JUST RELEASED

June Page II

Summaries of Recently Released Decisions to Be Included In the Next Issue of the Digest (uncorrected)

 

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COURT OF APPEALS

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/CHOICE OF LAW/CONTRACT LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Florida's Law of Restrictive Covenants Re: Non-Solicitation of Customers by a Former Employee Violates New York Public Policy by Favoring Employers at the Expense of Employees

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, determined the Florida law on restrictive covenants re: non-solicitation of customers by a former employee violated the public policy of New York State.  Therefore the choice-of-law provision in the employee agreement was unenforceable.  The Court of Appeals went on to find that, applying New York law, questions of fact precluded a determination whether the non-solicitation agreement at issue should be enforced.  With respect to the public policy violation, the court explained:

 

... Florida law requires a party seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant only to make a prima facie showing that the restraint is necessary to protect a legitimate business interest, at which point the burden shifts to the other party to show that the restraint is overbroad or unnecessary (see Fla Stat § 542.335 [1] [c]). If the latter showing is made, the court is required to "modify the restraint and grant only the relief reasonably necessary to protect" the employer's legitimate business interests (Fla Stat § 542.335 [1] [c]). In contrast to this focus solely on the employer's business interests, under New York's three-prong test, "[a] restraint is reasonable only if it: (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of the legitimate interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. A violation of any prong renders the covenant invalid" ... . Whereas Florida shifts the burden of proof after the employer demonstrates its business interests (see Fla Stat § 542.335 [1] [c]), New York requires the employer to prove all three prongs of its test before the burden shifts ... . Further, Florida law explicitly prohibits courts from considering the harm or hardship to the former employee (see Fla Stat § 542.335 [1] [g] [1]). This directly conflicts with New York's requirement that courts consider, as one of three mandatory factors, whether the restraint "impose[s] undue hardship on the employee" ... .

 

Additionally, under Florida law, courts are required to construe restrictive covenants in favor of protecting the employer's interests, and may not use any rules of contract interpretation that would require the construction of a restrictive covenant narrowly or against the restraint or drafter (see Fla Stat § 542.335 [1] [h]). In contrast, New York law provides that "[c]ovenants not to compete should be strictly construed because of the 'powerful considerations of public policy which militate against sanctioning the loss of a [person's] livelihood'" ... . Brown & Brown, Inc. v Johnson, 2015 NY Slip Op 04876, Ct App 6-11-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

In an Action Stemming from the Purchase of Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities, the Breach of Defendant's Representations and Warranties Concerning the Borrowers' Incomes, Occupancy Status and Debt Obligations Occurred on the Date the Contract Was Executed (Starting the Six-Year Statute of Limitations at that Point)---Defendant's Obligation to Cure or Repurchase Did Not Constitute a Second Contract---Defendant's Refusal to Cure or Repurchase, Therefore, Did Not Start the Running of Another Six-Year Limitations Period

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, in an action involving residential mortgage-backed securities, determined that a cause of action based upon breach of representations and warranties accrued on the date the contract was executed. A few years after the parties executed a mortgage loan purchase agreement (MLPA) and a pooling a servicing agreement (PSA) borrowers began to default, resulting in hundreds of millions in losses.  Upon investigation it was determined that the underlying mortgage loans failed to comply with the defendant's representations and warranties about the borrowers' incomes, occupancy status and existing debts.  The Court of Appeals held that the breach of the representations and warranties occurred when the MLPA was executed on March 28, 2006.  The action was commenced on the last day of the limitations period (on March 28, 2012), but was untimely because the contractual conditions precedent to suit had not been complied with as of that date. Plaintiff argued that the defendant's refusal to cure or repurchase after notification in January, 2012, breached a second contract and started the six-year statute running from that point. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant's repurchase obligation was not a valid agreement "to undertake a separate obligation, the breach of which does not arise until some future date...".  "[Defendant's] cure or repurchase obligation could not reasonably be viewed as a distinct promise of future performance. It was dependent on, and indeed derivative of, [defendant's] representations and warranties, which did not survive the closing and were breached, if at all, on that date..." . ACE Sec. Corp. v DB Structured Prods., Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04873, CtApp 6-11-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/FRAUD

 

An Unconditional Guaranty of Payment of a Another's Obligations Is Enforceable by Summary Judgment In Lieu of a Complaint In New York, Even In the Face of an Allegation the Underlying Judgment Was the Result of Collusion and Fraud

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, determined an unconditional guaranty (re: payment of corporate debts) was a proper basis for summary judgment in lieu of a complaint, notwithstanding defendant's (unsupported) allegation the underlying judgment was the result of collusion and fraud.  An unconditional guaranty is enforceable in New York, even where it is alleged the guaranty itself was the product of fraud:

 

Guarantees that contain language obligating the guarantor to payment without recourse to any defenses or counterclaims, i.e., guarantees that are "absolute and unconditional," have been consistently upheld by New York courts * * *.

 

This Court has acknowledged the application of these absolute guarantees even to claims of fraudulent inducement in the execution of the guaranty ... .* * *

 

Here, defendant personally guaranteed the obligations owed by Agra Canada under the Purchase Agreement, as well as obligations owed by Agra USA. Moreover, defendant specifically agreed that his "liability under this Guaranty shall be absolute and unconditional irrespective of (1) any lack of validity or enforceability of the agreement; . . . or (iv) any other circumstance which might otherwise constitute a defense available to, or a discharge of, the Seller (Agra Canada) or a guarantor." By its plain terms, in broad, sweeping and unequivocal language, the Guaranty forecloses any challenge to the enforceability and validity of the documents which establish defendant's liability for payments arising under the Purchase Agreement, as well as to any other possible defense to his liability for the obligations of the Agra businesses. Cooperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank, B.A. v Navarro, 2015 NY Slip Op 04753, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Although a Close Case, the Evidence Supported Defendant's Manslaughter Conviction Under an Accomplice Theory---the Judge's Informing the Jury of the Correct Dates of the Offense, Outside the Presence of the Parties, with the Parties' Consent, Was Not a Mode of Proceedings Error Requiring Reversal

 

Noting that it was a close case, the Court of Appeals determined the evidence supported defendant's conviction for manslaughter under an accomplice theory.  Defendant struck the victim with a beer bottle and then chased after another man.  There was conflicting testimony about whether defendant was present when another man who was with the defendant struck the victim with a baseball bat.  Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the People, the evidence of a "community of purpose" among accomplice and principal was sufficient.  Further, the court determined the judge's correcting an error in the jury instructions by informing the jury of the correct dates of the offenses outside the presence of the parties, but with the parties' consent, was not a mode of proceedings error requiring reversal. People v Scott, 2015 NY Slip Op 04874, CtApp 6-11-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

The Acts of Applying for a Fake Non-Driver ID Card and Possessing the Fake Non-Driver ID Card Upon Arrest (Four-Months After Submitting the Application) Did Not Constitute a Single Criminal Venture---the Prohibition Against Double Jeopardy Did Not Preclude the Second Charge

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined defendant was not entitled to the dismissal of charges on double jeopardy grounds.  Defendant had used his son's identification information to procure a non-driver ID card in Suffolk County.  Several months later defendant was stopped by police in Westchester County, presented the fake non-driver ID card, and was subsequently charged with possession of a forged instrument in the second degree. Defendant pled guilty to possession of a forged instrument third degree. When defendant's son returned to New York State (after a four-year absence) and applied for a driver's license in Westchester County, authorities became aware of defendant's submission (in Westchester County) of a fake application (MV-44 form) for the non-driver ID. Defendant was then charged in Westchester County with possession of a forged instrument (the ID application form) as well as forgery.  The Court of Appeals held that the two offenses were not "integrated, interdependent acts as seen in conspiracy cases or complex frauds...". Therefore, unlike individual acts within such conspiracies or complex frauds, the two acts did not constitute a "single criminal venture." The court noted: "A closer case might be presented had defendant applied for a driver's license in Suffolk County with his son's papers and showed the temporary driver's license later that same day when his car was stopped by police. In such circumstances, the timing and criminal purpose of the two acts would be more interrelated than the circumstances presented here:"

 

Under CPL 40.20, a subsequent prosecution for offenses involving the "same criminal . . . transaction," as defined by CPL 40.10 (2), violates the statutory bar against double jeopardy unless an exception applies.

 

"'Criminal transaction' means conduct which establishes at least one offense, and which is comprised of two or more or a group of acts either (a) so closely related and connected in point of time and circumstance of commission as to constitute a single criminal incident, or (b) so closely related in criminal purpose or objective as to constitute elements or integral parts of a single criminal venture" (CPL 40.10 [2]). * * *

 

Part (b) of the CPL 410.10 definition "tends to be more applicable to crimes that involve planned, ongoing organized criminal activity, such as conspiracies, complex frauds or larcenies, or narcotics rings" (7 NY Prac., New York Pretrial Criminal Procedure § 2:6 [2d ed.]). This Court has recognized statutory violations of double jeopardy protections in drug trafficking cases where the "embracive nature of the crime of conspiracy" presents unique circumstances ... .

 

Here, under the test presented by CPL 40.10 (2) (a), the offense of submitting a forged MV-44 form and the offense of presenting a forged non-driver ID to the police were many months apart and ... involved different forged instruments — the non-driver's license and the MV-44 application form — making them different criminal transactions. The Suffolk County charge was based on defendant's completion and filing of the application form. The offense was complete once defendant submitted the forged application to the DMV in June 2009. The Westchester offense occurred four months later and was based on defendant's presentation of the forged non-driver's license to the officer. With the non-driver ID card in hand, defendant could give the appearance of a clean record, which would enable him to evade his criminal history and obtain a loan or employment under a false identity. Applying the alternative test defined by CPL 40.10 (2) (b), this case does not involve the integrated, interdependent acts as seen in conspiracy cases or complex frauds, and as such does not constitute a "single criminal venture" ... . People v Lynch, 2015 NY Slip Op 04754, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Allowing a Detective Who Was Involved in the Investigation of Defendant's Case to Testify as an "Expert" Was Error (Harmless Here However)--Although the Detective Was Ostensibly to Testify as an Expert Who Could "Translate" Code Words Used in Recorded Conversations, His Testimony Extended into Many Areas Which Did Not Involve Code Words, Thereby Imbuing HIs Entire Testimony with an Aura of Expertise---Such Improper "Expert" Testimony Usurps the Jury's Role

 

Although the error was deemed harmless here, the Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined it was error to allow a detective, who was involved in the underlying murder investigation, to testify as an "expert." The detective was asked to explain the meaning of so-called "code words" used in recorded conversations admitted into evidence. But it was clear that the trial court allowed the detective to testify as an "expert" on matters that had nothing to do with translating code words.  As a result, the detective's testimony was imbued with an aura of expertise which could have improperly added weight to his testimony in the eyes of the jury.  Because this issue has not been addressed by New York courts, the Court of Appeals turned to two Second Circuit cases which held the improper "expert" testimony, on topics not beyond the "ken of the jurors," usurped the jury's role:

 

We have, for example, permitted expert testimony by a police sergeant respecting the way in which street-level drug sales are transacted to help a jury understand why the failure to recover drugs or marked buy-money from an individual apprehended in a buy-and-bust operation is not necessarily indicative of the accused's misidentification (People v Brown, 97 NY2d 500 [2002]). It is instructive to note, however, that the testimony of the sergeant in Brown was carefully limited by the trial court to a discrete issue beyond the ken of ordinary jurors, and that the sergeant was not himself involved in the underlying investigation and gave no testimony as to what had actually occurred during the buy-and-bust there involved. The situation is very different where a police officer, qualified as an expert, has participated in the investigation of the matter being tried and, with the mantel of an expert steeped in the particulars of the case, gives seemingly authoritative testimony directly instructive of what facts the jury should find. Our cases have not dealt with this problematic scenario, but those of the Second Circuit, most notably United States v Mejia (545 F3d 179 [2d Cir 2008]) and United States v Dukagjini (326 F3d 45 [2d Cir 2002]), have.

 

In both of those cases, law enforcement officers involved in the investigations upon which the defendants' prosecutions were founded were duly qualified as experts but permitted to testify as apparent experts beyond their expertise and upon matters well within the grasp of lay jurors. In exploring the full reach of the permission they had been afforded, they became summation witnesses, instructing the jury comprehensively and with an aura of expertise, as to how the particular factual issues presented in each case should be resolved. This, said the Mejia court, amounted to a "usurpation of the jury's role" (545 F3d at 191), and was objectionable as well, in both Mejia and Dukagjini, for operating to inject hearsay into the evidentiary mix and to abridge the defendants' constitutional right to confront the witnesses against them; both case agent witnesses, as putative experts, had premised their testimony largely on inadmissible out-of-court statements, even when that testimony ceased to be expert and went only towards proving particular facts. People v Inoa, 2015 NY Slip Op 04790, CtApp 6-10-15

 

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION ACT (SORA)

 

In a Risk Level Modification Proceeding, a Defendant Is Entitled to All the Documents Reviewed by the Board

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, determined defendant was entitled to access to all the documents reviewed by the New York State Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders (Board) in connection with the Board's recommendation that defendant's classification remain at risk level 3.  However, County Court's refusal to grant an adjournment to allow defendant to gain access to missing documents (two emails) was not an abuse of discretion. The record evidence in support of the denial of the modification was overwhelming:

 

Section 168-o (4), applicable when a petitioner seeks modification of the risk level, does not contain any language entitling a petitioner to pre-hearing discovery, but simply provides that a petitioner has a right to submit "any information relevant to the review" (Correction Law § 169-o [2]). Further, the right to petition the sentencing court to be "relieved of any further duty to register" under Correction Law § 168-o (1) does not permit the court to review the correctness of the initial risk level determination (see Correction Law § 168-g [4]...). While there are statutory differences in the two [*5]proceedings, we agree with defendant that the procedural due process rights, in regard to the requested documents, were the same. Thus, defendant was entitled to access to the documents.

 

Nonetheless, it is well-settled that the decision to grant an adjournment is a matter of discretion for the hearing court ... . "When the protection of fundamental rights has been involved in requests for adjournments, that discretionary power has been more narrowly construed" ... . Under the circumstances of this case, it cannot be said the court abused its discretion as a matter of law in failing to adjourn the hearing to gather the two emails. People v Lashway, 2015 NY Slip Op 04877, CtApp 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/APPEALS

 

Although the Right to Appeal Could Have Been Defined More Fully, Defendant's Waiver of Appeal In Response to a Colloquy Conducted by the Prosecutor Deemed Sufficient

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, over a dissent, determined defendant's waiver of appeal was valid, noting the nature of the right to appeal could have been defined more fully.  "Regarding the waiver of the right to appeal, the following exchange ... took place between the prosecutor and defendant: 'Q Do you understand that as a condition of this plea you are waiving the right to appeal your conviction and sentence to the Appellate Division Second Department? A Yes. Q Have you discussed this waiver of the right to appeal with your attorney? A Yes. Q In consideration of this negotiated plea[,] do you now voluntarily waive your right to appeal your conviction and sentence under this indictment? A Yes.' " The Court of Appeals noted "County Court adequately described the right to appeal without lumping it into the panoply of rights normally forfeited upon a guilty plea." [The dissent pointed out that the responsibility for the colloquy re: the waiver of appeal was delegated to the prosecutor here:]

 

....[W]e conclude that the record before us sufficiently demonstrates that defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to appeal. There is no meaningful distinction between the plea colloquy here and the colloquy upheld in Nicholson, in which defendant acknowledged his understanding that he was "giving up [his] right to appeal, that is, to take to a higher court than this one any of the legal issues connected with this case" (Nicholson, 6 NY3d at 254). As in Nicholson, the plea colloquy here was sufficient because County Court adequately described the right to appeal without lumping it into the panoply of rights normally forfeited upon a guilty plea. In fact, the People went even further in this case and obtained defendant's confirmation that he had discussed the waiver of the right to appeal with his attorney and that he was waiving such right in consideration of his negotiated plea, as well as counsel's confirmation that all motions pending or decided were being withdrawn. Thus, while the better practice would have been to define the nature of the right to appeal more fully — as the court did in Nicholson — the Appellate Division correctly determined that no further elaboration was necessary on the phrase "right to appeal your conviction and sentence to the Appellate Division Second Department" in view of the whole colloquy, particularly given this defendant's background, including his extensive experience with the criminal justice system and multiple prior guilty pleas that resulted in terms of imprisonment. People v Sanders, 2015 NY Slip Op 04755, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Where a Defendant Has Been Convicted of an Armed Felony or an Enumerated Sex Offense Pursuant to CPL (Criminal Procedure Law) 720.10(2)a)(ii ie (iii), Even If the  Defendant Has Not Requested or Has Explicitly Waived "Youthful Offender" Status, the Court Must Determine, On the Record, Whether Mitigating Circumstances Exist, and, If So, Must Determine On the Record Whether the Defendant Should Be Adjudicated a Youthful Offender

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, over a partial three-judge dissent, determined "when a defendant has been convicted of an armed felony or an enumerated sex offense pursuant to CPL 720.10 (2) (a) (ii) or (iii), and the only barrier to his or her youthful offender eligibility is that conviction, the court is required to determine on the record whether the defendant is an eligible youth by considering the presence or absence of the factors set forth in CPL 720.10 (3). The court must make such a determination on the record 'even where [the] defendant has failed to ask to be treated as a youthful offender, or has purported to waive his or her right to make such a request' pursuant to a plea bargain ... . If the court determines, in its discretion, that neither of the CPL 720.10 (3) factors exist and states the reasons for that determination on the record, no further determination by the court is required. If, however, the court determines that one or more of the CPL 720.10 (3) factors are present, and the defendant is therefore an eligible youth, the court then 'must determine whether or not the eligible youth is a youthful offender' (CPL 720.20 [1])." People v Middlebrooks, 2015 NY Slip Op 04875, CtApp 6-11-15

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE

 

Possession of the Note, Not the Mortgage, Confers Standing to Foreclose

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined that possession of the note, not the mortgage, when the foreclosure proceedings are commenced is sufficient to confer standing upon the note-holder. " '[A]ny disparity between the holder of the note and the mortgagee of record does not stand as a bar to a foreclosure action because the mortgage is not the dispositive document of title as to the mortgage loan; the holder of the note is deemed the owner of the underlying mortgage loan with standing to foreclose'... . . Accordingly, the [defendants'] argument that [plaintiff] lacked standing because it did not possess a valid and enforceable mortgage as of the commencement of this action is simply incorrect. The validity of the ... assignment of the mortgage is irrelevant to [plaintiff's]  standing;"

 

... [T]o have standing, it is not necessary to have possession of the mortgage at the time the action is commenced. This conclusion follows from the fact that the note, and not the mortgage, is the dispositive instrument that conveys standing to foreclose under New York law. In the current case, the note was transferred to [plaintiff] before the commencement of the foreclosure action — that is what matters.

 

A transfer in full of the obligation automatically transfers the mortgage as well unless the parties agree that the transferor is to retain the mortgage (Restatement [Third] of Property [Mortgages] § 5.4, Reporter's Note, Comment b). The [defendants] misconstrue the legal principle that "an entity with a mortgage but no note lack[s] standing to foreclose" ... to also mean the opposite — that an entity with a note but no mortgage lacks standing. Once a note is transferred, however, "the mortgage passes as an incident to the note" ... . Aurora Loan Servs., LLC v Taylor, 2015 NY Slip Op 04872, CtApp 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSURANCE LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Once Payment of a No-Fault Claim Submitted by the Medical Provider to the Insurer Is Overdue (Because the Insurer Has Not Timely Denied, Paid or Asked for Verification of the Claim) the Medical Provider Is Entitled to Summary Judgment Upon the Submission of Proof, in Admissible Form, that the Statutory Claim Form Was Mailed to and Received by the Insurer---The Medical Provider Need Not Submit Proof of the Validity of the Underlying Medical Services

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Abdus-Salaam, over a dissent, determined, once a no-fault claim is overdue (because the insurance company has not denied the claim, asked for verification of the claim, or paid the claim, within the statutory time-period), the plaintiff-medical-provider is entitled to summary judgment on the overdue claims after submitting proof the statutory claim forms were mailed to and received by the insurer.  There is no requirement that the plaintiff submit proof of the validity of the underlying medical services:

 

...[T]he Appellate Division properly determined that plaintiff met its prima facie summary judgment burden. As relevant here, to support its motion, plaintiff submitted the eight verification of treatment forms and Matatov's affidavit. The documents submitted by plaintiff meet the business records exception to the hearsay rule.

 

Malatov's [the billing agent's] affidavit states that based on his business agreement with plaintiff, SUM Billing created the verification of treatment forms in the regular course of its business and that the forms were created soon after the services were provided by plaintiff ... . Indeed, the tight timetable of the no-fault scheme requires prompt submission of proof of claim in order to receive reimbursement. Matatov's affidavit outlines the office practices and procedures used by SUM Billing to mail claim forms to insurers and demonstrates that Matatov himself mails the forms. Matatov explained that SUM Billing relies on these forms in the performance of its business. Further, the affidavit states how and when the forms at issue here were created and that they were mailed to defendant within the statutory time frame. Thus, as plaintiff was able to demonstrate SUM Billing's office mailing practices and procedures, "a presumption arises that those notices have been received by the insure[rs]" ... . It is undisputed that defendant did not pay or deny seven out of the eight claims at issue. Consequently, those claims are overdue. Plaintiff, therefore, satisfied its burden on summary judgment by demonstrating the mailing of the proof of claim forms, and their receipt by the insurer. Viviane Etienne Med. Care v Country-Wide Ins. Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 04787, CtApp 6-10-15

 

 

 

MENTAL HYGIENE LAW/TRUSTS AND ESTATES/DEBTOR-CREDITOR

 

The Guardian of an Incapacitated Person May Not, After the Incapacitated Person's Death, Use Guardianship Funds to Pay a Debt Incurred by the Incapacitated Person Prior to Death (Here a Debt Owed the Nursing Home Where the Incapacitated Person Was Cared For)

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Fahey, determined Mental Hygiene Law 81.44 does not permit "a guardian to retain property of an incapacitated person after the incapacitated person has died for the purpose of paying a claim against the incapacitated person that arose before such person's death." "... [T]he issue [here was] whether property held by ... [the] guardian at the time of [the incapacitated person's] death automatically became the property of her estate or could be withheld by [the guardian] for the purpose of paying the claim, out of the guardianship account, that [the nursing home] had noticed before [the incapacitated person] died." Based upon the legislative history of Mental Hygiene Law 81.44, the court determined that, after an incapacitated person's death, the guardian may use guardianship funds only to pay claims related to the administration of the guardianship, and may not use them to pay debts incurred by the incapacitated person:

 

The plain language of subdivision (d) of Mental Hygiene Law § 81.44 requires that it is to be read in conjunction with subdivision (e) of the same section, which considers the property a guardian may retain following the death of an incapacitated person. Further, our precedent requires such a review ... . In subdivision (e) of section 81.44, the Legislature allowed a guardian to retain from the estate of a deceased incapacitated person "property equal in value to the claim for administrative costs, liens and debts" (emphasis added). That construct suggests that the Legislature meant to permit the retention only of property equal in value to the expenses incurred with respect to the administration of the guardianship, i.e., property needed to satisfy administrative costs, administrative liens, and administrative claims. * * *

 

...[The legislative history] compels the conclusion that the Legislature did not intend for section 81.44 to permit a guardian to retain funds following the death of an incapacitated person for the purpose of paying a claim (other than a claim related to the administration of the guardianship) against the incapacitated person that arose before that person's death. Inasmuch as [the nursing home's] claim for medical services rendered to [the incapacitated person] is unrelated to the administration of her guardianship, we conclude that Mental Hygiene Law § 81.44 does not allow [the guardian] to withhold from [the incapacitated person's] estate funds to pay [the incapacitated person's] debt to [the nursing home]. Matter of Shannon, 2015 NY Slip Op 04789, CtApp 6-10-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

County Was Not Responsible for the Day to Day Operation of Community College and Did Not Own the Dormitory Where Plaintiff's Decedent Suffered Cardiac Arrest and Died---County Owed No Duty of Care to Plaintiff's Decedent

 

Plaintiff's decedent died of cardiac arrest in a Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) dormitory.  Plaintiff sued the county, alleging the dormitory should have been equipped with a defibrillator and/or should have had an emergency medical response plan in effect.  The Court of Appeals determined the complaint against the county was properly dismissed.  Although the county was the "sponsor" of the community college, it did not own the dormitory and did not manage the day-to-day operation of the community college, which was handled by the board of trustees (Education Law 6306):

 

While the County exercises significant influence and control over SCCC's finances, only the College's board of trustees is authorized to manage SCCC's facilities; therefore, it alone is charged with the duty of care ... . And here, the County additionally established that it did not even own the dormitory where decedent's accident occurred ... . Branch v County of Sullivan, 2015 NY Slip Op 04756, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MEDICAL MALPRACTICE/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Catheter, Although Deliberately Inserted During Surgery for Temporary Monitoring Purposes, Was a "Foreign Object" Within the Meaning of CPLR 214-a---Action Brought Within One Year of the Discovery of the Catheter (22 Years after Insertion) Was Timely

 

The Court of Appeals, in a comprehensive opinion by Judge Read, determined a catheter left in plaintiff's heart after surgery in 1986 (when plaintiff was three years old) was a "foreign object."  Therefore the statute of limitations did not start to run until the presence of the catheter was "discovered" in 2008.  Plaintiff's complaint, brought within one year of discovery, was therefore timely.  The issue was whether the catheter could be considered a "fixation device" because it was intentionally inserted. If so, the one-year-from-discovery "foreign object" statute of limitations (see CPLR 214-a) would not have applied and the complaint would have been untimely. The Court of Appeals held that the catheter (which was to temporarily monitor heart function after surgery) was not a "fixation device" because, although it was intentionally inserted, it was not inserted to serve a "postsurgery healing function" and it was to be removed a few days after insertion. Thus the catheter was different in kind from a "fixation device," such as a "stent" or a "suture," deliberately inserted to serve a "healing function:"

 

Here, the catheter inserted in the left atrium of plaintiff's heart performed no securing or supporting role during or after surgery. As explained by plaintiff's expert, and uncontroverted by defendants, the catheters functioned like a sentinel, allowing medical personnel to monitor atrial pressure so that they might take corrective measures as required; the catheters were, in the words of plaintiff's expert, "a conduit for information from [plaintiff's] cardiovascular system." Because the catheters under the facts of this case are therefore not fixation devices (or chemical compounds or prosthetic aids or devices), they are not categorically excluded from the foreign object exception in CPLR 214-a.

 

The question then becomes whether the catheters are analogous to tangible items like ... clamps ... or other surgical paraphernalia (e.g., scalpels, sponges, drains) likewise introduced into a patient's body solely to carry out or facilitate a surgical procedure. We conclude that they are ... .  Walton v Strong Mem. Hosp., 2015 NY Slip Op 04786, CtApp 6-10-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW

 

"Reckless Disregard" Standard of Care Applies to Operators of Street Sweepers in New York City---Standard Explained

 

The Court of Appeals determined the "reckless disregard" standard in Vehicle and Traffic Law 1103, not the ordinary negligence standard, applied to the operator of a New York City street sweeper who was in the process of cleaning the street when the sweeper struck plaintiff's car.  A question of fact had been raised whether the applicable standard of care was violated:

 

... [U]nder VTL § 1642, the City of New York is authorized to establish additional rules, including rules that supercede those of the State (see VTL § 1642 [a] ["the legislative body of any city having a population in excess of one million, may by local law . . . restrict or regulate traffic on or pedestrian use of any highway . . .]). At the time of the accident, 34 RCNY [Rules of the City of New York] § 4-02 (d) (1)(v) provided that VTL § 1103 applies "to any person or team or any operator of a motor vehicle or other equipment while actually engaged in work on a highway" and that "such persons are not relieved from the duty to proceed at all times during all phases of such work with due regard for the safety of all persons nor shall the foregoing provisions of this subparagraph protect such persons or teams or such operators of motor vehicles or other equipment from the consequences of their reckless disregard for the safety of others" (34 RCNY § 4-02 [d] [1] [iv]).

 

In Riley [95 NY2d 455], this Court held that the unambiguous language of VTL § 1103 (b), as further supported by its legislative history, made clear that the statute exempts from the rules of the road all vehicles, including sanitation sweepers, which are "actually engaged in work on a highway" (95 NY2d at 460), and imposes on such vehicles a recklessness standard of care (see id. at 466). The Court further concluded that liability under that standard is established upon a showing that the covered vehicle's operator "'has intentionally done an act of an unreasonable character in disregard of a known or obvious risk that was so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow' and has done so with conscious indifference to the outcome" (id. at 466... ). Deleon v New York City Sanitation Dept., 2015 NY Slip Op 04788, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/ANIMAL LAW

 

There Is No Cause of Action for "Negligent Handling" of a Dog in New York

 

The Court of Appeals, in a memorandum decision addressing two dog-related personal injury cases, with two concurring opinions, and over three dissenting opinions, kept New York law as it was with respect to the available causes of action for injuries caused by dogs. Negligence theories are not available, and a strict liability theory requires proof the dog-owners were aware of the dog's propensity to cause injury. In one case (Doerr v Goldsmith) the dog was called by one of its owners and ran across a bike path where plaintiff, a bicyclist, struck the dog and was injured.  In the other case (Dobinski v Lockhart), dogs were let out of the owners' house and ran into the road where plaintiff-bicyclist struck one of the dogs and was injured. The court kept the existing distinction between domestic pets and farm animals.  The owner of a farm animal which wanders off the farm and causes injury may be liable for negligently allowing the farm animal to escape.  The same theory of owner-negligence was not extended to domestic animals (dogs here). The dog owners who allowed their dog to run across a bike path in response to a command could not be held liable for negligence in handling the dog.  And the dog owners whose dogs ran into the road after being let outside could not be liable for negligently handling the dogs and could not held strictly liable in the absence of proof they were aware of the dogs' relevant propensity:

 

Under the circumstances of these cases and in light of the arguments advanced by the parties, Bard v Jahnke (6 NY3d 592 [2006]) constrains us to reject plaintiffs' negligence causes of action against defendants arising from injuries caused by defendants' dogs ... . We decline to overrule our recently reaffirmed precedent (see Bloomer, 21 NY3d at 918; Petrone, 12 NY3d at 547-555). Furthermore, our holding in Hastings v Sauve (21 NY3d 122 [2013]) does not allow plaintiffs to recover based on defendants' purported negligence in the handling of their dogs, which were not domestic farm animals subject to an owner's duty to prevent such animals from wandering unsupervised off the farm (see Hastings, 21 NY3d at 124-126).

 

[In Dobinski v Lockhart] the Appellate Division properly granted summary judgment to defendants with respect to plaintiff's strict liability cause of action. Defendants carried their initial burden on summary judgment of establishing that they did not know of any vicious propensities on the part of their dogs. In response, plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether defendants had notice of the animals' harmful proclivities, and consequently, defendants were entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's strict liability claim ... . Doerr v Goldsmith, 2015 NY Slip Op 04752, CtApp 6-9-15

 

 

 

 

NEGLIGENT INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS/RIGHT OF SEPULCHER/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

The Medical Examiner Who Conducted an Autopsy of Plaintiffs' 17-Year-Old Son Upon the Son's Death in an Auto Accident Was Not Under a Statutory or Ministerial Duty to Return the Brain or to Inform Plaintiffs He Had Removed The Brain for Further Examination and Testing

 

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, over a two-judge dissent, determined the medical examiner, who conducted an autopsy of plaintiffs' 17-year-old son after his death in a car accident, was under no statutory or ministerial duty to inform plaintiffs he had removed plaintiffs' son's brain for further examination and testing, nor was he under a duty to return the brain. Plaintiffs therefore did not have a "negligent infliction of emotional distress" or "violation of right of sepulcher" cause of action against the city. (Plaintiffs had been awarded significant damages at trial:)

 

When the Legislature enacted statutes granting medical examiners (and others) the authority to conduct autopsies and dissections (see Public Health Law §§ 4209; 4210), it acknowledged through the enactment of section 4215 (1) that there would be situations where the decedent's body may not be buried or incinerated within a reasonable time after the decedent's death, as per section 4200 (1)'s directive. Thus, section 4215 strikes a balance permitting the lawful dissection of a body, while concomitantly ensuring that once the lawful purposes have been accomplished the body will be buried, incinerated or properly disposed of as per section 4200 (1), and that the penalties for the interference or injuries to the body would "apply equally to the remains of the body after dissection . . ."

 

When section 4200 (1) and section 4215 (1) are read in tandem, there is no language that would cause a medical examiner to divine from section 4215 (1) that he or she is required to return not only decedent's body, but the organs and tissue samples that the medical examiner is legally permitted to remove. Similarly, our right of sepulcher jurisprudence does not mandate that a medical examiner return decedent's organs and tissue samples. Thus, because there was no governing rule or statutory command requiring a medical examiner to turn over organs and tissue samples, it could not be said that he or she has a ministerial duty to do so. At most, a medical examiner's determination to return only the body without notice that organs and tissue samples are being retained is discretionary, and, therefore, no tort liability can be imposed for either the violation of the common-law right of sepulcher or Public Health Law § 4215 (1). Once a medical examiner returns a decedent's body sans the organs and tissue samples, the medical examiner for all intents and purposes has complied with the ministerial duty under section 4215 (1). Absent a duty to turn over organs and tissue samples, it cannot be said that the medical examiner has a legal duty to inform the next of kin that organs and tissue samples have been retained. * * *

 

There is simply no legal directive that requires a medical examiner to return organs or tissue samples derived from a lawful autopsy and retained by the medical examiner after such an autopsy. The medical examiner's obligations under both the common-law right of sepulcher and Public Health § 4215 (1) are fulfilled upon returning the deceased's body to the next of kin after a lawful autopsy has been conducted. If the Legislature believes that next of kin are entitled to notification that organs, tissues and other specimens have been removed from the body, and that they are also entitled their return prior to burial of the body or other disposition, it should enact legislation delineating the medical examiner's obligations in that regard, as it is the Legislature that is in the best position to examine the issue and craft legislation that will consider the rights of families and next of kin while concomitantly taking into account the medical examiner's statutory obligations to conduct autopsies. Shipley v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 04791, CtApp 6-10-15

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

 

Resignation in the Face of Immediate Termination Constituted Termination by Final Agency Action (Reviewable by a Court)

 

The Third Department upheld the determination of the Division of State Police Hearing Board and the termination of the petitioner (a State Trooper). The fact that petitioner had resigned did not deprive the court of its review power, despite the resulting absence of a "final agency determination."  The petitioner had been shown the superintendent's termination determination and was told he would be terminated if he did not immediately resign.  Petitioner resigned. The Third Department held that resignation under such a circumstance is effectively a termination by a final agency action and is therefore reveiwable by a court:

 

... [W]e consider respondents' argument that, since petitioner resigned, there was no final agency action over which the Court has jurisdiction. Although a resignation "would ordinarily be beyond our review, exceptions exist where . . . the resignation was allegedly ineffective and involuntary" ... . It is undisputed that the Superintendent had signed a written decision terminating petitioner's employment. Significantly, the document was handed to petitioner and he was then told that he had 10 minutes to accept an "option" of resigning. Under the narrow circumstances, petitioner was effectively terminated by a final agency action when he was handed the signed termination document. Matter of Lyons v Superintendent of State Police, Joseph D'Amico, 2015 NY Slip Op 04892, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW

 

Termination of Teacher's Probationary Employment and Teaching Licenses Was "Abitrary and Capricious" Because the Ruling Was Based In Part Upon an Issue, Absenteeism, of Which the Teacher Had Not Been Given Notice

 

The First Department found the school district's termination of petitioner's probationary employment as a teacher and termination of her teaching licenses was "arbitrary and capricious" because it was based in part on an issue, absenteeism, of which the teacher had not been given notice. Matter of Brower v New York City Dept. of Educ., 2015 NY Slip Op 04764, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW/CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

No "Reasonable Suspicion" Justifying Vehicle Stop---Revocation of License for Refusal of Chemical Test Reversed

 

Petitioner was arrested for driving while intoxicated and refused the chemical test.  As a result petitioner's license was revoked by an administrative law judge.  The Second Department annulled the determination of the Department of Motor Vehicles Appeals Board (which upheld the revocation).  The court determined the arresting officer did not have "reasonable suspicion" justifying the initial stop.  Petitioner was in a parked car with the engine running. The officer parked behind petitioner's car, blocking any exit, and then approached the car. Only then did the officer notice signs of intoxication:

 

At a hearing held pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194, the hearing officer is required to determine, inter alia, whether the police lawfully arrested the operator of the motor vehicle for operating such vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 ... . In order for an arrest to be lawful, the initial stop must itself be lawful (see People v De Bour, 40 NY2d 210, 222). Under the circumstances of this case, where the officer prevented the petitioner from departing, activated his vehicle's emergency lights, and shined a light into the petitioner's parked vehicle, a forcible stop and detention occurred ... . The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, failed to establish that there was reasonable suspicion to justify the forcible stop and detention of the petitioner's person or vehicle ... and, accordingly, the challenged determination cannot be sustained. Matter of Stewart v Fiala, 2015 NY Slip Op 04857, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

APPEALS/NEGLIGENCE/EVIDENCE

 

No Interlocutory Appeal Lies from a Pre-Trial Ruling on the Admissibility of Evidence Which Did Not Limit the Scope of the Issues or Theories of Liability to Be Tried

 

Defendant was intoxicated when her vehicle collided with plaintiff's decedent's vehicle.  Plaintiff, the administrator of decedent's estate, sought to introduce expert testimony demonstrating that, based upon defendant's blood-alcohol content six hours after the accident, she would have been visibly intoxicated and had a higher blood-alcohol content when she was served at defendant tavern.  The tavern moved to preclude the expert testimony and, after a Frye hearing, the court granted the motion.  The Third Department determined the court's ruling on the evidentiary issue did not limit the scope of the issues or theories of liability to be tried and was not, therefore, appealable as of right or by permission. Appeal would have to wait until the trial is concluded:

 

It is well settled that "an order which merely determines the admissibility of evidence, even when made in advance of trial on motion papers, constitutes, at best, an advisory opinion which is neither appealable as of right nor by permission" ... . Supreme Court precluded plaintiff from offering an expert opinion as to "the extrapolated blood alcohol content [and] the physiological condition" of [defendant] while she was at the tavern, crediting the testimony of [the tavern's] expert that such an opinion could not be reliably drawn from the available proof. Regardless of whether Supreme Court abused its discretion in making that determination, it was plainly an evidentiary ruling that did not "limit[] the scope of the issues or the theories of liability to be tried" ... . Indeed, counsel for plaintiff acknowledged at oral argument that the preclusion of the proffered expert evidence is not fatal to his claims and that a trial will occur even if the evidence is not allowed. Appellate review thus must wait until after trial, when the relevance of the evidence and the effect of the evidentiary ruling may be properly assessed ... . Hurtado v Williams, 2015 NY Slip Op 04912, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

ARBITRATION

 

Arbitrator Did Not Have the Authority (CPLR 7511) to Modify an Award by Adding Interest, Even If Interest Should Have Been Awarded as a Matter of Law

 

The Third Department determined the arbitrator did not have the authority to modify an award by including an additional amount for interest. Even if the interest should have been awarded initially as a matter of lAw, modification by adding interest exceeded the powers enumerated in CPLR 7511. The court explained the arbitrator's authority in this context:

 

"[I]t has been recognized that an arbitrator's power to modify an award is extremely limited and that, absent compliance with the statutory requirements, an arbitrator is without authority to modify an award" ... . The statutory requirements for modification are set forth in CPLR 7509, which allows an arbitrator to modify his or her award upon the grounds set forth in CPLR 7511 (c) if a timely application for modification is made. Because a timely request was made by petitioner, modification was permissible if: "1. there was a miscalculation of figures or a mistake in the description of any person, thing or property referred to in the award; or 2. the arbitrators have awarded upon a matter not submitted to them and the award may be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision upon the issues submitted; or 3. the award is imperfect in a matter of form, not affecting the merits of the controversy"(CPLR 7511 [c]). The arbitrator determined that the first two grounds were inapplicable, but that modification was warranted because the failure to assess the requested interest constituted an imperfection in the form of the original award.

 

Supreme Court correctly determined that CPLR 7511 (c) (3) had no applicability to the modification at issue here, which significantly affected the amount of the award and "was not merely one of form, but one which affect[ed] the substantive rights of the parties" ... . Even accepting as true that the arbitrator was obliged to award interest as a matter of law ..., "[i]t is clear that an arbitrator's award cannot be . . . modified due to an error of fact or law unless the correction comes within the corrective or regulatory sections of the CPLR" ... . Because the error here does not, the arbitrator lacked authority to correct it ... .Matter of David Frueh Contr., LLC (BCI Constr., Inc.), 2015 NY Slip Op 04913, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

ATTORNEYS/NEGLIGENCE

 

Conflicting Interests Prevented Attorney from Representing Both the Driver and Passenger in a Stopped Car Which Was Rear-Ended

 

The Second Department determined, once a counterclaim was made against the driver of the car which was stopped and rear-ended, a conflict of interest arose prohibiting an attorney from representing both the driver and the passenger (Earl):

 

The general rule is that an attorney is not entitled to a fee in a personal injury action if the attorney violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (12 NYCRR 1200.0) by representing both the driver of an automobile involved in a collision and a passenger in that vehicle ... provides, in pertinent part, with respect to conflicts of interests involving current clients, that a lawyer shall not represent a client if a reasonable lawyer would conclude that "the representation will involve the lawyer in representing differing interests" (Rules of Professional Conduct [22 NYCRR 1200.0] rule 1.7[a][1]) . Pursuant to rule 1.7(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0) the potential conflict may be waived if the lawyer reasonably believes that he or she will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client, the representation is not prohibited by law, the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against the other in the same litigation, and each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing. In the instant case, there was no written confirmation of informed consent to the potential conflict.

 

[The attorney] contends that since Earl was a passenger in a stopped vehicle which was struck in the rear, the driver of the stopped vehicle was clearly not at fault, and there was no conflict of interest ... . However, once the defendant asserted a counterclaim, the pecuniary interests of the driver conflicted with those of the passenger... . Shelby v Blakes, 2015 NY Slip Op 04839, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

ATTORNEYS/MENTAL HYGIENE LAW

 

Potential Conflict of Interest Arising from Representation of Co-Guardians Required that the Co-Guardians Each Have Their Own Counsel

 

The First Department, over a dissent, determined a single attorney representing co-guardians of an incapacitated person created the appearance of representing conflicting interests. The court held there was a potential conflict of interest because the co-guardians were dependent upon the incapacitated person and had competing financial interests in the terms of a trust and as beneficiaries of the incapacitated person's will:

 

It is well settled that an attorney "must avoid not only the fact, but even the appearance, of representing conflicting interests" ... . "[W]ith rare and conditional exceptions, the lawyer may not place himself in a position where a conflicting interest may, even inadvertently, affect, or give the appearance of affecting, the obligations of the professional relationship" ... . Moreover, "doubts as to the existence of a conflict of interest must be resolved in favor of disqualification" ... . Full disclosure and prior consent by the parties may, on occasion, obviate the objection to conflicting representation ... .

 

Applying these principles to the facts of this case, we find that the motion court properly determined that joint representation of the co-guardians by a single counsel would be improper. While an actual conflict may not have arisen "at this time" and in this proceeding as the dissent posits, there is clearly a potential conflict of interest ... . Matter of Strasser v Asher, 2015 NY Slip Op 04763, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

BANKING LAW/TRUSTS AND ESTATES

 

Presumption, Pursuant to Banking Law 675, that a Joint Bank Account Created a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship Is Not Triggered Unless the Signature Card for the Account Indicates a Right of Survivorship Was Intended

 

The Third Department determined petitioner, whose name was on a joint bank account with decedent and another, was not entitled to one-half of the proceeds in the account upon decedent's death. The court explained that the presumption (Banking Law 675) that a joint bank account creates a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is triggered only when the signature card for the account indicates the parties intended the right of survivorship to apply.  Here the signature card made no mention of the right of survivorship:

 

Banking Law § 675 (a) provides, in relevant part, that, "[w]hen a deposit of cash . . . has been made . . . in the name of [the] depositor . . . and another person and in form to be paid or delivered to either, or the survivor of them, such deposit . . . and any additions thereto made, by either of such persons, . . . shall become the property of such persons as joint tenants and the same, together with all additions and accruals thereon, . . . may be paid or delivered to either during the lifetime of both or to the survivor after the death of one of them." Further, Banking Law § 675 (b) provides that "[t]he making of such deposit . . . in such form shall, in the absence of fraud or undue influence, be prima facie evidence, in any action or proceeding to which the . . . surviving depositor. . . is a party, of the intention of both depositors . . . to create a joint tenancy and to vest title to such deposit . . ., and additions and accruals thereon, in such survivor." Thus, "[w]here an account has been formed in compliance with the statute, it is presumed, absent a showing of fraud or undue influence, that the depositors intended to create a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship" ... . That said, the statutory presumption embodied in Banking Law § 675 (b) will not be triggered unless the signature card for the account in question specifically references rights of survivorship ... . Assuming the statutory presumption has been invoked, the burden then shifts to the party challenging the survivorship rights "to establish — by clear and convincing evidence — fraud, undue influence, lack of capacity or, as [respondent] asserts here, that the account[] [was] only opened as a matter of convenience and [was] never intended to be [a] joint account[]" ... .

 

Here, the signature card for the Citizens money market account contains no survivorship language. Accordingly, under prevailing case law, petitioner simply is not entitled to the presumption afforded by Banking Law § 675 (b) ... . Matter of Farrar, 2015 NY Slip Op 04902, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/MUNICIPAL LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE/CORPORATION LAW

 

The One-Year-and-Ninety-Day Time Limit for Bringing Suit Under the Public Authorities Law Is a Statute of Limitations, Not a Condition Precedent to Suit, and Is Therefore Subject to the Six-Month Extension for Recommencing a Suit Which Was Dismissed Without Prejudice Provided by CPLR 205(a)

 

The underlying medical malpractice action is against Erie County Medical Center Corporation, a public benefit corporation.  Pursuant to Public Authorities Law 3641, a notice of claim must be filed prior to the commencement of the lawsuit. Plaintiff had not filed a notice of claim. The action was dismissed without prejudice, subject to the terms of CPLR 205(a), which allows six months to recommence an action that has not been dismissed on the merits.  When the suit was recommenced, the defendant argued that the one-year-and-ninety-day time limit for bringing suit under the Public Authorities Law was not a statute of limitations subject to the CPLR 205(a) six-month extension, rather it was a condition precedent to suit and the (second) complaint must therefore be dismissed as untimely.  The Fourth Department determined the one-year-and-ninety-day time limit for suit under the Public Authorities Law was a statute of limitations, not a condition precedent, and the six-month extension provided by CPLR 205(a) applied:

 

It is well settled that CPLR 205 (a) does not apply when an act has to be performed within a statutory time requirement and is a condition precedent to suit (see Yonkers Contr. Co. v Port Auth. Trans-Hudson Corp., 93 NY2d 375, 378-379...). We recognize, by way of example, that the one-year statutory period for commencement of suit against the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation set forth in McKinney's Unconsolidated Laws of NY § 7107 has been held to be a condition precedent to suit not entitled to the tolling benefit of CPLR 205 (a) (see Yonkers Contr. Co., 93 NY2d at 378-379). As emphasized by the Court of Appeals in Yonkers, "Unconsolidated Laws § 7107 unambiguously allows an action against the Port Authority only upon the condition that any suit, action or proceeding prosecuted or maintained under this act shall be commenced within one year' " (id., 93 NY2d at 379). Here, Public Authorities Law § 3641 (1) (c) contains no similar express conditional language.

 

We note that CPLR 205 (a) has been held to apply to proceedings commenced under General Municipal Law § 50-i ..., the language of which is identical to that of Public Authorities Law § 3641 (1) (c) at issue herein. We thus conclude that the express language of section 3641 (1) (c) does not support defendant's contention that the one-year and 90-day period is a condition precedent and not a statute of limitations ... . Benedetti v Erie County Med. Ctr. Corp., 2015 NY Slip Op 04964, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/TOXIC TORTS/NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

CPLR 214-c, Which Starts the Statute of Limitations Upon Discovery of the Injury, Applies Only to Toxic Torts---The Statute Does Not Apply to an Action Seeking Damages for the Allegedly Negligent Approval (by the Town) of a Defective Septic System

 

Plaintiffs sought replacement-cost damages for a defective septic system, alleging the town negligently approved the system prior to plaintiffs' purchase of the property. Although the three-year statute of limitations for negligence had passed, the plaintiffs argued that CPLR 214-c applied. CPLR 214-c applies to latent defects and the statute starts running upon discovery of the injury.  The Fourth Department determined CPLR 214-c did not apply, noting that the Court of Appeals has held the statute applies only to injury from "toxic torts:"

 

CPLR 214-c (1) provides that "the three-year period within which an action to recover damages for personal injury or injury to property caused by the latent effects of exposure to any substance or combination of substances, in any form, upon or within the body or upon or within property must be commenced shall be computed from the date of discovery of the injury by the plaintiff or from the date when through the exercise of reasonable diligence such injury should have been discovered by the plaintiff, whichever is earlier" ... .

 

Here, plaintiffs do not seek "damages for personal injury or injury to property" (CPLR 214-c [1]); rather, they seek to be compensated for the cost of replacing an allegedly defective septic system. Thus, section 214-c is inapplicable to this action ... . Moreover, the Court of Appeals, in interpreting section 214-c, has made clear that it applies only to toxic torts ..., and plaintiffs' claims have nothing do to with toxic substances. Instead, plaintiffs merely allege that the septic system was defective and that defendants failed to identify the defects during their inspections. We thus conclude that the court properly determined that the causes of action against the moving defendants are time-barred. Clendenin v Town of Milo, 2015 NY Slip Op 04976, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/TRUSTS AND ESTATES

 

Administrator's Delay In Seeking to Be Substituted for the Decedent In a Lawsuit Justified Dismissal of the Complaint with Prejudice

 

The Second Department determined the estate's administrator's more than five-year delay in seeking to be substituted for the decedent as plaintiff in a lawsuit (CPLR 1021), together with the administrator's failure to provide an excuse for the delay and demonstrate the action had merit, warranted the dismissal of the complaint with prejudice:

 

CPLR 1021 provides, in pertinent part, that if the event requiring the substitution of a party "occurs before final judgment and substitution is not made within a reasonable time, the action may be dismissed as to the party for whom substitution should have been made, however, such dismissal shall not be on the merits unless the court shall so indicate." CPLR 1021 requires a motion for substitution to be made within a reasonable time ... . The determination of reasonableness requires consideration of several factors, including the diligence of the party seeking substitution, the prejudice to the other parties, and whether the party to be substituted has shown that the action or the defense has potential merit ... .

 

Here, the administrator's failure to effect the required substitution until more than 6 ½ years after the decedent's death and nearly 5 ½ years after he was appointed administrator of the decedent's estate evinced a lack of diligence on the part of the administrator in prosecuting this action, which had been pending for nearly 8 years at the time the administrator sought substitution ... . The administrator failed to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for the delay in seeking substitution, which he did only after the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint ... . Furthermore, the administrator failed to demonstrate a potentially meritorious cause of action through the submission of admissible evidence, and did not rebut the defendants' allegations of prejudice. Accordingly, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in granting the defendants' motion pursuant to CPLR 1021 to dismiss the complaint, with prejudice...  Alejandro v North Tarrytown Realty Assoc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04792, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/ASSOCIATIONS

 

Townhouse Residents, Members of a Community Homeowners' Association, Entered an Implied Contract to Pay a Proportionate Share of the Fees for Authorized and Necessary Services in Connection with the Maintenance of the Townhouse Facilities

 

The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court's ruling that defendants (townhouse residents) had entered an implied contract to pay a proportionate share of the full cost of maintaining the facilities. The defendants had refused to pay membership fees after a dispute with other residents arose.  The Third Department, applying the "business judgment rule," determined the fees assessed by the plaintiffs were for authorized and necessary services provided by the plaintiff:

 

... [T]he Court of Appeals has made clear that an implied contract for a community homeowners' association "includes the obligation to pay a proportionate share of the full cost of maintaining . . . facilities and services, not merely the reasonable value of those actually used by any particular resident" ... . We review plaintiff's action in undertaking such expenditures under the business judgment rule, which, in the absence of "claims of fraud, self-dealing, unconscionability, or other misconduct," is limited to an inquiry of "whether the action was authorized and whether it was taken in good faith and in furtherance of the legitimate interests of the corporation" ... . Bluff Point Townhouse Owners Assn., Inc. v Kapsokefalos, 2015 NY Slip Op 04905, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW

 

Question of Fact Raised Whether an Indemnification Clause on a Scaffolding Inspection Tag Created an Enforceable (Unsigned) Indemnification Contract

 

In a case stemming from plaintiff's fall from an allegedly improperly installed scaffold, a question of fact had been raised whether a tag on the scaffolding, which included an indemnification clause, evidenced an enforceable indemnification agreement:

 

"[A] contract may be valid even if it is not signed by the party to be charged, provided its subject matter does not implicate a statute—such as the statute of frauds (General Obligations Law § 5-701)—that imposes such a requirement" ... . "[A]n unsigned contract may be enforceable, provided there is objective evidence establishing that the parties intended to be bound" ... . "[I]n many instances the issue of whether or when an indemnification agreement came into being in the absence of a signed document will present a question of fact to be resolved by the trier of fact" ... .

 

Here, in support of their respective motion and cross motion, [the parties] failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether the scaffold inspection tag ..., which included an indemnification clause, related to the scaffold employed by the injured plaintiff at the time of the accident and, if so, whether these parties' words and deeds demonstrated their intent to be bound by the terms of thereof ... . Murphy v Eagle Scaffolding, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04823, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

CONTRACT LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE/NEGLIGENCE

 

Plaintiff Not Competent When Release Was Signed/Statute of Limitations Tolled by Plaintiff's Mental Disability

 

The Third Department determined Supreme Court properly concluded the release signed by the plaintiff was not enforceable, because the plaintiff was not competent at the time it was signed, and the statute of limitations was tolled by plaintiff's mental disability. Plaintiff suffered a brain injury when he was struck by a car in 1991. A few months later plaintiff signed a release provided by an insurance adjuster in return for $5000.  The case languished for years and Supreme Court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the case in 2014. The court explained the relevant law:

 

With respect to the release signed by plaintiff, "the burden of proving incompetence rests upon the party asserting incapacity to enter into an agreement [and], to prevail, plaintiff was required to establish that [his] 'mind was so affected as to render [him] wholly and absolutely incompetent to comprehend and understand the nature of the transaction'" ... . The incapacity must be shown to exist at the time the pertinent document was executed ... . Regarding the statute of limitations issue, the toll for "insanity" provided by CPLR 208 is narrowly interpreted, the concept of insanity is "equated with unsoundness of mind" ... and encompasses "only those individuals who are unable to protect their legal rights because of an over-all inability to function in society" ... . The mental incapacity must exist at or be caused by the accident and continue during the relevant time ... . Lynch v Carlozzi, 2015 NY Slip Op 04893, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Reverse-Batson Challenge to the Peremptory Challenge of a White Woman by Defense Counsel Properly Sustained/Judge's Failure to Inform and Seek the Input of the Parties Re: a Jury Note Was a Mode of Proceedings Error Requiring Reversal

 

The Second Department determined the trial judge properly sustained the prosecutor's "reverse-Batson" challenge to a peremptory challenge to a white woman by defense counsel.  Defense counsel's proffered reason, that the juror had her head down and would be a "wall flower" following others on the jury, was deemed pretextual.  The proffered reason was entirely subjective and was not based upon the voir dire.  Reversal of the conviction was warranted, however, because the trial judge did not inform and seek the input of the parties in response to a jury.  Preservation of the error was not required because the record did not reflect that defense counsel was made aware of the contents of the note prior to the judge's answering it in the jury's presence:

 

"Although not entirely insulated from review, the determination of whether an explanation [of the exercise of a peremptory challenge to a a juror in response to a reverse-Batson challenge by the prosecutor] is merely pretextual is generally a matter for the Trial Judge, whose findings are entitled to great deference" ... . This is particularly true where, as here, the reason for challenging a prospective juror is based upon certain nonverbal responses and reactions of the prospective juror, which the trial court had the opportunity to observe ... . However, "[a]lthough a proffered race- [or gender-] neutral explanation for the exclusion of a potential juror need not rise to the level required to challenge a venireperson for cause,' . . . the burden cannot be met by merely claiming good faith and denying discriminatory purpose" ... . Here, the reason proffered by defense counsel for exercising the peremptory challenge against the subject prospective juror was that, during voir dire, "[s]he had her head down the entire time and was kind of looking down through this process," from which counsel concluded that she was "going to be a wall flower[ ] and just kind[ ] of go with the flow." This explanation was purely intuitive and based on counsel's subjective impression rather than upon facts adduced at voir dire ... . To accept the defendant's bare assertion, unsupported by any factual basis, that the prospective juror was neutral and would not be a strong juror for the defense would be, in effect, to accept no reason at all ... . There is nothing in the record to support defense counsel's purported conclusion that this prospective juror—a 68-year-old sales associate who had previously sat on a jury, did not know anyone in law enforcement, and, unlike many of the prospective jurors, had not been the victim of a crime—would be a weak juror for the defense. * * *

 

... [T]he jury advised: "We have one juror that feels she cannot make a decision based on the evidence presented to us." Instead of marking the note as an exhibit and reading it aloud on the record to the parties prior to calling in the jury, the court read the note on the record for the first time in front of the jurors, and then immediately responded by issuing a truncated Allen charge ..., encouraging continuing deliberations. This jury note "called for a substantive response that required careful crafting after hearing argument from both the People and the defense" ... . Yet there is no indication that the court provided notice to defense counsel and the prosecutor of the contents of the note or "a full opportunity to suggest appropriate responses" ... . "[B]y depriving the defendant of meaningful notice of the communication [and] a meaningful opportunity to participate in the formulation of the court's response," the court failed to fulfill its "core responsibility" under CPL 310.30, thereby committing an error affecting "the mode of the proceedings" ... . Such an error "need not be preserved, and prejudice manifestly results" ... . Thus, despite defense counsel's failure to object to the Supreme Court's handling of the jury's notes, reversal is required ... .

 

The People are correct that a timely objection to an alleged O'Rama error may be required where defense counsel had "knowledge of the substance of the court's intended response" ... . However, while the record shows that a discussion was held off the record at the sidebar immediately before the Supreme Court directed the court officer to "bring them in," it is not evident from the record that defense counsel had knowledge of the contents of the note or how the court would respond to the note. Rather, as far as the record reveals, defense counsel first learned of the court's response at the same time the jury heard it ... . Where a trial transcript does not show compliance with O'Rama's procedure as required by law, we cannot assume that the omission was remedied at an off-the-record conference that the transcript does not refer to ... . People v Brown, 2015 NY Slip Op 04860, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Concurrent Inclusory Counts Dismissed Despite Lack of Preservation

 

The Fourth Department determined the lesser inclusory counts of vehicular manslaughter in the first degree must be dismissed, despite lack of preservation:

 

... [C]ounts four, five and seven must be dismissed as lesser inclusory counts of count three, vehicular manslaughter in the first degree. Initially, we note that defendant's failure to preserve the issue for our review is of no moment because preservation is not required ... . With respect to the merits, "concurrent counts are inclusory when the offense charged in one is greater than that charged in the other and when the latter is a lesser offense included within the greater" ... . Thus, where, as here, "it is impossible to commit a particular crime without concomitantly committing, by the same conduct, []other offense[s] of lesser grade or degree, the latter [are], with respect to the former, . . . lesser included offense[s]" ... . Because it is impossible to commit the crime of vehicular manslaughter in the first degree under Penal Law § 125.13 (4), without concomitantly committing the crime of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree under Penal Law § 125.12, or without concomitantly committing the crime of, inter alia, driving while ability impaired by drugs under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 (4), the latter two crimes are inclusory concurrent counts of the former crime. We therefore modify the judgment by dismissing the three counts of the indictment charging the latter two crimes. People v Bank, 2015 NY Slip Op 04954, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Hearsay Statement Did Not Meet the "Reliability" Requirement for Admissibility as a Statement Against Penal Interest

 

The First Department determined defendant's friend's alleged hearsay statement that he, not defendant, assaulted the victim was properly precluded. The statement did not meet the "reliability" requirement for admissibility as a statement against penal interest (an exception to the hearsay rule):

 

This hearsay evidence did not satisfy the reliability requirement for admissibility under the exception for declarations against penal interest ..., or under a due process theory ... . Defendant's friend told defense counsel that he neither committed the assault nor made the alleged statements, the statements were contradicted by trial witnesses who testified that the friend was nearby but did not participate in the assault, the statements were allegedly made to persons closely aligned with defendant, and recorded phone calls raised suspicion that defendant had made efforts to manufacture exculpatory evidence. All these factors undermined any reliability this hearsay evidence may have had ... . People v Jones, 2015 NY Slip Op 04781, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Sworn Juror Who Was From the Same Neighborhood as Defendant Stated His Fear of Drug Dealers Would Prevent Him from Reaching an Impartial Verdict---the Juror Was Properly Discharged as "Grossly Unqualified" and "For Cause" Based Upon a Newly Discovered Ground

 

The First Department determined a sworn juror was properly discharged as "grossly unqualified," as well as "for cause." The juror lived in the neighborhood where the crime occurred and where defendant and his accomplices lived. The juror told the court that his fear of drug dealers in his neighborhood would prevent him from reaching an impartial verdict. The juror had not mentioned his fear before he was sworn:

 

The juror's fear provided grounds for the court to dismiss him as "grossly unqualified to serve" pursuant to CPL 270.35(1), even if the court did not cite the statutory phrasing, because it was clear that the juror could not remain impartial. Additionally, since the juror had not mentioned that he feared for his safety when questioned by the court and the parties before being sworn, he was properly discharged for cause, on a newly discovered ground, pursuant to CPL 270.15(4). People v Ward, 2015 NY Slip Op 04928, 1st Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/ATTORNEYS

 

Defense Counsel's Failure to Pursue a Minimal Investigation (i.e., Failure to Access Defendant's Psychiatric Records and Failure to Have the Defendant Examined by an Independent Psychiatrist) Constituted Ineffective Assistance of Counsel---Conviction Reversed

 

The Second Department determined defendant's motion to vacate his conviction should have been granted.  Defendant suffered from mental illness and had been hospitalized for psychiatric disorders.  The trial court had granted defense counsel permission to access to defendant's psychiatric records and had granted authorization for the appointment of an independent psychiatrist to evaluate defendant.  Defense counsel did not seek the psychiatric records, nor the evaluation by the independent psychiatrist.  The Second Department, after an in-depth explanation of the criteria, held that defendant was deprived of effective assistance of counsel.  The court noted that the ground at issue here, defense counsel's failure to pursue minimal investigation, required reversal without a showing that the result of the trial would have been different had the investigation been conducted:

 

A criminal defendant is guaranteed the effective assistance of counsel under both the federal and the state constitutions (see US Const Amend VI; NY Const, art I, § 6). Generally, to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under the United States Constitution, a defendant must show, first, "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness" ..., and, second, "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different" ... .

 

Under the New York Constitution, a defendant must show that he was not afforded "meaningful representation" ... , which also entails a two-pronged test, "with the first prong identical to its federal counterpart" ..., and the second being a "prejudice component [which] focuses on the fairness of the process as a whole rather than its particular impact on the outcome of the case'" ... and, thus, is "somewhat more favorable to defendants" ... . A reviewing court must examine whether "the evidence, the law, and the circumstances of [the] particular case, viewed in totality and as of the time of the representation, reveal that the attorney provided meaningful representation" ... .

Under both state and federal law, a defendant's right to the effective assistance of counsel includes assistance by an attorney who has conducted a reasonable investigation into the relevant facts and law to determine whether matters of defense can be developed ... .

 

Generally, in order to make out a claim of ineffective assistance under the New York Constitution, a defendant is required to make some showing of prejudice, albeit not necessarily the "but for" prejudice required under federal law ... . However, prejudice is not an "indispensable element in assessing meaningful representation" ... . The Court of Appeals has indicated that counsel's failure to pursue the minimal investigation appropriate with respect to an issue central to the defense itself "seriously compromises [the] defendant's right to a fair trial," regardless of whether the information would have altered the uninformed strategy counsel employed, or otherwise helped the defense ... .

 

Here, the People's case hinged almost entirely on their ability to prove the defendant's state of mind, and trial counsel undisputedly failed to take the minimal steps of obtaining the defendant's psychiatric records and having him evaluated by an expert, which were necessary to make an informed decision as to whether or not to present a psychiatric defense. Under the circumstances of this case, the People's argument that, even with the benefit of the evidence trial counsel should have obtained, there is no reasonable chance that a mental disease or defect or EED defense would have been successful, or that the outcome of the trial would otherwise have been different, misconstrues the central issue in this case. The issue is not whether trial counsel's choice to have certain documents excluded from the record constitutes a legitimate trial strategy, but whether the failure to secure and review crucial documents, that would have undeniably provided valuable information to assist counsel in developing a strategy during the pretrial investigation phase of a criminal case, constitutes meaningful representation as a matter of law ... . Trial counsel's "total failure" in this regard deprived the defendant of meaningful representation ... . People v Graham,2015 NY Slip Op 04862, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE/APPEALS

 

Seizure of Evidence from the Pocket of the Defendant After a Pat-Down Search on the Street Not Justified Under the "Inevitable Discovery" Exception to the Warrant Requirement---the Doctrine Does Not Apply to "the Very Evidence Obtained in the Illegal Search"---A Justification for the Search and Seizure Not Relied Upon by the People Below Can Not Be Raised on Appeal

 

The Second Department determined defendant's motion to suppress jewelry taken from his pocket after pat-down search on the street should have been granted.  At the suppression hearing, the People did not argue that the officer who stopped the defendant had probable cause to arrest the defendant at the time of the pat-down search.  Therefore, the Second Department noted, that argument could not be raised by the People on appeal. At the suppression hearing, the People argued that the jewelry was admissible under the "inevitable discovery" exception to the warrant requirement. However, the "inevitable discovery" exception does not apply to "the very evidence obtained in the illegal search:"

 

At the suppression hearing, the People expressly disclaimed reliance on the theory that the search of the defendant and the seizure of the jewelry from his pants pocket was justified because the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant at the moment he was stopped, and the hearing court did not address that theory. Thus, the People may not assert this theory on appeal ... . Instead, the People argued that the jewelry inevitably would have been discovered, and the Supreme Court relied on that theory in denying that branch of the defendant's motion which was to suppress the jewelry. The court properly determined that the record does not support a finding that the police officer legitimately believed that the jewelry might be some kind of weapon ... . However, as the People now correctly concede, the court erred in its determination that the jewelry inevitably would have been discovered through normal police procedures, as the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply to primary evidence, that is, "the very evidence obtained in the illegal search," such as the jewelry at issue here ... . Accordingly, that branch of the defendant's motion which was to suppress the jewelry should have been granted. People v Henagin, 2015 NY Slip Op 04864, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Defendant's Motion to Vacate His Conviction, Supported by Evidence that (1) the People May Have Violated Their "Brady" Obligation to Inform the Defense of a Plea Deal Made In Return for Testimony and (2) a Juror May Have Had a Mental Disability, Should Not Have Been Denied Without a Hearing

 

The Fourth Department determined defendant had made sufficient evidentiary showings that (1) the People may have failed to inform the defense of a plea bargain made with the codefendant in return for testimony against the defendant, and (2) a juror may have been unqualified due to a mental disability.  Therefore defendant's motion to vacate his conviction should not have been denied without a hearing;

 

Defendant moved to vacate the judgment on two grounds, neither of which may be decided without a hearing. First, he contended that the People violated their Brady obligation because they failed to disclose that they made a specific plea agreement with the codefendant at the start of the proceedings, contingent upon the codefendant testifying against defendant. Defendant contended that the People effectuated that agreement by, among other things, obtaining an indictment charging the codefendant with a lower level crime than the class B violent felony that was lodged against defendant, to avoid the plea bargaining restrictions in CPL 220.10 (5) (d) (ii), and by agreeing that the codefendant could withdraw his plea to the lower level felony and plead guilty to a misdemeanor if he cooperated against defendant. Defendant submitted evidence in support of his contentions, including transcripts of the prosecutor's statements in the codefendant's case regarding the agreement, and those transcripts also established that the prosecutor had discussed the agreement with the victim before it was implemented. * * *

 

The second ground advanced by defendant in support of his CPL article 440 motion was that a juror lacked the capacity to serve on the jury, and that the juror had misrepresented his employment status in response to questioning by the court. Defendant submitted some evidence establishing that the prospective juror may be developmentally disabled and that he may have misrepresented his prior and current employment, but defendant's investigator was unable to obtain more information without judicial subpoenas that the court declined to provide. Inasmuch as defendant submitted evidence that called into question "whether this particular juror should have been entrusted with the responsibilities of fact finding [because the juror] did not understand the lawyers or the judge" ..., the court further erred in denying the motion on the ground that the issue could be decided on direct appeal. People v Bailey, 2015 NY Slip Op 04987, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE/PRIVILEGE

 

New Evidence Demonstrated the Declarant, Not the Defendant, Committed the Murders of Which Defendant Was Convicted---Motion to Vacate Defendants' Convictions Properly Granted

 

The Fourth Department affirmed County Court's vacation of defendant's murder convictions, after a hearing, based upon newly discovered evidence. Although the "declarant" did not testify, witnesses testified declarant admitted killing the two persons defendant had been convicted of murdering. There was considerable evidence supporting the reliability of the declarant's statements. The court noted that the declarant's statements were admissible under an exception to the hearsay rule as "statements against penal interest" and it was reasonable to assume the declarant was "unavailable" (a requirement for admissibility) because he would assert his right to remain silent if called as a witness. The court further noted that the testimony of declarant's ex-wife was not protected by spousal privilege. Declarant's threat to kill his wife if she reported the murders to the police removed the "communications from the protection of privilege:"

 

Contrary to the People's contention, County Court properly determined, following a hearing, that defendant proved by a preponderance of the evidence that "[n]ew evidence has been discovered since the entry of [the] judgment . . . , which could not have been produced by the defendant at the trial even with due diligence on his part and which is of such character as to create a probability that had such evidence been received at the trial the verdict would have been more favorable to the defendant" (CPL 440.10 [1] [g]; see CPL 440.40 [6]). People v Pierre, 2015 NY Slip Op 04985, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Sentence Vacated---Sentencing Judge Relied on Materially Untrue Assumptions and Misinformation About Defendant's Criminal History

 

Although the error was not preserved, the Fourth Department, in the interest of justice, determined defendant's sentence should be vacated.  At sentencing, the judge made statements alleging past criminal acts by the defendant which were unsupported by the record:

 

... [W]e conclude that the court erred in sentencing defendant on the basis of "materially untrue assumptions or misinformation" ... . Here, the court characterized defendant as having been involved in "more than 40 residential burglaries" and "all the tens of burglaries," but those statements are unsupported by the record and therefore constitute improper speculation... . People v Mcknight, 2015 NY Slip Op 04961, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEFAMATION/EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW

 

The Absence of Proof Defendants Disclosed Slanderous Statements Included in Letters to Plaintiff Precluded a "Name-Clearing" Hearing/The Jury Should Not Have Been Allowed to Consider "Ostracism and Rejection" Damages Absent Proof Defendants Were Responsible for Republication of the Slanderous Remarks by Third Persons 

 

In a lawsuit stemming from allegedly slanderous remarks made by defendants in connection with plaintiff's termination from employment by the defendant school district, the Third Department determined plaintiff's petition for a name-clearing hearing should have been dismissed, because there was no evidence defendants disclosed the relevant letters to anyone, and the jury should not have been allowed to consider rumor-related "ostracism and rejection" damages, because there was no evidence defendants were responsible for the alleged repetition of the slander by third persons. A new trial on damages was ordered:

 

Proof of "ostracism and rejection" to establish damages for defamation is only admissible if the proof is "'the direct and well-connected result'" of a defamatory statement at issue ... . Further, even when a defendant's slanderous statement is connected by proof to that statement's republication, "'one who utters a slander . . . is not responsible for its voluntary and unjustifiable repetition, without his [or her] authority or request, by others over whom he [or she] has no control and who thereby make themselves liable to the person injured'" ... . This is because "each person who repeats the defamatory statement is responsible for the resulting damages" ... .

 

Plaintiff's proof regarding rumors and ostracism fail these tests. Plaintiff and her witnesses offered no proof that directly connected [defendants'] slanderous statements to the ostracism that plaintiff allegedly suffered ... . Further, even assuming that the content of the rumors allegedly spread by community members allowed for a reasonable inference that said community members were aware of [defendants'] slanderous statements, proof of republication was nonetheless improper given the absence of evidence that defendants had any knowledge of or played any role in such republication ... . Compounding the effect of the error, Supreme Court did not instruct the jury that plaintiff had the burden of proving that the ostracism harms that plaintiff allegedly suffered were actually connected to [defendants'] statements, despite defendants' request that it do so. Wilcox v Newark Val. Cent. School Dist., 2015 NY Slip Op 04890, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

DEFAMATION

 

Prima Facie Case of Defamation Made Out in the Complaint

 

The Fourth Department determined the complaint made out a prima facie case of defamation. The statements were included in a newspaper article and were attributed to defendant. The court succinctly explained the applicable law:

 

"The elements of a cause of action for defamation are a false statement, published without privilege or authorization to a third party, constituting fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence standard, and it must either cause special harm or constitute defamation per se"..., and we conclude that the complaint sufficiently alleges those elements and, thus, states a viable cause of action. We further conclude, contrary to defendant's contention, that the "particular words complained of" were sufficiently set forth in the complaint as required by CPLR 3016 (a) and, in any event, plaintiff attached to the complaint the full Niagara Falls Reporter article containing the alleged defamatory statements ... . Defendant contends that, because he did not participate in the drafting of the Niagara Falls Reporter article, he cannot be held liable for defamation and, thus, the court properly granted his cross motion. That contention is without merit. It is well established that "[a]nyone giving a statement to a representative of a newspaper authorizing or intending its publication is responsible for any damage caused by the publication" ... . Accadia Site Contr., Inc. v Skurka, 2015 NY Slip Op 04958, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

 

VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW/CRIMINAL LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Revocation of Driver's License for Refusal of the Chemical Test Reversed---No "Reasonable Suspicion" to Justify Vehicle Stop

 

Petitioner was arrested for driving while intoxicated and refused the chemical test.  As a result petitioner's license was revoked by an administrative law judge.  The Second Department annulled the determination of the Department of Motor Vehicles Appeals Board (which upheld the revocation).  The court determined the arresting officer did not have "reasonable suspicion" justifying the initial stop.  Petitioner was in a parked car with the engine running. The officer parked behind petitioner's car, blocking any exit, and then approached the car. Only then did the officer notice signs of intoxication:

 

At a hearing held pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194, the hearing officer is required to determine, inter alia, whether the police lawfully arrested the operator of the motor vehicle for operating such vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 ... . In order for an arrest to be lawful, the initial stop must itself be lawful (see People v De Bour, 40 NY2d 210, 222). Under the circumstances of this case, where the officer prevented the petitioner from departing, activated his vehicle's emergency lights, and shined a light into the petitioner's parked vehicle, a forcible stop and detention occurred ... . The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, failed to establish that there was reasonable suspicion to justify the forcible stop and detention of the petitioner's person or vehicle ... and, accordingly, the challenged determination cannot be sustained. Matter of Stewart v Fiala, 2015 NY Slip Op 04857, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

 

EDUCATION-SCHOOL LAW/ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

The Three-Year Statute of Limitations in the Education Law Need Not Be Raised as a Defense---Here the Charges Against a Teacher Were Time-Barred---The Department of Education (DOE) Did Not Demonstrate the Charges Were Criminal (to Which the Three-Year Statute Would Not Have Applied)

 

The First Department determined the third set of charges brought against petitioner-teacher, alleging the teacher improperly obtained his daughter's admission to NYC Department of Education (DOE) schools for which she was not zoned, was time-barred.  Although the three-year statute of limitations in the Education Law would not apply had the allegations constituted a crime, the hearing officer did not find the teacher's conduct to be criminal. The court determined that the first two set of charges against the teacher did not justify termination (the penalty imposed) and remitted the matter for a lesser punishment. The court noted that the statute of limitations in the Education Law need not be raised as a defense:

 

Supreme Court did not exceed its authority in finding that the third set of charges against petitioner was time-barred. Education Law § 3020-a(1) requires that disciplinary charges against a teacher be brought within three years from the date of the alleged misconduct, unless the alleged misconduct constituted a crime when committed. Petitioner was not required to raise the statutory time limitation set forth in Education Law § 3020-a(1) as a defense in the disciplinary proceeding. Where, as here, "a statute creates a right unknown at common law, and also establishes a time period within which the right may be asserted, the time limit is . . . a condition attached to the right as distinguished from a [s]tatute of [l]imitations which must be asserted by way of defense" ... . Accordingly, DOE had the burden of establishing that it met the time requirement set forth in Education Law § 3020-a(1) or that the crime exception to the time requirement applied ... . DOE failed to meet its burden. Matter of Suker v New York City Board/ Dept. of Educ., 2015 NY Slip Op 04940, 1st Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Dry-Cleaning Chemical, PERC, Is Not "Petroleum" Within the Meaning of the Navigation Law---Plaintiff's Suit for Clean-Up of PERC Under the Navigation Law Properly Dismissed

 

The Third Department determined the Navigation Law did not confer upon plaintiff a private right of action to sue for clean-up of PERC, a chemical used in dry cleaning.  Plaintiff is the owner of a shopping plaza and sued the estate of the owner a of dry cleaning business that was located in the plaza after PERC was found in the soil. The Navigation Law provides a private right of action to sue for the clean-up of "petroleum." Although PERC is derived from petroleum, the court held PERC does not constitute petroleum within the meaning of the Navigation Law:

 

Essentially, plaintiff argues that this finding that PERC is petroleum derived is sufficient to support imposition of liability under the Navigation Law. This would constitute a novel expansion of the law; plaintiff does not cite to, nor can we find, any case in which PERC has been deemed to constitute petroleum under the Navigation Law. At least two other courts have come to the opposite conclusion, finding that PERC does not constitute petroleum under the Navigation Law ... . As defendant argues, the vast and diverse range of products and substances derived from petroleum — many of which pose none of the same dangers as petroleum itself — would make a per se rule imposing liability for the discharge of any petroleum-derived substance unworkable. Accordingly, we find no error in Supreme Court's determination that PERC is not petroleum as defined under Navigation Law article 12 ... . Fairview Plaza, Inc. v Estate of Peter J. Rigos, 2015 NY Slip Op 04901, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW/EVIDENCE

 

Although a Prima Facie Case of Abuse and Neglect Was Made Out, Father's Expert Provided Persuasive Evidence the Child's Injuries Were Not the Result of Abuse---The Abuse and Neglect Findings Were Not, Therefore, Supported by a Preponderance of the Evidence

 

The Third Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice McCarthy, reversed Family Court's finding that father abused and neglected his infant daughter (Nora).  The trial was essentially a "battle of experts" [Patno was the Department of Social Service's expert; Scheller was father's expert]. The Third Department determined the Department of Social Services had made out a prima facie case of abuse and neglect (expert testimony that Nora's physical condition was caused by shaking) but, under a weight of the evidence analysis, father's expert provided the best explanation for Nora's injuries---an explanation which did not implicate father.  The court noted that father did not exhibit any characteristics associated with an abusive parent and father's expert's "testimony, which was consistent with conclusions of Nora's treating physicians and her medical records in crucial respects, offered a reasonable and persuasive account of how Nora's symptoms — and lack thereof — better supported his ... diagnosis:"

 

.... [T]he uncontested evidence showed that Nora did not suffer external trauma ..., broken bones or neck injuries ..., and she had a one-sided retinal hemorrhage ... . Further, the father, a professional pediatric nurse, exhibited none of the characteristics thought to be diagnostically predictive of a perpetrator of abusive head trauma ..., and he consistently denied that he mishandled Nora ... . The single characteristic that Nora was fussy — while perhaps almost always present in victims of abusive head trauma — fails to meaningfully support Patno's diagnosis over Scheller's diagnosis, given the vast number of fussy infants who are never physically abused. Further, while Patno testified that abusive head trauma from shaking often results in a triad of symptoms that include subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhaging and brain swelling ..., the medical evidence uniformly established that Nora did not suffer from brain swelling. Additionally, Scheller and Adamo — petitioner's witness — were substantially in agreement that Nora's single-sided retinal hemorrhaging could be the specific result of the subdural hematoma, rather than a direct result of any potential trauma. Patno failed to offer any explanation regarding the merits of such a theory or even an opinion as to whether she believed that such one-sided retinal hemorrhaging was the direct result of shaking ... . Accordingly, given Patno's lack of specificity regarding the one-sided retinal hemorrhage, it is unclear whether she believed that evidence of a fussy infant who had suffered a subdural hematoma was, by itself, sufficient to diagnose abusive head trauma. Matter of Natalie AA. (Kyle AA.), 2015 NY Slip Op 04889, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Child's Unemancipated Status Was Revived Entitling Father to Child Support

 

The Fourth Department determined the child's moving in with father after becoming emancipated by leaving mother's residence revived his unemancipated status, thereby entitling father to child support.  The child left mother to avoid her rules, including rules prohibiting the use of drugs. After living with friends for a while, the child sought treatment for drug addiction.  It was thereafter the child moved in with father:

 

"[T]he case law makes clear that a child's unemancipated status may be revived provided there has been a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant the corresponding change in status" ... . "Permitting reversion to unemancipated status is consistent with the statutory principle that parents are responsible for the support of their dependent children until the children attain the age of 21" ... . Generally, a return to the parents' custody and control has been deemed sufficient to revive a child's unemancipated status ... . Although most of the cases concerning a revival of a child's unemancipated status involve a child's return to the home that he or she abandoned versus the home of the noncustodial parent ..., we conclude that the return to the noncustodial parent's supervision and control does not preclude a revival of unemancipated status inasmuch as it has generally been held that "the move from one parent's home to the other parent's home does not constitute emancipation as th[e] child is neither self-supporting nor free from parental control" ... . In this case, the child did not immediately move in with the father after flouting the mother's rules ... . Rather, he engaged in treatment for his addiction and then resumed living under the supervision and control of a parent while attending school. Baker v Baker, 2015 NY Slip Op 05045, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

FRAUD/AGENCY/EMPLOYMENT LAW/INSURANCE LAW

 

Defendant's Employee Had "Apparent Authority" to Act on Behalf of Defendant Insurance Agency---Plaintiff Justifiably Relied on the Apparent Authority When It Purchased a Fake Policy from Defendant's Employee--Plaintiff Entitled to Partial Summary Judgment on the Fraud Cause of Action

 

The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, determined plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on its fraud cause of action against defendant insurance agency.  An employee of the insurance agency issued a fake workers' compensation policy to the plaintiff. The Fourth Department found that the actions of the insurance agency provided the employee with "apparent authority" to issue the policy and the plaintiff justifiably relied on that apparent authority.  The relevant law was succinctly explained:

 

"In an action to recover damages for fraud, the plaintiff must prove a misrepresentation or a material omission of fact which was false and known to be false by [the maker], made for the purpose of inducing the other party to rely upon it, justifiable reliance of the other party on the misrepresentation or material omission, and injury" ... . It is undisputed that the insurance policy purportedly issued by AIG was false, and thus plaintiff established that a false representation was made that was known to be false by defendant's employee. Defendant contends, however, that the justifiable reliance element was not met because it cannot be liable for the acts of its employee, and plaintiff's reliance on the alleged "apparent authority" of defendant's employee was not reasonable.

 

It is axiomatic that "[t]he mere creation of an agency for some purpose does not automatically invest the agent with apparent authority' to bind the principle without limitation . . . An agent's power to bind his [or her] principal is coextensive with the principal's grant of authority" ... . "Essential to the creation of apparent authority are words or conduct of the principal, communicated to the third party, that give rise to the appearance and belief that the agent possesses authority to enter into a transaction. The agent cannot by his [or her] own acts imbue himself [or herself] with apparent authority. Rather, the existence of "apparent authority" depends upon a factual showing that the third party relied upon the misrepresentation of the agent because of some misleading conduct on the part of the principal — not the agent' . . . Morever, a third party with whom the agent deals may rely on an appearance of authority only to the extent that such reliance is reasonable" ... . Here, plaintiff contacted defendant seeking workers' compensation coverage, and defendant assigned its employee who specialized in plaintiff's type of business to assist plaintiff. We therefore conclude that plaintiff established that it reasonably relied upon the authority of defendant's employee to act for defendant. Regency Oaks Corp. v Norman-Spencer McKernan, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04959, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW

 

Industrial Code Provision Which Prohibits Allowing an Employee to Use an "Elevated Working Surface Which Is In a Slippery Condition" Does Not Apply to Snow Removal/The Injury---a Slip and Fall While Shoveling Snow---Was Caused by "An Integral Part of the Work"

 

Plaintiff was directed to remove snow from the work site and slipped and fell in the process. The Third Department affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's Labor Law 241(6) cause of action because the cited industrial code provision (12 NYCRR 23-1.7 (d)) did not apply to the work plaintiff was assigned. The industrial code prohibited allowing an employee to use an "elevated working surface which is in a slippery condition." However, where the injury is caused by "an integral part of the work" being performed (here, removal of the slippery condition) that industrial code provision does not apply:

 

... [P]laintiff cites 12 NYCRR 23-1.7 (d), which prohibits an employer from allowing an employee to use an "elevated working surface which is in a slippery condition." However, when the injury is caused by "an integral part of the work" being performed, 12 NYCRR 23.1-7 does not apply ... . In other words, liability does not attach when the injury is caused by the "'very condition [a plaintiff] was charged with removing'" ... . ... Here, plaintiff was injured due to the condition that he was specifically charged with removing ... , Barros v Bette & Cring, LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 04910, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW

 

Plaintiff Entitled to Summary Judgment on Labor Law 240 (1) Cause of Action---Plaintiff Was Standing on an A-Frame Ladder When It Swayed and Tipped Over

 

The Second Department determined plaintiff, Casasola, was entitled to summary judgment on his Labor Law 240 (1) cause of action.  Plaintiff was standing on an unsecured A-frame ladder when it swayed and tipped over. The incident occurred when Casasola was working on property owned by the State of New York. The court noted that, to be liable, the property owner need not have exercised any control over the work.  All the plaintiff must show is the violation of a statute proximately caused his injury:

 

Labor Law § 240(1) provides that "[a]ll contractors and owners and their agents . . . shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected . . . scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to [construction workers employed on the premises]" ... . The purpose of this statute, commonly referred to as the "scaffold law," is to protect workers "by placing ultimate responsibility for safety practices at building construction jobs where such responsibility actually belongs, on the owner and general contractor, instead of on workers, who are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from accident" ... . Casasola v State of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 04798, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW

 

Plaintiff Who Fell From Scaffolding Which Did Not Have Safety Rails Entitled to Summary Judgment on His Labor Law 240(1) Cause of Action

 

The Second Department determined plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on his Labor Law 240 (1) cause of action based upon his fall from scaffolding which did not have safety rails. The relevant law was succinctly explained:

 

Labor Law § 240(1) imposes a nondelegable duty upon owners, lessees that control the work performed, and general contractors to provide safety devices necessary to protect workers from risks inherent in elevated work sites ... . "To recover on a cause of action pursuant to Labor Law § 240(1), a plaintiff must demonstrate that there was a violation of the statute, and that the violation was a proximate cause of the accident" ... . Here, the plaintiff established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that he was injured when he fell from a scaffold which lacked safety rails on the sides and that he was not provided with a safety device to prevent him from falling ... . Vasquez-Roldan v Two Little Red Hens, Ltd., 2015 NY Slip Op 04842, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Injury While Lowering a Heavy Tank Entitled Plaintiff to Summary Judgment on His Labor Law 240 (1) Claim---Party's Cross Motion Should Not Have Been Denied for Failure to Attach Pleadings---the Pleadings Had Been Provided to the Court by Other Parties

 

The First Department determined plaintiff was properly awarded summary judgment on his Labor Law 240 (1) claim.  A rope attached to a heavy tank being lowered down some stairs by plaintiff severed one finger and a portion of another ("grave injury"). The court found that the incident was gravity-related, plaintiff was not provided with adequate safety devices, and plaintiff's actions were not the sole proximate cause of his injury. The court noted that another party's cross-motion for summary judgment should not have been denied on the ground the pleadings were not attached to the motion papers.  The pleadings had been provided to the court by other parties. Serowik v Leardon Boiler Works Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04773, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

MEDICAID

 

Prior Owner of a Nursing Home Did Not Have Standing to Seek Payments from Medicaid for the Period During His Ownership---Only the Current Owner/Operator of the Nursing Home Had Standing

 

The Third Department determined petitioner, the former owner of a nursing home, did not have standing to seek payments from Medicaid for the period before petitioner sold the nursing home.  Only the current operator of the nursing home has standing to seek Medicaid payments. The court noted that petitioner had protected his interest in the payments by contract with the new owner of the nursing home:

 

Standing requires a party to demonstrate both an injury-in-fact and an injury falling "within the zone of interests or concerns sought to be promoted or protected by the statutory provision under which the agency has acted" ... . Petitioner has clearly demonstrated an injury-in-fact particularly since it initiated the rate appeal while it was still the owner/operator ... . The more difficult question is whether petitioner meets the zone of interests component as a former owner/operator. Our review shows that the governing statute and regulations contemplate the payment of Medicaid reimbursement to the current provider of medical services or the current operator of a nursing home facility. Specifically, Social Services Law § 367-a (1) (a) mandates that all payments "shall be made to the person, institution, state department or agency or municipality supplying such medical assistance" and expressly prohibits the assignment of a reimbursement claim to a third party. This legislation was designed to "relieve DOH from the potential liability and increased administrative burdens involved in such assignments" (Legislative Mem, 1971 McKinney's Session Laws of NY at 2419-2420...). Correspondingly, nursing home facilities qualify for Medicaid payments provided that they possess a valid operating certificate issued by the Commissioner (see Public Health Law § 2801 [2], [3], [4] [b]; 10 NYCRR 86-2.1 [a]). An operating certificate "shall only be used by the established operator for the designated site or operation" (10 NYCRR 401.2 [b]). When, as here, the owner/operator sells a facility to a party who intends to continue operating the facility, it may transfer the operating certificate to the new operator only upon approval of the Public Health Council (see 10 NYCRR 401.3 [c]). Read together, these provisions establish that it is the current operator of a nursing home facility — i.e., the holder of a valid operating certificate — that is entitled to receive Medicaid payments and, thus, is the protected party within the statutory zone of interest. Matter of Park Manor Rehabilitation & Health Care Ctr., LLC v Shah, 2015 NY Slip Op 04909, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Court's Equitable Power to Set Aside a Foreclosure Sale as "An Instrument of Injustice" Explained and Applied

 

The Fourth Department, over a dissent, exercised its equitable power to set aside a foreclosure sale which, it determined, had been made an "instrument of injustice." The facts of the case, which include an extensive appellate history, defy adequate summarization here.  The court explained its equitable power to set aside the foreclosure sale:

 

It is well settled that, even after a judicial sale to a good faith purchaser, "[a] court may exercise its inherent equitable power over a sale made pursuant to its judgment or decree to ensure that it is not made the instrument of injustice . . . Although this power should be exercised sparingly and with great caution, a court of equity may set aside its own judicial sale upon grounds otherwise insufficient to confer an absolute legal right to a resale in order to relieve [a party] of oppressive or unfair conduct" ... . Generally, such discretion, "which is separate and distinct from any statutory authority" ..., is exercised where fraud, mistake, exploitive overreaching, misconduct, irregularity or collusion "casts suspicion on the fairness of the sale" ... . It may also be exercised where "the price is so inadequate as to shock the court's conscience" ... or where the judicial sale has been "made the instrument of injustice" ... .

 

While we agree with defendants that there has been no showing of fraud, mistake, exploitive overreaching, misconduct, irregularity or collusion, and the price is not so inadequate as to shock the conscience, we agree with plaintiff that, under the circumstances of this case, the judicial sale has been made the instrument of injustice. Altshuler Shaham Provident Funds, Ltd. v GML Tower LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 04952, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE/CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

"Lack of Standing" Defense to Foreclosure Action Is Waived If Not Raised in the Answer or a Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss

 

The Second Department determined plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on its foreclosure action, noting that any defense based upon plaintiff's alleged lack of standing was waived because it was not raised in the answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint:

 

"A party's alleged lack of standing to commence [an] action is a defense that is waived if not raised in an answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint" ... . "Where, as here, the defendants in a mortgage foreclosure action waive the issue of standing by failing to assert the defense in an answer or pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint (see CPLR 3211[e]), the plaintiff need not establish its standing in order to demonstrate its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law" ... . In this case, the plaintiff established, prima facie, its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law for the unpaid principal balance of the note ... . In this regard, the plaintiff presented the subject mortgage, the unpaid note, evidence of [defendant's] default, and evidence demonstrating that the unpaid principal balance remaining on the note totaled $434,382.89 ... . In opposition, [defendant] failed to raise a triable issue of fact ... . JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v Butler, 2015 NY Slip Op 04812, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/NEGLIGENCE/LANDLORD-TENANT

 

Late Notice of Claim Should Not Have Been Deemed Timely (Sua Sponte, Nunc Pro Tunc)---the 90 Days Started Running When Plaintiff's Asthma Symptoms Worsened, Not When a Doctor Connected the Symptoms to Mold in the Apartment---the Plaintiff Did Not Make a Motion for Permission to File a Late Notice of Claim

 

The First Department determined Supreme Court should not have, sua sponte (in the absence of a motion by the plaintiff), deemed plaintiff's late notice of claim timely filed nunc pro tunc. The claim alleged mold resulting from a leak in plaintiff's New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment exacerbated plaintiff's asthma.  The First Department found that the cause of action accrued when plaintiff's symptoms worsened, no later than February, 2011, not when a connection between the mold and plaintiff's symptoms was suggested by a doctor in March 2011:

 

[Plaintiff] was required to file a notice of claim within 90 days after "the date of [her] discovery of the injury" or the date on which "through the exercise of reasonable diligence the injury should have been discovered" (CPLR 214-c[3]; see General Municipal Law § 50-e[1][a]...). NYCHA established that plaintiff's claim accrued no later than February 2011, by relying on plaintiff's testimony that her asthma symptoms worsened, resulting in more frequent attacks and hospital visits, starting in September or December of 2010, or January or February of 2011, when she was prescribed additional medications, as reflected in her hospital records. Thus, the notice of claim, filed over 90 days later in June 2011, without leave of court, was late and without effect ... .

 

Plaintiff argues that her claim did not accrue until March 2011, when a doctor noted a connection between her symptoms and the mold in her apartment. However, a "cause of action for damages resulting from exposure to toxic substances accrues when the plaintiff begins to suffer the manifestations and symptoms of his or her physical condition, i.e.[,] when the injury is apparent, not when the specific cause of the injury is identified" ... .

 

The court lacked authority to deem the late notice of claim timely filed nunc pro tunc, since plaintiff never moved for such relief and the statutory time limitation for bringing the claim had already expired when NYCHA moved for summary judgment ... . Vincent v New York City Hous. Auth., 2015 NY Slip Op 04767, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/REAL PROPERTY LAW

 

Demolition of Building Without Notice or Opportunity to Be Heard Was a Proper Exercise of City's Police Powers

The Second Department determined summary judgment dismissing the complaint against the city, based upon the city's demolishing a building without notice or the opportunity to be heard, was properly granted:

 

"In the exercise of its police powers [a] municipality may demolish a building without providing notice and an opportunity to be heard if there are exigent circumstances which require immediate demolition of the building to protect the public from imminent danger" ... . "[W]here there is competent evidence allowing the official to reasonably believe that an emergency does in fact exist, or that affording pre-deprivation process would be otherwise impractical, the discretionary invocation of an emergency procedure results in a constitutional violation only where such invocation is arbitrary or amounts to an abuse of discretion" ... . Here, the defendant City of New York made a prima facie showing that its decision to cause the demolition of the subject building was not arbitrary or an abuse of discretion ... . In opposition, the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Iavarone v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 04811, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/CONTRACT LAW

 

Question of Fact Whether a Building Manager Owed a Duty to Plaintiff---Plaintiff, a Sidewalk Pedestrian, Was Struck by Window-Washing Equipment---The Window Washing Service Was an Independent Contractor Hired by the Building Manager---Question of Fact Raised Whether a Duty to the Plaintiff Ran from the Building Manager Because of the Inherently Dangerous Work the Independent Contractor Was Hired to Do and Because of the Nature of the Contract Between the Building Manager and the Building Owner---The Court Noted that the Property Owners Were Not Liable Because Ownership and Control of the Building on the Property Had Been Transferred (to the Building Owner)

 

The Second Department determined there was a question of fact whether a building manager (Milford) who hired a window washing service (Red Cap) could be liable for injury to a pedestrian (plaintiff) struck by a piece of window-washing equipment which fell. Although Red Cap was an independent contractor, plaintiff raised a question of fact about whether Milford owed a nondelegable duty to plaintiff because the work it hired Red Cap to do was inherently dangerous (in the absence of warning signs and pedestrian barriers) and whether the building management services contract between Milford and the building-owner (S & P) was sufficiently comprehensive and exclusive to create a duty running to plaintiff. The court noted that the property owners were not liable because ownership and control of the building (on the property) had been transferred (to the building-owner):

 

Milford established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting proof that Red Cap was an independent contractor and, thus, it could not be held liable for Red Cap's negligent acts ..., and that, as S & P's contractual managing agent, it owed no duty to the plaintiff ... . However, in opposition, the plaintiff raised triable issues of fact as to whether Milford owed a nondelegable duty to the plaintiff because it knew or had reason to know that the work it hired Red Cap to perform was inherently dangerous to pedestrians in the absence of warning signs or barriers on the sidewalk below the window-washing apparatus ..., and whether the property management services agreement with S & P was sufficiently comprehensive and exclusive so as support a duty running to the plaintiff ... . Baek v Red Cap Servs., Ltd., 2015 NY Slip Op 04794, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/CONTRACT LAW

 

Management Agreement Did Not Give Rise to Tort Liability for Slip and Fall

 

In determining the management agreement with a hospital did not give rise to tort liability for a slip and fall on the hospital premises, the Second Department explained the relevant law:

 

"Generally, a contractual obligation, standing alone, will not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party" ... . However, there are three exceptions to this general rule: (1) where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of its duties, launches a force or instrument of harm or creates or exacerbates a hazardous condition; (2) where the plaintiff detrimentally relies on the continued performance of the contracting party's duties; and (3) where the contracting party has entirely displaced the other party's duty to maintain the premises safely ... . "As part of its prima facie showing, a contracting defendant is only required to negate the applicability of those Espinal exceptions that were expressly pleaded by the plaintiff or expressly set forth in the plaintiff's bill of particulars" ... .

 

Here, the plaintiffs alleged that Sodexo [the building manager] maintained and controlled the premises. Sodexo established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting evidence establishing that the plaintiffs were not parties to the management agreement and thus, it owed the injured plaintiff no duty of care ...; that the management agreement was not so comprehensive and exclusive as to displace the Hospital's duty to maintain the premises safely ...; and that it did not create the allegedly hazardous condition ... . In opposition, the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Sperling v Wyckoff Hgts. Hosp., 2015 NY Slip Op 04840, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

The Town's Actual or Constructive Notice of a Sidewalk Defect Does Not Obviate the Written Notice Requirement

 

The Second Department determined summary judgment was properly awarded to the town (re: an allegedly defective sidewalk where plaintiff fell) because the "written notice manually transcribed by the complainant" requirement was not met. The fact that there existed writings and email generated by the town concerning the defect, and the fact that the town may have had constructive or actual notice of the defect, did not obviate the written notice requirement:

 

"A municipality that has enacted a prior written notice statute may not be subjected to liability for injuries caused by a defective condition in a sidewalk unless it either has received written notice of the defect or an exception to the written notice requirement applies" ... . " The only two recognized exceptions to a prior written notice requirement are the municipality's affirmative creation of a defect or where the defect is created by the municipality's special use of the property'" ... . The affirmative negligence exception is limited to work done by a municipality that immediately results in the existence of a dangerous condition ... . Here, the Town has adopted a prior written notice law stating that written notices must be "manually subscribed by the complainant" and submitted to the Town Superintendent of Highways or the Town Clerk (Code of the Town of North Hempstead § 26-1). Wolin v Town of N. Hempstead, 2015 NY Slip Op 04846,, 2nd Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW/IMMUNITY

 

The County Was Negligent Per Se Due to Its Violation of the Provision of the Vehicle and Traffic Law Requiring Loads in Open Trucks be Covered---Plaintiff Was Struck by Debris Which Came Off an Uncovered Load---The Governmental Immunity Conferred by the Executive Law During a Response to an Emergency (the Truck Was Carrying Debris from the Clean-Up After Hurricane Irene) Did Not Extend to this Situation (Purpose and Scope of the Government's "Emergency" Immunity Under the Executive Law Explained)

 

Plaintiff was injured when a piece of lumber fell off an open truck owned by the county.  Plaintiff was driving her vehicle when the debris came off the county truck and struck her in the head. The county truck was being used to transport debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. The Third Department determined that, by transporting unsecured debris in an open truck, the county had violated Vehicle and Traffic Law 380-a (1) and, therefore, the county was negligent per se.  The court interpreted Vehicle and Traffic Law 380-a to mean that a prima facie case of a violation of the statute is made out by proof a load in an open truck was not covered. Once that showing is made, the owner of the truck will not be deemed to have violated the statute, despite the lack of a cover, if the owner can show the load was secure such that no cover was required. No such showing was possible here.  The court rejected the county's argument that the emergency-related immunity conferred by the Executive Law applied here. The court noted the purpose of the Executive-Law immunity is to allow the government to make decisions during an emergency---which roads to clear first, for instance---without fear of liability, but the "emergency" immunity did not insulate the county from liability for its negligence in every context:

 

Executive Law § 25 (1) provides that, "[u]pon the threat or occurrence of a disaster, the chief executive of any political subdivision is hereby authorized and empowered to and shall use any and all facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel and other resources of his [or her] political subdivision in such manner as may be necessary or appropriate to cope with the disaster or any emergency resulting therefrom." To be sure, this statute, which vests a political subdivision's chief executive "with the power to respond to a local disaster or the immediate threat of a disaster, . . . reflects an awareness by the . . . Legislature that in emergency situations prompt and immediate unilateral action is necessary to preserve and protect life and property" ... . Consistent with that awareness, the statute further provides, as noted previously, that "[a] political subdivision shall not be liable for any claim based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of any officer or employee in carrying out the provisions of this section" (Executive Law § 25 [5]).

 

In our view, the scope of the immunity conferred by Executive Law § 25 is clear. When faced with a disaster, a political subdivision's chief executive may, for example, decide where to set up a makeshift hospital or aid station, prioritize and determine which streets to clear or allocate supplies and personnel as he or she sees fit, and such discretionary determinations, in turn, will not serve as a basis upon which to expose the political subdivision to liability. In other words, a disgruntled homeowner who is confronted with a flooded basement and is living on an impassable residential street cannot seek to hold a locality liable for damages simply because its chief executive deemed it more important to first clear a path to the local hospital or to pump out the holding cells in the local police station. That said, the immunity conferred by Executive Law § 25 (5) does not, to our analysis, grant a political subdivision carte blanche to perform a discretionary function in any manner that it sees fit — particularly in a manner that poses a danger to the traveling public. Here, a valid — and discretionary — determination may well have been made that the removal of storm debris from, among other locations, the DPW garage was a priority and, further, that transporting such debris in open containers was the most efficient and expeditious way to do so. The discretionary nature of these broad, resource-based decisions, however, did not obviate the need for defendants to comply with the provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 380-a (1) in terms of the actual transport of such debris. As the immunity conferred by Executive Law § 25 (5) does not, in our view, extend to the particular facts of this case, Supreme Court properly denied defendants' cross motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint. ...

 

Vehicle and Traffic Law § 380-a (1), which provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful to operate on any public highway any open truck or trailer being utilized for the transportation of any loose substances, unless said truck or trailer has a cover, tarpaulin or other device of a type and specification . . . which completely closes in the opening on. . . said truck or trailer while said truck or trailer shall be so operated, so as to prevent the falling of any such substances therefrom. However, if the load is arranged so that no loose substance can fall from or blow out of such truck, the covering is not necessary." * * *

 

In our view, in order to discharge her initial burden on her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff need only have shown that defendants failed to utilize a cover; at that point, the burden shifted to defendants to demonstrate that no statutory violation actually occurred because the load was arranged in such a manner that no cover was necessary. To hold otherwise would place a nearly insurmountable burden upon plaintiff, as the manner in which the container was loaded and the contents were arranged inevitably lies within the exclusive knowledge of defendants... . Pierce v Hickey, 2015 NY Slip Op 04914, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

 

Questions of Fact About the Sequence of Two Rear-End Collisions Precluded Summary Judgment

 

The First Department, over a dissent, determined questions of fact about the sequence of rear-end collisions precluded summary judgment.  DiPaoli, the driver of the front vehicle, was at a complete stop at a red light. The middle vehicle was driven by Passos, the plaintiff.  The last vehicle was an MTA bus.  From the deposition testimony, it was unclear whether the plaintiff's vehicle struck the first vehicle before the bus struck plaintiff's vehicle. The court explained the applicable law:

 

When approaching another vehicle from behind, drivers are required to maintain a reasonably safe rate of speed, maintain control over the vehicle, and use reasonable care to avoid a collision, by, among other things, including maintaining a safe distance (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129[a]). Under the law applicable to rear end collisions, a presumption of negligence is established by proof that a stopped car was struck in the rear ... . However, that presumption can be rebutted if the operator of the rear vehicle comes forward with an adequate non-negligent explanation for the accident ... . Passos v MTA Bus Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 04916, 1st Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/PRODUCTS LIABILITY

 

Dismantling, Salvaging or Demolishing a Product Is Not a Foreseeable Use of the Product

 

The First Department determined the dismantling, salvaging and demolishing of valves containing asbestos did not constitute a foreseeable use of the valves.  The complaint against the manufacturer of the valves, sounding in strict products liability and negligence, was dismissed. 

 

"A manufacturer who sells a product in a defective condition is liable for injury which results to another when the product is used for its intended purpose or for an unintended but reasonably foreseeable purpose" (Lugo v LJN Toys, 75 NY2d 850, 852 1990] [citations omitted]; see also New Holland at 53-54). The issue, which has not been squarely addressed by the courts of this State, is whether dismantling constitutes a reasonably foreseeable use of a product.  * * *

 

"To recover for injuries caused by a defective product, the defect must have been a substantial factor in causing the injury, and the product must have been used for the purpose and in the manner normally intended or in a manner reasonably foreseeable'" ... . As plaintiff did not use [defendant's] manufactured product in a reasonably foreseeable manner and his salvage work was not an intended use of the product, the complaint should have been dismissed. Hockler v William Powell Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 04765, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW

 

Presumption Vehicle Was Being Driven with the Owner's Consent (Vehicle & Traffic Law 388) Was Not Overcome by Testimony of Vehicle Owner and Her Daughter---Summary Judgment Should Not Have Been Awarded on that Ground

 

The Second Department noted, in the context of a summary judgment motion, the testimony of the vehicle owner, Varela, and her daughter, an interested witness, was not sufficient to rebut the presumption that another was driving the vehicle with Verela's consent (Vehicle and Traffic Law 388):

 

The Supreme Court should have denied that branch of Varela's motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against her. "Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 creates a strong presumption that the driver of a vehicle is operating it with the owner's consent, which can only be rebutted by substantial evidence demonstrating that the vehicle was not operated with the owner's express or implied permission" ... . " The uncontradicted testimony of a vehicle owner that the vehicle was operated without his or her permission, does not, by itself, overcome the presumption of permissive use'" ... . The question of consent is ordinarily one for the jury ... . Blassberger v Varela, 2015 NY Slip Op 04796, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

MUNICIPAL LAW/DEBTOR-CREDITOR

 

Pursuant to the Public Authorities Law, Interest on a Judgment To Be Paid by the New York City Transit Authority Cannot Exceed 3%

 

The First Department noted that, although plaintiff procured a judgment (after trial) for past lost earnings against the city, the judgment will ultimately be paid by non-party New York City Transit Authority.  Therefore, pursuant to Public Authorities Law 1212(6), the interest on the judgment cannot exceed 3 %.  Soltero v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 04770, 1st Dept 6-9-15

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE

The Private Right of Action Afforded to Patients in "Residential Health Care Facilities" Pursuant to Public Health Law 2801-d Does Not Apply to Residents of a Group Home for the Developmentally Disabled

 

Plaintiff's brother, Brian, is developmentally disabled and resided in a group home operated by the defendant.  Plaintiff alleged her brother was injured as a result of the negligence of defendant's employees and brought suit under Public Health Law 2801-d, which allows a private right of action by patients against "residential health care facilities."  The Fourth Department determined the group home was not a "residential health care facility" within the meaning of the Public Health Law 2801-d and, therefore, the causes of action based on that statute should have been dismissed:

 

In contrast to a hospital or nursing home, the group home owned and operated by defendant is governed by the Mental Hygiene Law and regulated by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), and operates pursuant to a certificate issued by the Commissioner of OPWDD (see Mental Hygiene Law article 16; 14 NYCRR part 686; see also Mental Hygiene Law § 13.07). The group home is classified as an "individualized residential alternative" community residence, defined as "a facility providing room, board, and individualized protective oversight" for "persons who are developmentally disabled and who, in addition to these basic requirements, need supportive interpersonal relationships, supervision, and training assistance in the activities of daily living" (14 NYCRR 686.99 [l] [2] [iii]). Under the plain language of the regulations governing it, the group home does not serve "principally" as a facility "for the rendering of health-related service" governed by Public Health Law article 28 (§ 2800). Burkhart v People, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04974, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 

 

 

REAL PROPERTY ACTIONS AND PROCEEDINGS LAW (RPAPL)/FORECLOSURE

 

Because Prior Mortgage Foreclosure Action Had Been Abandoned Plaintiff Was Not Entitled to Dismissal of the Instant Action Pursuant to Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) 1301(3) (Which Prohibits More than One Such Action at a Time)

 

The Second Department determined Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) 1301(3) did not require dismissal of plaintiff's foreclosure action.  Although the statute prohibits more than one action to recover a mortgage debt at a time, the pending action had been abandoned (although not formally discontinued). Therefore plaintiff's action was viable:

 

RPAPL 1301(3) provides that "[w]hile [an] action is pending or after final judgment for the plaintiff therein, no other action shall be commenced or maintained to recover any part of the mortgage debt, without leave of the court in which the former action was brought." The purpose of this statute is to protect the mortgagor "from the expense and annoyance" of simultaneously defending against two independent actions to recover the same mortgage debt ... . Courts have recognized that this statute "should be strictly construed since it is in derogation of a plaintiff's common-law right to pursue the alternate remedies of foreclosure and recovery of the mortgage debt at the same time" ... .

 

Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court properly determined that the defendant John Conlin was not entitled to dismissal of the complaint pursuant to RPAPL 1301(3). The record supports the conclusion that the plaintiff's assignor, the former mortgagee, effectively abandoned its prior action to foreclose the mortgage because its status as a junior mortgagee made it improbable that foreclosure would satisfy the underlying debt. Although the foreclosure action was not formally discontinued, the effective abandonment of that action is a "de facto discontinuance" which militates against dismissal of the present action pursuant to RPAPL 1301(3) ... . Old Republic Natl. Tit. Ins. Co. v Conlin, 2015 NY Slip Op 04826, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

 

 

REAL PROPERTY TAX LAW/CIVIL PROCEDURE/MUNICIPAL LAW

 

Tax Payments Made Voluntarily Cannot Be Recovered Under a Mistake of Law Theory/Supreme Court Should Not Raise a "Non-Subject-Matter-Jurisdiction" Defense Sua Sponte

 

The Third Department determined Supreme Court properly denied petitioner's request for a refund of real estate taxes paid re: optic cable installations located on private rights-of-way because petitioner had not protested the tax payments and made them voluntarily.  In addition, the court noted that the court should not have raised the statute of limitations defense sua sponte because the defense did not implicate subject matter jurisdiction:

 

... [U]nless subject matter jurisdiction is implicated, a court should not raise an issue sua sponte when a party is prejudiced by its inability to respond ... . Here, because respondent Essex County failed to raise the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in a pre-answer motion to dismiss or in its answer (see CPLR 3211 [a] [5]; [e]; 7804 [f]), it was improper for Supreme Court to raise it sua sponte ... . * * *

 

... [W]e find no reason to disturb Supreme Court's partial denial of the petition on the ground that petitioner failed to demonstrate that it paid the taxes involuntarily. To recover payments made under a mistake of law, as in the present case ... , a taxpayer is required to show that the payments were made involuntarily ... . This requirement ensures that governmental entities have notice that they may need to provide for tax refunds ... . Here, petitioner fully paid all of the relevant taxes and offered no proof that it did so under protest or that such payments were otherwise involuntary ... . Indeed, petitioner did nothing to indicate that its payments were involuntary until nearly 18 months after the final contested tax bill was paid, when petitioner submitted its RPTL 556-b correction applications ... . Matter of Level 3 Communications, LLC v Essex County, 2015 NY Slip Op 04899, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

PRACTICE POINT

 

A court does not have the authority to, sua sponte, raise a "non-subject-matter-jurisdiction" defense to an action. If a party does not raise the statute of limitations defense, for example, in its answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss, the party has waived the defense. 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAW

 

Approval of an MRI Within Seven Years of Closure of Claimant's Case Effectively Reopened the Case---Transfer to the Special Fund for Closed Cases Was Error

 

The Third Department determined the fact that an MRI had been approved demonstrated that the claimant's case had not been closed for the requisite seven years. Liability therefore was not shifted to the Special Fund for closed cases:

 

Pursuant to Workers' Compensation Law § 25-a, the Special Fund becomes liable for claims that are reopened more than seven years from the date of the injury and three years after the last payment of compensation ... . There is no dispute that this case was initially closed as of June 20, 2005. In its amended decision, the Board determined that the case was first reopened in April 2012 when the MRI was requested, but closed once that application was approved. Finding that the case was again reopened when surgery was requested on June 26, 2012, the Board determined that the requisite seven-year time period had passed, shifting liability to the Special Fund.

 

This sequence calls into question whether the case was "truly closed" when the MRI request was approved. We have previously recognized that a "decision authorizing [an] MRI [does] not constitute a true closing of the case as [the] claimant's future treatment depended upon the results of the MRI and, thus, further action was contemplated although not planned at that time" ... . The same holds true here. As such, we conclude that the Board erred in concluding that the case was closed when the MRI was authorized. Correspondingly, since the case was reopened when the MRI was requested in April 2012, within the statutory seven-year period, liability does not shift to the Special Fund. Matter of Bank v Village of Tuckahoe, 2015 NY Slip Op 04894, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAW

 

Even When the Injured Worker, Who Had Received Workers' Compensation Benefits, Successfully Sues His Employer (As Opposed to a "Stranger") for His Injuries, the Workers' Compensation Carrier Has a Lien Against the Recovery Pursuant to Workers' Compensation Law 29(1)

 

The Third Department noted that, even though the worker who had received workers' compensation benefits successfully sued his employer (as opposed to a third party) for his injuries, the workers' compensation carrier still had a lien against the recovery (Workers' Compensation Law 29(1)):

 

"When a claimant obtains recovery in a civil action for the same injuries that were the predicate for workers' compensation benefits, the carrier has a lien against any recovery (see Workers' Compensation Law § 29 [1]), even where the action is brought against an employer" ... . Indeed, as the Court of Appeals has recently reaffirmed, "'[Workers' Compensation Law § ] 29, read in its entirety and in context, clearly reveals a legislative design to provide for reimbursement of the compensation carrier whenever a recovery is obtained in tort for the same injury that was a predicate for the payment of compensation benefits'" ... . The Court reasoned that "[i]t would be unreasonable to read the statute as mandating a different result merely because the recovery came out of the pockets of a coemployee [or the employer] and not from the resources of a stranger" ... . Ronkese v Tilcon N.Y., Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 04908, 3rd Dept 6-11-15

 

 

 

 

ZONING

 

Denial of an Area Variance for a Parking Lot, Based Solely on the Subjective/Aesthetic Objections of Residents, Was Arbitrary and Capricious---Statutory Factors Not Applied to the Decision-Making Process

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court, finding the Zoning Board of Appeals' (ZBA's) denial of an area variance (re: a parking lot for residents of a cooperative),based solely upon the subjective objections of town residents, was arbitrary and capricious. The ZBA's decision did not address the statutory factors applied to area variances:

 

Pursuant to General City Law § 81-b, in determining whether to grant an application for an area variance, a zoning board must weigh the benefit to the applicant against the detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community if the variance is granted ... . This inquiry also includes a consideration of whether (1) granting the area variance will produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties; (2) the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some method, feasible to the applicant, other than an area variance; (3) the requested area variance is substantial; (4) granting the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and (5) the alleged difficulty was self-created (see General City Law § 81-b[4][b]...).

 

Here, while it was rational for the ZBA to conclude that the requested variance was substantial, its determination to deny the variance was otherwise conclusory and lacked an objective factual basis. In particular, no evidence was adduced which demonstrated that the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community would be detrimentally affected by the granting of the requested variance ... . Rather, the ZBA was merely presented with the subjective objections and general community opposition of neighboring property owners, most of whom expressed their subjective opinions as to the negative aesthetics of a parking lot. Further, the ZBA did not provide an objective basis upon which to conclude that the petitioner had a feasible alternative to the requested variance, and there was no evidence that the situation was self-created. In light of the current condition of the property, the legality of using the lot as a small parking lot, and the fact that the lot is fenced so as to block ground-level water views, the ZBA failed to explain how the expansion of the number of spaces in the lot would change the character of the neighborhood.

 

Accordingly, the record does not contain sufficient evidence to support the rationality of the ZBA's determination denying the proposed area variance ... . Since the ZBA's determination was irrational and arbitrary and capricious, the Supreme Court should have granted the petition, annulled the ZBA's determination, and remitted the matter to the ZBA for the issuance of the requested area variance. Matter of Marina's Edge Owner's Corp. v City of New Rochelle Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 2015 NY Slip Op 04851, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 

 

PRACTICE POINT

 

In assessing the likelihood of overturning an agency's determination, look at any statutory and/or regulatory factors that the agency is required to consider. The agency's failure to follow or address those factors is a solid ground for reversal.