JUST RELEASED

MAY PART III

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

NEGLIGENCE



Assumption of Risk Extends to Condition of Outside Basketball Court



The First Department affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant finding that the plaintiff basketball player assumed the risks associated with playing basketball on defendant’s outdoor court:

 

          Plaintiff, an experienced basketball player who had played on the subject court on numerous occasions, was injured when, while heading toward the rim to take a shot, his ankle twisted and he heard his knee "pop," causing him to fall to the ground. Plaintiff observed that the court was cracked, repaired and uneven, which he believed to be the cause of his fall. Under the circumstances, dismissal of the complaint was proper since plaintiff assumed the risks associated with playing basketball or warming up to play basketball on this outdoor basketball court… .  Felton v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03423, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Assumption of Duty to Maintain Sidewalk/No Expert Notice Needed for Treating Physician



In reversing a judgment after a jury trial in a slip and fall case, the First Department discussed several issues that came up in the trial, including the denial of a missing witness charge with respect to one of the defense doctors, a translation problem raised by the translator (which may have given the jury the misimpression plaintiff was confused about an important issue), the assumption by the defendant Department of Education (DOE) of a duty to make the sidewalk outside a school (where plaintiff fell) safe, and the trial court’s ruling that one of plaintiff’s treating physicians could not testify because no “expert witness” notice was provided.  In addressing the school’s assumption of a duty with respect to the condition of the sidewalk and the exclusion of plaintiff’s treating physician, the First Department wrote:



           The DOE argues on appeal that the action should have been dismissed as against it because it did not own the sidewalk where plaintiff fell. New York City Charter § 521(a) provides that "title to all property ... acquired for school or educational purpose ... shall be vested in the city, but under the care and control of the board of education for the purposes of public education, recreation and other public uses." Education Law § 2554(4) affirmatively charges the DOE with responsibility for "the care, custody, control and safekeeping of all school property or other property of the city used for educational, social or recreational work." ……[W]here there was evidence that the DOE affirmatively undertook the duty to maintain the sidewalk, the court was well within its discretion in submitting the question of the DOE's negligence to the jury ….

          CPLR 3101(d)(1) provides that, upon request, parties must identify those expected to be called as experts and "disclose in reasonable detail the subject matter on which each expert is expected to testify, the substance of the facts and opinions on which each expert is expected to testify ... and a summary of the grounds for each expert's opinion." However, the failure to serve a CPLR 3101(d) notice with regard to a treating physician, such as Dr. Geller, is not grounds for preclusion of the physician's expert testimony as to causation where there has been disclosure of the physician's records and reports, pursuant to CPLR 3121 and 22 NYCRR 202.17 … .  Hamer v City of New York, 2013 NY slip Op 03431, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Governmental Immunity Applied to Preclude Recovery by Bicyclist



In finding the City was not liable for injury to a bicyclist because of governmental immunity, the First Department wrote:



          In this action for personal injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff when his bicycle hit a depression in a grassy area, after he was diverted from the bicycle path in a City park due to cleaning activities by defendants' employees on a retaining wall, defendants moved to dismiss at the close of plaintiff's… * * *  …[D]ismissal of the complaint is warranted on the … ground … that defendants' employees were engaged in a governmental function giving rise to the governmental immunity defense. Diverting traffic to protect the public from the harsh chemicals used in the cleaning process was a discretionary act performed by public employees in the exercise of reasoned judgment … . Stashkevetch v City of New York, 2013, NY Slip Op 03418, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Proof of Regular Cleaning Negated Constructive Notice Allegation



In determining the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a slip and fall case should have been granted, the Second Department explained defendant had met its burden on the issue of (the absence of) constructive notice by proof of regular weekly cleaning:



          In a slip-and-fall case, a defendant moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that it did not create the condition on which the plaintiff slipped, and did not have actual or constructive notice of that condition… . " To meet its initial burden on the issue of lack of constructive notice, the defendant must offer some evidence as to when the area in question was last cleaned or inspected relative to the time when the plaintiff fell'"… .  A defendant's submission of evidence of its general cleaning practices is generally insufficient to meet its burden on the issue of lack of constructive notice … . Here, however, the defendant submitted an affidavit from its superintendent indicating that each and every Monday, he would mop the entire building, including the stairwell where the plaintiff allegedly fell, and that this mopping would always occur between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. This affidavit was specific enough to satisfy the defendant's initial burden. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Armijos v Vrettos Realty Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 03443, 2nd Dept,. 5-15-013





No Demonstration Burst Water Pipe Could Have Been the Result of Negligent Inspection or Maintenance/Municipality Immune from Negligent Design



In affirming Supreme Court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant town with respect to damages allegedly caused by a burst storm water pipe, the Second Department determined plaintiffs did not raise a question of fact concerning negligent inspection or maintenance:

           "A municipality is immune from liability arising out of claims that it negligently designed [a] sewerage system" or storm drainage system"… . However, a municipality is not immune from liability arising out of claims that it negligently maintained its storm drainage system…. For the plaintiffs to recover under a theory of negligent inspection or maintenance of the storm drainage system, the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendants had " notice of a dangerous condition or ha[d] reason to believe that the pipes ha[d] shifted or deteriorated and [were] likely to cause injury,' that the [defendants] failed to make reasonable efforts to inspect and repair the defect,' and that such failure caused the plaintiffs' injuries"….  Bilotta v Town of Harrison, 2013 NY Slip Op 03444, 2nd Dept, 5-150-13





Pre-Deposition Motion to Dismiss in Rear-End Collision Case Not Premature



In reversing the denial of summary judgment to the plaintiff in a rear-end collision case, the Second Department determined the pre-deposition motion for summary judgment should not have been dismissed as premature:



           The Supreme Court erred in concluding that the plaintiffs' motion was premature. A party who contends that a summary judgment motion is premature is required to demonstrate that discovery might lead to relevant evidence or the facts essential to justify opposition to the motion were exclusively within the knowledge and control of the movant (see CPLR 3212[f]; … .The defendant's contention that the plaintiffs' motion was premature because the plaintiffs had not yet been deposed at the time the plaintiffs' motion was filed did not establish what information the defendant hoped to discover at the plaintiffs' depositions that would relieve him of liability in this case. "The mere hope or speculation that evidence sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment may be uncovered during the discovery process is insufficient to deny the motion" … .  Cajas-Romero v Ward, 2013 NY Slip Op 03446, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Assumption of Risk Extends to Construction of Baseball Field



Plaintiff, while playing baseball, fell on a concrete pathway adjacent to the outfield while running to catch a ball.  The Second Department determined the doctrine of primary assumption of risk applied to risks associated with the construction of the playing field:

           …[T]he Supreme Court properly granted the defendants' separate motions for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them based on the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. That doctrine extends to those risks associated with the construction of the playing field and any open and obvious condition thereon…, as well as risks involving less than optimal playing conditions …. The defendants demonstrated their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by establishing that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by voluntarily participating in the softball game, thereby consenting to the commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the sport generally and flow from such participation, including those open and obvious risks associated with the construction of and conditions upon the playing field … .  Mattas v Town of Hempstead, 2013 NY Slip Op 03464, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Passenger in Car of Which Plaintiff Lost Control in Snowy Conditions Entitled to Summary Judgment



In finding Supreme Court should have granted summary judgment in favor of the passenger-plaintiff, who was injured when the driver-defendant lost control of his car and struck a fence, the Second Department wrote:



           The plaintiffs made a prima facie showing of their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting evidence that this was a one-car accident which occurred when Rajput [defendant] lost control of the vehicle he was driving…. "An innocent passenger . . . who, in support of [his or] her motion for summary judgment, submits evidence that the accident resulted from the driver losing control of the vehicle, shifts the burden to the driver to come forward with an exculpatory explanation" ….
In opposition, the defendants failed to raise an issue of fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Since Rajput acknowledged in his affidavit that it was snowing heavily at the time of his accident, and that he was aware of wet and icy road conditions, the emergency doctrine is inapplicable …. Furthermore, the affidavit, which failed to specify at what speed Rajput was actually driving before his vehicle skidded, was insufficient to establish that he was driving with reasonable care, and thus raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the skid was unavoidable … .  Mughal v Rajput, 2013 NY Slip Op 03466, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Plaintiff Unable to Demonstrate Freedom from Comparative Negligence as a Matter of Law/Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Automobile Accident Case Denied



In affirming the denial of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on liability in an automobile-accident case, the Second Department explained the plaintiff failed to demonstrate freedom from comparative negligence as a matter of law:



          “There can be more than one proximate cause [of an accident] and, thus, the proponent of a summary judgment motion has the burden of establishing freedom from comparative negligence as a matter of law" …. While an operator of a motor vehicle traveling with the right-of-way is entitled to assume that other drivers will obey the traffic laws requiring them to yield…, the operator traveling with the right-of-way still has an obligation to keep a proper lookout and see what can be seen through the reasonable use of his or her senses to avoid colliding with other vehicles…. The issue of comparative fault is generally a question for the trier of fact … .



          Here, the plaintiff failed to submit evidence eliminating a triable issue of fact as to whether she contributed to the happening of the accident…. Since the plaintiff failed to establish her prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, her motion was properly denied regardless of the sufficiency of the defendant's papers in opposition… .  Regans v Baratta, 2013 NY Slip Op 03468, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







CIVIL PROCEDURE



Objection to Verification of Answer Too Late



The Second Department determined plaintiff waited too long before objecting to an insufficient verification in the answer:

           A party must "give[ ] notice with due diligence" that he or she intends to treat a pleading as a nullity pursuant to CPLR 3022 on the ground that the pleading was served with an insufficient verification (CPLR 3022;…). Here, the plaintiff …waived any claim that the verification accompanying the answer of the defendant …was defective by waiting approximately eight months after the answer was filed to object to it (see CPLR 3022; …).   Cherubin Antiques, Inc v Matiash, 2013 NY Slip Op 03449, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Motion to Vacate Default Based On Lack of Jurisdiction Need Not Demonstrate Reasonable Excuse Meritorious Defense



In finding Supreme Court should have held a hearing on whether defendant [Goldberger] was properly served with a complaint in a foreclosure action (in which the defendant did not appear), the Court noted that the fact defendant had unsuccessfully filed for bankruptcy after the judgment of foreclosure did not prevent him from contesting service of the foreclosure complaint.  The Court explained that where the motion to vacate a default judgment is based on a lack of personal jurisdiction, neither a reasonable excuse nor a meritorious defense need be demonstrated:



           The Supreme Court erred in determining the motion without first conducting a hearing. Although the process server's affidavit constituted prima facie evidence of proper service, Goldberger's sworn claim that he did not reside at the subject premises, along with his submission of documentary evidence supporting that claim, was sufficient to rebut the prima facie showing, and to necessitate a hearing… . Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, Goldberger is not judicially estopped from seeking vacatur of the judgment as a result of his filing of a bankruptcy petition. …Goldberger did not receive a favorable result in the bankruptcy proceeding by taking a position contrary to one he is taking in this action ….  …[A] party who moves to vacate a judgment entered on default on the ground of lack of personal jurisdiction is not required to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for the default or a potentially meritorious defense  … . Dime Sav Bank of Williamsburg v 146 Ross Realty, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 03451, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Criteria for Motion to Amend Pleadings/Motion for Additional Depositions



In this Labor Law action, the Second Department explained the factors to be considered in a motion to amend the pleadings, and the factors to be considered in a motion for additional depositions:

       

           Applications for leave to amend pleadings should be freely granted except when the delay in seeking leave to amend would directly cause undue prejudice or surprise to the opposing party, or when the proposed amendment is palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit (see CPLR 3025[b];…). The sufficiency or underlying merit of the proposed amendment is to be examined no further ….  * * *



          The moving party that is seeking additional depositions has the burden of demonstrating "(1) that the representatives already deposed had insufficient knowledge, or were otherwise inadequate, and (2) there is a substantial likelihood that the persons sought for depositions possess information which is material and necessary to the prosecution of the case" …. Whether the defendant had the authority to supervise the means and methods of the work is material and relevant to the issue of liability in this case …. Gomez v State of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03455, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Lateness Not a Barrier to Motion to Amend Pleadings/Addition of Wrongful Death Cause of Action Allowed/No Prejudice to Defendant



The Second Department upheld Supreme Court’s grant of a motion to amend a complaint to add a cause of action for wrongful death “long after the action ha[d] been certified for trial…”.  The Second Department explained:



          Although the plaintiff delayed in making the motion, " [m]ere lateness is not a barrier to the amendment. It must be lateness coupled with significant prejudice to the other side'"…. Contrary to the defendants' contentions, they did not demonstrate that they would be significantly prejudiced by the amendment. In light of the medical records of the plaintiff's decedent, which documented multiple hospital admissions and her declining medical condition following the subject accident, along with the decedent's deposition testimony regarding the aggravation of pre-existing medical conditions, the defendants cannot, under the circumstances of this case, claim to have been surprised by the amendment … . Moreover, the plaintiff offered a reasonable excuse for the delay, and to avoid any possible prejudice to the defendants, the Supreme Court granted them time to obtain further discovery … . Henry v MTA, 2013 NY Slip Op 03457, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Discovery Demands Overbroad



In affirming Supreme Court’s determination that petitioner’s discovery demands in a property tax assessment matter were overbroad, the Second Department wrote:



           …[T]he document demands, even limited to those concerning tax years 2008/2009, 2010/2011, and 2011/2012, were of an overbroad and burdensome nature. Although CPLR 3101(a) provides for "full disclosure of all matter material and necessary in the prosecution or defense of an action," unlimited disclosure is not required, and supervision of disclosure is generally left to the Supreme Court's broad discretion… . While documents related to the actions of the Board of Assessment Review for the Town of Babylon are relevant to this hybrid proceeding and action alleging statutory and constitutional violations, the Supreme Court properly determined that the "sweeping demands" of the notice of discovery and inspection were overbroad and burdensome …. "Where discovery demands are overbroad, the appropriate remedy is to vacate the entire demand rather than to prune it'" … .  In the Matter of Greenfield v Board of Assessment Review…, 2013 NY Slip Op 03480, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Two Options to Recover on Note and Mortgage/One in Law (Note)/One in Equity (Foreclosure)



In finding that CPLR 5236(b) did not apply in the case, the Second Department described the two options a mortgagee has with respect to recovery based on a note and mortgage:



           CPLR 5236(b) provides, in relevant part, that "[r]eal property mortgaged shall not be sold pursuant to an execution issued upon a judgment recovered for all or part of the mortgage debt." Typically, a mortgagee has the choice of "two remedies: one at law in a suit on the debt as evidenced by the note, the other in equity to foreclose the mortgage" …. A mortgagee who elects to proceed on the note becomes "subject to the statutory restrictions which direct that when a judgment is recovered for all or part of the mortgage debt, the execution shall direct that no part of the mortgage[d] property shall be levied upon or sold thereunder" (Goddard v Johnson, 96 Misc 2d 230, 231). Matter of Ivy Hill Commodities Corp v Beekharry, 2013 NY Slip Op 03483, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Hybrid Article 78 and Declaratory Judgment Proceeding Requires Separate Treatment of Both


In a hybrid proceeding--- an Article 78 proceeding to review a Town Board’s stop work order for a quarry acting without a permit, and a related declaratory judgment action---the Second Department determined Supreme Court could not dismiss the declaratory judgment action as if it were part of the Article 78 proceeding.  The two actions must be treated as separate proceedings:



           …[I]n the absence of a dispositive motion addressed to the causes of action which sought declaratory relief, the Supreme Court improperly, in effect, dismissed those causes of action …. In a hybrid proceeding and action, separate procedural rules apply to those causes of action which are asserted pursuant to CPLR article 78, on the one hand, and those which seek declaratory relief, on the other hand (see id. at 1008). "The Supreme Court may not employ the summary procedure applicable to a CPLR article 78 cause of action to dispose of causes of action to recover damages or seeking a declaratory judgment"…. "Thus, where no party makes a request for a summary determination of the causes of action which seek damages or declaratory relief, it is error for the Supreme Court to summarily dispose of those causes of action"…. Here, since no party made such a motion, the Supreme Court should not have summarily disposed of the causes of action which sought declaratory relief, and the matter must be remitted … .  Matter of Lake St Granite Quarry, Inc v Town/Village of Harrison, 2013 NY Slip Op 03487, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Criteria for Motion to Amend a Complaint and for the “Relation Back” Doctrine Explained



In affirming the denial of a motion to amend a complaint the Second Department described the law concerning amendment (CPLR 305) and “relation back” (CPLR 203):



           CPLR 305(c) authorizes the court, in its discretion, to "allow any summons or proof of service of a summons to be amended, if a substantial right of a party against whom the summons issued is not prejudiced" (CPLR 305[c]). Where the motion is to cure "a misnomer in the description of a party defendant," it should be granted even after the statute of limitations has run where "(1) there is evidence that the correct defendant (misnamed in the original process) has in fact been properly served, and (2) the correct defendant would not be prejudiced by granting the amendment sought"…. CPLR 305(c) does not apply in this case, where the plaintiff's mistake in failing to commence the action against Keyspan-Ravenswood within the statute of limitations period had nothing to do with the misnomer… . * * *



           As codified in CPLR 203(c), "what is commonly referred to as the relation back doctrine allows a claim asserted against a defendant in an amended filing to relate back to claims previously asserted against a codefendant for Statute of Limitations purposes where the two defendants are united in interest' (CPLR 203[b])" ….. For the rule allowing relation back to the original date of filing under CPLR 203(c) to apply, a plaintiff is required to prove that: "(1) both claims arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence, (2) the new party is united in interest with the original defendant, and by reason of that relationship can be charged with such notice of the institution of the action that the new party will not be prejudiced in maintaining its defense on the merits by the delayed, otherwise stale, commencement, and (3) the new party knew or should have known that, but for a mistake by the plaintiff as to the identity of the proper parties, the action would have been brought against that party as well" … .  Sally v Keyspan Energy Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 03469, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Statutorily-Mandated Venue Is Not Jurisdictional and Is Waivable



In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Dillon, the Second Department discussed, in great detail, the relevant statutes and case law concerning the venue provisions in the CPLR and venue as mandated in the New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation (NYCHHC) Act. The Second Department determined NYCHHC Act’s statutorily-mandated venue is not jurisdictional and can be waived:



          In sum, since the NYCHHC chose to waive the venue provision contained in section 7401(3) of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Act for actions brought against it upon the consolidation of the plaintiffs' two actions, and absent a showing of any special circumstances demonstrating that venue be placed in Bronx County [the statutorily-mandated venue], we conclude that the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in placing venue in Westchester County, where the first of the related actions was commenced. Wager v Pelham Union Free Sch Dist, 2013 NY Slip Op 03475, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







CIVIL PROCEDURE/BANKING LAW



Bank Account in Name “Ann … or Thomas…” Could Be Turned Over to Pay Debt Owed by Thomas



In finding that the funds held in a bank account in the name of “Ann Sledjeski or Thomas Sledjeski” should have been turned over to pay Thomas Sledjeski’s debt, the Second Department wrote:



          The Supreme Court should have granted the unopposed petition pursuant to CPLR 5225(b) to direct Hudson City Savings Bank to turn over the funds of an account it held in the name of "Ann Sledjeski or Thomas Sledjeski," to partially satisfy a judgment entered in favor of the petitioner and against Thomas C. Sledjeski. " [T]he opening of a joint bank account creates a rebuttable presumption that each named tenant is possessed of the whole of the account so as to make the account vulnerable to levy of a money judgment by the judgment creditor of one of the joint tenants'" (…see Banking Law § 675[b]). Therefore, the petitioner was not required to establish that the judgment debtor was the sole contributor of funds to the account. Moreover, since none of the respondents appeared or answered the proceeding, they failed to rebut the presumption …  Matter of JRP Old Riverhead, Ltd v Hudson City Sav Bank, 2013 NY Slip Op 03484, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







FRAUD



“Sophisticated and Well-Counseled Entity” Did Not Make Prima Facie Claim of Fraud/No Due Diligence Demonstrated



In reversing the motion court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s causes of action for fraud, the First Department, over a strong dissent, determined the complaint did not, as a matter of law, establish justifiable reliance upon alleged misrepresentation.  In essence, the First Department determined that “sophisticated and well-counseled entities,” to preserve a prima facie claim of fraud, must demonstrate due diligence in taking measures to protect against fraud:

           Plaintiff alleges that it was fraudulently induced to issue a financial guaranty for a portion of an investment by defendant's misrepresentation that a nonparty hedge fund was taking a long position in the investment when in fact, such fund was actually a short seller, which was influencing the selection of the reference portfolio it was effectively betting against. ……[P]laintiff's amended complaint …fails to establish justifiable reliance as a matter of law. Indeed, plaintiff fails to plead that it exercised due diligence by inquiring about the nonpublic information regarding the hedge fund with which it was in contact prior to issuing the financial guaranty, or that it inserted the appropriate prophylactic provision to ensure against the possibility of misrepresentation…. ACA Fin Guar Corp v Goldman, Sachs, & Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 03429, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Action for Fraud Cannot Be Based on Same Facts as Breach of Contract/Fraud Must Be Pled in Detail



After noting that a cause of action for fraud does not lie when it is based on the same allegations stated in a breach of contract cause of action, the Second Department explained the pleading requirements in a fraud action, including the need for “detail,” as follows:



           A cause of action to recover damages for fraud requires allegations of (1) a false representation of fact, (2) knowledge of the falsity, (3) intent to induce reliance, (4) justifiable reliance, and (5) damages…. Moreover, CPLR 3016(b) requires that the circumstances underlying a cause of action based on fraud be stated "in detail" (CPLR 3016[b];…). Here, the allegations of fraud against the remaining defendants either were bare and conclusory or do not rise to the level of fraud. Consequently, the Supreme Court properly granted those branches of the separate motions of the remaining defendants which were pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the third cause of action insofar as asserted against each of them. Genovese v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 03453, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







CONTRACT



Action for Contingency Fee/No Demonstration Law Firm Had Been Discharged



The plaintiff law firm brought breach of contract cause of action to recover contingency fees under a written retainer agreement.  The motion court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss on the ground the law firm had been discharged.  In reversing the motion court, the First Department wrote:



            Although no particular formality is required, the discharge of an attorney is effected by "[a]ny act of the client indicating an unmistakable purpose to sever relations . . ."…. The motion should not have been granted because the amended complaint and the documents attached to it set forth no facts from which an unmistakable purpose to sever the attorney-client relationship can be discerned. … A motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action "must be denied if from the pleadings' four corners factual allegations are discerned which taken together manifest any cause of action cognizable at law'" … .  Anderson & Anderson, LLP … v North American Foreign Trade Corp, 2-13 NY Slip Op 03430, 1st Dept, 5-14-13



Contribution and Indemnification Unavailable in Breach of Contract Action/Notice of Claim Requirement Under Education Law Never Triggered by Denial of Payment



In a complicated breach of contract action arising out of construction projects for defendant school district, the Second Department determined contribution and indemnification were unavailable for purely economic loss from breach of contractual obligations (CPLR 1401, 1403, 3019).  In addition, the Second Department determined that the need to file a notice of claim pursuant to Education Law 3813 was never triggered by a denial of payment.  On the notice of claim issue, the Second Department wrote:



          Education Law § 3813(1) requires a party to serve a notice of claim upon a school district within three months after the accrual of such claim as a condition precedent to the commencement of an action …. Claims arising out of a breach of contract accrue when "payment for the amount claimed was denied" (Education Law § 3813[1]). A denial of payment is only deemed to occur "upon an explicit refusal to pay" or when a party should have viewed its claim as having been constructively rejected …. Where no express or constructive denial of payment has been made, the obligation to serve a notice of claim is not triggered…. Here, the District failed to demonstrate that it expressly or constructively denied payment to PGA for its continued work on the projects. Thus, the District did not establish its prima facie entitlement to judgment …based upon PGA's failure to serve a notice of claim in accordance with Education Law § 3813(1)… .  Capstone Enters of Port Chester, Inc v Board of Educ Irvington Union Free Sch Dist, 2013 NY Slip Op 03448, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





UCC Four-Year Statute of Limitations Applied to Breach of Warranty Cause of Action



The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s determination that a guarantee which stated “if any defects in manufacturing, materials or workmanship occurred within 10 years the product would be repaired, replaced or purchase price refunded” was not a warranty which extended to future performance within the meaning of UCC 2-725[2]. The four-year UCC statute of limitations therefore applied to the warranty cause of action.  In addition, the Second Department affirmed the dismissal of the “fraudulent concealment” cause of action.  The Court’s discussion of the law concerning those two issues follows:



           A cause of action alleging breach of warranty is governed by a four-year statute of limitations (see UCC 2-725[1]…). Generally, a breach of warranty action accrues "when tender of delivery is made" (UCC 2-725[2];…). As an exception to this general rule, the UCC provides that "where a warranty explicitly extends to future performance of the goods and discovery of the breach must await the time of such performance," then "the cause of action accrues when the breach is or should have been discovered" (UCC 2-725[2];…). "A warranty of future performance is one that guarantees that the product will work for a specified period of time"… . However, "[w]arranties to repair or replace [a] product in the event that it fails to perform, without any promise of performance, do not constitute warranties of future performance" … . * * *

In pleading a cause of action to recover damages for fraud, "the circumstances constituting the wrong shall be stated in detail" (CPLR 3016[b];…) A cause of action sounding in fraud must allege that the defendant knowingly misrepresented or concealed a material fact for the purpose of inducing another party to rely upon it, and that the other party justifiably relied upon such misrepresentation or concealment to his or her own detriment…. "A cause of action to recover damages for fraudulent concealment requires, in addition to allegations of scienter, reliance, and damages, an allegation that the defendant had a duty to disclose material information and that it failed to do so"… Schwatka v Super Millwork, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03470, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







ANIMAL LAW



No Cause of Action Based Upon  “Vicious Propensities” When Plaintiff Knocked Down by Playful Dog



In determining summary judgment should have been granted to the defendant dog owners, the Third Department explained the defendants had demonstrated they had no prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities.  The plaintiff was injured when defendant’s dog [Delilah] bumped into her while running in play, activity the Third Department determined was “normal canine behavior” which could not be considered a vicious propensity:

           It is well established that "'the owner of a domestic animal who either knows or should have known of that animal's vicious propensities will be held liable for the harm the animal causes as a result of those propensities'" …. As the movants, it was defendants' burden to establish that they had no prior knowledge that Delilah had any vicious propensities …. Notably, a vicious propensity does not  necessarily have  to be  "dangerous  or ferocious" but, rather, may consist of a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm, so long  as "'such proclivity results in the injury giving rise to the lawsuit'" .   Nonetheless, "normal canine behavior" is insufficient to establish a vicious propensity ….  Bloom v Van Lenten, 515606, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13



 

CRIMINAL LAW



SORA Applies to Out of State Sex Offense



In affirming Supreme Court’s determination that petitioner (who pled nolo contendre to a sex offense in Florida and was registered as a sex offender in Florida) must register as a sex offender in New York (upon moving to New York), the Second Department wrote:



            SORA provides that any "sex offender" must comply with its provisions (see Correction Law § 168-f). A "sex offender" is defined as "any person who is convicted" of a "sex offense" (Correction Law § 168-a[1], [2]). The definition of a "sex offense" with respect to an offense committed in another jurisdiction is "a conviction of [i] an offense in any other jurisdiction which includes all of the essential elements of any such crime" that constitutes a "sex offense" under SORA (Correction Law [*2]§ 168-a[2][d][i]). The statute also provides that a "sex offense" includes a "conviction of . . . [ii] a felony in any other jurisdiction for which the offender is required to register as a sex offender in the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred" (Correction Law § 168-a[2][d][ii]). Matter of Kasckarow v Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders of State of NY, 2013 Slip Op 03485, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Existence of Brady Material Concerning Law Suit Against Interrogating Officer for Eliciting a False Confession Required Hearing on Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction



The defendant claimed that his confession was involuntary because he was physically abused by the interrogating officer (O’Leary). After his conviction for depraved indifference murder the defendant brought a motion to vacate the conviction on the ground that the interrogating officer had been sued for allegedly extracting a false confession and the prosecution did not provide that “Brady” material to him.  In reversing the trial court’s denial of the motion to vacate and remitting the matter for a hearing, the Second Department wrote an exhaustive overview of the law concerning “Brady” material in New York.  Although rather long, the court’s explanation is provided here because of its clarity:



           A defendant is entitled, under the state and federal constitutions, "to discover favorable evidence in the People's possession material to guilt or punishment")…. Indeed, the law requires that Brady material be produced whether or not the defendant requests any such evidence …. To establish a Brady violation, the "evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory, or because it is impeaching; that evidence must have been suppressed by the State, either willfully or inadvertently; and prejudice must have ensued" because the evidence was material … .

            Here, the allegedly suppressed evidence clearly fell within the ambit of the prosecutor's Brady obligation because it constituted impeachment evidence…. Moreover, the People's failure to disclose the existence of the civil action may have denied the defendant the opportunity to conduct an investigation leading to additional exculpatory or impeaching evidence , for instance, providing a basis for the disclosure of police personnel records otherwise unavailable … .



            "In New York, where a defendant makes a specific request for a document, the materiality element is established provided there exists a reasonable possibility' that it would have changed the result of the proceedings" …."Absent a specific request by defendant for the document, materiality can only be demonstrated by a showing that there is a reasonable probability' that it would have changed the outcome of the proceedings" …. Here, the record does not demonstrate that the defendant made a specific request for the allegedly suppressed information. Nevertheless, we find that there was a "reasonable probability" that disclosure of the lawsuit would have changed the outcome of the defendant's trial. The primary evidence at trial establishing the defendant's identity as the murderer was his confession. The other evidence tying him to the crime was weak, consisting of testimony that he was seen with the victim shortly before she disappeared. Since the credibility of the detectives who obtained the defendant's confession was of central importance in the case, the nondisclosure was material … .

           Accordingly, a hearing is necessary to determine whether the District Attorney's office had sufficient knowledge of the suit against O'Leary so as to trigger its obligations under Brady. Evidence subject to disclosure under Brady includes evidence "known only to police investigators and not to the prosecutor"…, and, therefore, "the individual prosecutor has a duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to the others acting on the government's behalf in th[is] case, including the police" … ;This rule is based upon the principle that "[t]he government cannot with its right hand say it has nothing while its left hand holds what is of value" …. Here, the attorney's affirmation submitted in opposition to the defendant's motion, which was based only on a review of files, is insufficient to establish that no one to whom the obligation under Brady extended, other than perhaps O'Leary himself …, had knowledge of the civil action at any time during which the prosecution's Brady obligation was ongoing.   People v Garrett, 2013 NY Slip Op 03498, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Gang Affiliation and Prior Drug Offenses Admissible Under Molineux in Murder Case/Motion to Suppress Statement Made When Questioning Continued After Defendant Stated He Did Not Want to Answer Any More Questions Should Have Been Granted


The Third Department determined evidence of defendant’s gang affiliation and uncharged drug offenses were admissible in defendant’s murder trial under Molineux.  In addition, the Third Department determined defendant’s statements made after he said he didn’t want to answer any more questions should have been suppressed.  [The Third Department rejected the People’s argument that the suppression issue was decided in a prior prosecution and the doctrine of collateral estoppel should apply.] With respect to the Molineux and “right to remain silent” issues, the Court wrote:



         "Generally speaking, evidence of uncharged  crimes or prior bad acts may be admitted where they fall within the recognized Molineux exceptions – motive, intent, absence of mistake, common plan or scheme and identity – or where such proof is inextricably interwoven with the charged crimes, provide[s] necessary background or complete[s] a witness's narrative" … . Here, defendant's drug-related activities and purported gang membership provided necessary background information, explained how [the other parties] and defendant knew one another (as well as why defendant's acquaintances went along with his plan to rob the weed spot[where the murder took place]) and, viewed in the context of the activities that occurred prior to the shooting, established both defendant's awareness of the weed spot and a motive for the shooting; thus, such "evidence was highly probative of several relevant and material issues at trial and genuinely interwoven with the facts surrounding the shooting" … .

          The case law makes clear that "[a] defendant's invocation of the right to remain silent must be scrupulously honored" … once the right is asserted in an "unequivocal and unqualified" fashion … Whether  a defendant's  request in this regard is "unequivocal is a mixed question of law and fact that must be determined with reference to  the  circumstances surrounding  the  request[,] including the defendant's demeanor, manner of expression and the particular words found to have been used by the defendant" … .  People v Johnson, 104081, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





Proper Procedure for Resentencing Under Drug Law Reform Act Explained



The Third Department explained the proper procedure for resentencing under the Drug Law Reform Act as follows:



           The Drug Law Reform Act establishes a specific procedural course that was not followed here. Upon  finding a  defendant eligible for resentencing, the court must  issue a  written interlocutory order informing the defendant of the term of imprisonment  it intends to impose, setting forth findings of fact and the reasons underlying the proposed resentence, and advising the defendant  that, unless he or she withdraws  the application or appeals from the interlocutory order, the court will vacate the original sentence and impose the proposed resentence (see L 2004, ch 738, § 23).County  Court's failure to proceed  in this manner deprived defendant of the opportunity to carefully consider his options, including the taking of an  appeal  from  the interlocutory order.  People v Minor, 104880, 3rd Dept, 5-15-13





Defendant’s Papers Deemed Insufficient to Trigger Need for Suppression Hearing



The Third Department determined the defendant’s motion papers did not demonstrate the need for a suppression hearing:

           Because defendant failed to allege sufficient facts to justify a hearing, County Court did not err in summarily denying defendant's motion for a Mapp hearing…. Motion papers seeking suppression of evidence "must state the ground or grounds of the motion and must contain sworn allegations of fact . . . supporting such grounds" (CPL 710.60 [1]).A hearing is not automatic; a court may summarily deny the motion if the papers do not allege a legal basis for suppression  or if the factual allegations do not as a matter of law support any alleged ground (see CPL 710.60 [3];…) "[F]actual sufficiency should be determined with reference to the face of the pleadings, the context of the motion and [the] defendant's access to information"….  Here, defendant made his motion after he was supplied with the search warrant application, supporting documents and return, as well as discovery. He had resolved the other criminal charges that precipitated the warrant application, providing him with information related to the situation surrounding the application. In these circumstances, defendant's bare allegation of a lack of probable cause, without any factual support, was insufficient to require a hearing …   Accordingly, the court properly determined that a hearing was not necessary to decide the motion. People v Vanness, 103553B, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





Defendant’s Papers Deemed Insufficient to Trigger Need for Suppression Hearing



The Third Department determined the defendant’s motion papers did not demonstrate the need for a suppression hearing:

          Because defendant failed to allege sufficient facts to justify a hearing, County Court did not err in summarily denying defendant's motion for a Mapp hearing…. Motion papers seeking suppression of evidence "must state the ground or grounds of the motion and must contain sworn allegations of fact . . . supporting such grounds" (CPL 710.60 [1]).A hearing is not automatic; a court may summarily deny the motion if the papers do not allege a legal basis for suppression  or if the factual allegations do not as a matter of law support any alleged ground (see CPL 710.60 [3];…) "[F]actual sufficiency should be determined with reference to the face of the pleadings, the context of the motion and [the] defendant's access to information"….  Here, defendant made his motion after he was supplied with the search warrant application, supporting documents and return, as well as discovery. He had resolved the other criminal charges that precipitated the warrant application, providing him with information related to the situation surrounding the application. In these circumstances, defendant's bare allegation of a lack of probable cause, without any factual support, was insufficient to require a hearing …   Accordingly, the court properly determined that a hearing was not necessary to decide the motion. People v Vanness, 103553B, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13







INSURANCE LAW



Whether the “Assault and Battery” Exclusion from Coverage Pertained to an Arson Is a Question of Fact Which Depends Upon the Motives of the Arsonist



A fire in plaintiff’s building left several people dead or injured.  A person was arrested and charged with arson in connection with the fire. The plaintiff brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether the defendant insurance company was required to defend and indemnify plaintiff.  The main issue was whether the policy exclusion of damages caused by assault and battery applied. The First Department affirmed the trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the insurance company’s affirmative defenses, i.e., the assault and battery exclusion and the lack of bodily injury caused by accident or occurrence.  The First Department wrote:



           Civil assault and battery are intentional acts, and the assault offenses with which the accused arsonist is charged do not include the intent to harm a specific individual (compare PJI 2d 3:2 [assault]; 3:3 [battery], with Penal Law 120.10[4] [assault in the first degree]; 120.05[6] [assault in the second degree]). Thus, assuming that the insurance policy exclusion is triggered by civil, rather than criminal, assault or battery, the critical inquiry is whether the accused arsonist, in allegedly causing the fire, intended to harm any occupant of the building. Although the determination of the criminal action is therefore not necessary to a determination of the application of the exclusion, the criminal trial may shed light on the accused arsonist's motives, including whether he intended to harm anyone inside the building. In any event, the criminal trial may enable defendant to obtain access to evidence and witnesses that will assist in determining whether the exclusion applies. Based on representations made at oral argument, the criminal trial has been concluded and, thus, the stay should be lifted. In light of the foregoing, the motion court correctly denied plaintiff's motion to dismiss the affirmative defenses based on the assault and battery exclusion and the lack of bodily injury caused by an accident or occurrence.  20-35 86th St Realty, LLC v Tower Ins Co of NY, 2013 NY Slip Op 03413, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Fall After Coverage Ceased Not Covered, Even though Dangerous Condition Alleged to Have Existed Before Termination of Coverage



After the premises was sold it was removed from coverage under a Travelers insurance policy.  Plaintiff slipped and fell on the property ten days after coverage was removed.  Supreme Court determined Travelers was obligated to defend because it was alleged the injury was related to a dangerous condition that existed before the property was sold (when it was insured by Travelers).  In reversing, the Second Department wrote:



           Here, the subject insurance policy, read as a whole, clearly and unambiguously provides that the duty to defend and indemnify will attach only to bodily injury caused by an "occurrence" that is covered by the policy and that occurs during the policy period … .Accordingly, Travelers made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by establishing that the bodily injury for which the plaintiff seeks a defense and indemnification occurred after the premises had been removed from coverage … .Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the … allegation that the accident was caused by a dangerous condition that existed on the premises before it was removed from coverage does not obligate Travelers to defend and indemnify it. Since the policy predicates coverage upon the sustaining of bodily injury during the policy period, it is immaterial that the negligent acts which allegedly caused the occurrence took place while the policy covering the premises was still in effect … .  Jericho Atrium Assoc v Travelers Prop Cas Co of Am, 2013 NY Slip Op 03461, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE



Claimant Not Entitled to Benefits For Time Spent Working Out of House



After claimant was laid off, he operated a business [Hatch Ventures] periodically out of his home.  The Third Department determined the claimant was not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits for the days he operated his business but that “recoverable overpayment and forfeiture penalty” should not be imposed because claimant did not make a willful misrepresentation with respect to his home business:



           A claimant is not entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefits during the time that he or she  is not  totally unemployed (see Labor Law § 591 [1]).It has  been  held that a claimant who undertakes activities on behalf of an ongoing business is not considered to be totally unemployed even if those activities are minimal  or the business is not  profitable ….   The issue of total unemployment is a factual question for the Board, and  its determination will be  upheld  if supported by  substantial evidence….   Here, claimant admittedly performed various activities on behalf of Hatch Ventures, made business-related expenditures and received income from product sales. Notably, he  indicated that, from  June 1, 2011  until June  30, 2011, he  performed  such  activities three days  a  week  for one  hour  each  day  and  that, after July 1, 2011, he performed them one day per week for three hours.   Matter of Lewis [Copmmissioner of Labor], 515345, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





Claimant’s Non-Work-Related Felony Deemed to Breach Express or Implied Duty Owed to Employer



The Third Department determined claimant was ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits because of an act constituting a felony which took place at the claimant’s home, not at work, but which generated negative publicity, breaching a duty owed to the employer (a car dealership).  The Third Department wrote:



           Substantial evidence supports the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board that claimant lost his "employment as a result of an act constituting a felony in connection with such employment" (Labor Law § 593; see Labor Law§  597). Claimant, a car salesperson, was fired after his arrest on charges stemming from, among other things, his surreptitious videotaping of individuals who used the bathroom of his home. The charges, which generated negative publicity and numerous customer complaints, ultimately were resolved when claimant pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful surveillance in the second degree. Given the public nature of claimant's position and the detrimental effect his continued employment could have had upon the employer's business, the Board properly determined that claimant's actions constituted a breach of  an  express  or implied duty owed to the employer… Matter of Engel [Commissioner of Labor], 515513, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





EMPLOYMENT LAW



Elements of Retaliatory Termination Described



The Second Department explained the elements of retaliatory termination as follows:



           Pursuant to Executive Law § 296, it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee because he or she opposed statutorily forbidden discriminatory practices …. To make a prima facie showing of retaliation under Executive Law § 296, a claimant is required to show that (1) the claimant was engaged in protected activity, (2) the claimant's employer was aware that he or she participated in such activity, (3) the claimant suffered an adverse employment action based upon his or her activity, and (4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action …. Once this initial showing is made, the burden then shifts to the defendant to present legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support its actions. Assuming the defendant meets this burden, the claimant would then have the obligation to show that the reasons put forth were merely a pretext … .  Adeniran v State of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03441, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Elements of Retaliatory Termination Described



The Second Department explained the elements of retaliatory termination as follows:



            Pursuant to Executive Law § 296, it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee because he or she opposed statutorily forbidden discriminatory practices …. To make a prima facie showing of retaliation under Executive Law § 296, a claimant is required to show that (1) the claimant was engaged in protected activity, (2) the claimant's employer was aware that he or she participated in such activity, (3) the claimant suffered an adverse employment action based upon his or her activity, and (4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action …. Once this initial showing is made, the burden then shifts to the defendant to present legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support its actions. Assuming the defendant meets this burden, the claimant would then have the obligation to show that the reasons put forth were merely a pretext … .  Adeniran v State of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03441, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







CONTRACT LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW



Ratified Release Precluded Employment Discrimination Action



The First Department reversed Supreme Court and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs employment discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment claims.  Plaintiffs signed a release and received severance pay based upon the terms of the release.  The First Department determined plaintiffs’ claims that the signed the release under duress were foreclosed by their ratification of the release (accepting the severance pay):
 

          The motion court should have dismissed the complaint in its entirety. "Generally, a valid release constitutes a complete bar to an action on a claim which is the subject of the release" …. A release will not be treated lightly because it is a "a jural act of high significance without which the settlement of disputes would be rendered all but impossible" …. Where the language is clear and unambiguous, the release is binding on the parties unless it is shown that it was procured by fraud, duress, overreaching, illegality or mutual mistake … . *  *  *


           Assuming arguendo that issues of fact exist as to duress and overreaching, plaintiffs are nevertheless barred from challenging the releases on those grounds because they ratified the releases. Ratification occurs when a party accepts the benefits of a contract and fails to act promptly to repudiate it…. Thus, a plaintiff cannot claim that he or she was compelled to execute an agreement under duress while simultaneously accepting the benefits of the agreement …  Allen v Riese Org, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03547, 1st Dept, 5-16-13







LABOR LAW



“Sole Proximate Cause” Defense Not Demonstrated



In reversing Supreme Court and granting plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the First Department determined the facts did not support the defense that plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Plaintiff was injured when a drill rig fell after safety chains had been removed. The First Department determined the facts demonstrated plaintiff was not solely responsible for removing the safety chains and, therefore, the “sole proximate cause” defense was not available:


           The sole proximate cause defense generally applies where the worker misused, removed, or failed to use an available safety device that would have prevented the accident, or knowingly chose to use an inadequate device despite the availability of an adequate device …. However, "the Labor Law does not require a plaintiff to have acted in a manner that is completely free from negligence" … .


           Plaintiff did not unilaterally elect to remove the chains and chain binders. Clark, the dock builder foreman who had the discretion to make the determination in the field as to the manner in which the drill rig would be moved, determined that the drill rig could not be pivoted with the chain binders attached, a belief plaintiff shared … .  Boyd v Schiavone Constr Co, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03578, 1st Dept, 5-16-13







DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS (INMATES)



Hearing Officer’s Refusal to Provide Requested Documents Required Annulment



The Third Department determined the failure to provide the inmate with evidence he requested required the annulment of the guilty determination:

           Petitioner requested copies of  any "to/from" forms related to the incident and, despite the fact that one  of the correction officers testified to giving his account  of the events at issue in such  a  form, the Hearing Officer declined to provide petitioner a copy. Inasmuch as that document could have been relevant to formulating petitioner's defense and effectuating his questioning of the officer, the determination must be annulled… .  Matter of Bermudez v Fischer, 514110, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





Failure to Explain Why Inmate’s Roommates Allegedly Refused to Testify Required Annulment



Because no explanation was provided to explain the requested witnesses’ (the inmate’s roommates’) alleged refusal to testify, the Third Department annulled the determination:



             Petitioner requested the testimony of three witnesses who shared a room with him. The Hearing Officer stated that inmate refusal forms for all three had been signed by the employee assistant, but not by the inmates, and that no explanations were given for their refusal to testify. Because the record does not contain any reason for the witnesses' refusal or indicate that the Hearing Officer attempted to verify their refusal, petitioner's regulatory right to call witnesses has been violated (see 7 NYCRR 254.5 [a]; ….).  Matter of Sorrentino v Fischer, 515214, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13





Hearing Officer’s Refusal to Call Witness Required Expungement of Relevant Charges



The Third Department determined the relevant charges must be expunged because the hearing officer refused to call a witness, a violation of the inmate’s constitutional right:

           …[T]he Hearing Officer erroneously refused to call a correction officer who witnessed petitioner's behavior while being escorted to his cell. Inasmuch  as petitioner was deprived of his constitutional right to call a witness with regard to that incident, expungement of the related charges is required… .  Matter of Cahill v Prack, 515216, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13

FAMILY LAW

No Substantial Basis in the Record for Custody Determination



After the parents’ deaths the maternal and paternal grandmothers petitioned for custody of the child. The Second Department reversed Family Court, which had awarded custody to the maternal grandmother after a three-day hearing, and granted custody to the paternal grandmother, finding no sound and substantial basis for Family Court’s ruling in the record:



           The essential consideration in any custody dispute is the best interests of the child … . In determining the best interests of the child, the court must evaluate the totality of the circumstances… . This Court's authority in custody determinations is as broad as that of the hearing court …, and while we are mindful that the hearing court has an advantage in being able to observe the demeanor and assess the credibility of witnesses, we "would be seriously remiss if, simply in deference to the finding of a Trial Judge," we allowed a custody determination to stand where it lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record … .  Matter of Iams v Estate of Iams, 2013 NY Slip Op 03482, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13





Children’s Hearsay Alleging Abuse by Father Was Not Corroborated/Change in Custody Should Not Have Been Granted



In reversing Family Court’s grant of the mother’s petition to modify a prior order of custody, the Third Department determined the children’s hearsay statements alleging abuse by the father was not corroborated, and therefore could not form the basis of a modification of custody:

           Inasmuch as Family Ct Act § 1046 (a) (vi) is applicable to custody proceedings based upon allegations of abuse, the children's out-of-court statements are excepted from the hearsay rule, but must be corroborated …. *  *  * Because the  children's out-of-court statements were not corroborated, Family Court's finding of a change in circumstances lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record.  Matter of Zukowski v Zukowski, 514074, 3rd Dept, 5-16-13







ARBITRATION



Exclusion of Petitioner from Hearing During Testimony of Primary Witness Required Vacation of Award



The exclusion of petitioner from an administrative hearing during the testimony of the only eyewitness to an alleged assault by petitioner required vacation of the arbitrator’s award.  The First Department wrote:

           Petitioner's exclusion from the administrative hearing during the testimony of the only eyewitness to her alleged hitting of a student---the student himself---violated her constitutional right to confront the witnesses against her …. Nothing in the record indicates that a compelling competing interest warranted the exclusion. There is no finding that petitioner's presence would cause trauma to the student or substantially interfere with his ability to testify. Indeed, the record contains no indication at all of the basis for the exclusion. Petitioner contends that in addition to her constitutional right she had an absolute right to confront witnesses under Education Law § 3020-a. However … there is no such absolute right under § 3020-a… .  Matter of Stergiou v NYC Dept of Educ, 2013 NY Slip Op 03432, 1st Dept, 5-14-13





Teachers’ and School Administrators’ Grievances Re Staff Cuts Stemming from School Closings Deemed Arbitrable


The First Department determined the teachers’ and school administrators’ unions’ grievances concerning staff cuts inherent in the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) plan to close 24 underperforming schools were arbitrable, rejecting the DOE’s argument.  The arbitrator ruled the plan violated the collective bargaining agreement’s (CBA’s) requirements that staff cuts be done on the basis of seniority:


           While broadly referencing educational laws and regulations, the DOE fails to identify any law that "prohibit[s], in an absolute sense, [the] particular matters [to be] decided"… ["[i]t is only when the interest in maintaining adequate standards is attached to a well-defined law that public policy is implicated"]). The underlying grievance in no way impinges on the authority of the SED (State Education Department] to approve a plan for the closure or the reopening of the 24 underperforming schools as new schools under the Education law (Education Law § 2590-h). Nor can the DOE rely on its own inclusion of proposed staffing changes in its plan to close schools to support its argument that staffing issues are now a state policy, law or regulation having the effect of law, which removes them from the dispute resolution regimen provided in the CBAs. Matter of Board of Educ of the City Sch Dist of the City of NY v Mulgrew, 2013 NY Slip Op 03580, 1st Dept, 5-16-13







CONTEMPT



Differences Between Civil and Criminal Contempt Explained



In sending the case back to Supreme Court for a hearing on the issue of whether defendant is guilty of civil and/or criminal contempt (re: the violation of a court order), the Second Department explained the differences between the two types of contempt as follows:

           "Civil contempt (see Judiciary Law § 753) has as its aim the vindication of a private party to litigation'" …. In order to prevail on a motion to hold a party in contempt, the moving party must demonstrate that the party charged with contempt violated a clear and unequivocal mandate of the court, thereby prejudicing the moving party's rights … ."It is not necessary that the disobedience be deliberate or willful; rather, the mere act of disobedience, regardless of its motive, is sufficient if such disobedience defeats, impairs, impedes, or prejudices the rights or remedies of a party …. "The burden of proof is on the proponent of the contempt motion, and the contempt must be established by clear and convincing evidence" … .

           "[U]nlike a civil contempt proceeding, [in a criminal contempt proceeding,] proof of guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt" …. "The purpose of criminal contempt (see Judiciary Law § 750) is to vindicate the authority of the court. No showing of prejudice to the rights of a party to the litigation is needed since the right of the private parties to the litigation is not the controlling factor'" … .However, "[a]n essential element of criminal contempt is willful disobedience. Knowingly failing to comply with a court order gives rise to an inference of willfulness which may be rebutted with evidence of good cause for noncompliance" … .  Gomes v Gomes, 2013 NY Slip Op 03454, 2nd Dept, 5-15-13







TRIALS



Excessive Intervention and Improper Conduct of Judge Required New Trial in Medical Malpractice Case



The Second Department reversed and sent a medical malpractice case back for retrial on liability because of the excessive intervention and improper conduct by the trial judge.  The Second Department wrote:



           …[T]he trial justice's excessive intervention in the proceedings, as well as the cumulative effect of the trial court's improper conduct, deprived the plaintiff of her right to a fair trial (see CPLR 5501[a][1]; 4017…). "[A]ll litigants, regardless of the merits of their case, are entitled to a fair trial" …. A trial justice plays a "vital role in clarifying confusing testimony and facilitating the orderly and expeditious progress of the trial," but that "power is one that should be exercised sparingly" …. Accordingly, a trial justice may not " so far inject himself [or herself] into the proceedings that the jury could not review the case in the calm and untrammelled spirit necessary to effect justice'" … .



           A trial justice must maintain an atmosphere of impartiality. Here, while the plaintiff's counsel may have been overly aggressive, and at times even antagonized the trial justice, nonetheless, a trial justice should " at all times maintain an impartial attitude and exercise a high degree of patience and forebearance' “…. Indeed, our review of the record convinces us that the repeated conflict between the court and the plaintiff's counsel, at all phases of the trial-and often times in the presence of the jury-unnecessarily injected personality issues into the case, which militated against a fair trial. The trial justice demonstrated a propensity to interrupt, patronize, and admonish the plaintiff's counsel, and gave the plaintiff's counsel significantly less leeway with regard to examination and cross-examination of witnesses than that which was afforded the defendants' counsel. *  *  *
 

Under the circumstances of this case, by virtue of the cumulative effect of the improper conduct of the trial justice, the plaintiff was deprived of a fair trial. As a result, the jury could not have considered the issues at trial in a fair, calm, and unprejudiced manner ….  Porcelli v Northern Westchester Hosp, 2013 NY slip Op 03467, 5-15-13





RETIREMENT AND SOCIAL SECURITY LAW (POLICE OFFICERS/FIREFIGHTERS)



New York City’s Decision Not to Apply Increased Take Home Pay Benefit to Police Officers and Firefighters Struck Down



In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Acosta, the First Department determined that the “City of New York’s decision to not apply an increased-take-home-pay (ITHP) benefit to police officers and firefighters placed into Tier III of the retirement system after July 1, 2009, and to continue deducting 3% of their wages towards their retirement benefits, violates Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) [section] 440(b)” and supports a cause of action for “common-law conversion of the deducted wages.”  Lynch v City of New York, 2013 Slip Op 03581, 1st Dept, 5-16-13