Summaries of Recently Released Decisions to Be Included In the Next Issue of the Digest (uncorrected)
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COURT OF APPEALS
Notations Added by Judge to Verdict Sheet to Help Jurors Differentiate the Counts Did Not Violate CPL 310.20
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, with a concurring opinion, determined that the notations added to the verdict sheet by the judge to aid the jury in differentiating the counts did not violate the Criminal Procedure Law. The defendant was charged with making purchases at several different stores with forged credit cards. The judge added store names, dates and locations to the relevant counts on the verdict sheet. The Court of Appeals determined the notations were of the type allowed by CPL 310.20 (2). The Court further determined that the use of a GPS tracking device on defendant's car constituted a warrantless search. But the search-error was deemed harmless under the facts. With respect to the notations on the verdict sheet, the Court wrote:
As we explained in Miller "[n]othing of substance can be included [on a verdict sheet] that the statute does not authorize" (Miller, 18 NY3d at 706 [emphasis supplied]). The verdict sheet in Miller violated section 310.20 (2) because it included a legal instruction relative to burden of proof, i.e., words or terms "of substance" (id. at 706-707 [verdict sheet asked the jury if the defendant had established by a preponderance of the evidence that he acted under extreme emotional disturbance]). Verdict sheets may not be utilized to provide legal instruction to a deliberating jury; such instruction is to be provided by the trial court in its jury charge (see CPL 310.30 [stating that during deliberations "the jury may request the court for further instruction or information with respect to the law" and the court, upon notice to and in the presence of the People and the defense, "must give such requested information or instruction as the court deems proper"]). Inclusion of legal instructions on a verdict sheet runs contrary to the statute's intended purpose of "facilitat[ing] an orderly and intelligent deliberative process" because it enhances the risk that the jurors will perceive the annotation as having special significance as opposed to merely assisting them in distinguishing among the counts.
The annotations here could not have been interpreted by the jury as being intended for any purpose other than identifying the individual stores defendant and his codefendant were alleged to have frequented or the banks relative to certain identity theft counts. Given the number of counts, coupled with the fact that the offenses occurred at different locations at different times (and, in some instances, on different dates), the trial court appropriately included the annotations so that the jury could distinguish the submitted counts. Under the circumstances, the names of the stores clearly fall within the term "complainant" delineated in the statute. People v Lewis, 2014 NY Slip Op 02969, CtApp 5-1-14
Rape-Complainant's Mental Health Records Raised a Brady, Not a Confrontation, Issue---Trial Judge Properly Ruled that Most of the Records Would Not Be Turned Over to the Defense Because There was No Reasonable Possibility Disclosure Would Have Led to Defendant's Acquittal
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, over a forceful dissent by Judge Rivera, determined the trial court had properly refused to turn over to the defense most of the complainant's mental health records. The 18-year-old complainant called 911 to report she had just been raped by the 40-year-old defendant. The defendant claimed that they had consensual sex but that he struggled with the complainant after she started to run away with his pants and money. The case came down to the credibility of the defendant and the complainant. The complainant suffered from "Bipolar, Tourettes, post-traumatic-stress disorder, [and] epilepsy." She had visualized the presence of dead people, had cut herself, had been violent, had attempted suicide and had made an allegation of sexual assault against her father which one record referred to as "unfounded." She also suffered from attention deficit disorder and hypersexuality. The trial judge disclosed only a few of complainant's mental health records. The majority determined the mental health records raised a Brady issue, not a confrontation issue (as was argued by the defendant and the dissent):
While defendant presents the issue as one of interference with his rights of confrontation and cross-examination, we view this as essentially a Brady case (Brady v Maryland, 373 US 83 ; see Pennsylvania v Ritchie, 480 US 39, 56  [evaluating under Brady the question of whether confidential investigative files concerning child abuse must be disclosed to a criminal defendant]). Under Brady, a defendant is entitled to the disclosure of evidence favorable to his case "where the evidence is material" (373 US at 87). In New York, the test of materiality where, as here, the defendant has made a specific request for the evidence in question is whether there is a "reasonable possibility" that the verdict would have been different if the evidence had been disclosed ... .
This case differs from the typical Brady case in that it involves confidential mental health records, and the decision to deny disclosure was made not by a prosecutor, but by a judge after an in camera review of the records sought. In such a case, the trial court has a measure of discretion in deciding whether records otherwise entitled to confidentiality should be disclosed ... .
In sum, the issue here is whether the trial court abused its discretion in finding defendant's interest in obtaining the records to be outweighed by the complainant's interest in confidentiality; and defendant's interest could be outweighed only if there was no reasonable possibility that the withheld materials would lead to his acquittal. Having examined those materials, we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion. People v McCray, 2014 NY Slip Op 02970, CtApp 5-1-14
There Was Sufficient Evidence Defendant Was Responsible for a Witness' Refusal to Testify to Allow the People to Present the Witness' Grand Jury Testimony at Trial
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Abdus-Salaam, with a concurring opinion, the Court of Appeals determined the trial court properly ruled a witness' grand jury testimony could be presented at trial because there was sufficient evidence the defendant was responsible for the witness' asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refusing to testify:
Under the Sixth Amendment of the Federal Constitution and article one, section six of the State Constitution, a criminal defendant has the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him or her (see U.S. Const. Amend. VI; NY Const, art I, § 6...). The confrontation right is critical to the fairness of a trial because it "'ensur[es] the reliability of the evidence against a criminal defendant by subjecting it to rigorous testing in the context of an adversary proceeding before the trier of fact'" ... . Given this important right, an unavailable witness's grand jury testimony, which by definition has not been subjected to confrontation, generally may not be admitted at trial on the People's direct case ... . However, "where it has been shown that the defendant procured the witness's unavailability through violence, threats or chicanery," the defendant "may not assert either the constitutional right of confrontation or the evidentiary rules against the admission of hearsay in order to prevent the admission of the witness's out-of-court declarations," including the witness's grand jury testimony... . People v Smart, 2014 NY Slip Op 02972, Ct App 5-1-14
MUNICIPAL LAW/WORKERS' COMPENSATION
Lump Sum Payments for Pending Workers' Compensation Claims Made by Municipalities Choosing to Withdraw from a Workers' Compensation Self-Insurance Fund Must Be Discounted to Present Value
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, over a partial dissent, determined that the lump sum to be paid by municipalities for pending workers' compensation claims when withdrawing from a workers' compensation self-insurance fund should be discounted to present value. The court noted that the lump sum was to be used to pay out workers' compensation benefits for years to come:
Generally, discounting future damages to their value at some point in the past is appropriate because it takes into account the time value of money. "[W]hen an amount intended to compensate for a future loss is discounted back to a particular time, the discounted amount represents the sum which, if invested at that time at reasonable rates of return, would theoretically produce the intended amount at the future time when the loss is incurred" .. . We are perhaps most familiar with discounting in wrongful death, personal injury, and medical malpractice actions, where discounting is required by statute (see CPLR 5031; 5041). In those contexts, it is often the future earning power of the injured party, or a similar measure of future damages, that must be reduced to its value on the date of injury. However, there is no material difference between the value of a decedent's future income in a wrongful death case and the value of workers' compensation benefits to be paid out over the life of a disability claim. In both cases, some or all of the losses will be incurred in the future. Here, the injury in question is a breach of contract, and the future losses manifest themselves in the form of contract damages. Village of Ilion v County of Herkimer, 2014 NY Slip Op 02873, Ct App 5-1-14
REAL PROPERTY TAX LAW/MUNICIPAL LAW
Presumption of Validity of Town's Property Tax Assessment Not Rebutted by Objective Data
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, reversed the Fourth Department's determination that the Board of Managers of a condominium had rebutted the presumption of validity which attached to the Town's property tax assessment. The Board's appraisal was not based upon objective data which substantiated the calculations:
In an RPTL article 7 tax certiorari proceeding, "a rebuttable presumption of validity attaches to the valuation of property made by the taxing authority" ... . Consequently, a taxpayer challenging the accuracy of an assessment bears the initial burden of coming forward with substantial evidence that the property was overvalued by the assessor. In the context of tax assessment cases, we have explained that the substantial evidence standard requires the taxpayer to "demonstrate the existence of a valid and credible dispute regarding valuation" ... . If the taxpayer satisfies this threshold burden, the presumption disappears and the court "must weigh the entire record, including evidence of claimed deficiencies in the assessment, to determine whether petitioner has established by a preponderance of the evidence that its property has been overvalued" ... . But where a taxpayer fails to rebut the presumption, the municipality's assessor has no obligation to go "forward with proof of the correctness of [its] valuation," and the petition is to be dismissed ... .
...[T]he appraiser did not provide the sources of the income or expense figures related to each comparable (...["Data on each property's sale price, income, expenses, financing terms, and market conditions at the time of sale are needed."]).
More importantly, the hearing testimony of the Board's appraiser revealed that he had little to no confirmable data to support the income and expense numbers he employed to derive the capitalization rate. During his direct examination, the appraiser asserted that he relied on "very good" and "very strong" data that came from "certified sources." On cross-examination, however, he conceded that he had no certified expense or income information and instead had relied on "forecasted economic indicators" with respect to the apartment buildings. In fact, he could identify only two documents in the record that provided any "limited historic operating expenses," and this information was for only two comparables and did not correlate to the numbers used in the appraisal report. He admitted that he had no documents supporting his analysis as to the other two comparable properties. When pressed, he proffered that the relevant figures were based on his "personal exposure" to the complexes, i.e., his own unverifiable knowledge. But as the Appellate Division dissenters aptly recognized, "[a]n appraiser cannot simply list financial figures of comparable properties in his or her appraisal report that are derived from alleged personal knowledge; he or she must subsequently 'prove' those figures to be facts at trial" ... . Simply put, the record before us affords no basis to check or test whether the net operating incomes for these four properties and the capitalization rates adduced from them were valid, or even in the ballpark. Matter of Board of Mgrs of French Oaks Condominium v Town of Amherst, 2014 NY Slip Op 02971, Ct App 5-1-14
Substantive Issue Raised by Petitioner Had Not Been Addressed in a Prior Proceeding Which Had Been Dismissed---Current Proceeding Therefore Not Barred by Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel
The Third Department determined a former teacher's challenge to the recall of another former teacher was not barred by collateral estoppel. The challenge was based upon the claim that the petitioner had greater seniority than the recalled teacher. A prior challenge by petitioner to the recall of a different teacher had been dismissed, but the seniority issue had not been addressed in that prior proceeding:
In order for collateral estoppel to apply, there must be an identity of a decisive issue between the present and prior proceedings which was necessarily decided in the prior proceeding, and the party who will be estopped must have been afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior proceeding ... . "Whether to apply collateral estoppel in a particular case depends on general notions of fairness involving a practical inquiry into the realities of the litigation" ... . Here, while petitioner raises an identical issue in this proceeding, namely, whether she is entitled to more seniority credit than the Board gave her, that issue has never been decided. Rather, the earlier proceeding was dismissed as time-barred. Because the issue of whether petitioner is entitled to more seniority has not been decided, it is not barred by collateral estoppel ... . Matter of Bubel v Board of Educ of the Saugerties Cent Sch Dist, 2014 NY Slip Op 02999, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
CIVIL PROCEDURE/WORKERS' COMPENSATION
Preliminary Injunction Prohibiting the Levying of Deficit Assessments by the Workers' Compensation Board Properly Granted
The Fourth Department determined Supreme Court properly issued a preliminary injunction. All the criteria---irreparable harm, likelihood of success on the merits, and balancing of the equities---were met. The case involved the Workers' Compensation Board's levying of deficit assessments against petitioners pursuant to Workers' Compensation Law section 50. Matter of Riccelli Enters Inc v State of NY Workers' Compensation Bd, 2014 NY Slip Op 03067, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Allegation of Interference With Possession of Manufactured Home Stated Cause of Action for Conversion
The Fourth Department determined plaintiff had stated a cause of action for conversion. Plaintiff alleged he had purchased a manufactured home and defendants prevented him from removing the home from defendant's park:
"A conversion takes place when someone, intentionally and without authority, assumes or exercises control over personal property belonging to someone else, interfering with that person's right of possession" ... . We conclude that the complaint alleged sufficient facts to state a cause of action for conversion ... . The complaint alleged that plaintiff was the owner of the manufactured home and that defendants interfered with plaintiff's possession of that property by preventing plaintiff from removing the home from defendants' park. The court dismissed that cause of action on the ground that there was no showing that defendants took ownership of the unit or obtained any benefit from the unit remaining on the property. We conclude, however, that plaintiff's allegation that defendants interfered with plaintiff's right to possess the property is sufficient to state a cause of action for conversion ..., which, contrary to the court's analysis, does not require an allegation, much less a showing, that defendants took ownership of the property or benefitted therefrom. Hillcrest Homes LLC v Albion Mobile Homes Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 03065, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Issuance of a "No Knock" Warrant to Take a DNA Sample Was Not Justified---Sample Should Have Been Suppressed
The Third Department suppressed DNA evidence taken from the defendant pursuant to a "no knock" warrant and reversed defendant's conviction. No exigent circumstances justified the "no knock" warrant which allowed the police to enter defendant's home without notice and take the DNA sample:
The search warrant application to obtain DNA from defendant included the unsubstantiated and inaccurate allegations that the "search warrant cannot be executed between the hours of 6:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M.," "the property sought will be removed or destroyed if not seized forthwith," and "[t]he property sought may be easily and quickly destroyed or disposed of." There were no factual allegations reflecting exigent circumstances justifying the lack of any notice to defendant of the application to obtain a DNA sample from him. He could not destroy or dispose of his own DNA, and the People's speculation in their brief that he might have fled was not alleged or supported by facts in the application.
The ensuing search warrant inconsistently stated both that it was to be executed between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. and that it could be executed at any time day or night; and it further authorized police to enter the premises where defendant resided without giving notice of their authority or purpose. Under the authority of the warrant, police arrived unannounced at the place where defendant lived demanding his DNA. The total absence of notice to defendant of the search warrant application, which had obvious defects regarding the manner purportedly necessary to obtain defendant's DNA, violated his constitutional rights and the DNA obtained in such search must be suppressed and the judgment reversed... . People v Walker, 2014 NY Slip Op 02975, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Accepting a Verdict Before Responding to Jury Requests for Further Instructions and a Readback of Testimony Was a Mode of Proceedings Error Requiring a New Trial
The Fourth Department, over a dissent, determined the trial court's acceptance of a verdict before addressing jury notes requesting further instructions on the law and a readback of testimony constituted a mode of proceedings error requiring reversal and a new trial:
..."[T]here are few moments in a criminal trial more critical to its outcome than when the court responds to a deliberating jury's request for clarification of the law or further guidance on the process of deliberations" ... . The jury may have resolved the factual issue regarding whether the eyewitness testified that she saw defendant leave the scene without further instruction assistance from the court .... However, the request for a readback of the instruction on reasonable doubt, the determination of which is the crux of a jury's function, and for a readback of the instruction regarding "the importance a single witness in a case versus multiple witnesses," "demonstrates the confusion and doubt that existed in the minds of the jury with respect to . . . crucial issue[s] . . . The jury is entitled to the guidance of the court and may not be relegated to its own unfettered course of procedure" ... . We therefore conclude that the court's failure to respond to the jury's notes seeking clarification of those instructions before the verdict was accepted "seriously prejudiced" defendant ... . People v Mack, 2014 NY Slip Op 03075, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Hearing Required to Determine Whether Defense Counsel's Failure to Take Appropriate Steps to Have a Federal Prisoner Testify for the Defense Constituted Ineffective Assistance
The Fourth Department determined a hearing was necessary to address defendant's motion to vacate his conviction. The motion papers raised the issue of whether defense counsel's failure to take adequate steps to ensure a federal prisoner would be available to testify on behalf of the defense constituted ineffective assistance. Defense counsel submitted an affidavit stating he believed the prisoner's testimony would have been helpful to the defendant and his failure to have the prisoner appear was not part of a defense strategy. The court also directed that the hearing look into the credibility of the co-defendant who, in his plea colloquy, stated that he acted alone. People v Becoats, 2014 NY Slip Op 03088, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Superior Court Information Jurisdictionally Defective---It Did Not Include Any Offense Which Was In the Indictment, or Any Lesser Included Offense
The Fourth Department determined the failure of the superior court information (SCI) to include the offenses in the indictment, or any lesser included offenses, required reversal of the defendant's conviction:
The two counts charged in the SCI were not offenses for which defendant was held for action of a grand jury (see CPL 195.20), i.e., those two counts were not included in the felony complaint, and they were not lesser included offenses of an offense charged in the felony complaint ... . "[T]he primary purpose of the proceedings upon such felony complaint is to determine whether the defendant is to be held for the action of a grand jury with respect to the charges contained therein" (CPL 180.10 ). Thus, " the waiver procedure is triggered by the defendant being held for [g]rand [j]ury action on charges contained in a felony complaint . . . and it is in reference to those charges that its availability must be measured' " ... . Inasmuch as the SCI to which defendant pleaded guilty did not "include at least one offense that was contained in the felony complaint," it was jurisdictionally defective ... . That defect does not require preservation, and it survives defendant's waiver of the right to appeal and his guilty plea ... . People v Tun Aung, 2014 NY Slip Op 03135, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Preservation by Objection Not Required When Defendant First Learns of Post-Release Supervision Moments Before Sentencing
In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Egan, the Third Department vacated defendant's plea to a probation violation because no mention of a period of post-release supervision was made until moments before sentencing. The court determined there was no need to preserve the error by objection because the defendant had so little time between notification of the post-release supervision and sentencing:
...[W]hether preservation is necessary hinges upon whether the defendant "had ample opportunity to object after the initial [reference to postrelease supervision] was made and before sentence was formally imposed" ... . Thus, where "the court first mention[s] postrelease supervision only moments before imposing the sentence," thereby depriving the defendant of a meaningful opportunity to weigh his or her options at that stage of the proceeding, preservation is not required ... .
Although we are mindful that the matter before us concerns a plea of guilty to a violation of probation as opposed to a plea of guilty to a crime the analysis employed by the Court of Appeals ...is equally applicable here. As noted previously, County Court made no mention of postrelease supervision during the course of defendant's plea colloquy ..., nor does the record indicate that defendant otherwise was made aware prior to entering her plea to the probation violation that postrelease supervision would be a component of her sentence ... . Rather, the need to impose a period of postrelease supervision was first raised at sentencing quite literally moments before defendant's sentence actually was imposed ... . Under these circumstances, preservation was not required, and County Court's failure to apprise defendant that postrelease supervision would be a component of her sentence mandates reversal. People v Bolivar, 2014 NY Slip Op 02980, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Competency of Evidence Before Grand Jury Not Reviewable On Appeal Where Defendant Convicted Upon Legally Sufficient Trial Evidence
In response the defendant's claim that a child witness was allowed to testify before the grand jury without determining her testimonial capacity, the Fourth Department noted that the competency of evidence before the grand jury is not reviewable on appeal where defendant was convicted upon legally sufficient trial evidence. People v Riley, 2014 NY Slip Op 03140, 4th Dept 5-2-14
EMINENT DOMAIN/COURT OF CLAIMS
Consequential Damages Related to a Parcel of Land Sold Prior to the Taking Should Not Have Been Granted by the Court of Claims
The Fourth Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Fahey, determined the Court of Claims should not have awarded consequential damages for a parcel of land which was sold prior to the taking. As the court described the issue:
Here we address the issue whether consequential damages may be awarded when the real property in question was sold months before the taking of other real property that affects the land in question. Claimants commenced this proceeding seeking damages for the diminished value of approximately 16 acres of what claimants characterized as "remaining land" following defendant's taking of approximately 1.22 acres of land from what was claimants' 17.3-acre parcel. Following a trial, the Court of Claims awarded claimants consequential damages with respect to what the court concluded was 12.835 acres of that parcel. Included in the 12.835 acres of land for which the court awarded consequential damages were 4.63 acres of land sold by claimants to Progressive Casualty Insurance Company (Progressive Parcel) for $1,800,000. That sale occurred in November 2005, i.e., before the taking of the aforementioned 1.22 acres of land in July 2006. Defendant now contends that the award of consequential damages was excessive inasmuch as the court erroneously awarded consequential damages for the Progressive Parcel. We agree. Rose Park Place Inc v State of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 03070, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Professional Reliability Exception to the Hearsay Rule (Re: Experts) Explained/Appropriate Date to Commence Prejudgment Interest in Breach of Contract Action Explained
The Fourth Department explained when an expert can rely on hearsay and when prejudgment interest should commence in a breach of contract action:
We reject defendant's further contention that there was no evidentiary foundation for the testimony of plaintiffs' damages expert, a construction cost estimator. It is well settled that" [o]pinion evidence must be based on facts in the record or personally known to the witness' " ... . It is also well settled, however, that an expert is permitted to offer opinion testimony based on facts not in evidence where the material is " of a kind accepted in the profession as reliable in forming a professional opinion' " ... . "The professional reliability exception to the hearsay rule enables an expert witness to provide opinion evidence based on otherwise inadmissible hearsay, provided it is demonstrated to be the type of material commonly relied on in the profession' " ... . Here, the expert's damages testimony was based, in part, on measurements contained in a report that was not admitted in evidence, but those measurements were not otherwise disputed or challenged by defendant. Moreover, the expert testified that the information on which he relied was of the type relied on in his profession.
We agree with defendant, however, that the court erred in awarding prejudgment interest from April 18, 1990. The jury did not specify a date on which plaintiffs' cause of action for breach of contract accrued and where, as here, "the precise date from which to fix interest is ambiguous, the date of commencement of the . . . action' is an appropriate date to choose" ... . We therefore modify the judgment by vacating the amount of prejudgment interest awarded from April 18, 1990 and providing that prejudgment interest is to commence from April 18, 1996, the date on which the action was commenced, to May 2, 2012, the date of the judgment. Caleb v Stevenson Envtl Servs Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 03057, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Evidence of Headaches Did Not Raise an Issue of Fact Re: "Serious Injury"
The Fourth Department, over a substantial dissent, determined that the evidence of plaintiff's headaches did not raise a question of fact about whether the headaches constituted "serious injury" within the meaning of Insurance Law 5102 (d):
...[W]e agree with defendant that the court erred in concluding that plaintiff raised an issue of fact based upon her complaints of headaches. Although plaintiff submitted excerpts from her deposition in which she testified that "basically every day I would have some type of headache," it is well settled that "subjective complaints of pain or headaches are insufficient to establish serious injury' " ... . Here, the record contains no objective basis for plaintiff's headache complaints ... . Moreover, plaintiff "offered no proof that [her] headaches in any way incapacitated [her] or interfered with [her] ability to work or engage in activities at home" ... . Downie v McDonough, 2014 NY Slip Op 03048, 4th Dept 5-2-14
LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW
241 (6) Cause of Action Improperly Dismissed---Plaintiff Tripped on Piece of Metal Protruding from Stair
The Third Department determined Supreme Court should not have dismissed plaintiff's Labor Law 241 (6) claim against the general contractor (Glenman). Plaintiff tripped and fell down a stairwell when his shoe was punctured by a piece of metal protruding from a stair:
Supreme Court improvidently dismissed plaintiff's Labor Law § 241 (6) claim against Glenman. Notably, "Labor Law § 241 (6), by its very terms, imposes a nondelegable duty of reasonable care upon owners and contractors to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to persons employed in, or lawfully frequenting, all areas in which construction, excavation or demolition work is being performed" ... . "To establish a claim under Labor Law § 241 (6), [a] plaintiff must allege that [the] defendant violated a rule or regulation promulgated by the Commissioner of Labor that sets forth a specific standard of conduct" ... . "[O]nce it has been alleged that a concrete specification of [such a rule or regulation] has been violated, it is for the jury to determine whether the negligence of some party to, or participant in, the construction project caused plaintiff's injury" ... .
Here, plaintiff relies upon 12 NYCRR 23-1.7 (e) (1), which provides:"(e) Tripping and other hazards.(1) Passageways. All passageways shall be kept free from accumulations of dirt and debris and from any other obstructions or conditions which could cause tripping. Sharp projections which could cut or puncture any person shall be removed or covered." This regulation appropriately "mandat[es] compliance with concrete specifications" as required to state a claim under Labor Law § 241 (6) ... . Marshall v Glenman Indus & Commercial Contr Corp, 20-14 NY Slip Op 02987, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW
Failure to Instruct the Jury on the Sole Proximate Cause Defense Required Reversal of Plaintiff's Verdict
The Fourth Department, over a dissent, reversed the judgment for the plaintiff and ordered a new trial finding that the trial judge should have instructed the jury on the sole proximate cause defense. The plaintiff used a wobbly ladder while painting and fell. The trial judge felt that the sole proximate cause defense (i.e., that the plaintiff's acts or omissions were the sole proximate cause of the accident) would have been triggered only if the plaintiff ignored an instruction to use a different ladder. The Fourth Department explained that the defense could also be triggered if the plaintiff knew he had other options available but chose to use the wobbly ladder:
...[T]he court held that plaintiff's choice of ladder could not be the sole proximate cause of his injuries unless he had been told to use another safety device and had ignored that directive. That was an incorrect statement of the law inasmuch as it is not necessary that a plaintiff be told to use another safety device. Rather, there will be no liability imposed on a defendant if the defendant establishes that the plaintiff knew he should use another safety device and knew that such was available at the job site, but chose not to use it ... . * * *
As the Court of Appeals held ..., in order for there to be liability under section 240 (1), "the owner or contractor must breach the statutory duty under section 240 (1) to provide a worker with adequate safety devices, and this breach must proximately cause the worker's injuries. These prerequisites do not exist if adequate safety devices are available at the job site, but the worker either does not use or misuses them" ... . Piotrowski v McGuire Manor Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 03045, 4th Dept 5-2-14
LABOR LAW-CONSTRUCTION LAW
Fall from Flatbed Truck Was Covered by Labor Law 240 (1)---Fall Caused by Gravity Acting On Plywood Being Hoisted from the Truck
The Fourth Department determined plaintiff was entitled to partial summary judgment on his Labor Law 240 (1) claim. Plaintiff fell from a flatbed truck while trying to steady plywood which became unsteady while being hoisted:
Although flatbed trucks "d[o] not present the kind of elevation-related risk that the statute contemplates" (Toefer v Long Is. R.R., 4 NY3d 399, 408), the accident in this case was caused by a falling object, which distinguishes this case from Toefer ... . The accident that caused plaintiff's injuries "flow[ed] directly from the application of the force of gravity to the object" ... . In other words, the injuries were the result of "the direct consequence of a failure to provide statutorily required protection against a risk plainly arising from a workplace elevation differential" ... . Inasmuch as plaintiff established that the plywood fell while being hoisted because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute, we conclude that he is entitled to summary judgment on the section 240 (1) claim ... . Hyatt v Young, 2014 NY Slip Op 03056, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Question of Fact Whether Defendants Assumed a Duty of Reasonable Care When Escorting Elderly Plaintiff to His Car at Night
The Third Department determined a question of fact had been raised about whether defendants assumed a duty of reasonable care when escorting the elderly plaintiff to his car at night. Plaintiff tripped and fell while being escorted by a hospital security guard after plaintiff had been treated at the hospital. Plaintiff asked for the escort:
Plaintiffs did ...raise a factual issue as to whether defendants assumed a duty of reasonable care regarding the escort provided. Under the assumed duty theory, "the question is whether defendant[s'] conduct placed plaintiff in a more vulnerable position than plaintiff would have been in had defendant[s] done nothing" ... . While there was conflicting proof, on this cross motion by defendants for summary judgment we "must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and accord that party the benefit of every reasonable inference from the record proof" ... . Plaintiff characterized the lighting conditions when he was ready to leave the emergency room as "pitch black," prompting him to ask for assistance. The security guard who was summoned had previously escorted people from the emergency room to off-premises parking and thus was familiar with conditions in the area. Plaintiff kept a hand on his wife's shoulder as they walked assisting his stability. Although the security guard had a flashlight, he did not turn it on and did not walk next to plaintiffs. Plaintiff recalled that, just before he fell, he stated to the security guard that he could barely see because of the darkness, but the guard made a gesture ostensibly indicating that it was safe to proceed and, as plaintiff did so, he immediately stepped into the crack or depression and fell. Accepting such proof and the reasonable inferences therefrom, a jury could conclude that plaintiff would have proceeded more cautiously had he not relied on an individual familiar with the area who apparently gestured for him to continue despite the poor visibility ... . Giglio v Saratoga Care Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 02994, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Plaintiff Deemed to Be In the Foreseeable Zone of Danger Re: a Fireworks Display
The Third Department determined questions of fact precluded summary judgment in a case stemming from a malfunction of a fireworks display. The malfunction caused a projectile to fly horizontally toward plaintiff who injured her arm in attempting to protect her daughter from the projectile. Supreme Court had dismissed the action as unforeseeable because the projectile travelled beyond the usual zone of danger.
To establish a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty to him or her, that the defendant breached that duty and that such breach was a proximate cause of the injuries sustained ... . "The existence and scope of [the] alleged tortfeasor's duty is, in the first instance, a legal question for determination by the court" giving due consideration to "whether the relationship of the parties is such as to give rise to a duty of care, whether the plaintiff was within the zone of foreseeable harm and whether the accident was within the reasonably foreseeable risks" ... . Once it is determined that a particular duty exists, whether and the extent to which that duty was breached and whether any such breach was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries generally are factual issues for the trier of fact to resolve ... .
Here, defendants possessed, furnished, set up and ignited "a large supply of dangerous fireworks" ... and, as such, were bound to exercise "a high degree of care" in order to prevent injury to others ... . As to the foreseeability of a malfunction, one of defendants' representatives testified at his examination before trial that, although he had not experienced a "blow by" prior to the Ticonderoga show, such an event was "an occurrence in the industry," that "the chance for a malfunction [was] obviously there" and that malfunctions can be dangerous. As to whether plaintiff was in the zone of foreseeable harm, plaintiff estimated that she was sitting approximately 700 feet from where the shells were being launched (well outside the purported safety radius) and, as noted previously, acknowledged that the debris from the first malfunctioning shell did not reach her location. Plaintiff also testified, however, that the second shell exploded "[v]ery close" to where she was sitting, causing sparks to land around her group, and one of defendants' representatives conceded that "hot flaming debris" from this second shell was propelled into the crowd of spectators. Further, when plaintiff returned to the ball field the following day, she observed scorch marks on the grass presumably caused by flaming debris from the detonated shell approximately 20 feet away from where she had been sitting. Moreover, the police report prepared in this matter makes reference to a witness who claimed that the second shell exploded "15-20 feet away from the civilians sitting by Burgoyne [R]oad." Under these circumstances, we are satisfied that plaintiff was within the zone of foreseeable harm ... . Accordingly, Supreme Court erred in finding that defendants owed no duty to plaintiff. Evarts v Pyro Eng'g Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 02996, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Defect Not Trivial as a Matter of Law
The Fourth Department determined defendant failed to establish a defect in pavement was trivial as a matter of law:
Here, we conclude that defendant failed to meet its initial burden of establishing that the defect was trivial and nonactionable as a matter of law ... . The photographs submitted in support of defendant's motion depict a lengthy edge in the pavement that was more than two-thirds of an inch deep and spanned the width of the painted walking area adjacent to the designated handicapped parking space ... . Defendant also submitted plaintiff's deposition testimony, in which she testified that her right foot caught on "a quite high ledge" in the pavement at the rear of the parking space ... . Although defendant characterizes the edge as "a small, rounded lip in the pavement," the photographs depict crumbling asphalt, and the edge appears to be irregular, jagged and abrupt as opposed to gradual ..., where the trivial defect involved " a small area' " of a " cracked and crumbly' " curb that "had no measurable depth,' " plaintiff's deposition testimony and the photographs in this case, particularly the photographs depicting the area closest to plaintiff's vehicle, suggest a measurable edge in the pavement that could pose a tripping hazard. Lupa v City of Oswego, 2014 NY Slip Op 03055, 4th Dept 5-2-14
No Liability for Injury to Child Who Suddenly Darted Out Into Traffic
The Fourth Department determined all causes of action arising from a child's darting out into traffic should be dismissed. There was no evidence the driver who struck the child (Hosley) was negligent. And there was no evidence the adults in the car from which the child darted into traffic (Ricks and Still) were negligent. The driver parked the car intending to escort the child to her school bus:
Specifically, the evidence establishes as a matter of law that, "without looking in the direction of oncoming traffic" ..., the child darted from behind the front of Still's parked vehicle, "directly into the path of" Hosley's vehicle, leaving Hosley "unable to avoid contact with the [child]" ..., and plaintiff failed to raise an issue of fact ... . Contrary to plaintiff's contention, the record does not establish that there is an issue of fact whether Hosley operated her vehicle in a negligent manner. Rather, the record establishes as a matter of law that Hosley acted as a reasonably prudent person when she slowed her rate of speed immediately upon seeing the parked vehicle ahead, and that she proceeded with caution while attempting to pass it safely on the left ... .
With respect to the motion of Ricks and Still, we note that "[t]he operator of a private passenger vehicle owes to his passengers a duty of reasonable care [in] providing a safe place to alight" ... . Ricks and Still met their initial burden on their motion by establishing that Ricks did not breach that duty to the child when, intending to escort the child, he parked the vehicle against the curb on a side street. Plaintiff's "[m]ere conclusions, expressions of hope or unsubstantiated allegations" asserted in opposition to the motion failed to raise an issue of fact ... . Green v Hosley, 2014 NY Slip Op 03066, 4th Dept 5-2-14
NEGLIGENCE/COURT OF CLAIMS
Requirements for Notice of Intent Met Despite Flaws in Document
The Fourth Department determined a flawed document which followed the format of a Notice of Claim under the General Municipal Law met the requirements for a Notice of Intent under the Court of Claims Act:
Here, we conclude that the document is a proper notice of intent. We agree with defendant that the document "had all the hallmarks of a notice of claim against a municipality," rather than a notice of intent against the State, including the title of the document, the stated venue as "Supreme Court," the references to the General Municipal Law, and the naming of the County of Orleans as a "respondent." Nevertheless, the document names the State as a "respondent" and alleges that the premises where claimant fell were owned by the State, and claimant served the document on the Attorney General. In addition, we conclude that the mistake in naming the place where the claim arose as the "Orleans County Correctional Facility" (emphasis added) does not require dismissal of the claim. Claimant provided the proper address where the claim arose, which showed that her fall occurred at the Orleans Correctional Facility, and not at the Orleans County Jail, which is located on a different street.With regard to the requisite specificity as to the place where the claim arose, we note that " [w]hat is required is not absolute exactness, but simply a statement made with sufficient definiteness to enable [defendant] to be able to investigate the claim promptly and to ascertain its liability under the circumstances' " .... . Mosley v State of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 03054, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Emotional Injury Can Constitute "Serious Injury" Within the Meaning of the Insurance Law/On-coming Car Crossed Into Plaintiffs' Lane---Plaintiffs Entitled to Summary Judgment (Re: On-coming Driver's Negligence Cause of Action) Under the Emergency Doctrine
The Fourth Department noted a question of fact had been raised about whether post-traumatic-stress disorder constituted a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law 5102 (d). Plaintiffs, husband and wife, were struck head-on when an on-coming car crossed into plaintiff's lane. The driver of the on-coming car was trying to avoid a deer which ran into the road. The court also determined plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment dismissing the other driver's negligence action based upon the emergency doctrine, even in the absence of expert evidence:
"[A] causally-related emotional injury, alone or in combination with a physical injury, can constitute a serious injury" ..., and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "may constitute such an injury when it is causally related to a motor vehicle accident and demonstrated by objective medical evidence" ... . Moreover, "PTSD may be demonstrated without diagnostic testing for purposes of Insurance Law § 5102 (d) by symptoms objectively observed by treating physicians and established by the testimony of the injured plaintiff and others who observe the injured plaintiff" ... .
Even assuming, arguendo, that plaintiffs met their initial burden on the issue of serious injury, we conclude that defendants raised an issue of fact sufficient to defeat the motion by submitting the records of [plaintiff's] psychologist ... . * * *
"Under the emergency doctrine, "when [a driver] is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes [the driver] to be reasonably so disturbed that [he or she] must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct, the [driver] may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context, provided the [driver] has not created the emergency" ' ... . It is well established that a driver is not required to anticipate that [a] vehicle, traveling in the opposite direction, [will] cross over into his [or her] lane of travel' " ... . * * * The vehicle operated by decedent entered [plaintiff's] lane of traffic without warning, and [plaintiff] applied his brakes and swerved to the right as soon as he saw decedent's vehicle cross into his lane. The absence of expert evidence on this issue is of no moment inasmuch as, "[i]n a cross-over collision case, a defendant [or a plaintiff seeking dismissal of an affirmative defense] may meet the burden of establishing entitlement to summary judgment [or dismissal of the affirmative defense] under the emergency doctrine even when [t]he only evidence in the record concerning [the movant's] conduct' is [his or her] own [deposition] testimony" ... . Hill v Cash, 2014 NY Slip Op 03058, 4th Dept 5-2-14
NEGLIGENCE/MEDICAL MALPRACTICE/CIVIL PROCEDURE
Plaintiff Injured Falling Off Operating Table---Record Insufficient to Determine Whether Action Sounded in Medical Malpractice (Rendering It Untimely) or Negligence (Rendering It Timely)
The Third Department determined there was insufficient information in the record to determine whether plaintiff's action sounded in negligence or medical malpractice. Plaintiff was injured when she fell off the operating table. The case hinged on whether the 2 1/2 year medical malpractice of the 3 year negligence statute of limitations applied. Supreme Court determined the medical malpractice statute applied and dismissed the complaint. The Third Department sent the matter back for the service of an amended complaint:
The sole issue here is whether the complaint sounds in medical malpractice such that it is subject to a 2½-year statute of limitations, which would make it untimely, or whether it alleges personal injury claims based on ordinary negligence that are subject to a three-year statute of limitations (compare CPLR 214-a, with CPLR 214 ). "Conduct may be deemed malpractice, rather than negligence, when it 'constitutes medical treatment or bears a substantial relationship to the rendition of medical treatment by a licensed physician'" ... .
The record here does not contain enough factual information to make such a determination. The complaint contains some language that generally refers to malpractice, such as that the "action arose from a surgery," that plaintiff was "owed a duty by [d]efendants to use the due care of medical specialists in performing" the surgery, and that plaintiff fell after she "was extubated by the [a]nesthesiologist" or "while extubated by" him. While some of the medical records also indicate that plaintiff's fall from the operating table may have been substantially related to the rendition of medical treatment, one medical note indicates that plaintiff rolled off the table due to the failure to remove an obstruction that prevented a stretcher from being placed next to the operating table. Plaintiff's causes of action would sound in medical malpractice if she fell off the table due to improper pressure or movement in the removal of the breathing tube, or the failure to properly evaluate her safety and restraint needs while she was under anesthesia ... .
On the other hand, her causes of action would sound in ordinary negligence if she never received any safety assessment, if the hospital staff failed to remove an obstruction between the operating table and stretcher and allowed her to fall between them, or if she was simply dropped by the staff members when they were transferring her from the operating table to the stretcher ... . Newell v Ellis Hosp, 2014 NY Slip Op 02992, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
NEGLIGENCE/MUNICIPAL LAW/PRODUCTS LIABILITY
General Municipal Law 205-a and Strict Products Liability Causes of Action Brought by Firefighter Injured During a Fire Survive Defendants' Summary Judgment Motions
The Third Department determined motions for summary judgment by the owners of a building and the manufacturer of a device used to locate firefighters in an emergency were properly denied. Plaintiff (Dryer) was a firefighter severely injured when a ceiling collapsed on him while he was searching for a fire within the building. It was alleged the fire was related to violations of the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code and the "PASS" device which was supposed to facilitate the locating of a firefighter malfunctioned. Questions of fact were raised re: the General Municipal Law 205-a and strict products liability causes of action:
General Municipal Law § 205-a creates a statutory cause of action for firefighters who are injured in the line of duty "directly or indirectly as a result of any neglect, omission, willful or culpable negligence of any person or persons in failing to comply with the requirements of any [federal, state or local] . . . statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements" (General Municipal Law § 205-a ...). "To fall within the protective scope of the statute and defeat a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff seeking recovery under General Municipal Law § 205-a must identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply, describe the manner in which the firefighter was injured, and set forth those facts from which it may be inferred that the defendant's negligence directly or indirectly caused the harm to the firefighter" ... . * * *
...[W]e [are not] persuaded that Supreme Court erred in denying the owners' motions for summary judgment dismissing the General Municipal Law § 205-a cause of action. In this regard, the owners bore the initial burden of establishing either that they did not violate any relevant governmental provision or, if they did, that such violation did not directly or indirectly cause Dryer's injuries ... . The "directly or indirectly" language employed in General Municipal Law § 205-a "has been accorded broad application by the courts, 'in light of the clear legislative intent to offer firefighters greater protections'" ... . * * *
"In order to recover in a strict products liability action, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant manufactured for sale, or sold, distributed, leased, or otherwise marketed a product, that the product was defective, that the plaintiff was injured and that the defect was a substantial factor in causing the [plaintiff's] injury" ... . The requisite defect, in turn, may stem from "a manufacturing flaw, improper design or failure to warn" ... . Dryer v Musacchio, 2014 NY Slip Op 02986, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
NEGLIGENCE/PRODUCTS LIABILITY/CIVIL PROCEDURE
Untimely Strict Products Liability Cause of Action Related Back to Timely Negligent Design Cause of Action---Motion to Amend Pleadings to Add Strict Products Liability Cause of Action Against Lessor of Heavy Equipment Should Have Been Granted
The Third Department determined plaintiff should have been allowed to amend the complaint to assert a strict products liability cause of action against the lessor of heavy equipment. Plaintiff claimed to have slipped and fallen from a slippery surface on the heavy equipment. The court noted the untimely strict products liability claim was nearly identical to the negligent design cause of action which had been timely alleged:
A commercial lessor may be held liable, even in the absence of fault, for injuries caused by a defective product that the lessor is in the business of leasing ... . Leave to amend is to be freely granted "at any time," so long as there is no prejudice or surprise to the other party (CPLR 3025 [b]...), "and the amendment is not plainly lacking in merit" ... .
Although plaintiffs did not seek to amend the complaint until four years after the commencement of the action, [defendant] has not identified any actual prejudice or valid claim of surprise. The proposed amendment is not based on new facts and there is "almost no difference" between negligence and strict products liability claims based on defective design ... . Given the functionally synonymous nature of the claims, we conclude that the complaint provided adequate notice of the necessary elements and the proposed amendment relates back to the timely interposition of the negligence claim (see CPLR 203 [f]...). Furthermore, the strict products liability claim cannot be said to be plainly lacking in merit as plaintiffs submitted an affidavit from a certified safety professional who opined that the slippery surface of the excavator was unreasonably dangerous, described why and explained how it could have been made safer ... . Stokes v Komatsu Am Corp, 2014 NY Slip Op 02997, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
NEGLIGENCE/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW
Statutory "Reckless Disregard" Standard in Vehicle and Traffic Law 1103 (b) Applied to the Driver of a Town Truck---The Driver Was Using a Plow to Remove Water and Debris from a Road---Because the Driver Was Acting On His Own and Had Not Been Assigned to Remove the Water and Debris, the Question Raised on Appeal Was Whether the Driver Was Doing "Work" within the Meaning of Section 1103 (b) such that the Statutory Standard, as Opposed to the Ordinary Negligence Standard, Applied
The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, determined the statutory "reckless disregard" standard of Vehicle and Traffic Law 1103 (b), not the ordinary negligence standard, applied to the actions of the driver of a town truck.. The driver, Grzybek, was using a plow to remove water and debris from a service road. The water sprayed onto the windshield of the truck, obstructing the driver's vision and causing the driver to cross into an oncoming lane, striking plaintiffs' vehicle. Because the driver was not assigned the task of removing water and debris from the road, the dissenters argued the driver was not engaged in "work" within the meaning of Vehicle and Traffic Law 1103 (b) and, therefore, the ordinary negligence standard, not the "reckless disregard" standard of section 1103 (b), applied:
...[T]he statute exempts "all [municipal] vehicles actually engaged in work on a highway' . . . from the rules of the road" ... . The statute does not state that it exempts only those vehicles engaged in "assigned" work. Plowing water and debris from a road is work, and that work is within the scope of Grzybek's duties. Plaintiffs do not suggest otherwise. Rather, their contention is that the statute applies only when the vehicles are "performing their assigned work" and that Grzybek was not assigned to plow water and debris from the service road on the day of the accident. In our view, interpreting the statute as the dissent and plaintiffs suggest improperly adds language to the statute by qualifying the word "work." It is not the function of this Court to usurp the power of the legislature and rewrite a clear and unambiguous statute. Aside from statutory exceptions not relevant herein, all municipal vehicles actually engaged in work are exempt from the rules of the road. Inasmuch as Grzybek's vehicle was actually engaged in work, albeit unassigned work, the reckless disregard standard of care set forth in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1103 (b) applies as a matter of law. * * *
...[W]e conclude that plaintiffs, in opposition to defendants' cross motion, submitted evidence from which a jury could find that Grzybek "had intentionally committed 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 [did] so with conscious indifference to the outcome' " ... . Gawron v Town of Cheektowaga, 2014 NY Slip Op 03051, 4th Dept 5-2-14
NEGLIGENCE/VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW
Police Officer Struck by Plaintiffs' Decedents When the Officer Was Making a U-Turn to Follow a Car Was Entitled to Summary Judgment Under the Statutory "Reckless Disregard" Standard
The Fourth Department determined summary judgment should have been granted in favor of a police officer (Bluman) who was struck by plaintiffs' decedents when the officer was attempting to make a u-turn to follow a vehicle. The court determined the reckless disregard standard of Vehicle and Traffic Law 1104 applied and that the officer's "momentary judgment lapse" did not rise to the level of reckless disregard as a matter of law:
At the time of the accident, Bluman was operating an "authorized emergency vehicle" (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 [a]) and was engaged in an emergency operation by virtue of the fact that he was attempting a U-turn in order to "pursu[e] an actual or suspected violator of the law" (§ 114-b). As the Court of Appeals recognized ..., "the reckless disregard standard of care in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 (e) only applies when a driver of an authorized emergency vehicle involved in an emergency operation engages in the specific conduct exempted from the rules of the road by Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 (b). Any other injury-causing conduct of such a driver is governed by the principles of ordinary negligence." We conclude that, by attempting to execute a U-turn, Bluman's conduct was exempted from the rules of the road by section 1104 (b) (4). As a result, his conduct is governed by the reckless disregard standard of care in section 1104 (e).
It is well settled that a " momentary judgment lapse' does not alone rise to the level of recklessness required of the driver of an emergency vehicle in order for liability to attach" (Szczerbiak v Pilat, 90 NY2d 553, 557). Here, Bluman acted under the mistaken belief that the other southbound vehicles were sufficiently behind him and that it was, at that moment, safe to execute a U-turn. This "constituted a momentary lapse in judgment not rising to the level of reckless disregard for the safety of others' "... . Dodds v Town of Hamburg, 2014 NY Slip Op 03060, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Causes of Action Against County Personnel Based Upon Negligent Hiring, Training and Supervision Should Not Have Been Dismissed--Plaintiff's Decedent Was Killed at the Hands of Her Mother and Half-Brother---Complaint Alleged County's Negligence in Failing to Protect Plaintiff's Decedent
In a lawsuit alleging county personnel, including deputy sheriffs, were negligent resulting in the death of plaintiff's decedent at the hands of her mother and half-brother, the Fourth Department determined: (1) governmental immunity could not be determined at the pleading stage because whether the government's actions were discretionary (and therefore immune) was a question of fact; (2) absent a local law to the contrary, a sheriff can not be held vicariously responsible for the actions of deputy sheriffs under the doctrine of respondeat superior; (3) the causes of action for negligent hiring, training and supervision of county personnel should not have been dismissed; (4) the notices of claim were sufficient to notify the county of the negligent hiring, training and supervision causes of action; and (5) the notice of claim was not defective for failing to name the sheriff in his official capacity. Mosey v County of Erie, 2014 NY Slip Op 03041, 4th Dept 5-2-14
Corporate Integrity Documents Privileged Under Education Law 6527 (3)
The Fourth Department determined corporate integrity documents sought by plaintiffs in a fraud and dental malpractice action were privileged under the Education Law and did not have to be disclosed:
We conclude that the court erred in determining that the requested corporate integrity documents were not privileged under Education Law § 6527 (3). [Defendant] met its burden of establishing that the corporate integrity documents sought by plaintiffs were related to the "performance of a medical or a quality assurance review function or participation in a medical and dental malpractice prevention program" ... . Specifically, [defendant] established that the corporate integrity documents were prepared pursuant to state and federal corporate integrity agreements, which set forth procedures for the review and monitoring of the quality of care of the dental clinics. Thus, [defendant] established" that it has a review procedure and that the [corporate integrity documents] for which the [privilege] is claimed [were] obtained or maintained in accordance with that review procedure' " ... . Contrary to plaintiffs' contention, there is nothing in the language of section 6527 (3) limiting applicability of the privilege to agencies located in New York or records prepared in the state... . Matter of Small Smiles Litig, 2014 NY Slip Op 03080, 4th Dept 5-2-14
No Question of Fact Raised About Whether Buyer Was a Bona Fide Purchaser
The Third Department determined summary judgment was properly granted in favor of a bona fide purchaser(Doyle) of property that had been the subject of plaintiff's prior sales contract:
...[W]e reject plaintiff's assertion that Supreme Court erred in finding that Doyle was a bona fide purchaser as a matter of law. "A bona fide purchaser one who purchases real property in good faith, for valuable consideration, without actual or record notice of another party's adverse interests in the property and is the first to record the deed or conveyance takes title free and clear of such adverse interests" ... . In support of his motion, Doyle averred that he purchased the property for $455,000, recorded the deed on April 20, 2012 and "was unaware of any contract to purchase [the property] between [NKT] and anyone" prior to doing so. He also denied having ever heard of either plaintiff or its principal prior to filing the deed. [Counsel] confirms that he did not inform Doyle of the negotiations with plaintiff or even of plaintiff's existence prior to the sale of the property. Further, the recording page accompanying the deed which indicates a purchase price of $455,000 and reflects payment of a transfer tax commensurate with that amount corroborates Doyle's allegation regarding the consideration paid for the property (see Tax Law § 1402 [a]). Given this evidence, the burden shifted to plaintiff to raise a question of fact as to whether Doyle "ha[d] knowledge of any fact, sufficient to put him on inquiry [notice] as to the existence of some right or title in conflict with that he [was] about to purchase"... . 10 Cardinal Lane LLC v NKT Land Acquisitions Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 02990, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
REAL PROPERTY LAW
Homeowners' Association Had Power to Direct Property Owners to Remove Chickens
The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, determined the plaintiff homeowners' association acted properly when it directed defendants to remove two chickens from their property. The "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions..." gave the board "the absolute power to prohibit a pet from being kept on the Properties...":
"It is well settled that, [s]o long as the [B]oard [of directors of a homeowners' association] acts for the purposes of the [homeowners' association], within the scope of its authority and in good faith, courts will not substitute their judgment for [that of] the [B]oard[ ]' " ... . The Declaration provides that plaintiff's Board "shall have the absolute power to prohibit a pet from being kept on the Properties, including inside residences constructed thereon." Here, plaintiff established that its Board was acting for the purposes of the homeowners' association and within the scope of its authority when it directed defendants to remove the chickens from the property. In addition, there is no evidence that defendants were " deliberately single[d] out . . . for harmful treatment' " inasmuch as no other residents of the subdivision had chickens or were in violation of the applicable restrictive covenant ..., and defendants otherwise " failed to present evidence of bad faith . . . or other misconduct' " ... . Preserve Homeowners' Assn Inc v Zahn, 2014 NY Slip Op 03047, 4th Dept 5-2-14
SOCIAL SERVICES LAW/ADMINISTRATIVE LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Low-Income Families' Challenges to Child Care Copayment Regulation Rejected
The Fourth Department rejected challenges to a copayment regulation by low-income families who are eligible for child care assistance but who are required to pay more than 10% of their gross incomes for the care. The families alleged that the co-payment regulation, 18 NYCRR 415.3 (e), violated Social Services Law 410-x because it did not provide for a single sliding fee scale, the existing sliding fee scales are not based upon the family's ability to pay, and the regulation failed to provide equitable access to child care as required by statute. The families further alleged the copayment regulation violated the families' right to travel within the state and their right to equal protection of the law. With respect to the sliding scale aspect of the argument, the court wrote:
Plaintiffs ...contend that the copayment regulation violates Social Services Law § 410-x (6) because it does not provide for a single sliding fee scale, as required by statute, and instead allows each of the 58 social services districts to set its own sliding fee scale. We reject that contention as well. "It is well settled that the Legislature may authorize an administrative agency to fill in the interstices in the legislative product by prescribing rules and regulations consistent with the enabling legislation' " ... . "In so doing, an agency can adopt regulations that go beyond the text of that legislation, provided they are not inconsistent with the statutory language or its underlying purposes" ... . An agency's interpretation of a governing statute will not be disturbed unless it is unreasonable or irrational ... .
Here, section 410-x (6) delegates regulatory authority to the Office of Children and Family Services, of which defendant is Commissioner, by providing that, "[p]ursuant to department regulations, child care assistance shall be provided on a sliding fee basis based on the family's ability to pay." The statute does not expressly require defendant to adopt a single state-wide sliding fee scale, and we do not consider it unreasonable or irrational for defendant to adopt a regulation that gives flexibility to social services districts to choose a multiplier between 10% and 35% to use in calculating an eligible family's share of child care costs. Williams v Carrion, 2014 NY Slip Op 03044, 4th Dept 5-2-14
TRUSTS AND ESTATES
Surrogate's Court Should Have Held a Hearing to Determine the Validity of a Handwritten Will Supported by the Affidavits of Two Attesting Witnesses---If Valid, the 2012 Handwritten Will Would Have Revoked the 2002 Will
The Fourth Department reversed Surrogate's Court and ordered that a hearing be held to determine whether a 2012 will revoked a 2002 will. The 2012 will was handwritten and included some confusing language, but it was supported by the affidavits of two attesting witnesses. There was sufficient evidence of the validity of the 2012 will to warrant a hearing:
We conclude that petitioner demonstrated a substantial basis for contesting the 2002 will. Execution of a subsequent will revokes a former will if the subsequent will is "so inconsistent with the former will that the two cannot stand together," even in the absence of an express revocation clause in the subsequent will ... . Here, the 2002 will named respondent as the sole beneficiary, but the 2012 will named petitioner as the sole beneficiary and purported to dispose of all of decedent's property. We therefore conclude that the provisions of the 2002 will are so inconsistent with those of the 2012 will that, if the Surrogate were "satisfied with the genuineness of the  will and the validity of its execution" (SCPA 1408 ), the 2012 will would revoke the 2002 will. Thus, in this case, whether petitioner had a reasonable probability of successfully vacating probate of the 2002 will was dependent upon whether he could prove, through competent evidence, that the 2012 will was genuine and duly executed and attested .... Matter of Gehr, 2014 NY Slip Op 03049, 4th Dept 5-2-14
TRUSTS AND ESTATES/CONTRACT LAW/FAMILY LAW
Antenuptial Agreement Was a Valid Contract Which Controlled Interpretation of Trust Documents
The Third Department applied general principles of contract-interpretation to an antenuptial agreement and trust documents to determine objections to property distribution raised by the surviving wife:
Although the [trust document] makes no explicit mention of the antenuptial agreement, the [trust document] fulfilled decedent's obligation under that agreement by explicitly creating a trust to benefit [the wife] during her lifetime in an amount in excess of that required by the antenuptial agreement. Further, the [trust document] provides that the trust to benefit [the wife] be funded with assets that "qualify for the marital deduction," which is consistent with the intentions of the parties as explicitly set forth in the antenuptial agreement. The structure of the [trust document] creates an estate plan that is inconsistent with [the wife's] claim. The plain language provides for a trust to benefit [the wife] that meets the specific minimum requirements set out in the antenuptial agreement, and the [trust document] conforms to the parties' intentions regarding tax deductibility expressed in the agreement. Considering this evidence, Surrogate's Court properly determined that there is no issue of material fact on [the wife's] claim, because decedent intended to fulfill his obligation under the antenuptial agreement through the [trust] ..., and that trust was funded in an amount greater than required by the antenuptial agreement ... . Matter of Rich, 2014 NY Slip Op 02982, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Company Exercised Sufficient Control Over "Agents" to Justify Finding They Were Employees
The Third Department determined that Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board properly found that claimants were employees of Just Energy New York Corporation and were thus entitled to unemployment insurance payments from the employer:
The record establishes that some indicia of control by Just Energy was mandated by law, such as requiring the agent to carry a photo identification badge bearing Just Energy's name and logo, which, alone, is not sufficient to establish an employer-employee relationship. Nevertheless, "it can still be considered as part of the overall determination of control exercised over" the agents ... . Here, the Board was not convinced that all the indicia of control that Just Energy exercised over the agents was required by applicable state law. Specifically, Just Energy advertised for and interviewed the agents before hiring them. Just Energy provided the agent agreement and set the commission rate, both of which could be changed only by Just Energy. Just Energy provided the agent with the customer contracts. Contracts were required to be submitted on a weekly basis, approval by Just Energy was required before the contracts became effective, and Just Energy reviewed the contracts and returned them to the agent if any corrections needed to be made. Significantly, the agreement precluded the agents from working for any competitor during the term of the contract, as well as for three weeks following the termination of the agreement. Agents were required to attend two half-day orientation sessions, and received a training manual and code of conduct, which, if not adhered to, could result in termination of the contract. Just Energy would field questions from agents. Furthermore, any complaints were handled by Just Energy, which could investigate and maintain a file on an agent. Although there is evidence to support a contrary conclusion, we find substantial evidence to support the Board's decision that the extent of the control exercised by Just Energy over the agents evinces an employer-employee relationship ... . Matter of Cohen (Just Energy Mktg Corp---Commissioner of Labor), 2014 NY Slip Op 02984, 3rd Dept 5-1-14
Slip and Fall On Sidewalk Near Place of Employment Was Not a Work-Related Accident
The Third Department determined a slip and fall on a sidewalk near claimant's place of employment did not, under the facts, constitute a work-related accident:
Inasmuch as the accident here occurred near claimant's place of employment, his claim falls within "a gray area where the risks of street travel merge with the risks attendant with employment and where the mere fact that the accident took place on a public road or sidewalk may not ipso facto negate the right to compensation" ... . In order for an incident to be compensable under those circumstances, "there must be (1) a special hazard at the particular off-premises point and (2) a close association of the access route with the premises, so far as going and coming are concerned" ... .While the public sidewalk here was near the government center, it was open to the public and there was no showing that it was "otherwise controlled by the employer, that workers were encouraged to use it or that it existed solely to provide access to the" workplace ... . The ice on the sidewalk, moreover, constituted "a danger that existed to any passerby traveling along the [sidewalk] in that location" and bore no relation to claimant's employment... . Matter of Trotman v New York State Cts, 2014 NY Slip Op 03002, 3rd Dept 5-1-14