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


Sudden Unexpected Action by Student Did Not Support Action

Based on Negligent Supervision

In determining a student’s special education aide, who was standing nearby when the 8-year-old student suddenly placed his fingers inside the hinged side of a bathroom door (thereby immediately suffering injury), could not be liable for negligent supervision, the Second Department wrote:

           "Schools are under a duty to adequately supervise the students in their charge and they will be held liable for foreseeable injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision" …. "Schools are not insurers of safety, however, for they cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise and control all movements and activities of students; therefore, schools are not to be held liable for every thoughtless or careless act by which one pupil may injure another" …. Moreover, "[w]here an accident occurs in so short a span of time that even the most intense supervision could not have prevented it, any lack of supervision is not the proximate cause of the injury and summary judgment in favor of the . . . defendant[ ] is warranted" … .  Gilman v Oceanside Union Fee Sch Dist, 2013 NY Slip Op 03634, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Speculation About Cause of Fall Required Dismissal of Complaint

In determining the plaintiff’s resort to speculation about the cause of her fall required dismissal of the complaint, the Second Department wrote:

           "In a slip-and-fall case, a plaintiff's inability to identify the cause of the fall is fatal to the cause of action because a finding that the defendant's negligence, if any, proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries would be based on speculation" …. Here, the moving defendants established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting, inter alia, the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and her husband, which demonstrated that the plaintiff could not identify the cause of her fall without resorting to speculation …. Although the plaintiff claimed that a bar connected to the bottom step of the bus caused her to trip, she acknowledged that she did not see this bar before her fall, that she did not know which foot made contact with the bar, and that she only assumed that she had tripped on the bar after she regained consciousness and went looking for the source of the fall.  Deputron v A&J Tour, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03629, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Allegation Plaintiff Abruptly Changed Lanes and Stopped in Front of Defendant Precluded Summary Judgment in Rear-End Collision Case

In a rear-end collision case, the Second Department determined the allegation that the plaintiff abruptly changed lanes and came to a sudden stop in front of defendant raised a question of fact about plaintiff’s negligence:

           Here, the plaintiff established, prima facie, his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that his vehicle was fully stopped at a red traffic light when it was hit in the rear by the defendants' vehicle…. In opposition, the defendants raised triable issues of fact as to whether the plaintiff was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, and whether his alleged negligence caused or contributed to the accident, through the affidavit of the defendant driver Roni J. Jaquez. Jaquez averred that the plaintiff's vehicle abruptly changed lanes, directly in front of his vehicle, and then came to a sudden stop. … Markesinis v Jaquez, 2013 NY Slip Op 03641, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Allegations Not Supported by Record Could Not Defeat Plaintiff-Pedestrian’s Motion for Summary Judgment/Plaintiff’s Mental Health Records Discoverable Where Plaintiff Alleges Anxiety and Mental Anguish After Being Struck by Defendant’s Van

Plaintiff was struck by defendants’ van as she was crossing a street.  In opposing the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, defendants claimed plaintiff was crossing when the signal was flashing the “don’t walk” icon, was talking on a cell phone, and “jumped” in front of defendants’ van.  In determining Supreme Court should have granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Second Department wrote:


The plaintiff established her prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability by demonstrating that she entered the crosswalk after exercising reasonable care and was walking within the crosswalk with the pedestrian crossing signal in her favor, and the defendant Kilakos was negligent in failing to yield the right of way (see Traffic Rules and Regs of City of NY [34 RCNY] § 4-03[a][1][i]; [c][1], [2];…). The assertions made by the defendants in opposition lacked an evidentiary basis in the record and, thus, failed to raise a triable issue of fact …. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

The Second Department also determined Supreme Court properly granted defendants’ cross motion to compel the disclosure of plaintiff’s mental health records because she sought damages for anxiety, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. Moreira v MK Travel & Transp, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03645, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Defendant’s Burdens Re: Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case---Notice and Act of God

In affirming the denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a water-on-floor slip and fall case, the Second Department explained that a defendant can not point to gaps in the plaintiff’s case to meet its affirmative proof burdens re: notice and “act of God:”

           A defendant who moves for summary judgment in a slip-and-fall case has the initial burden of establishing, prima facie, that it neither created the dangerous condition that allegedly caused the underlying accident nor had actual or constructive notice of its existence for a sufficient length of time to discover and remedy it…. This burden cannot be satisfied merely by pointing to gaps in the plaintiff's case … . * * *


           With respect to the issue of whether the … defendants created a hazardous condition, they failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law based on their contention that the water condition at the premises was caused by an act of God. For a loss to be considered the result of an act of God, human activities cannot have contributed to it in any degree… ..  Sawicki v GameStop Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 03657, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Respondent Failed to Demonstrate Insertion of Feeding Tube Would Impose an “Extraordinary Burden” Upon the Petitioner

The Fourth Department reversed Supreme Court and ordered insertion of a feeding tube under general anesthesia for petitioner, Joseph P.  The Fourth Department noted there was evidence Joseph P. was “alert, awake, and communicative, … enjoys social interaction and activities” and, with a feeding tube, has “an excellent prognosis with many years of life.”  The Fourth Department wrote:

           It is undisputed that the “threshold requirement” under [Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act] section 1750-b for allowing Joseph P.’s guardians to make the decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment has been met … . Joseph P.’s attending physician also fulfilled the requirements of section 1750-b (4) (a) of “confirm[ing] to a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that Joseph P. “lacks capacity to make health care decisions,” and of consulting with another physician “to further confirm” that lack of capacity …. There is also no dispute that Joseph P. has “a medical condition other than . .. mental retardation which requires life-sustaining treatment, is irreversible and . . . will continue indefinitely” (SCPA 1750-b [4] [b] [i] [C]), and that, without such treatment, he “will die within a relatively short time period” (SCPA 1750-b [1]). The sole issue before us is whether, in view of Joseph P.’s medical condition and the expected outcome of the life-sustaining treatment, i.e., the surgical insertion of the feeding tube artificially providing nutrition or hydration, imposes an “extraordinary burden” on him (SCPA 1750-b [4] [b] [iii] [B]).
Upon our review of the record, we conclude that respondent failed to establish by the requisite clear and convincing evidence that providing nutrition and hydration to Joseph P. by means of medical treatment would impose an extraordinary burden on him (see SCPA 1750-b [1]; [4] [b] [iii] [B…).  Matter of Joseph P. …, CA 13-00798, 4th Dept, 3-24-13


Terms of Appellate Court’s Remittitur Must Be Strictly Followed

In a breach of contract action that had been remitted to Supreme Court, the Second Department determined Supreme Court failed adhere to the terms of the remittitur by failing to calculate interest and express the amount due and owing in accordance with the remittitur. In sending the case back to Supreme Court, the Second Department wrote:


         "A trial court, upon remittitur, lacks the power to deviate from the mandate of the higher court" …. "An order or judgment entered by the lower court on a remittitur must conform strictly to the remittitur'" ….  Berry v Williams, 2013 NY Slip Op 03625, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Failure to Demonstrate When Plaintiff Should Have First Become Aware of Fraudulent Conveyance Precluded Dismissal on Statute of Limitations Grounds

The Second Department determined that causes of action alleging fraudulent conveyances pursuant to Debtor & Creditor Law 276 should not have been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds because the defendants failed to establish when plaintiff should have first become aware of the alleged fraud:

           "A cause of action based upon actual fraud under Debtor and Creditor Law § 276 must be brought within six years of the date that the fraud or conveyance occurs, or within two years of the date the fraud should have been discovered, whichever is longer" …. Here, it is undisputed that the verified complaint did not allege the occurrence of any fraudulent conveyances within six years prior to the commencement of the action. However, since it is unclear when the plaintiff should have first been aware of the alleged fraud, the defendants failed to establish that the causes of action alleging actual fraud under Debtor and Creditor Law § 276 should be dismissed as time-barred ….  Felshman v Yamali, 2013 NY Slip Op 03632, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Action for Fraud Can Not Be Based Upon Same Allegations as Action for Breach of Contract

The Second Department explained that an action for fraud can not be based on breach of contract allegations:

           "The elements of a cause of action sounding in fraud are a material misrepresentation of an existing fact, made with knowledge of the falsity, an intent to induce reliance thereon, justifiable reliance upon the misrepresentation, and damages" …. However, "a cause of action premised upon fraud cannot lie where it is based on the same allegations as the breach of contract claim" …. Where a claim to recover damages for fraud is premised upon an alleged breach of contractual duties, and the allegations with respect to the purported fraud do not concern representations which are collateral or extraneous to the terms of the parties' agreement, a cause of action sounding in fraud does not lie …. Further, "[g]eneral allegations that defendant entered into a contract while lacking the intent to perform it are insufficient to support [a] claim" of fraudulent inducement… .  Fromowitz v W Park Assoc, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03633, 5-22-13


Time of the Essence Adequately Stated

In holding that an attorney’s letter sufficiently stated “time of the essence,” the First Department wrote:

           "A party need not state specifically that time is of the essence, as long as the notice specifies a time on which to close and warns that failure to close on that date will result in default"… . [The attorney’s] February 11, 2009 letter warned, "[I]n the event you do not close, I shall release the escrow funds to [the seller]." Such language informs a buyer that he risks default by not appearing at the closing… . Accordingly, because this was a time-of-the-essence closing, plaintiffs defaulted by failing to appear, and defendant … was entitled to keep the down payment … .  Westreich v Bosler, 2013 NY Slip Op 03604, 1st  Dept, 5-21-13


Will Provisions Can Not Be “Re-Written” by Court Even If Intestacy Results

In determining Surrogate’s Court properly determined mortgages secured by notes represented personal property and not “interests in real property” within the meaning of the will, the Second Department wrote:

           Here, as the Surrogate's Court properly recognized, notes secured by mortgages are generally construed to be personal property…, and there is nothing in the language of the decedent's will that manifests an intent to include the subject notes within the clause devising his "interests in real property" to the petitioner. The construction suggested by the petitioner cannot be accepted since the court should not rewrite a will or supply an omission not necessarily implied by the language used, even though intestacy with respect to a particular asset results … .  Matter of Cincotta, 2013 NY Slip Op 03671, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Appropriate Surcharge and Interest Imposed for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

In determining the appropriate surcharge to be imposed upon an executor which breached its duty to preserve decedent’s tangible property, as well as the appropriate interest rate to impose with respect to a delay in distributing assets, the Second Department wrote:

           "[A] nominated executor has the duty to preserve estate assets for the protection of those persons eventually entitled to receive them" … . * * * [W]e find no reason to disturb the Surrogate's finding that the petitioner breached its duty, thereby warranting the imposition of a surcharge. * * *

           Where a surcharge is imposed for a breach of fiduciary duty, it is a matter within the discretion of the trial court whether to award interest upon the surcharge, and at what rate (see CPLR 5001[a]; 5004;…). While the highest rate of interest might be appropriate where the trustee's breach of duty is willful or characterized by bad faith…, here, the record reflects that the petitioner's failure in its duty to secure the decedent's tangible personal property constituted an honest mistake. …

           As a general matter, legacies are payable seven months after issuance of letters testamentary unless otherwise directed by the testator or required by the circumstances of the estate, including the executor's need to retain sufficient funds to cover administrative costs and debts of the decedent (see EPTL 11-1.5[a]…). Under certain circumstances, an executor may retain a disposition as a setoff for a debt owed by the beneficiary to the decedent or the estate …. In a proceeding to compel payment of a disposition or distributive share, "[t]he rate of interest to be paid on a pecuniary bequest is governed by EPTL 11-1.5" …. The court may fix interest on any disposition awarded at the rate of 6% (see EPTL 11-1.5[d]), or, upon the court's additional finding that the fiduciary's "delay in payment was unreasonable" (EPTL 11-1.5[e]), the court may fix interest at the annual rate of 9% set forth in CPLR 5004 …. Matter of Marsh, 2013 NY Slip Op 03679, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Fall from Unfolded Step Ladder Stated Claim

In determining plaintiff’s use of a step ladder that was not unfolded did not warrant dismissal of the Labor Law 240(1) cause of action for a fall from the ladder, the Second Department wrote:

          Plaintiff established prima facie entitlement to summary judgment on his Labor Law § 240(1) claim as against defendants …by his testimony that: (1) the ladder was the only one available; (2) the ladder could not be properly opened into an A-frame stance due to excess debris in his narrowly confined work space; (3) he asked his foreman for another ladder, to no avail; (4) the ladder was unusual in that the step treads contained spikes which unexpectedly caught hold of his shoe as he was descending the improperly leaning ladder; (5) he was caused to fall backwards, from a height of approximately six feet; and (6) his right shoulder was injured when it struck the wooden work-zone barrier as he fell.  Keenan v Simon Prop Group, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03622, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

No Action Where Plaintiff Struck by Small Piece of Sheetrock Dropped from Third Floor

Plaintiff was struck by a small piece of sheetrock a worker dropped from the third floor.  In affirming the dismissal of the Labor Law 240(1) cause of action, the Second Department wrote:

           As the Court of Appeals has observed, not every injury caused by a falling object at a construction site is covered by the extraordinary protections of Labor Law § 240(1)…. Rather, in a "falling object" case under Labor Law § 240(1)…, a plaintiff must show that, at the time the object fell, it was "being hoisted or secured" … or "required securing for the purposes of the undertaking"…. The plaintiff also must show that the object fell "because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute"…. The statute does not apply in situations in which a hoisting or securing device of the type enumerated in the statute would not be necessary or expected…. Moncayo v Curtis Partition Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 03644, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Single-Family House Exemption to Labor Law Action Applied

In finding the homeowner’s exemption of Labor Law 240(1) and 240 applied to work on a single-family house in which the business owners lived and from which the defendant business derived no income, the Second Department wrote:

           Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241, which impose certain nondelegable safety duties upon "contractors[,] owners and their agents," specifically exempt "owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work." Here, Green Chimneys [defendant] demonstrated its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with respect to, inter alia, its claim that it was entitled to the homeowner's exemption of Labor Law §§ 240(1) and 241 by establishing that the Founder's House was a single-family dwelling used solely as a residence for Green Chimneys' founder and his wife, the house served no commercial or business use for Green Chimneys, which received no income from the house, and Green Chimneys did not direct or control the work being performed…. Parise v Green Chimneys Children’s Servs, Inc, 2014 NY Slip Op 03649, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Wife’s Stipulation Waiving Claim to Benefits Valid Even though Law Unclear at Time of Stipulation and Benefits Later Determined by Court of Appeals to Be Marital Property

The Second Department determined that plaintiff-wife’s stipulation that variable supplement fund (VSF) benefits were not marital property should be upheld, even though the law was unclear at the time of the stipulation and the Court of Appeals subsequently determined the benefits were marital property:

           The Referee was correct in noting that, at the time of the parties' stipulation of settlement, the law on the issue of whether VSF benefits were subject to equitable distribution was unclear. The law was later clarified when the Court of Appeals held that VSF benefits were marital property subject to equitable distribution …. However, the fact that the plaintiff did not have definitive guidance on the issue of whether VSF benefits were subject to equitable distribution is not a sufficient basis upon which she may avoid the effects of her otherwise knowing and voluntary waiver. Thus, it was error to permit the defendant to avoid the consequences of her waiver of any interest in the VSF. Lamassa v Lamassa, 2013 NY Slip Op 03639, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Trial Court Should Have Stayed Arbitration and Held Framed-Issue Hearing to Determine Whether Another Driver Involved in Collision

There was a collision involving a car self-insured by Hertz, the petitioner.  The respondent driver of the Hertz car alleged she collided with another car which left the scene.  Based on a description of the other vehicle and the last four digits of the license number. Hertz determined the owner, Morrison, and insurer, Travelers, of the other car.  Morrison denied involvement in the accident and Travelers denied the respondent’s property damage claim on that basis. The respondent sought supplementary uninsured motorist arbitration with Hertz.  Hertz then commenced a proceeding to temporarily stay arbitration pending a framed-issue hearing to determine if Morrison was involved in the collision.  In determining Hertz petition should have been granted, the Second Department wrote:

           "The party seeking a stay of arbitration has the burden of showing the existence of sufficient evidentiary facts to establish a preliminary issue which would justify the stay"…. Thereafter, the burden is on the party opposing the stay to rebut the prima facie showing…. Where a triable issue of fact is raised, the Supreme Court, not the arbitrator, must determine it in a framed-issue hearing, and the appropriate procedure under such circumstances is to temporarily stay arbitration pending a determination of the issue …. Here, the documents submitted by Hertz in support of the petition demonstrated the existence of sufficient evidentiary facts to establish a preliminary issue justifying a temporary stay. In opposition to the petition, Morrison denied any involvement in the accident. As the evidence submitted by the parties raised a triable issue of fact as to whether Morrison's vehicle was involved in the subject accident, the Supreme Court should have conducted a framed-issue hearing on that issue before rendering a determination on the petition … .  Matter of Hertz Corp v Holmes, 2013 NY Slip Op 03674, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13



Sentence for Possession of Marijuana Deemed Unduly Harsh

The Fourth Department determined the sentence of a determinate term of incarceration for 2 ½ years for criminal possession of marijuana in the second degree was unduly harsh and severe.  The sentence was reduced to 1 ½ years.  People v Hirsh, KA 12-00043, 4th Dept, 5-17-13

Court’s Quashing of Defense Subpoena Deprived Defendant of Right to Present a Defense

The Second Department determined the trial court quashing of an subpoena served upon a defense witness deprived defendant of his constitutional right to present a defense and required a new trial. People v Eastment, 2013 NY Slip Op 03687, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Trial Judge Can Rescind Mistrial Declaration/Retrial Okay Where Defendant Consents to Mistrial

The Second Department determined that a trial judge can rescind a mistrial declaration and noted that a mistrial granted with the consent of the defendant does not bar retrial:

           When a mistrial is declared in a criminal case without the consent, or over the objection, of the defendant, the prohibition against double jeopardy contained in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and in section 6 of article I of the New York Constitution precludes a retrial for the same offense unless " there is a manifest necessity for [the mistrial], or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated'"…. Conversely, when a defendant requests or consents to a mistrial, double jeopardy typically does not bar a retrial ….


           The mere declaration of a mistrial does not terminate a criminal trial and thereby divest the trial court of the authority to rescind the declaration…. Accordingly, the Supreme Court erred in determining that the District Court did not retain the discretion to rescind its previous declaration of a mistrial prior to the discharge of the jury. Moreover, the District Court's initial declaration of a mistrial, made without the petitioner's consent, was rescinded and, thereafter, a mistrial was declared upon the petitioner's consent. Accordingly, the Supreme Court erred in granting the petition to the extent that it did, and in barring a retrial of the petitioner on the ground of double jeopardy. Matter of Gorman v Rice, 2013 NY Slip Op 03673, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Conviction for Possession With Intent to Sell Against Weight of Evidence

In finding defendant’s conviction for possession with intent to sell was against the weight of the evidence, the Second Department (with a dissent) wrote:

            …[T]he amount of cocaine recovered from the defendant was relatively small and not inconsistent with personal use. Indeed, convictions for criminal possession of a controlled substance involving intent to sell generally stem from situations where a significantly greater quantity of drugs is recovered from the defendant's person…. Even more important, the defendant was found to be in possession of no drug paraphernalia or weapons, and he had only $20 in cash … .Although there was testimony that street drug sales often involve bags of drugs costing $20 each, the mere fact that the defendant was in possession of a single $20 bill cannot be considered indicative of an intent to sell.  People v McFadden, 2013 NY Slip Op 03690, 2nd Dept, 5-22-12

Defense Counsel Deemed Ineffective/Failed to Examine Evidence

The First Department determined defense counsel was ineffective (requiring a new trial) because he emphasized the difference between the Ziploc bags (containing drugs) the defendant was alleged to have sold to an undercover officer and the bags which were in defendant’s possession upon his arrest without ever comparing them.  When the jury asked to see the bags which were in defendant’s possession, defense counsel was forced to acknowledge that they matched those purchased by the undercover officer:


           In focusing on the Ziploc bags, counsel eviscerated his entire strategy. No longer could the jury believe that no physical evidence tied defendant to the charges; to the contrary, counsel pointed them in the direction of strong physical evidence. Further, the jury could not be expected to acquit defendant on the theory that the People's case lacked credibility when his own counsel demonstrated a lack of believability on a critical issue at trial. In addition, defendant's own credibility was directly undermined by counsel's failure to conduct due diligence, since he testified about a discrepancy between the drugs purchased by the undercover and those recovered from him by the police. There was no sound strategy underlying counsel's decision to focus the jury on the evidence bags. By his own admission, it was a mistake, and he would not have highlighted the Ziploc bags had he known their actual contents. This self-sabotage of counsel's defense strategy, albeit inadvertent, was inherently unreasonable and prejudiced defendant's right to a fair trial under New York law… .  People v Barnes, 2013 NY Slip Op 03757, 2nd Dept, 5-23-13

Expert Evidence About a “Date Rape” Drug Not Implicated in the Trial Did Not Require Reversal/Jury Deemed to Have Considered Only Evidence Supported by the Record

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Saxe, the First Department upheld the conviction for rape and for facilitating a sex offense with a controlled substance.  The controlled substance referenced in the indictment and the subject of proof at trial was ecstasy.  However, expert evidence of the effects of another drug, GBH, was allowed in at trial. The First Department determined the unsupported testimony about GBH did not require reversal because it could be assumed the jury relied upon the allegations supported by the evidence:

           …[T]he reference in the experts' testimony to GHB and its symptoms, and the People's reference to that evidence in support of their summation, did not impermissibly present the jury with a new, legally inadequate theory…. Rather, at worst, the suggestion that the complainant may have also been drugged with GHB was merely a "factually unsupported theory" …. "[W]here jurors are given a choice between a factually supported and factually unsupported theory, it is assumed they have chosen the one with factual support" …. Here, we can assume that in determining whether the complainant was "rendered temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling [her] conduct owing to the influence of a narcotic or intoxicating substance administered to [her] without [her] consent," the jurors relied on those of the People's assertions that were supported by the evidence. People v Blackwood, 2013 NY Slip Op 03764, 2nd Dept, 5-23-13

Transfer to Another County for Probation Did Not Divest Sentencing Court of Jurisdiction Over Defendant’s Violation of His Intermittent Sentence

In this case Columbia County Court sentenced defendant to intermittent imprisonment in the Columbia County jail and five years probation in Greene County where defendant resided.  After defendant failed to report to Columbia County Jail, County Court revoked the intermittent sentence and sentenced defendant to four months. Defendant contended Columbia County Court had relinquished jurisdiction by transferring the probation term to Greene County.  The Third Department disagreed:


           Defendant's reliance on CPL 410.80 – which provides for transfer of probation supervision by the sentencing court to the Probation Department in the jurisdiction (county) where  the defendant  resides at sentencing –  is misplaced … . Defendant was not charged  with violating probation but, rather, was  alleged to have violated his intermittent sentence of imprisonment.  The transfer in CPL  410.80 (2) of "all powers  and  duties" of the sentencing court over supervision of probationers to the receiving court does not, as defendant argues, divest the sentencing court of its express jurisdiction to modify  or revoke a sentence of intermittent imprisonment pursuant to Penal Law § 85.05 (1) (b) … .  People v Dick, 104424, 3rd Dept, 5-23-13

Matter Remitted/County Court Did Not Follow Procedure Mandated by Drug Law Reform Act

In remitting the matter, the Third Department explained County Court failed to follow the procedure mandated by the Drug Law Reform Act:


           The record contains no written order denying defendant's application for resentencing and setting forth County  Court's "findings of fact and the reasons for such order" as is required under the Drug Law Reform Act (L 2004, ch 738, § 23). Absent the necessary written order, we are without jurisdiction to consider defendant's appeal … .  People v Allen, 104967, 3rd Dept, 5-23-13


Unsigned Depositions Deemed Admissible

In a Labor Law action stemming from a fall through an open manhole, the plaintiffs submitted transcripts of one the plaintiff’s deposition testimony as part of plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on liability. Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ motion on the ground that the certified deposition transcripts submitted by them were not signed.  In determining that Supreme Court should not have denied plaintiffs’ motion on that ground, the Second Department wrote:

           By submitting the transcript of [plaintiff’s] deposition, the plaintiffs adopted it as accurate …. Further, the … defendants … did not challenge the accuracy of any of the transcripts submitted by the plaintiffs …. Consequently, those deposition transcripts were admissible ….  Carey v Five Bros, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03626, 2nd Dept. 5-22-13

No Proof of Service of Notice of Entry of Default Judgment/One Year Deadline Never Triggered

The Second Department noted that the one-year deadline for a motion to vacate a default judgment (CPLR 5015) was never triggered because the record included no proof that the notice of entry of the default judgment was served.  Gottlieb v Northriver Trading Co, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 03618, 2nd Dept, 5-21-13

Consolidation and Joint Trial Explained

The Second Department explained the criteria for a motion to consolidate and explained when consolidation, as opposed to joining two actions for trial, is not appropriate:

           "A motion to consolidate two or more actions rests within the sound discretion of the trial court" (… see CPLR 602). "Where common questions of law or fact exist, consolidation is warranted unless the opposing party demonstrates prejudice to a substantial right" … . * * *


           …[A]ctions should be joined for trial, rather than consolidated, [when] certain parties would appear as both the plaintiff and the defendant if the actions were consolidated, and the actions involve certain different defendants … .  Matter of Joseph J, 2013 NY Slip Pp. 03676, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Expert’s Affidavit Should Have Been Considered in Summary Judgment Motion Even though Expert Had Not Been Disclosed

In a slip and fall case, the defendant moved for summary judgment.  Because the plaintiff’s expert had not been previously disclosed, Supreme Court refused to consider the expert’s affidavit.  In reversing, the Second Department wrote:

           "[A] party's failure to disclose its experts pursuant to CPLR 3101(d)(1)(i) prior to the filing of a note of issue and certificate of readiness does not divest a court of the discretion to consider an affirmation or affidavit submitted by that party's experts in the context of a timely motion for summary judgment" …. Under the circumstances of this case, it was an improvident exercise of discretion to refuse to consider the affidavit of the plaintiff's expert submitted in opposition to the respondents' motion … .  Salcedo v Weng Qu Ju, 2013 NY Slip Op 03656, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Subpoena Can Not Be Used for Discovery Purposes

The Second Department noted that a subpoena duces tecum may not be used for discovery purposes:

           "[A] subpoena duces tecum may not be used for purposes of discovery or to ascertain the existence of evidence"…. Here, the subpoena duces tecum served by the defendants improperly sought production of certain materials that the defendants had failed to seek during the discovery process, or that had previously been the subject of an unsuccessful motion to compel disclosure. Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court properly granted the separate motions of the plaintiff and the third-party defendant to quash the subpoena duces tecum … .  Wahab v Agris & Brenner, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 03667, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Civil Versus Criminal Contempt Explained in Context of Imposition of Fines or Monetary Penalties

In a divorce proceeding plaintiff sought a contempt finding and the imposition of monetary penalties or fines in connection with defendant’s failure to comply with a court order.  The Second Department explained the principles underlying civil versus criminal contempt as follows:


           "[U]nlike fines for criminal contempt where deterrence is the aim and the State is the aggrieved party entitled to the award, civil contempt fines must be remedial in nature and effect. The award should be formulated not to punish an offender, but solely to compensate or indemnify private complainants"…. In the instant matter, the Supreme Court held the defendant in civil contempt. "Coercive penalties designed to modify the contemnor's behavior, generally speaking, are civil in nature, while penalties meant to punish the contemnor for past acts of disobedience are criminal…. Thus, a fine "is considered civil and remedial if it either coerces the recalcitrant party into compliance with a court order, or compensates the claimant for some loss . . . If a fine is not compensatory, it is civil only if the contemnor is given an opportunity to purge" … . Here, where the plaintiff failed to prove an actual loss, any penalty that punished the defendant for her past acts of disobedience would have been within the rubric of a criminal contempt and thus improper within this civil contempt adjudication … .  Ruesch v Ruesch, 2013 NY Slip Op 03655, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Unambiguous Release Is a Jural Act of High Significance Which Must Be Enforced

In explaining the legal principles underlying the enforcement of releases, the Second Department wrote:

           Public policy favors the enforcement of settlements …, and a release is "a jural act of high significance without which the settlement of disputes would be rendered all but impossible" ….. Generally, a valid release constitutes a complete bar to an action on a claim which is the subject of the release…, and should not "be converted into a starting point for renewed litigation" …
"[A] release is governed by principles of contract law"…, and a release "that is complete, clear, and unambiguous on its face must be enforced according to the plain meaning of its terms"…. "Whether or not a writing is ambiguous is a question of law to be resolved by the courts" … . Inter-Reco, Inc v Lake Park 175 Froehlich Farm, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 03637, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Theory of Damages in Contract Action

The Second Department explained the theory underlying damages for breach of contract and noted that damages are usually ascertained as of the date of the breach:
It has long been recognized that the theory underlying damages for breach of contract is to make good or replace the loss caused by the breach… . Damages are intended to return the parties to the point at which the breach arose and to place the nonbreaching party in as good a position as it would have been had the contract been performed (…Restatement [Second] of Contracts §§ 347, comment a; § 344). Thus, damages for breach of contract are ordinarily ascertained as of the date of the breach… .. Seidman v Industrial Recycling Props, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03659, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13

Question of Fact About Whether Release Procured by Fraud or Duress

In upholding the denial of defendant’s (Countrywide’s) motion for summary judgment based upon the execution of a release, the Second Department determined that the allegations of fraud and duress in procurement of the release raised a question of fact:

           The Countrywide defendants' motion was properly denied. Although the plaintiff's execution of the release in favor of the defendants was "a jural act of high significance" …, "a motion to dismiss should be denied where fraud or duress in the procurement of the release is alleged"… . Here, the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the Countrywide defendants procured the release by means of fraud or duress, so as to warrant denial of their motion.   Warmhold v Zagarino, 2013 NY Slip Op 03668, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Doctrine of Continuous Representation/Retainer Agreement in Estate Proceeding “Unconsionable”

In a case involving “gifts” and a 40% contingency fee for three defendant attorneys’ work on an estate worth several tens of millions, the Second Department applied the “doctrine of continuous representation” to toll the statute of limitations and found the fee arrangement(s) “unconscionable:”


           The claims relating to the gifts the widow made to the three individual defendants are not time-barred. Rather, they were tolled under the doctrine of continuous representation …. Contrary to the individual defendants' contention, the doctrine applies where, as here, the claims involve self-dealing at the expense of a client in connection with a particular subject matter….  * * *

           The revised retainer agreement is both procedurally and substantively unconscionable…. The evidence shows that the widow believed that under the contingency arrangement, she would receive the "lion's share" of any recovery. In fact, as it operated, the law firm obtained over 50% of the widow's share of proceeds. Thus, the law firm failed to show that the widow fully knew and understood the terms of the retainer agreement--an agreement she entered into in an effort to reduce her legal fees … .

           In considering the substantive unconscionability of the revised retainer agreement, the Referee correctly considered such factors as the proportionality of the fee to the value of the professional services rendered… , and the risks and rewards to the attorney upon entering into the contingency agreement … .

           The amount the law firm seeks ($44 million) is also disproportionate to the value of the services rendered (approximately $1.7 million) … . Matter of Lawrence, 2013 NY Slip Op 03759, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


Deputy Sheriff Fired for Incompetence and Insubordination Was Entitled to Unemployment Benefits

In upholding the finding that a former sheriff’s deputy was entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, even though he was terminated for incompetence and insubordination, the Third Department noted that collateral estoppel applied to the factual findings in the Civil Service proceeding, but the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board could make its own determination whether the facts supported denial of unemployment benefits:

           Given that claimant had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of misconduct at the Civil Service Law § 75 hearing, the Board properly accorded collateral estoppel effect to the factual findings of the Hearing Officer… .  It was, however, incumbent upon the Board to draw its own conclusion as to whether such factual findings amounted to misconduct disqualifying claimant from receiving unemployment insurance benefits….  Significantly, "[t]he  same conduct that leads to a claimant being discharged for cause may not necessarily rise to the level of misconduct for unemployment insurance purposes….  The Board's decision in this regard will not  be  disturbed  if supported  by substantial evidence … . Matter of Guynup, 515235, 3rd Dept, 5-23-13


Defendant Did Not Demonstrate Plaintiff was Special Employee

The Second Department determined the defendant did not demonstrate plaintiff was its special employee and therefore plaintiff was not restricted to Workers’ Compensation as his remedy:


           In determining whether a special employment relationship exists, a court should consider factors such as the right to control the employee's work, the method of payment, the furnishing of equipment, and the right to discharge…. "A significant and weighty factor . . . is who controls and directs the manner, details and ultimate result of the employee's work'"….

           Contrary to the determination of the Supreme Court, the defendant failed to come forward with sufficient evidence of a special employment relationship to demonstrate its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, since its submissions on the motion did not establish, inter alia, that it controlled and directed the manner, details, and ultimate result of the plaintiff's work… . Nolan v Irwin Contr, Inc, 2013 NY Slip Op 03648, 2nd Dept, 5-22-13


New York City Administrative Code Imposing a $2000 Fine for Removal Recyclable Material from Curb Violated Excessive-Fines Clauses

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Richter, the First Department determined the New York City Administrative Code provision which imposed a $2000 fine for the removal of recyclable material from the curb violated the Eighth Amendment as applied.  The code provision was designed to prevent large scale removal of recyclable material which deprived the City of recycling income. The petitioner was an artist who used recyclable material in his work.  He picked up a television antenna which had been put out on the curb.  He was pulled over by the NYC sanitation police, given a summons mandating a $2000 fine, and his vehicle was seized.  The First Department wrote:

           It is undisputed that petitioner violated the relevant Administrative Code provision---he removed and transported a recyclable object using a motor vehicle. Nevertheless, under the specific circumstances here, we conclude that the mandatory $2,000 penalty amounts to an unconstitutionally excessive fine. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution forbids the imposition of "excessive fines." The New York State Constitution contains the same prohibition (art I, § 5). The Excessive Fines Clause " limits the government's power to extract payments, whether in cash or in kind, as punishment for some offense''"… . A fine is unconstitutionally excessive if it "notably exceeds in amount that which is reasonable, usual, proper or just" …. Thus, the Excessive Fines Clause is violated where the fine is "grossly disproportional to the gravity of [the] offense"… . Matter of Prince v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03623, 2nd Dept, 5-21-13

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