s appearance in court as a result of the issuance of a criminal summons or appearance ticket is insufficient to support a claim of false arrest or false imprisonment…, and here “the record establishes that plaintiff was never arrested or held in actual custody by any law enforcement agency as a result of the charge . . . filed against [him]” … .

 

Libel:

 

…W]e conclude that the court properly denied that part of their motion seeking to dismiss the libel cause of action (eighth cause of action). [Defendant’s] statement that plaintiff made “several threats toward[] [defendant] and [her] residence,” which was contained in her supporting deposition that she provided to the police, “tends to expose the plaintiff to public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace, or [to] induce an evil opinion of him in the minds of right-thinking persons” … .Moreover, contrary to the contention of the …defendants, proof of special damages is not required for libel on its face or libel per se… 

 

Slander:

 

The two allegedly defamatory statements pleaded in the complaint do not constitute slander per se because they do not “charg[e] plaintiff with a serious crime” or “tend to injure [plaintiff] in his . . . trade, business or profession”… .Contrary to the contention of plaintiff, stalking in the fourth degree does not constitute a “serious crime” for purposes of slander per se … . “To be actionable as words that tend to injure another in his or her profession, the challenged statement must be more than a general reflection upon [the plaintiff]’s character or qualities. Rather, the statement must reflect on [the plaintiff’s] performance or be incompatible with the proper conduct of [the plaintiff’s] business”… .  Zetes v Stephens, et al, 406, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS

 

Damages in Firefighters’ Discrimination Suit Modified

 

The Fourth Department modified the Supreme Court’s damages assessment in a case brought by firefighters against the City of Buffalo (and named individuals) “alleging that [the City] discriminated against them by allowing promotional eligibility lists created pursuant to the Civil Service Law to expire solely on the ground that plaintiffs, who were next in line for promotion, were Caucasian.” The order finding the City liable was issued based upon the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Ricci v DeStefano (557 US 557) which held “before an employer can engage in intentional discrimination for the asserted purpose of avoiding or remedying an unintentional disparate impact, the employer must have a strong basis in evidence to believe it will be subject to disparate-impact liability if it fails to take the race-conscious discriminatory action”… .In affirming that order (in a prior appeal), the Fourth Department determined the City “did not have a strong basis in evidence to believe that they would be subject to disparate-impact liability if they failed to take the race-conscious action, i.e., allowing the eligibility lists to expire” … .  The case came before the Fourth Department this time with respect to damages-issues only.  The Fourth Department affirmed the damages for emotional distress, but modified the economic damages finding that Supreme Court had erred in placing the burden of proof on the defendants to establish plaintiffs’ economic damages, and noting that damages for loss of future earnings should be based on the difference between what he or she is now able to earn and what he or she could have earned in the absence of discrimination. The Fourth Department determined some of the expert-findings were too speculative.   Margerum, et al v City of Buffalo, et al, 421, 4th Dept 7-5-13

 

 

 

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW/EDUCATION LAW/

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

Action Seeking to Enjoin Closure of Charter School Dismissed

 

Plaintiffs brought an action for injunctive relief against the Board of Regents which had denied the application of plaintiff Pinnacle Charter School to renew its charter. Supreme Court had granted a preliminary injunction and dismissed one cause of action. The Fourth Department reversed the preliminary injunction and dismissed the complaint entirely, including the causes of action alleging a violation of due process and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act:

 

The first and second causes of action allege, respectively, that the determination of the Board of Regents violated Pinnacle’s due process rights under the State Constitution (NY Const, art I, § 6) and the Federal Constitution (US Const, 14th Amend, § 1). We agree with defendants that the New York Charter Schools Act (Education Law art 56) creates no constitutionally protected property interest in the renewal of a charter and thus that the first and second causes of action fail to state a cause of action… * * *

 

…[W]e agree with defendants that the Board of Regents was acting pursuant to its discretionary authority when it denied Pinnacle’s renewal application, and it was not required to promulgate any rules pursuant to article 2 of the State Administrative Procedure Act with respect to its exercise of such authority… .  Pinnacle Charter School, et al v Board of Regents, et al, 432, 4th Dept 7-5-13