JUST RELEASED

JUNE II

 

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

NEGLIGENCE

 

Negligence Suit Based Upon Shooting at Shopping Mall Dismissed

 

The Third Department affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant shopping mall in a negligence suit based upon a shooting at the mall in which plaintiffs were injured.  The Court determined the shooting was not foreseeable and explained the relevant legal principles as follows:

 

 Landowners have a duty to take reasonable precautions to secure their premises from foreseeable harm, including the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties on the premises….    Criminal conduct is foreseeable if it was "reasonably predictable based on the prior occurrence of the same or similar criminal activity at a location sufficiently proximate to the subject location"….   While the prior criminal activity need not have been "at the exact location where [the] plaintiff was harmed or . . . of the same type of criminal conduct to which [the] plaintiff was subjected," the inquiry of foreseeability depends upon "the location, nature and extent of those previous criminal activities and their similarity, proximity or other relationship to the crime in question"… Haire v Bonelli …, 515494, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Religious Organization Vicariously Liable for Negligence of Volunteer Under Agency Theory

 

The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court’s finding that a volunteer [Strimling] was an agent of the defendant [Gateway], a corporation hosting a religious event, such that the defendant was vicariously liable with respect to an automobile accident involving the volunteer:

 

A  principal-agent relationship can  include a volunteer when  the requisite conditions, including control and  acting on  another's behalf, are shown … .Gateways was  operating a program  where  it expected  700  to 800  attendees, who each paid $700 to attend.  Strimling's fee to attend was waived  as it had  been  previously and, with his fee waived, he helped with various tasks that had to be accomplished to run the event. Strimling's responsibilities included  arriving early to help set up, and  he was  supposed to remain after the event to pack up items for the return trip. Strimling referred to his responsibilities as work and  a job, reflecting his understanding of control by Gateways. Although he was not paid directly by Gateways, his $700 fee was waived and one of the individuals from Gateways in charge of the event also gave him $200. There was proof that the accident occurred when an individual who had authorized Strimling's free attendance realized that two-way radios were needed and Strimling was summoned from his room to go to a store to purchase such items. Strimling was given a Gateways' credit card and embarked on  a trip to a store solely to purchase the requested items for Gateways when  the accident occurred. He did so despite the fact that the timing of the request created a significant likelihood that Strimling would be put in the difficult position of traveling at a time of the evening that was prohibited by his religious beliefs. The proof sufficiently supports Supreme Court's decision.  Paterno v Strimling…, 515978, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Plaintiffs Should Have Been Allowed to File Late Notice of Claim

 

The First Department determined plaintiff, who was eleven at the time of the accident, should have been allowed to file an amended notice of claim. The original notice described the wrong address.  At the 50-h hearing the plaintiff identified the correct location after seeing photographs of the incorrect location.  The defendant did not meet its burden of demonstrating prejudice.  Gonzalez v NYC Hous Auth, 2013 NY Slip Op 04287, 1st Dept, 6-11-13

 

 

Late Notice of Claim Properly Allowed

 

In affirming the grant of a motion to serve a late notice of claim, the Fourth Department explained the relevant principles:

 

A notice of claim must be served within 90 days after the claim accrues, although a court may grant leave extending that time, provided that the application therefor is made before the expiration of the statute of limitations period of one year and 90 days (see General Municipal Law § 50-e [1] [a]; [5]).The decision whether to grant such leave “compels consideration of all relevant facts and circumstances,” including the “nonexhaustive list of factors” in section 50-e (5) ….The three main factors are “whether the claimant has shown a reasonable excuse for the delay, whether the municipality had actual knowledge of the facts surrounding the claim within 90 days of its accrual, and whether the delay would cause substantial prejudice to the municipality” … “[T]he presence or absence of any one of the numerous relevant factors the court must consider is not determinative” …, and “[t]he court is vested with broad discretion to grant or deny the application”… .  Dalton v Akron Central Schools, 408, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

“Negligent Ownership and Maintenance” vs “Negligent Abatement” Causes of Action in Lead-Paint Case

 

In a lead-paint damages case, the Fourth Department determined the landlord was entitled to summary judgment on the cause of action alleging negligent ownership and maintenance (lack of notice), but was not entitled to summary judgment on the cause of action alleging negligent abatement of the hazard:

 

To establish that a landlord is liable for a lead-paint condition, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the landlord had actual or constructive notice of, and a reasonable opportunity to remedy, the hazardous condition” … .Defendant met his burden of establishing that he had no actual or constructive notice of the hazardous lead paint condition prior to an inspection conducted by the county department of health, and plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact… .. Contrary to defendant’s contention, however, the court properly denied that part of his cross motion seeking summary judgment dismissing the second cause of action, which alleges negligent abatement of the lead-based paint hazard. Defendant failed to establish his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with respect to that cause of action.  Pagan v Rafter, 210, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Husband’s Dissipation of His Separate Property Was a Factor in Increasing Wife’s Maintenance and Equitable Distribution

 

The Third Department increased the wife’s maintenance and equitable distribution awards based in part upon finding the husband had wasted and dissipated assets that were concededly entirely his separate property.  He had purchased an apartment house in New York City prior to the marriage for $130,000 and sold it during the marriage for $6 million.  The Court determined the husband had grossly mismanaged the proceeds of the sale:

 

Imputing to the husband the substantial income that he would have earned had he not been so cavalier and wasteful in the manner in which he blatantly risked virtually all of his capital …, and affording the wife more time to prepare for and find suitable employment, we extend the wife's maintenance award of $2,000 per month  for nine months  to a period of 24 months, for a total of $48,000.  We further modify the award of equitable distribution – taking into account the parties' assets at the commencement of the action and the husband's economic fault – to award the wife 50%, rather than 40%, of the appreciation in the value of the marital residence.  Owens v Owens, 514022, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Evidence of Mother’s Mental Illness, Without More, Did Not Justify Neglect Finding

 

The Second Department determined mother’s mental illness alone did not support a finding of neglect:

 

…[T]he Administration for Children's Services (hereinafter the ACS), adduced evidence at the fact-finding hearing which established that the mother suffered from bipolar disorder at the time each of the two subject children were born. "A finding of neglect may be predicated upon proof that a child's physical, mental, or emotional condition is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of a parent's mental illness"…. However, "proof of mental illness alone will not support a finding of neglect"; the evidence "must establish a causal connection between the parent's condition, and actual or potential harm to the children"…. Here, the ACS failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, the existence of a causal connection between the mother's bipolar disorder and actual or potential harm to the subject children … .   Matter of Alexix SG…, 2013 NY Slip Op 04336, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel Re: Related Criminal Convictions Properly Applied

 

The Second Department determined Family Court properly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel in an abuse proceeding based upon father’s criminal convictions:

 

The Family Court properly granted that branch of the motion of the ACS which was for summary judgment on the issue of the father's derivative abuse. The ACS met its prima facie burden of showing that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is applicable…. "A determination in a criminal action may be given collateral estoppel effect in a Family Court proceeding where the identical issue has been resolved, and the defendant in the criminal action had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of his or her criminal conduct"…. The father's convictions of course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree, course of sexual conduct against a child in the second degree, rape in the second degree, and endangering the welfare of a child were based upon the same acts alleged to constitute sexual abuse as set forth in Family Court Act article 10 petitions (see Family Ct Act § 1012[e][iii]).  Matter of Angelica M, 2013 NY Slip Op 04339, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

 

Child’s Out-of Court Statements Sufficiently Corroborated

 

In affirming Family Court, the Second Department determined the child’s out-of-court statements were sufficiently corroborated:

 

At a fact-finding hearing in a child protective proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act article 10, the petitioner has the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the subject child has been abused or neglected (see Family Ct Act § 1046[b][i]). A child's out-of-court statements may form the basis for a finding of abuse or neglect if they are sufficiently corroborated by other evidence tending to support their reliability…. The Family Court has considerable discretion in deciding whether a child's out-of-court statements describing incidents of abuse or neglect have been reliably corroborated ….  Contrary to the appellant's contention, the Family Court's determination that he sexually abused the subject child is supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The subject child's out-of-court statement regarding the acts of sexual abuse upon her was corroborated by an expert in clinical and forensic psychology, with a specialization in child abuse, who evaluated the subject child and concluded that she exhibited behavior indicative of sexual abuse… .  Matter of Emani W, 2013 NY Slip Op 04346, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

 

Family Court Should Have Granted Father’s Motion to Vacate a Fact-Finding Order

 

In an abuse and neglect proceeding, the Second Department reversed Family Court’s denial of father’s motion to vacate a fact-finding order after a hearing at which father was not present:

 

If a parent is not present, the court may proceed to hear a petition pursuant to Family Court Act article 10 if the child is represented by counsel (see Family Ct Act § 1042). However, a timely motion to vacate the resulting fact-finding order shall be granted upon an affidavit showing, inter alia, a potentially meritorious defense to the petition unless the court finds that the parent willfully refused to appear at the hearing….  Under the circumstances presented, the appellant adequately demonstrated that his failure to appear was not willful…. Moreover, the father demonstrated a potentially meritorious defense to the petitions …. Matter of Mark W, 2013 NY Slip Op 04347, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

Criteria for Award of Support for Education

 

The Second Department explained the criteria for the award of support for a child’s college education as follows:

 

"Unlike the obligation to provide support for a child's basic needs, support for a child's college education is not mandatory'"…. "Instead, absent a voluntary agreement, whether a parent is obligated to contribute to a child's college education is dependent upon the exercise of the court's discretion in accordance with Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b)(c)(7)' …, and an award will be made only "as justice requires"'"…. "[A] court must give due regard to the circumstances of the case and the respective parties, as well as both the best interests of the child and the requirements of justice" ….  Silverstein v Silverstein, 2013 NY Slip Op 04323, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

Visitation with Imprisoned Father Terminated

 

In affirming Family Court’s termination of visitation with the imprisoned father, the Fourth Department explained the operative principles:

 

“An order of visitation cannot be modified unless there has been a sufficient change in circumstances since the entry of the prior order [that], if not addressed, would have an adverse effect on the child[’s] best interests” … .“[W]hile not dispositive, the express wishes of older and more mature children can support the finding of a change in circumstances”… .. Here, the evidence establishes that, since the entry of the prior order and as the child has matured, she has developed a strong desire not to visit the father. Additionally, Family Court credited the mother’s testimony that the father was using visitation time to attempt to reconcile with the mother rather than to interact with their child. Thus, we conclude that there has been a sufficient change of circumstances to warrant “ ‘an inquiry into whether the best interests of the [child] warranted a change in custody’… .  * * * We recognize that “[v]isitation with a noncustodial parent is presumed to be in a child’s best interests even when the parent is incarcerated”….  In order to rebut the presumption, the party opposing visitation must establish by a preponderance of the evidence “that under all the circumstances visitation [with the incarcerated parent] would be harmful to the child’s welfare” … .  Matter of Rulinsky v West, 233, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Award of Primary Custody to Father Reversed

 

In reversing Family Court and awarding primary physical custody to the mother and visitation to the father, the Fourth Department, over a dissent, wrote:

 

We agree with the mother and the AFC that the mother met her burden of establishing a change of circumstances. Since the original custody trial, each party has remarried and has had two additional children who are younger than the subject child, and the father has two step-children who are older than the subject child. The evidence established that the child felt isolated in the father’s home and indicated a strong desire to live with the mother. While a 10-year- old child’s preference regarding the parent with which he or she would like to reside is not dispositive, it is a factor to consider in determining whether there has been a change in circumstances … . The evidence further established that the child’s anxiety with respect to living with the father has progressed to the point where he has expressed to others his thoughts of harming the father and the father’s family, which led the parties to agree that the child needs counseling.  Matter of Cole v Nofri, 302, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated Because of Her Mental Retardation

 

The Fourth Department affirmed Family Court’s termination of mother’s parental rights based upon her mental retardation. Niagara County … v Julia P, 472, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

LANDLORD-TENANT

 

Relationships Among Subtenancy, Prime Tenancy and Landlord Explained

 

The Second Department explained the relationships among a subtenancy, the prime tenancy and the landlord as follows:

 

"As a general rule, where a landlord and prime tenant enter into an agreement to voluntarily terminate the paramount lease, the subtenant becomes the immediate tenant of the original lessor, and the interest of the subtenant and terms of the sublease continue as if no termination had occurred"…. "However, because a sublease is dependent upon and limited by the terms and conditions of the paramount lease from which it is carved, a subtenancy may be terminated by the expiration of the term of the prime tenant, or a re-entry by the landlord for a condition broken"….  380 Yorktown Food Corp v 380 Downing Dr, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 04327, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

 

LABOR LAW

 

“Safety Consultant” Liable for Failure to Maintain Safe Work Site

 

In upholding a jury verdict, the Third Department determined there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that a safety consultant was liable under Labor Law 241 (6) for failing to maintain a safe work site:

 

Labor Law § 241 (6) "'requires owners and contractors to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety for workers and to comply with the specific safety rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor'"…. Although a safety consultant generally is not liable to an injured worker under the Labor Law…,it is not the title that is dispositive, but whether such defendant had sufficient supervision and control over the activity that resulted in the injury….  We have previously stated that "[s]ubcontractors may be liable as agents under Labor Law § 241(6) when they have been specifically contractually delegated the duty or obligation to correct unsafe conditions or maintain work site safety"… .

 

The contract …set forth that a representative of defendant would be at the work site daily, make inspections, conduct safety meetings and have authority to require "immediate corrective action for imminent danger situations." Defendant's representative was continuously at the site throughout the project, and he exercised his power on several occasions prior to the accident by stopping work and requiring defendant to take specific precautions or actions. He was present when the accident occurred.  Leszczynski v Town of Neversink, 514876, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Question of Fact About Whether Plaintiff’s Actions Were Sole Proximate Cause of Fall---Plaintiff Was Using Stilts for Ceiling Work

 

The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, determined there was a question of fact concerning whether plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of his fall.  Plaintiff was using stilts to do ceiling work and slipped on ice:

 

…[W]e conclude that there is a triable issue of fact whether plaintiff’s actions were the sole proximate cause of his injuries. Although plaintiff met his initial burden on the motion …, defendants raised a triable issue of fact by introducing evidence that he was directed not to work in the area where the ice was located.    Thus, “ ‘[u]nlike those situations in which a safety device fails for no apparent reason, thereby raising the presumption that the device did not provide proper protection within the meaning of Labor Law § 240 (1), here there is a question of fact [concerning] whether the injured plaintiff’s fall [resulted from] his own misuse of the safety device and whether such conduct was the sole proximate cause of his injuries’ ” … .  Nicometi v The Vineyards of Fredonia, Inc, 519, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS (INMATES)

 

Inmate’s “Employee Assistant” Did Not Provide Meaningful Assistance in Preparation of Inmate’s Defense

 

In annulling the determination, the Third Department held that the inmate’s employee assistant did not provide meaningful assistance in the preparation of the inmate’s defense:

 

We agree with petitioner that meaningful employee assistance was not provided in accordance with 7 NYCRR 251-4.2 in order for him to prepare a defense. Although petitioner requested that 19 potential inmate witnesses be interviewed, the record reveals no effort by  the employee  assistant to interview the potential inmate  witnesses, who  were  not only identified but, according to the misbehavior report, were present during the alleged incident. The employee assistant should have interviewed the witnesses and reported back to petitioner with the results of those efforts (see 7 NYCRR 251-4.2); moreover, the Hearing Officer made no attempt to remedy the inadequacies when petitioner raised the issue at the administrative hearing… . Matter of Canty v Fischer, 515267, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

 

CONDEMNATION/EASEMENTS

 

Evidence of Loss Based Upon Interference with Property Owner’s Ability to Extract Gas by Hydrofracking Disallowed as Speculative

 

The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court’s determination that respondents’ expert would not be allowed to testify at trial in this condemnation proceeding.  Petitioner brought the condemnation proceedings to obtain perpetual easements for underground gas storage in the “Oriskany Sand” beneath the surface of the land owned by the respondents.  The respondents hired a geologist to testify that the easement will interfere with any future attempts to extract gas by hydrofracking and sought compensation for the claimed lost gas-development rights.  The Third Department wrote:

 

The  extent to which a  condemnation limits a  claimant's property rights is determined  by  the language  used  in the appropriation and the underlying purpose of the taking, and  "[t]he quantum of the title to be taken will not be extended by implication"….Here, petitioner's easement  explicitly reserves  to  respondents  "the right to grant oil, gas and other mineral rights to others in formations other than the Oriskany Sand" and limits that reservation of rights only by  precluding respondents  from "grant[ing] or convey[ing] gas  storage rights" (emphasis  added) that interfere with petitioner's easement. * * *

 

If …hydrofracking in the Marcellus formation does eventually prove to pose an unacceptable risk to petitioner's storage space – a claim that petitioner does not now make – it may choose at that time to undertake appropriate measures  to acquire whatever  additional rights may prove to be necessary, and, of course, to compensate the affected landowners   appropriately. As petitioner has not yet made any such acquisition, the court properly precluded respondents from presenting evidence on their claims relative to development rights in the Marcellus formation. Matter of the Acquisition of Easements …, 515347, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

 

Employee’s Submission of Amended Time Card Did Not Constitute Misconduct

 

In affirming the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s finding the employee did not commit “misconduct” which justified the denial of benefits, the Third Department wrote:

 

"Whether a claimant lost his or her employment through disqualifying  misconduct  presents  a  factual  issue  for the  Board, and  its resolution thereof will not  be  disturbed if supported  by substantial  evidence"  ….   Significantly, "not every mistake, exercise of poor judgment or discharge for cause will rise to the level of misconduct"  ….   Here, contrary to the employer's  argument,  the  Board  was  free  to  credit  claimant's testimony that she performed work for the employer while waiting in the  parking  lot between  7:30  a.m. and  8:00  a.m…..   Inasmuch  as substantial evidence supports  the  Board's  conclusion  that  claimant's  isolated "submission  of the  corrected time  sheet  was  an  act of poor judgment,"  we  find no  basis to disturb the  Board's ruling that claimant's  conduct  did  not  rise to  the  level of  disqualifying misconduct… .  Matter of Nangreave…, 515686, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Collective Bargaining Agreement Did Not Allow Private Suit Against Employer

 

After a member of the Faculty Association (FA) decided not to continue with a college employee’s grievance, the employee sued the college directly.  In affirming the dismissal of the employee’s private suit (because the suit was not allowed by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA)), the Third Department wrote:

 

   "As a general proposition, when an employer and a union enter into a collective bargaining agreement that creates a grievance procedure, an employee subject to the agreement may not sue the employer directly for breach of that agreement but must proceed, through the union, in accordance with the contract"….  Exceptions include where the collective bargaining agreement grants an employee a right to sue directly or where the union fails in its duty of fair representation … .  Plaintiff acknowledges that he is not alleging that FA breached its duty of representation.  He contends, however, that, under the CBA, decisions related to promotions are excepted  from the grievance procedure and, thus, he can pursue an action directly against defendants. The ultimate decision about a promotion is not subject to a grievance under the CBA. Nonetheless, the lengthy procedures an associate professor must follow over several years to become eligible for consideration of a promotion to full professor are set forth in the CBA and are not explicitly excepted  from  the grievance process. It is the purported failure by defendants to follow these promotion procedures that plaintiff challenges, and the CBA does not carve out a separate right regarding these procedures that can be enforced by an  employee directly against defendants … .  Altman v Rossi, 515888, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

 

Carrier’s Video Surveillance of Employee Disallowed Because It Was Not Disclosed

 

The Third Department affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Board’s determination that video surveillance of the employee was properly excluded from the hearing because the existence of the surveillance by the carrier had not been previously disclosed:

 

It is well established that an employer or carrier must disclose the existence of surveillance and investigation materials to a claimant prior to the claimant's testimony … . This obligation serves "to  limit the gamesmanship which might otherwise occur"… . While routine questions …regarding claimant's return to work may not trigger a carrier's obligation to disclose the existence of these items…, we note that, here, the carrier specifically prompted this line of questioning …at the end of the hearing.  The surveillance materials were thus properly precluded, as the carrier had the opportunity to disclose their existence before prompting the [questioning] and before the claimant testified about returning to work… . Accordingly, contrary to the carrier's argument, the Board's decision to preclude the carrier's surveillance materials did not deviate from its previous decisions and was  not arbitrary and capricious… .  Matter of Morelli, 515964, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

 

EDUCATION LAW

 

Teacher Wrongly Denied Hearing Allowed by Education Law

 

The Fourth Department annulled a determination which suspended a tenured teacher for 30 days without pay finding she was wrongly denied a hearing:

 

[Under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA)] petitioner was entitled to choose whether to be disciplined under the procedures set forth in the CBA or those set forth in section [Education Law] 3020-a, which allowed petitioner to elect a hearing (see § 3020-a [c]). Respondents, however, incorrectly denied petitioner’s written request for a section 3020-a hearing. We therefore reverse the judgment, grant the petition, annul the determination, and we direct respondents to reinstate petitioner with back pay and benefits retroactive to the date of her suspension, and to remove all references to the discipline imposed from petitioner’s personnel file… .  Matter of Kilduff v Rochester City School District, 518, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTRACT/ARBITRATION

 

Court’s Limited Role Re: Contract with Arbitration Clause Explained

 

In determining a dispute involving a lease must be resolved in arbitration, the Fourth Department explained the court’s limited role in this context:

 

Plaintiff …. commenced this action pursuant to RPAPL article 15 seeking, inter alia, “to compel the determination of claims to the real property described herein,” and defendant moved to compel arbitration under the lease and to stay the action. Supreme Court properly granted the motion. “Where parties have entered into an agreement containing a broad arbitration provision, the question of whether the arbitration clause governs a particular aspect of the controversy, as well as the determination of the merits of the dispute, are matters within the exclusive province of the arbitrator”….“Once it appears that there is, or is not[,] a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the underlying contract, the court’s inquiry is ended. Penetrating definitive analysis of the scope of the agreement must be left to the arbitrators whenever the parties have broadly agreed that any dispute involving the interpretation and meaning of the agreement should be submitted to arbitration”…. Thus, contrary to plaintiff’s contention, it is not entitled to a judicial determination with respect to the continued force and effect of the lease, i.e., “the ultimate issue in this case” …, before submitting the matter to arbitration.  Gray v Talisman Energy USA Inc, 534, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

TAX LAW/REAL PROPERTY

 

Petitioner Did Not Demonstrate Diminution in Value Related to Presence of Lead Paint Re: Tax Assessments

 

In affirming the tax assessment of residential properties in Syracuse, the Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, determined that the petitioner did not make a sufficient showing of the diminution of property values by the presence of lead paint:

 

In this Real Property Tax Law article 7 proceeding challenging the tax assessments of certain residential properties located in Syracuse, New York, petitioner contends that the trial court erred by failing to consider the impact of contamination -- specifically, lead paint -- upon the market value of the properties. We hold that petitioner failed to rebut the presumption of validity that attaches to the tax assessments of the properties by the City of Syracuse. That is, petitioner failed to proffer substantial evidence demonstrating a diminution in market value to his properties caused by the mere presence of lead paint. * * *

 

Where the trial court declined to credit petitioner's appraisal reports, and the record does not demonstrate a diminution in market value caused by environmental contamination or hazards, petitioner failed to meet his burden and there is no basis to disturb the presumption of validity in the City's favor. Matter of Roth v City of Syracuse, No 110, CtApp, 6-11-13

 

 

 

LIEN LAW

 

Loan Agreement Constituted a “Building Loan Contract” within Meaning of Lien Law/Only “Construction Funds” Subject to Subordination Penalty

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, with a concurrence/dissent by Judge Graffeo, the Court of Appeals hashed out the priority of liens, including mechanic’s liens, to be satisfied after the foreclosure on a 10 million dollar construction project in Syracuse.  The Court determined that a loan agreement constituted a “building loan contract” within the meaning of Lien Law section 22, and that only the “construction funds,” as opposed to the total mortgage, were subject to the statutory subordination penalty.  Altshuler Shaham Provident Funds, Ltd v GML Tower, LLC, No 115, CtApp, 6-11-13

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Conviction for Seller T-Shirts without a Vendor’s License Upheld—Constitutional Expression vs. Commercial Enterprise

 

The defendant was convicted of “unlicensed general vending” for selling t-shirts in New York City without a vendor’s license. In his defense the defendant argued that the vending of t-shirts with artistic images on them was constitutionally protected expression. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and the determination below that the purpose of the sale was primarily utilitarian as opposed to expressive.  Judge Smith dissented because the t-shirts had been destroyed and the Court could not determine their expressive nature.  In describing the appropriate analysis as explained in a Second Circuit case, the Court of Appeals wrote:

 

…[T]he Second Circuit found that the relevant inquiry is whether the vendor is “genuinely and primarily engaged in artistic self-expression or whether the sale of such goods is instead a chiefly commercial exercise” … . The Court recognized that certain items, including apparel, could simultaneously contain potentially expressive and non-expressive components and, in that situation, a reviewing court must determine which purpose -- expression or utility -- is dominant… .  People v Lam, 95, CtApp, 6-11-13

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Beating of Child Combined with Two-Hour Delay in Seeking Help Constituted Depraved Indifference

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott which addressed both the proof requirements for depraved indifference murder and ineffective assistance of counsel, determined that the brutal beating of a 15-month-old baby combined with the failure to summon assistance for 2 hours met the criteria for depraved indifference to human life.  The Court found that the facts proved a brutal course of conduct over a prolonged or extended period of time.  In explaining the operative principles, Judge Pigott wrote:

 

This appeal is governed by the requirement that, in proving the existence of "circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life," the People must show that, at the time the crime occurred, defendant had a mens rea of "utter disregard for the value of human life" …. Put simply, the People must prove that defendant did not care whether his victim lived or died … . Additionally, the People must prove a second mens rea, namely recklessness. * * *

 

A brutal course of conduct against a vulnerable victim occurring over a prolonged or extended period of time is more likely to be associated with the mental state of depraved indifference to human life than brutality that is short in duration and is not repeated. This is because the actor had the opportunity to regret his actions and display caring, but failed to take the opportunity. In the present case, defendant argues that his course of conduct against the child was not prolonged. But defendant's argument focuses exclusively on the duration of his physical assault on the child, which may have been brief. However, this argument ignores the evidence that, by his later inaction “ his failure, over some two hours, to seek medical attention for the child “ defendant turned a brutal assault into a brutal and prolonged course of conduct against a vulnerable victim.  People v Barboni, 102, CtApp, 6-11-13

 

 

Proper Procedures for Handling Pro Se Motions to Withdraw Guilty Pleas (Alleging Coercion by Defense Counsel) Explained

 

The Court of Appeals considered two cases in which, after pleading guilty, the defendant made a pro se motion to withdraw the plea, claiming coercion and undue pressure by defense counsel. In both cases the sentencing judge asked for the defense attorney’s position on the pro se motion, which forced both attorneys to take a position adverse to the client’s, which, in turn, required the assignment of new counsel.  The Court explained how the situation should be handled:

 

…[W]hen a motion to withdraw a plea is patently insufficient on its face, a court may simply deny the motion without making any inquiry. When certain actions or inaction on the part of defense counsel are challenged on the motion, it may very well be necessary for defense counsel to address the matter when asked to by the court. When doing so, defense counsel should be afforded the opportunity to explain his performance with respect to the plea …, but may not take a position on the motion that is adverse to the defendant …. At that point, a conflict of interest arises, and the court must assign a new attorney to represent the defendant on the motion. People v  Mitchell …, Nos 116, 117, CtApp, 6-11-13

 

 

 

Witness’ Offering Testimony About a “Jailhouse Confession” in Unrelated Case May Constitute Brady Material

 

In affirming the defendant’s conviction, the Third Department determined a witness’ [Henry’s] agreement to testify about a “jailhouse confession” in an unrelated case may have constituted Brady material in defendant’s case because she also entered an agreement to testify about defendant’s “jailhouse confession.”  The Court determined reversal was not required because the potential Brady error was harmless under the facts:

 

“….[A]ssuming, without deciding, that the full terms of Henry’s cooperation agreement – including those aspects pertaining to the other matter – were Brady material subject to disclosure, reversal is not required.   Where, as here, nondisclosure follows the defense’s specific request for materials, evidence is deemed material and reversal is required only “if there is a ‘reasonable possibility’ that, had that material been disclosed, the result would have been different”… . People v Johnson, 104919, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

People’s Expert Was Not Qualified to Testify About “Reverse Extrapolation” in DWI Prosecution/”Reverse Extrapolation” Is an Accepted Theory However

 

In this DWI prosecution, the Third Department determined the People’s expert was not qualified to offer testimony about “reverse extrapolation,” but that the theory itself was sound:

 

[We reject defendant’s generalized challenge to] the  theory  of  reverse extrapolation – the process by which an expert, taking into consideration, among other  things, an individual's known  BAC at a particular point  in time, renders  an  opinion  as  to  the  individual's BAC at an earlier point in time. Assuming the expert in question is qualified and a proper foundation has been laid for such opinion, reverse extrapolation testimony may be….  Here, however, the People failed to lay a proper factual foundation for [the expert’s] testimony and, therefore, defendant's objection in this regard should have been sustained.  People v Menegan, 105337, 3rd Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Trial Court’s Questioning Jury Whether It Had Reached a Verdict on Any Counts and Its Acceptance of a Partial Verdict Okay

 

The First Department determined the trial court, after several days of deliberation, properly questioned the jury whether it had reached a verdict on any of the counts and properly accepted a partial verdict:

 

The court, which was aware of the travel plans and upcoming religious observance of some of the jurors, properly exercised its discretion when it inquired whether the jury, which had been deliberating for several days, had agreed upon a verdict as to any of the counts submitted, and then accepted a partial verdict…. In accordance with CPL 310.70(1)(b), the court properly instructed the jury to resume deliberations on the remaining counts. The court’s actions did not coerce a verdict as to any counts…, and defendant has not shown how he was prejudiced by any of these actions.  People v Campbell, 2013 NY Slip Op 04418, 1st Dept, 6-13-13

 

 

Submission of Intentional and Depraved Indifference Murder to Jury in Conjunctive Rather than Alternative Okay

 

The Second Department determined the trial court did not err when it submitted intentional murder and depraved indifference murder to the jury in the conjunctive, rather than the alternative, because more than one potential victim was present:

 

The defendant, relying on People v Molina (79 AD3d 1371), contends that the submission of the counts of intentional murder (and attempted murder) and depraved indifference murder to the jury in the conjunctive, rather than in the alternative, violated his right to due process. However, the defendant's contention is without merit. "Where, as here, more than one potential victim was present at the shooting, a defendant may be convicted of both counts because he or she may have possessed different states of mind with regard to different potential victims"…. To the extent that the Appellate Division, Third Department, held differently in Molina, we disagree and decline to follow that holding. People v Dubarry, 2013 NY Slip Op 04354, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

Objection to Molineux Evidence Not Preserved for Appeal

 

The Fourth Department noted that failure to request a limiting instruction with respect to Molineux evidence and the failure to object to the court’s failure to provide a limiting instruction rendered the issue unpreserved for appeal.  The Molineux evidence in this sexual abuse case was evidence of the physical (not sexual) abuse of the victim’s brother:

 

On appeal from a judgment convicting him following a jury trial of course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree (Penal Law § 130.75 [1] [a]) and endangering the welfare of a child (§ 260.10 [1]), defendant contends that he is entitled to a new trial because Supreme Court neglected to give limiting instructions with respect to Molineux evidence establishing that he had subjected the victim’s brother to physical abuse (see People v Molineux, 168 NY 264). As defendant correctly concedes, that contention is unpreserved for our review because his attorney did not request a limiting instruction and failed to object to the court’s failure to provide one (see CPL 470.05 [2]…).    Because the Molineux evidence in question did not relate to prior sexual abuse, and because it appears from the record that defense counsel knew of the court’s failure to give limiting instructions and yet remained silent when the error could have been corrected, we decline to exercise our power to review that contention as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice … . People v Willians, 392, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Statement Not Tainted by Unwarned Statement Made an Hour Before/Failure to Inform Defendant of Post Release Supervision Did Not Require Reversal

 

The Fourth Department determined County Court properly denied a motion to suppress a statement, finding that the statement was not tainted by an unwarned statement made an hour earlier.  In addition, over a two-justice dissent, the Fourth Department held that the failure to explain the five-year post release supervision (PRS) portion of the sentence when the plea was taken did not require reversal, in part because the error was not preserved:

 

Although defendant made an inculpatory statement after she was placed in a patrol vehicle and additional inculpatory statements after she was transported to the police station, the court granted suppression of the statement made in the patrol vehicle on the ground that her detention constituted an arrest for which the police officer lacked probable cause. The court refused, however, to suppress the subsequent statements at the police station based on its determination that they were “attenuated from the unlawful arrest.” We agree with the People that the record supports the court’s determination .. . Although there was a period of only one hour between the time of the illegal arrest and the time of defendant’s statements at the police station …, we note that defendant was given Miranda warnings before the stationhouse interview … Moreover, the victim’s identification of defendant as the perpetrator constitutes a significant intervening event … inasmuch as that identification provided the police with probable cause for defendant’s arrest…  Lastly, there was no flagrant misconduct or bad faith on the part of the police officer who took defendant into custody … . * * *

 

In this case the prosecutor informed the court,“ ‘before the imposition of sentence’ ” (…see generally CPL 220.60 [3]), that he could not recall whether PRS had been discussed at the time of the plea. The prosecutor noted that they “should probably make a record of that . . . so it is clear.” At that point, the court informed defendant that it “intend[ed] to make a five year period of [PRS].” Defendant was then asked if she had a chance to talk about that with her attorney, and defendant answered, “[y]es.” Defendant was also asked if she understood that the PRS was a “part of [her] plea” and that she would be on parole supervision for five years at the end of her prison sentence. Defendant answered, “[c]orrect.”  When asked if she “still wish[ed] to go through with sentencing today,” defendant again answered, “[y]es.” In our view, the record is clear that “defendant could have sought relief from the sentencing court in advance of the sentence’s imposition…”… .  People v Turner, 529, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Naming Different Victim Rendered Superior Court Information Jurisdictionally Defective

 

The Fourth Department reversed the defendant’s conviction (by guilty plea) because the superior court information (SCI) was jurisdictionally defective.  The SCI and the felony complaint named different victims:

 

We note that defendant’s contention that the SCI is jurisdictionally defective does not require preservation, and that contention survives defendant’s valid waiver of the right to appeal….“[T]he designation of a[n individual] in the [SCI] different from the [individual] named in the felony complaint renders the crime contained in the information a different crime entirely”…. Thus, defendant was not held for action of a grand jury on the charge in the SCI inasmuch as “it was not an offense charged in the felony complaint or a lesser-included offense of an offense charged in the felony complaint”… .   People v Stevenson, 648, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Plea Colloquy Deficient Re: Depraved Indifference State of Mind

 

The Fourth Department reversed defendant’s conviction because the plea colloquy cast doubt on whether the defendant had the requisite “depraved indifference” state of mind:

 

Defendant’s contention that his plea was not knowing and voluntary survives his waiver of the right to appeal … . Preservation of the contention is not required inasmuch as defendant correctly contends that his statements during the plea colloquy cast significant doubt upon his guilt….Defendant stated that he struggled with his wife for control of the knife and that he acted recklessly when he stabbed her, and thus his statements suggest that he did not act with the requisite “depraved indifference state of mind”… . Indeed, it is well established that a “one-on-one . . . knifing . . . can almost never qualify as depraved indifference murder”…. We therefore conclude that County Court erred by accepting the plea without further inquiry … .  People v Robinson, 688, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Statute of Limitations Tolled Until Defendant Identified by DNA/Police Had “Tacit Consent” to Enter Apartment

 

The Fourth Department determined the statute of limitations was tolled until defendant was identified through DNA collected in an unrelated conviction.  In addition, the Fourth Department determined the police had “tacit consent” to enter defendant’s apartment:

 

Here, “[t]he record supports the court’s determination that the identity of defendant as the sexual assailant, and thus his whereabouts, were not ascertainable by diligent efforts” before 2008, when the State DNA Indexing System matched the DNA profile from the semen found on the victim’s night shirt with DNA obtained from defendant in conjunction with an unrelated 2007 conviction … .  * * *

 

Even assuming, arguendo, that there was a warrantless arrest of defendant in his apartment, we note that it is well settled that “tacit consent by a person with apparent authority . . . [is] sufficient to obviate any possible violation of the Payton rule”…. Here, the People established that the police officers entered the apartment with the consent of defendant’s father…. Although “the police may not have received express permission to enter the premises, [the] gesture [of defendant’s father] of opening the door, leaving it wide open, and then walking  away from it could certainly be interpreted by the police to consist of tacit approval for them to enter”….  People v Sigl, 716, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Improper to Characterize Trial as “Search for Truth”

 

The Fourth Department noted that the prosecutor’s characterization of the trial as “a search for the truth” was improper (but did not warrant reversal).  People v Ward, 758, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Motion to Resettle Explained

 

In determining petitioner’s motion was not a motion to resettle because it sought to amend, rather than merely clarify, a judgment, the Third Department explained:

 

[A motion to resettle] is designed "not for substantive changes [in, or to amplify a prior decision of, the court], but to correct errors or omissions in form, for clarification or to make the [judgment] conform more accurately to the decision"…. Such  motions  rest on  the inherent power  of courts to  "'cure mistakes,  defects  and  irregularities that  do  not  affect substantial rights of [the] parties'"…. Here, petitioners' motion  sought, unsuccessfully, to amplify and substantively amend, not merely to clarify, Supreme Court's prior judgment … .  Matter of Torpey v Town of Colonie, 515902, 3rd Dept,. 6-13-13

 

 

Plaintiff’s Lack of Knowledge About Contract Breaches Did Not Toll Statute of Limitations
 

The Second Department determined plaintiff’s lack of knowledge about alleged annual breaches of contract by the village for which he served as police commissioner was not the result of fraud and, therefore, the 18-month statute of limitations for each breach was not tolled:

 

Pursuant to CPLR 9802, "no action shall be maintained against the village upon or arising out of a contract of the village unless the same shall be commenced within eighteen months after the cause of action therefor shall have accrued, nor unless a written verified claim shall have been filed with the village clerk within one year after the cause of action shall have accrued." Where the claim is for the payment of a sum of money allegedly owed pursuant to a contract, the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff possesses a legal right to demand payment…. Here, as the Village correctly contends, the causes of action alleging breach of contract accrued at the end of each year that the plaintiff allegedly was not paid in accordance with his contract…. Since this action was not commenced until September 28, 2011, the Village established, prima facie, that the action was time-barred to the extent that the plaintiff sought to recover damages accruing prior to March 28, 2010, that is, 18 months prior to the commencement of the action…. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact as to whether the statute of limitations had been tolled or was otherwise inapplicable, or whether he actually commenced the action within the applicable limitations periods…. Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, his lack of knowledge that the several breaches had occurred did not toll the running of the limitations period… Reid v Incorporated Vil of Flora Park, 2013 NY Slip Op 04321, 2nd Dept, 6-12-13

 

 

Procedure Re: “Improper Service” Affirmative Defense and Criteria for “Account Stated” Pleadings

 

The Fourth Department explained the law with respect to dismissal based on the “improper service” affirmative defense, and the pleading requirements for an “account stated:”

 

Because defendants failed to move to dismiss the complaint against them on that ground within 60 days after serving their respective answers, which set forth objections to service (see CPLR 3211 [e]), they thereby waived those objections…. As plaintiff further contends, defendants did not demonstrate the requisite “undue hardship” to justify an extension of defendants’ time for moving to dismiss the action on the ground of improper service (CPLR 3211 [e…).* * *

 

…[W]e reject plaintiff’s related contention that it is entitled to judgment on the account stated cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3016 (f). That statute provides in relevant part that, where the plaintiff in an action involving the “performing of labor or services” sets forth “the items of his [or her] claim and the reasonable value or agreed price of each,” the defendant, in his or her answer, must “indicate specifically those items he [or she] disputes.” Plaintiff contends that it is entitled to judgment because defendants’ answers set forth only general denials…. Here, however, plaintiff’s itemization of the charges fails to meet the specification standards of CPLR 3016 (f). Although plaintiff contends that defendants made a partial payment … toward the amount due, plaintiff failed to specify to which of the invoice items defendants’ payment was applied …. As a result, “the [complaint] ‘did not trigger a duty on the part of [defendants] to specifically dispute each item’ ” ….  Anderson & Anderson, LLP…v Incredible Investments…425, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

Court Is Powerless After Release Signed and Filed

 

The Fourth Department noted that a court loses jurisdiction over a case after a release has been signed and filed:

 

Supreme Court erred in granting the motion of … (defendant) to compel plaintiff to comply with the release agreement between plaintiff and defendants. Defendant brought his motion after the related third-party action was settled and an unconditional stipulation of discontinuation as to him with respect to this action was signed by the attorneys for plaintiff and defendant and filed. Although a trial court has the power “to exercise supervisory control over all phases of pending actions an proceedings”…, it lacks jurisdiction to entertain a motion after the action has been “unequivocally terminated . . . [by the execution of] an express, unconditional stipulation of discontinuance”….  Cambridge Integrated Services Group, Inc v Johnson…, 723, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/INSURANCE LAW


Bear Stearns Complaint Stated a Cause of Action for Indemnification and Should Not Have Been Dismissed


In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and allowed a suit by Bear Stearns against its insurers (which had denied coverage) to go forward.  In response to a Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into late trading and market timing activities, Bear Stearns agreed to pay a 160-million-dollar disgorgement fee.  Bear Stearns then sought indemnification from the defendant insurance companies.  The complaint, which had been dismissed, alleged that 140 of the 160 million constituted profits that flowed to Bear Stearns’ customers, not funds improperly acquired by Bear Stearns. The Court of Appeals determined that it could not be discerned from the SEC order alone whether or not the funds were deemed improperly acquired by Bear Stearns.  Therefore the complaint stated a cause of action:

 

In the context of these dismissal motions, we must assume Bear Stearns' allegations to be true unless conclusively refuted by the relevant documentary evidence, in this case, the SEC order. Contrary to the Insurers' position, the SEC order does not establish that the $160 million disgorgement payment was predicated on moneys that Bear Stearns itself improperly earned as a result of its securities violations. Rather, the SEC order recites that Bear Stearns' misconduct enabled its "customers to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in profits." Hence, at this CPLR 3211 stage, the documentary evidence does not decisively repudiate Bear Stearns' allegation that the SEC disgorgement payment amount was calculated in large measure on the profits of others.  JP Morgan Securities, Inc v Vigilant Insurance Company, No 113, CtApp 6-11-13

 

 

 

INSURANCE LAW

 

Breach of Duty to Defend Precludes Reliance on Policy Exclusions

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals held that “when a liability insurer has breached its duty to defend its insured, the insurer may not later rely on policy exclusions to escape its duty to indemnify the insured for a judgment against him.”  The Court wrote:

 

…”[A]n insurance company that has disclaimed its duty to defend "may litigate only the validity of its disclaimer." If the disclaimer is found bad, the insurance company must indemnify its insured for the resulting judgment, even if policy exclusions would otherwise have negated the duty to indemnify. This rule will give insurers an incentive to defend the cases they are bound by law to defend, and thus to give insureds the full benefit of their bargain. It would be unfair to insureds, and would promote unnecessary and wasteful litigation, if an insurer, having wrongfully abandoned its insured's defense, could then require the insured to litigate the effect of policy exclusions on the duty to indemnify.  K2 Investment Group, LLC v American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Company, No 106, CtApp, 6-11-13

 

 

Excess Insurance Policies Re: Same Risk Cancel Out

 

In determining that two insurance policies insuring the same risk were both excess insurance policies (cancelling each other out), the Fourth Department explained the relevant law as follows:

 

In resolving disputes between insurers, “we first look to the language of the applicable policies” …, and we note that New York law “recognize[s] the right of each insurer to rely upon the terms of its own contract with its insured”…. “[W]here there are multiple policies covering the same risk, and each generally purports to be excess to the other, the excess coverage clauses are held to cancel out each other and each insurer contributes in proportion to its [policy] limit,” unless to do so would distort the plain meaning of the policies…. By contrast, “if one party’s policy is primary with respect to the other policy, then the party issuing the primary policy must pay up to the limits of its policy before the excess coverage becomes effective”….  Utica Mutual Insurance Company…v Erie Insurance Company, 430, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

 

Supreme Court’s Grant of Defendants’ Motion to Set Aside Verdict Reversed

 

The First Department, over a substantial dissent, reversed Supreme Court’s grant of defendants’ motion to set aside the verdict in a medical malpractice action:

 

"The question of whether a verdict is against the weight of the evidence is discretion-laden, and the critical inquiry is whether the verdict rested on a fair interpretation of the evidence"…. On this record, we conclude that the Supreme Court erred in setting aside the verdict as against the weight of the evidence, because it cannot be said that the jury could not have reached its verdict upon any fair interpretation of the evidence…. The jury was entitled to resolve in plaintiff's favor the conflict between the decedent's and Dr. Conte's testimony as to the nature and timing of her complaints and whether he later made referrals for CT scans that she declined.  Rose v Conte, 2013 NY Slip Op 04297, 1st Dept, 6-11-13

 

 

 

CONTRACT

 

Criteria for Fraudulent Inducement and Attachment

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Feinman, the First Department outlined the criteria for fraudulent inducement where the parties are “sophisticated entities,” as well as the strict criteria for attachment:

 

The elements of fraud are a misrepresentation or a material omission of fact which was known to be false by the defendant, made for the purpose of inducing the other party to rely upon it, justifiable reliance of the other party on the misrepresentation or omission, and injury …. In this case, the buyers have not sufficiently alleged justifiable reliance. "[R]eliance must be found to be justifiable under all the circumstances before a complaint can be found to state a cause of action in fraud"…. What constitutes reasonable reliance is "always nettlesome" because it is so fact-intensive…. Sophisticated investors must show they used due diligence and took affirmative steps to protect themselves from misrepresentations by employing what means of verification were available at the time … . * * * 

 

We conclude that, on the extant record which consists of competing affidavits, the grant of an attachment and its confirmation was an abuse of discretion. "[T]he mere fact that defendant is a non-domiciliary residing without the State of New York is not sufficient ground for granting an attachment”…. The sellers have shown no evidence that the buyers lack sufficient assets, or that they will choose to hide or otherwise dispose of their assets. We note that no hearing was held at which the credibility of the buyers' averments regarding their financial status and resources could be evaluated. At most, the sellers' affidavits establish that there is potentially a significant amount of bureaucracy involved in obtaining the assets as converted funds. This is not, in itself, sufficient to order an attachment. The orders of the motion court granting and confirming the orders of attachment, and granting discovery to aid in attachment, as well as the order that the buyers transfer assets into New York State, should therefore be reversed.  VisionChina Media Inc v Shareholder Representative Servs, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 04298, 1st Dept, 6-11-13

 

 

Oral Evidence in Quantum Meruit Case Rejected by Appellate Court

 

In vacating a damages award in a quantum meruit case, the Fourth Department concluded the self-serving oral proof offered by plaintiff should not have been accepted as sufficient by the trial court and that the defendants’ proof of the value of plaintiff’s work should be the basis of damages award:

 

Plaintiff is correct that “[p]roof of damages may be based upon oral testimony alone, so long as the witness has knowledge of the actual costs”…, and that the customary means of calculating damages on a quantum meruit basis in a construction case is actual job costs plus profit minus amount paid…. Nevertheless, we cannot conclude that the court’s award of $31,720 is supported by a fair interpretation of the….    That award was based on plaintiff’s self-serving testimony and invoice, while defendants presented the testimony and estimates of three nonparty witnesses establishing that plaintiff’s work was not worth more than $8,290.    Under the unique circumstances of this case, i.e., the seven-month lapse between the time that plaintiff completed the project and the time that he drafted and tendered the invoice to defendants, we conclude that the proper remedy is to adopt the highest of the project estimates from defendants’ trial witnesses as the basis for the award of damages … SJ Kula, Inc v Kevin Carrier…, 520, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATIVE AMERICAN LAW

 

Sovereign Immunity Did Not Apply to Golf Course Owned by Seneca Nation

 

The Fourth Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Peradotto, determined the Lewiston Golf Course Corporation (LGCC) was not an “arm” of the Seneca Nation and, therefore, was not entitled to sovereign immunity and could be sued in New York courts:

 

It is well settled that “Indian tribes are immune from lawsuits in both state and federal court unless ‘Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity’ ” … . Less settled is the law governing whether, and to what extent, economic entities created by a tribe share in the tribe’s immunity from suit … .“Tribal subagencies and corporate entities created by the Indian Nation to further governmental objectives, such as providing housing, health and welfare services, may also possess attributes of tribal sovereignty, and cannot be sued absent a waiver of immunity” ….    The critical question is “whether the entity acts as an arm of the tribe so that its activities are properly deemed to be those of the tribe” … , i.e., whether the entity is “so closely allied with and dependent upon the [t]ribe that it is entitled to the protection of tribal sovereign immunity”….… [W]e conclude that LGCC is not an “arm” of the Nation and therefore falls outside the Nation’s cloak of sovereign immunity … .  Sue/Perior Concrete & Paving Inc v Lewiston Golf Course Corporation …, 478, 4th Dept, 6-14-13

 

 

 

APPEALS/LAW OF THE CASE

 

Appellate Court Recognized Prior Decision Was “Clearly Erroneous” and Did Not Hold Trial Court to It

 

The Fourth Department noted that a trial court is bound by an appellate decision, even if the decision is wrong.  However, in this case, the Fourth Department upheld the trial court’s modification, acknowledging that its prior decision should not be followed:

 

It is well settled that, until a decision of this Court is “ ‘modified or reversed by a higher court, . . . the trial court is bound by our decision’ ”…, regardless of whether our decision was correctly decided….  We thus conclude that the Surrogate erred in failing to comply with our prior decision. Nevertheless, this Court is not likewise required to follow our prior decision under the doctrine of law of the case.    Indeed, for the reasons that follow, we conclude that we should not apply the doctrine of law of the case herein, and we therefore affirm the modified decree … .“As the doctrine of . . . law of the case is not one of inflexible law, but permits a reasoned exercise of a certain degree of discretion in its application, the better rule is that the doctrine should not be utilized to accomplish an obvious injustice, or applied where the former appellate decision was clearly, palpably, or manifestly erroneous or unjust . . . [T]he effect of a prior ruling by an appellate court in a later appeal before that court, or in a subsequent stage of the same appeal before that court, presents the problem of balancing the interest in foreclosing reconsideration of the prior decision with the desire for a just result . . .  We recognize that our earlier decision was “clearly erroneous”…, as “shown by contrary authority emanating from [the Court of Appeals,] whose rulings . . . are controlling”…. We also conclude that “correction of the error made on the former appeal [will] create no injustice or hardship, [inasmuch as] no change has been made in the status of the parties in reliance upon the ruling in the former appeal” ….  Matter of Ladelfa, 580, 4th Dept, 6-14-13