October Page III
Summaries of recently released decisions to be included in the next issue of the Digest (uncorrected)
Lab Conducting Blood Tests for Drugs Owed Duty of Care to Plaintiff Whose Blood Was Tested
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, over two dissenting opinions, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff had stated a negligence cause of action against a laboratory (Kroll) which issued a test-result positive for the presence of drugs and initiated a violation of probation proceeding against the plaintiff. In concluding the laboratory owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, Judge Lippman wrote:
Although the existence of a contractual relationship by itself generally is not a source of tort liability to third parties, we have recognized that there are certain circumstances where a duty of care is assumed to certain individuals outside the contract … . As relevant here, such a duty may arise “where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of [its] duties, launche[s] a force or instrument of harm” … . This principle recognizes that the duty to avoid harm to others is distinct from the contractual duty of performance. Accepting the allegations of the complaint as true, Kroll did not exercise reasonable care in the testing of plaintiff’s biological sample when it failed to adhere to professionally accepted testing standards and, consequently, released a report finding that plaintiff had tested positive for THC. The alleged harm to plaintiff was not remote or attenuated. Indeed, it was his own biological specimen that was the sole subject of this testing and he was directly harmed by the positive test result causing the extension of his probation and the necessity of having to defend himself in the attendant court proceedings.
Additionally, there are strong policy-based considerations that counsel in favor of finding that Kroll owed a duty to plaintiff under these circumstances. Without question, the release of a false positive report will have profound, potentially life-altering, consequences for a test subject. In particular, here, plaintiff faced the loss of freedom associated with serving an extended period of probation. The laboratory is also in the best position to prevent false positive results. Under the circumstances, we find that Kroll had a duty to the test subject to perform his drug test in keeping with relevant professional standards and that the existence of its contract with the County does not immunize defendant laboratory. Landon v Kroll Laboratory Specialists Inc, 142, Ct App 10-10-13
Existence of Elevator Maintenance Contract Did Not Rule Out Duty of Care to Elevator User
The Second Department determined plaintiff had stated a cause of action in negligence against a company with a contract to maintain an elevator. The elevator escape door and debris fell on plaintiff. The court explained that the existence of a contract did not rule out that the company owed a duty of care to the plaintiff:
" Because a finding of negligence must be based on the breach of a duty, a threshold question in tort cases is whether the alleged tortfeasor owed a duty of care to the injured party'" … . "[A] contractual obligation, standing alone, will generally not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party" … Exceptions to this general rule exist "(1) where the contracting party, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of [its] duties, launch[e]s a force or instrument of harm; (2) where the plaintiff detrimentally relies on the continued performance of the contracting party's duties[;] and (3) where the contracting party has entirely displaced the other party's duty to maintain the premises safely" … .
Here, [defendant] failed to meet its prima facie burden of demonstrating that no questions of fact existed as whether it failed to exercise reasonable care while repairing the subject elevator and whether it thereby launched a force or instrument of harm that caused the accident… . Dautaj v Alliance El Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 06657, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Defendant May Be Liable for Obstruction in Municipal Right of Way
The Second Department determined the defendant’s (Argyros’s) motion for summary judgment in a slip and fall case should have been denied. Plaintiff tripped on a piece of wood that was anchored into the ground. Argyros owned the land and the piece of wood was in the town’s municipal right of way over the land. There was evidence most property owners cared for the areas in the right of way:
" The law imposes a duty to maintain property free and clear of dangerous or defective conditions only upon those who own, occupy, or control property, or who put the property to a special use or derive a special benefit from it'" … . Here, while Argyros owned the real property on which the accident occurred and the Town possessed a right of way over the portion of it where the plaintiff fell, title to the land under the right of way is not determinative in assessing the issue of duty, as issues of control and maintenance of the property must also be considered … . * * *
The Supreme Court should have denied Argyros's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against him, as the evidence submitted in support of the motion failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether he controlled or maintained the area of the property where the plaintiff fell … . Riccardi v County of Suffolk, 2013 NY Slip Op 06673, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Res Ipsa Loquitur Doctrine Re: Shard of Wood Ingested by Plaintiff Allowed Case to Survive Summary Judgment
In reversing Supreme Court, the Third Department determined the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur sufficiently raised a question of fact about whether a shard of wood, which was swallowed by plaintiff, was negligently present in food prepared by defendant (Cipriani):
Res ipsa loquitur is neither a theory of liability nor a presumption of liability, but instead is simply a permitted inference – that the trier of fact may accept or reject – reflecting a "common-sense application of the probative value of circumstantial evidence" … . Criteria for res ipsa loquitur to apply are that "(1) the event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; [and] (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff" … . The parties dispute the exclusive control element and, to establish that element, plaintiffs were "not obligated to eliminate every alternative explanation for the event, but only to demonstrate that the likelihood of causes other than the defendant[s'] negligence is so reduced that the greater probability lies at defendant[s'] door, rendering it more likely than not that the injury was caused by defendant[s'] negligence" … .
Here, the event occurred at a banquet hall operated by Cipriani. Cipriani prepared and provided all of the food. Attendees were not permitted to bring food onto the premises. Individuals undisputedly under Cipriani's control (pursuant to a contractual arrangement) acted as captains, servers and bartenders. Cipriani thus exclusively prepared, provided and served the food. Although the shard possibly could have been present when the ingredients for food were purchased from suppliers, it was not so small as to have been likely concealed and thus not visible upon careful preparation (cf. Restatement [Second] of Torts § 328D, Comment e, Illustration 2). … There is sufficient proof under these circumstances to find ample control by defendants for purposes of res ipsa loquitur. Brumberg v Cipriani USA Inc, 515666, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Late Notice of Claim Denied—Criteria Explained
In affirming the denial a petition for leave to file a late notice of claim, the Second Department explained the relevant criteria:
Timely service of a notice of claim is a condition precedent to the commencement of an action sounding in tort against the New York City Transit Authority (hereinafter the NYCTA) (see General Municipal Law § 50-e[a]…). In determining whether to extend the time to serve a notice of claim, the court will consider whether, in particular, the public corporation received actual notice of the essential facts constituting the claim within 90 days after the claim arose or a reasonable time thereafter, whether the claimant has a reasonable excuse for the failure to serve a timely notice of claim, and whether the delay would substantially prejudice the public corporation in its defense on the merits (see General Municipal Law § 50-e…). Matter of Ryan v New York City Tr Auth, 2013 NY Slip Op 06691, 10-16-13
Late Notice of Claim Denied---Infancy Alone Not Sufficient Reason to Allow Late Notice
In affirming the denial of a petition for leave to file a late notice of claim, the Second Department noted that the infancy of the injured person did not compel the granting of the petition:
…[T]he factor of infancy alone does not compel the granting of a petition for leave to serve a late notice of claim … . Here, the failure to serve a timely notice of claim and the lengthy delay in seeking leave to serve a late notice of claim were not the product of the injured person's infancy … . Furthermore, the excuse proffered for the delay in commencing this proceeding, that the petitioner, the infant's father, was not aware of the extent of his daughter's injury and disability until 4½ years after the accident, is unacceptable without supporting medical evidence explaining why the extent of the injury and disability took so long to become apparent… . Matter of Sparrow v Hewlett-Woodmere Union Free Scjh Dist (#14), 2013 NY Slip Op 06696, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Plaintiff’s Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Did Not Preclude Lawsuit—Question of Fact Re: Applicability of Emergency Doctrine
In affirming the denial of summary judgment to the defendant driver who struck plaintiff when the defendant turned toward the shoulder to avoid an on-coming car, the Third Department noted that plaintiff’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy did not preclude the suit and there were questions of fact about the applicability of the emergency doctrine:
Initially, we reject defendants' assertion that plaintiff lacks the capacity to sue by virtue of his failure to disclose his personal injury claim in his chapter 13 bankruptcy schedule of assets. "While [c]hapter 7 and [c]hapter 11 debtors lose standing to maintain civil suits – which must be brought and/or maintained by their bankruptcy trustees – it is clear that [c]hapter 13 debtors like plaintiff are not subject to this restriction" … . Accordingly, Supreme Court properly concluded that plaintiff's omission in this regard was not fatal. …
"Under the emergency doctrine, a driver who confronts a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration may be relieved of liability if the actions taken in response are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context" … . The reasonableness of the driver's conduct, as well as whether he or she could have done something to avoid the accident, typically present questions of fact for a jury to resolve … . Thus, in order to be granted summary judgment in this regard, "a driver must establish as a matter of law that he or she did not contribute to the creation of the emergency situation, and that his or her reaction was reasonable under the circumstances such that he or she could not have done anything to avoid the collision" …Defendants failed to meet that burden here. Collins v Suraci, 516138, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
NEGLIGENCE/GENERAL OBLIGATIONS LAW
Fraternity Not Liable for Injuries Caused by Intoxicated Person
The Second Department ruled that summary judgment should have been granted to a fraternity (SPFI) in an action brought pursuant the General Obligations Law 11-100 (creating a cause of action against those who provide alcohol to persons who subsequently cause injury). Plaintiff was injured in a fight that took place outside the fraternity house and there was no evidence the assailant (Poffenbarger) was provided with alcohol while in the fraternity house:
A defendant may be liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated guest that occurred on the defendant's property, or in an area under the defendant's control, where the defendant had the opportunity to control the intoxicated guest and was reasonably aware of the need for such control … . Here, the [fraternity] defendants established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the negligence cause of action insofar as asserted against SPFI by showing that the plaintiff's injuries occurred in an area not under SPFI's control and, thus, that SPFI had no duty to supervise or control Poffenbarger's conduct in that area … .
…Supreme Court erred in denying that branch of the Sigma Pi defendants' motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action to recover damages pursuant to General Obligations Law § 11-100 insofar as asserted against SPFI.
General Obligations Law § 11-100 provides:
"Any person who shall be injured in person, property, means of support or otherwise, by reason of the intoxication or impairment of ability of any person under the age of twenty-one years, whether resulting in his death or not, shall have a right of action to recover actual damages against any person who knowingly causes such intoxication or impairment of ability by unlawfully furnishing to or unlawfully assisting in procuring alcoholic beverages for such person with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that such person was under the age of twenty-one years." * * *
Here, the [fraternity] defendants established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the cause of action to recover damages pursuant to General Obligations Law § 11-100 … . Specifically, the [fraternity] defendants established… that SPFI did not knowingly cause Poffenbarger's intoxication or impairment of ability … . Holiday v Poffenbarger, 2013 NY Slip Op 06658, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
NEGLIGENCE/GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW 205-E
Police Officer Injured by Debris in City’s Vacant Lot Stated a Cause of Action Under General Municipal law
In finding a police officer had stated a cause of action against the City pursuant to General Municipal Law 205-e based on an injury caused by debris in an empty lot owned by the City, the Second Department determined that a violation of the NYC Health Code section requiring lots be kept free of debris could be the basis of the action:
To support a cause of action under General Municipal Law § 205-e, a plaintiff law enforcement officer, inter alia, must identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply … . Liability pursuant General Municipal Law § 205-e will exist where there is negligent noncompliance with "any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the federal, state, county, village, town or city governments or of any and all their departments, divisions and bureaus" (General Municipal Law § 205-e), provided that the statute, ordinance, rule, order or requirement cited is found in a "well-developed bod[y] of law and regulation" that "impose[s] clear duties" … . Section 205-e must be applied " expansively' so as to favor recovery by police officers whenever possible" … .
New York City Health Code § 153.19 provides that "[t]he owner, agent, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person who manages or controls a building or lot shall be jointly and severally responsible for keeping . . . the premises free from obstructions and nuisances and for keeping . . . the . . . lot clean and free from garbage, refuse, rubbish, litter, other offensive matter or accumulation of water." Contrary to the Supreme Court's conclusion, this provision constitutes a well-developed body of law… . Mulham v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 06666, 10-16-13
Assignment of Counsel Required Before Determining Whether Appeal Should Be Dismissed as Untimely
The Court of Appeals determined the appellate division was required to assign counsel upon a showing of indigency before ruling on whether defendant’s first-tier appeal as of right should be dismissed for failure to meet the timeliness requirement in the Second Department’s rules:
In this case, the Appellate Division erroneously failed to assign counsel to represent defendant before dismissing his first-tier appeal as of right based on his failure to timely perfect it. Notwithstanding the Appellate Division's rule mandating automatic dismissal of an untimely perfected appeal (see 22 NYCRR 670.8 [f]), its decision to dismiss the appeal here remained a discretionary determination on the merits of a threshold issue on defendant's first-tier And an appellate court had not yet passed on, nor had counsel presented, defendant's appellate claims with respect to dismissal or any other matter, thus leaving defendant ill equipped to represent himself. Because the factors cited in Douglas [372 US 387], Halbert [545 US 605] and Taveras [463 F3d 141], are present in the instant case, the Appellate Division was required to assign defendant an attorney upon a showing of indigence in order to enable him to oppose the court's motion to dismiss his first-tier appeal as of right, and the court's failure to appoint counsel to represent defendant without considering his indigency or the merits of dismissal warrants reversal and reinstatement of defendant's appeal. Upon remittal to the Appellate Division, that court should decide whether defendant is indigent pursuant to CPLR 1101. If defendant establishes his indigence, the court must assign counsel to litigate the dismissal motion, and the court should determine, in its discretion, whether dismissal is appropriate. appeal, rather than an automatic bar to appeal … . People v Kordish, 252, Ct App 10-17-2013
Appellate Division, Acting as Second Appellate Court, Used Wrong Standard of Review
The Court of Appeals reversed the appellate division in a holdover tenant proceeding because the appellate division, acting as the second appellate court, use the wrong standard of review:
We agree with the dissenting opinion that the Appellate Division applied the incorrect standard of review to the Appellate Term order. In primary residence cases, where the Appellate Division acts as the second appellate court, "the decision of the fact-finding court should not be disturbed upon appeal unless it is obvious that the court's conclusions could not be reached under any fair interpretation of the evidence, especially when the findings of fact rest in large measure on considerations relating to the credibility of witnesses" … .The Appellate Division did not apply this standard of review to this case, instead substituting its own view of the trial evidence. Accordingly, the case needs to be remitted to that court to apply the appropriate standard of review… . 409-411 Sixth Street, LLC v Mogi, 250, Ct App 10-10-13
Court Refused to Entertain All Issues Raised on Appeal Because They Were Not Raised Below and Could Not Be Determined as Matters of Law
In a case involving an assessment by defendant against plaintiff under the Federal Power Act for costs associated with a hydropower plant, dams and reservoirs, the Third Department noted that none of defendant’s arguments on appeal could be addressed because they were not raised below:
On appeal, defendant makes none of the arguments raised in connection with the motions before Supreme Court. Instead, defendant now argues that plaintiff failed to state a cause of action for a refund by failing to allege that it paid the unauthorized assessments under protest. However, "[a]n appellate court should not, and will not, consider different theories or new questions, if proof might have been offered to refute or overcome them had they been presented at the trial [level]" … . By raising this issue for the first time on appeal, defendant has deprived plaintiff of the opportunity to provide evidence of any protest. The issue is, therefore, not properly before us, and we decline to consider it (see CPLR 5501 [a] …). Similarly, defendant's contention that equity does not support a finding of unjust enrichment is also fact-intensive and, as such, it too was required to be raised before Supreme Court in order to be preserved for appellate review … .
Also unpreserved is defendant's alternative argument that the action is time-barred … . Although listed as an affirmative defense in the answer, defendant did not pursue dismissal of the action on this ground … . Nor is this an issue of law that may be addressed for the first time on appeal, as plaintiff responds that it would be entitled to a toll of the statute of limitations based on the ongoing administrative proceedings and we must agree that the question of whether a statute of limitations is tolled raises factual issues … . Inasmuch as there are steps that plaintiff might have taken to counter the statute of limitations defense if it had been raised before Supreme Court, the issue is not properly before us and, again, we decline to consider it … . Albany Engineering Corp v Hudson River/Black River Regulating District, 516220, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Evidentiary Issues Not Preserved for Review
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of a psychiatric patient based on his assault of another patient. The court determined the doctor, who was cross-examined about defendant’s capacity by defense counsel, could have been questioned by defense counsel about the hearsay basis for her opinion. The failure to do so could not be complained about on appeal. The court also determined an objection to a line of questioning did not preserve the issue of witness-bias for review because defense counsel’s proffer did not specifically mention the exploration of witness-bias as the purpose of the questioning. People v Daryl H, 154, Ct App 10-10-13
Stay During Appellate Process Expires Five Days After Court of Appeals Denies Leave to Appeal
A police officer was dismissed from the force just before his retirement pension vested. The dismissal was vacated by Supreme Court because of flaws in serving the officer with notice of the charges. The First Department affirmed and the Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. The First Department noted that the stay of the proceedings which was in effect during the appeals process (CPLR 5519(a)) terminated five days after the Court of Appeals denied leave (CPLR 5519(e)(ii)). The commissioner’s failure to hold a new hearing and issue a new dismissal order within thirty days of the denial of leave resulted in the automatic vesting of the officer’s pension. Matter of Toolasprashad v Kelly, 2013 NY Slip Op 06772, 1st Dept 10-17-13
Ad on Internet, Together With Communications With Florida Medical Group, Did Not Confer Long-Arm Jurisdiction Over the Group in a Malpractice Action Based On Surgery Done in Florida
In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Sgroi, over two dissenters, the Second Department determined that an ad on the Internet by a Florida medical group (LSI) and the group’s website, together with communications between the New York plaintiff and the Florida group, were insufficient to provide New York with long-arm jurisdiction over a medical malpractice case brought by the plaintiff who had undergone surgery in Florida:
…[I]t is not the number of contacts which is determinative of whether a defendant purposely availed itself of the benefits and privileges of conducting business in New York. Each jurisdictional inquiry pursuant to CPLR 302(a)(1) will turn upon the examination of the particular facts of the case, "[a]nd although determining what facts constitute purposeful availment' is an objective inquiry, it always requires a court to closely examine the defendant's contacts for their quality" .. . "Purposeful activities are those with which a defendant, through volitional acts avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities with the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws" … . "Whether a non-domiciliary has engaged in sufficient purposeful activity to confer jurisdiction in New York requires an examination of the totality of the circumstances" … .
In the case at bar, the "totality of circumstances" does not provide the plaintiff with a basis for imposing long-arm jurisdiction over the defendants. Initially, we note that personal jurisdiction cannot be based upon LSI's website, since, as far as the record reveals, this website was informational only and, thus, "passive" in nature. There is no indication that the website permitted a user thereof to purchase any goods or services from LSI, that it contained any online form application process, or that it allowed any interaction through the site … . "When a website is passive . . . plaintiffs may have to prove something more' to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction--that is, plaintiffs must show that defendant purposefully (albeit electronically) directed his activity in an substantial way to the forum state'" … .
This Court has also recently held that such a passive website, without more, cannot be used as the basis for the assertion of long-arm personal jurisdiction. Paterno v Laser Spine Inst, 2013 NY Slip Op 06669, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Second Summary Judgment Motion Properly Denied—Not Based on Newly Discovered Evidence
The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s denial of a motion for summary judgment because it was the second such motion and, although it included new deposition testimony, it did not include evidence that met the definition of “newly discovered:”
"Generally, successive motions for summary judgment should not be entertained, absent a showing of newly discovered evidence or other sufficient cause" … . Although, in this context, newly discovered evidence may consist of "deposition testimony which was not elicited until after the date of a prior order denying an earlier motion for summary judgment" …, such evidence is not "newly discovered" simply because it was not submitted on the previous motion …. Rather, the evidence that was not submitted in support of the previous summary judgment motion must be used to establish facts that were not available to the party at the time it made its initial motion for summary judgment and which could not have been established through alternative evidentiary means… . Vinar v Litman, 2013 NY Slip Op 06675, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
CIVIL PROCEDURE/FREEDOM OF
INFORMATION LAW (FOIL)
Eliot Spitzer, Former New York Attorney General, Was a Necessary Party in FOIL Proceeding Seeking His Private Emails In Connection With Civil Enforcement Action against AIG Chief Financial Officer
Petitioner, former Chief Financial Officer of AIG, was the subject of a civil enforcement action against him brought in 2005 by then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Supreme Court granted petitioner’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for access to private emails of Spitzer. The Third Department determined that, given the nature of the documents requested, and Spitzer’s current status as a private person, he was a necessary party to the action:
Since at this juncture the object of this proceeding is Spitzer's private email account(s), and the outcome of this appeal could be a directive to respondent to gain access to and review those private accounts, Spitzer would certainly be "inequitably affected by a judgment in th[is] [proceeding]" and "ought to be [a] part[y] if complete relief is to be accorded between the persons who are parties to [this proceeding]" (CPLR 1001 [a]). As such, Spitzer is a necessary party herein … . While not raised directly by the parties, "the court may at any stage of a case and on its own motion determine whether there is a nonjoinder of necessary parties" … . "The rule . . . insures fairness to third parties who ought not to be prejudiced or 'embarrassed by judgments purporting to bind their rights or interest where they have had no opportunity to be heard'" … .
In this matter, resolution of the disputed FOIL demand directly impacts the personal property of Spitzer, now a private citizen who is not before this Court and whose significant private rights and property cannot be said to be protected by the current respondent, which admittedly does not represent Spitzer's private interests. However, "[t]his [C]ourt has previously held that a court may not, on its own initiative, add or direct the addition of a party" (…see CPLR 1003). Accordingly, the matter must be remitted to Supreme Court to order Spitzer to be joined if he is subject to the jurisdiction of the court and, if not, to permit Spitzer's joinder by stipulation, motion or otherwise and, "if joinder cannot be effectuated, the court must then determine whether the [proceeding] should be permitted to proceed in the absence of necessary parties"… . Matter of Smith v NYS Office of the Attorney General, 515758, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
CIVIL PROCEDURE/COUNTY LAW
Board of County Legislators is Necessary Party Re: Legality of Local Law
The Second Department determined the Board of County Legislators was a necessary party in an action concerning the legality of a local law enacted by the Board:
A challenge to the procedures by which local legislation is enacted should be raised in a CPLR article 78 proceeding against the body which enacted it … . In view of the defendants' challenge to the validity of the procedures by which the local law was enacted, the Board, as the body that enacted the local law, was a necessary party (see CPLR 1001[a]…). However, it appears that there are legal impediments to the defendants' commencement of an action or proceeding against the Board without the Board's consent (see Westchester County Charter § 158.11). Under these circumstances, in the interest of fairness and judicial economy, we join the Board as a necessary party …, and direct the plaintiffs to effect service of process upon the Board, and serve the Board with all appropriate papers. Matter of Jenkins v Astorino, 2013 NY Slip Op 06684, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Son’s Application for Succession to Mitchell-Lama Apartment Should Not Have Been Denied Because of Mother’s Failure to File Income Affidavit
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, with three dissenters, the Court of Appeals determined that his mother’s failure to file an income affidavit did not warrant the denial of her son’s [Murphy’s] application for succession to the Mitchell-Lama apartment vacated by his parents.
In this case, DHCR [Division of Housing and Community Renewal] contests neither Murphy's status as a family member, nor that he lived in the apartment during the relevant two-year period of 1998-1999. The sole basis for DHCR's denial of Murphy's application was that his mother did not file the requisite income affidavit for 1998, the year prior to Murphy's high school graduation. Given the overwhelming evidence of primary residence, and the absence of any indication that the failure to file was related to Murphy's status as a co-occupant or an income-earner, we hold that it was arbitrary and capricious for DHCR to deny succession on the basis of the failure to file a single income affidavit.
There is no doubt that DHCR has a compelling interest in encouraging the timely filing of income affidavits in order to fairly and efficiently administer the Mitchell-Lama program. Housing companies and supervising agencies like DHCR rely on these affidavits to monitor both the number and aggregate income of occupants, information that is crucial to determining the appropriate amount of rent and to ensuring that tenants remain eligible for the rental subsidy. Accordingly, failure to file income affidavits can result in harsh penalties: the tenant can be charged a surcharge on rent for the applicable year (as occurred here), or can be evicted (see 9 NYCRR §§ 1727-2.6 [a] and 1727-5.3 [a] ).
In the succession context, however, the principal purpose of the income affidavit is to provide proof of the applicant's primary residence… . As both Supreme Court and the Appellate Division noted, Murphy provided ample evidence in support of his succession application evincing that he resided in the apartment during 1998 and 1999. Indeed, DHCR does not dispute Murphy's residency for the past 32 years. DHCR instead cites only his mother's technical non-compliance for a single year to justify evicting him from the only home he has ever known.
Notwithstanding the importance of the income affidavit requirement, given the overwhelming evidence of residency provided in this case, and the lack of relationship between the tenant-of-record's failure to file and Murphy's income or cooccupancy, DHCR's decision to deny Murphy succession rights was arbitrary and capricious. Matter of Murphy v NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal, 146, Ct App 10-17-13
INSURANCE LAW/NO-FAULT (SERIOUS INQUIRY)
Plaintiff’s Proof of Reason for Termination of Treatment Was Sufficient to Get By Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion
Over two dissenters, the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant with respect to plaintiff’s proof of “serious injury” under the No-Fault Law. Plaintiff testified that he stopped physical therapy because “they cut [him] off like five months.” The appellate division held that bare assertion was insufficient to justify the termination of treatment and documentary evidence of the exhaustion of insurance benefits or at least an indication the claimant could not pay for the treatment was required. In reversing, the Court of Appeals wrote:
We stated in Pommells [4 NY3d 566] that a plaintiff claiming "serious injury" within the meaning of the No-Fault Law "must offer some reasonable explanation" for terminating treatment (4 NY3d at 574). We did not require any particular proof regarding that explanation, although we recognized that there is "abuse of the No-Fault Law in failing to separate 'serious injury' cases, which may proceed to court, from the mountains of other auto accident claims, which may not"… .
The Appellate Division's requirement that plaintiff either offer documentary evidence to support his sworn statement that his no-fault benefits were cut off, or indicate that he could not afford to pay for his own treatment, is an unwarranted expansion of Pommells. Plaintiff testified at his deposition that "they" (which a reasonable juror could take to mean his no-fault insurer) cut him off, and that he did not have medical insurance at the time of the accident. While it would have been preferable for plaintiff to submit an affidavit in opposition to summary judgment explaining why the no-fault insurer terminated his benefits and that he did not have medical insurance to pay for further treatment, plaintiff has come forward with the bare minimum required to raise an issue regarding "some reasonable explanation" for the cessation of physical therapy. Ramkumar v Grand Style Transportation Enterprises Inc…, 170, Ct App 10-15-13
Part-time Resident of New York Can Apply for Pistol Permit
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, the Court of Appeals answered a certified question from the Second Circuit and determined a person who has a part-time residence in New York State, but who is not domiciled in New York, can apply for a pistol permit in New York (based upon the language of the controlling statute):
Penal Law § 400 (3) (a) states that applications for a license to carry a pistol or revolver "shall be made and renewed . . . to the licensing officer in the city or county, as the case may be, where the applicant resides, is principally employed or has his principal place of business as merchant or storekeeper." The applicant's residence is referred to in the context of delineating the procedure whereby an individual files an application for a license. The applicant is instructed to apply to the licensing officer in the city or county where he resides (or is principally employed, etc.). The plain language of the statute is not consistent with the theory that the law requires an applicant to establish domicile as an eligibility requirement. Were it so, we would expect to see the manner of proof of domicile set out in the statute. Osterweil v Bartlett, 167, Ct App 10-15-13
PUBLIC HEALTH LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Law Requiring Approval Before Health Care Facility Withdraws or Transfers Assets Held Valid
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts and found that Public Health Law 2808(5)(c), which requires the Commissioner of Health’s approval before a residential health care facility withdraws or transfers more than three percent of its assets, did not violate substantive due process and did not delegate legislative authority to the Commissioner.
The lower courts, we believe, erred in concluding that the subject statute was offensive to substantive due process. Economic regulation will violate an individual's substantive due process property interest only in those situations, vanishingly rare in modern jurisprudence, where there is absolutely no reasonable relationship to be perceived between the regulation and the achievement of a legitimate governmental purpose …; the regulation, to be actionable, must be arbitrary in the constitutional sense -- which is to say "so outrageously arbitrary as to constitute a gross abuse of governmental authority” … . * * *
Plaintiffs' alternative theory for deeming § 2808 (5) (c) unconstitutional -- that the provision's catch-all phrase effects an improper delegation of legislative policy-making power -- is not, in our view, more viable than their substantive due process claim. * * * The enumerated criteria clearly tie the Commissioner's disposition of an equity withdrawal application to the financial condition of the facility and its quality of care record. These are highly pertinent and not excessively general criteria and it is reasonably clear, and in any case conceded by defendants, that the catch-all's immediately subsequent reference to "such other factors" does not authorize application dispositions based on criteria that are generically different. Brightonian Nursing Home… v Daines…, 161, Ct App 10-15-13
As Long As Work-Related Injury Was A Cause of Death, Death Benefit Must Be Paid---No Apportionment Between Non-Work-Related and Work-Related Causes of Death
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Law (section 16) could not be apportioned between work-related and non-work-related causes of death. As long as the work-related injury or illness is a cause of death, the benefit must be paid. In a concurring opinion, Judge Pigott agreed that the benefit cannot be apportioned, but concluded the result in this case, where the claimant’s (Hroncich’s) death was primarily related to non-work-related thyroid cancer, should be that no death benefit was available.
Importantly, there is no language in section 16 to suggest that the Board should apportion death benefits to workrelated and non-work-related causes when fashioning an award. Presumably, if the legislature had wanted this to be the case, it would have said so. Instead, however, the legislature made employers joint-and-several insurers of their injured employees' lives, subject to a prescribed schedule of payments. The death benefit is not about replacing lost wages, but rather compensates for a life lost at least partly because of work-related injury or disease (see e.g. Bill Jacket, L 1990, ch 296 [authorizing $50,000 in death benefits to non-dependent survivors]). Matter of Hroncich v Con Edison…, 145, Ct App 10-15-13
Damage to Building Caused By Excavation Next Door Constituted “Vandalism”
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, over a partial dissent, the Court of Appeals answered two certified questions from the Second Circuit. The case involved damage to a building caused by the excavation of a parking garage next door. The question was whether the damage could fall within the meaning of “vandalism” in the building owner’s insurance policy, even though the alleged acts were not directed at the damaged building. The Court of Appeals answered in the affirmative:
It is true that, in some cases of alleged vandalism not directed at particular property, the term does not intuitively seem to fit. … The word vandalism, which derives from the sack of Rome by the original Vandals in 455 AD (see IV, Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at 246-248 [Folio Society 1986]), more readily brings to mind people who smash and loot than business owners who seek their own profit in disregard of the injury they do to the property of others. We conclude, however, that there is no principled distinction between the two. An excavator who is paid to dig a hole, and does so in conscious disregard of likely damage to the building next door, is, for these purposes, not essentially different from an irresponsible youth who might dig a hole on the same property, with the same effect, whether in search of buried treasure or just for fun. …
In common speech, and by the express terms of the policy in suit, vandalism is "malicious" damage to property. The Second Circuit's second question asks, in essence, what state of mind amounts to "malice" for these purposes. We answer by adopting, insofar as it relates to property damage, the formulation we have used in reviewing awards of punitive damages. Conduct is "malicious" for these purposes when it reflects "such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others that [it] may be called willful or wanton"… . Georgitsi Realty LLC v Penn-Starr Insurance Co, 156, Ct App 10-17-13
EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION/HUMAN RIGHTS LAW
Employment Discrimination Claim Stated Under the NYC Human Rights Law But Not Under the State Human Rights Law
Over a partial dissent, the Court of Appeals determined that plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim under the state Human Rights Law (HRL) was properly dismissed but that the claim under the city HRL should not have been dismissed. The city, unlike the state, places the burden on the employer to show that it could not provide reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled employee to work. The employee essentially asked for an indefinite leave from work based upon severe depression:
In the context of employment discrimination, the term "disability" as defined in the State HRL is "limited to disabilities which, upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, do not prevent the complainant from performing in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought or held" (Executive Law § 292 ). A "reasonable accommodation" means actions taken which permit an employee with a disability to perform in a reasonable manner activities involved in the job, and "do not impose an undue hardship on the business" (Executive Law § 292 [21-e]). To state a claim under the State HRL, the complaint and supporting documentation must set forth factual allegations sufficient to show that, "upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, [the employee] could perform the essential functions of [his or] her job" … . Indefinite leave is not considered a reasonable accommodation under the State HRL … .
Here, neither plaintiff's communications with his employer just prior to his termination nor the complaint filed one year later offer any indication as to when plaintiff planned to return to work. Instead, plaintiff informed his employer that he had not expressed any intention to "abandon" his job and that his return to work date was "indeterminate"; the complaint merely alleges that plaintiff sought "a continued leave of absence to allow him to recover and return to work." "Indeterminate" means "not definitely or precisely determined or fixed" … . * * *
The City HRL, on the other hand, affords protections broader than the State HRL * * *.
Unlike the State HRL, the City HRL's definition of "disability" does not include "reasonable accommodation" or the ability to perform a job in a reasonable manner. Rather, the City HRL defines "disability" solely in terms of impairments (Administrative Code of City of NY § 8–102 ). The City HRL requires that an employer "make reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to satisfy the essential requisites of a job . . . provided that the disability is known or should have been known by the [employer]" (id. at § 8–107  [a]). Contrary to the State HRL, it is the employer's burden to prove undue hardship … . And, the City HRL provides employers an affirmative defense if the employee cannot, with reasonable accommodation, "satisfy the essential requisites of the job" (Administrative Code 8-107  [b]). Thus, the employer, not the employee, has the "pleading obligation" to prove that the employee "could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job" … . Romanello v Intesa Sanpaolo …, 152, Ct App 10-10-13
EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION/EDUCATION LAW
School Employee Stated Discrimination Cause of Action City Department of Education
The Court of Appeals affirmed the appellate division and found plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence of employment discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss:
Defendants are of course correct that evidence only that the principal made stray discriminatory comments without any basis for inferring a connection to the termination would be insufficient to defeat defendants' motion (see Forrest, 3 NY3d at 308 [comments made years before the plaintiff's termination failed to raise a triable issue of fact in light of the clear evidence of plaintiff's misconduct]). But that is not the case here. Plaintiff has offered evidence of, among other things: defendant principal's repeated homophobic remarks directed at plaintiff; his decision to report to the Department of Education (DOE) allegations that plaintiff had engaged in misconduct while working at an after-school program that he did not supervise; his close relationship with the alleged victims of the misconduct; his independent decision to terminate plaintiff's employment; and the after-school program supervisor's opinion that plaintiff had not engaged in any misconduct worthy of reporting to the DOE. This is sufficient to deny defendants' motion for summary dismissal. Sandiford v City of New York Dept of Education, 157, Ct App 10-17-15
JUDICIARY LAW/CRIMINAL LAW/TRIALS
Judge Who Had Represented Defendant Not Required to Recuse Himself
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott (over a substantial partial dissent which dealt with defense counsel’s antagonistic behavior toward the judge and degrading comments about the defendant), the Court of Appeals determined the trial judge, who had represented the defendant in the past on an unrelated matter (about which the judge had no specific memory), properly denied defendant’s recusal request which alleged bias on the judge’s part:
Unless disqualification is required under Judiciary Law § 14, a judge's decision on a recusal motion is one of discretion … . "This discretionary decision is within the personal conscience of the court when the alleged appearance of impropriety arises from inappropriate awareness of nonjuridical data" … . We have held that for any alleged bias and prejudice to be disqualifying it "must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case" … . People v Glynn, 155, Ct App 10-17-13
Nonsignatory Could Not Be Compelled to Arbitrate Under Direct Benefit Estoppel Doctrine
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, reversed the appellate division and determined a party who was not a signatory to an agreement which included an arbitration clause could not be compelled to arbitrate under the direct benefit estoppel doctrine. In explaining the doctrine, the court wrote:
Under the direct benefits theory of estoppel, a nonsignatory may be compelled to arbitrate where the nonsignatory "knowingly exploits" the benefits of an agreement containing an arbitration clause, and receives benefits flowing directly from the agreement … .
Where the benefits are merely "indirect," a nonsignatory cannot be compelled to arbitrate a claim. A benefit is indirect where the nonsignatory exploits the contractual relation of the parties, but not the agreement itself … . Matter of Belzberg v Verus Investments Holdings Inc, 149, Ct App 10-17-13
PUBLIC HEALTH LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Criteria for Unconstitutional Impairment of Contract Rights Explained in Context of Requirement that Health Insurers Reimburse Customers Pursuant to Public Health Law Section 4308
Supreme Court granted summary judgment to plaintiff health insurer on the ground that certain portions of Insurance Law section 4308 constituted an unconstitutional impairment of contract rights. The Third Department determined summary judgment should not have been granted (on grounds unrelated to a determination of constitutionality). In the course of the decision, the court explained the constitutional analytical criteria:
Plaintiff is a not-for-profit health insurer that offers various types of health insurance to its subscribers, including – insofar as is relevant here – community-rated, large-group insurance and health maintenance organization policies. Historically, insurers such as plaintiff were required to obtain prior approval from the Superintendent of Insurance1 before increasing or decreasing premium rates (see Insurance Law former § 4308 [c] …). In 1995, however, the Legislature replaced this system with a "file and use" methodology, whereby insurers could increase or decrease premiums at their discretion, so long as the "anticipated incurred loss ratio" for the affected insurance pool fell within statutory minimum and maximum percentages… . If the actual loss ratio fell below the statutory minimum, the insurer was required to "issue a refund to its subscribers or credit a dividend against future premiums"; if the actual loss ratio exceeded the statutory maximum, the insurer "increase[d] its premium rates accordingly"… .
In response to growing concerns that steady increases in premium rates were making health insurance less affordable, the Legislature amended Insurance Law § 4308 again in 2010 (see L 2010, ch 107, § 2) – reinstating the prior approval requirement and setting the minimum loss ratio for all coverage pools at 82% loss ratio for its large-group coverage pools fell below the 82% requirement. As a result, defendant Superintendent of Financial Services directed that plaintiff issue refunds or credits totaling $3,349,976 to policyholders enrolled in community-rated large-group contracts. * * *
US Constitution, article I, § 10 provides that "[n]o [s]tate shall . . . pass any . . . [l]aw impairing the [o]bligation of [c]ontracts." The prohibition contained in the Contract Clause, however, is not absolute, as states "retain the power to safeguard the vital interests of [their] people" … . "Thus, the [s]tate may impair [private] contracts by subsequent legislation or regulation so long as it is reasonably necessary to further an important public purpose and the measures taken that impair the contract are reasonable and appropriate to effectuate that purpose" … . Analysis of a claimed Contract Clause violation "require[s] consideration of three factors: (1) whether the contractual impairment is in fact substantial; if so, (2) whether the law serves a significant public purpose, such as remedying a general social or economic problem; and, if such a public purpose is demonstrated, (3) whether the means chosen to accomplish this purpose are reasonable and appropriate"… . Healthnow New York Inc … v NYS Insurance Dept, 516179, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
CONTRACT LAW/FRAUD/DAMAGES INQUET AFTER DEFAULT
Issues to Be Determined in Inquest After Default in Contract Action
Explained/Viability of Fraud Cause of Action in Action Based on Contract Explained
In a contract action, the Third Department noted that: (1) a limitation of liability clause in a contract can be raised by the defaulting party after a default in the inquest on damages; (2) the court can determine whether the defaulting party stated valid causes of action; and (3) allegations of deceptive practices aimed at the general public state a cause of action under General Business Law 349. In explaining why the fraud cause of action was valid in this contract-based case, the Third Department wrote:
In order to recover on the third cause of action for fraud, the defrauded party must allege a misrepresentation or omission of a material fact known to be false and made with the intent to deceive, as well as justifiable reliance and damages … . While it is the general rule that "[a] separate cause of action seeking damages for fraud cannot stand when the only fraud alleged relates to a breach of contract" …, defendants' allegations of fraud do not concern any express terms of the contract or third-party defendants' failure to perform those term …. Rather, defendants allege that third-party defendants fraudulently induced them into entering the contract by falsely representing that they were skilled, competent and experienced in providing construction management services. Those allegations are not redundant of the breach of contract cause of action, which claims that third-party defendants failed to perform the terms of the contract … . Defendants also alleged that they relied on the representations …, and the allegations permit us to infer that the reliance was justified. Nor is there anything in the complaint or contract that would suggest that their reliance was unjustified … . 84 Lumber Co LP v Barringer…, 516235, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Plaintiff Cannot Proceed With Case Taking a Position Different from That Taken in a Prior Action
The First Department determined plaintiff could not proceed with her discrimination action against an organization (ECEC) which had agreed to hire her because there had been a determination in another discrimination action that she was employed by the defendant (East Bronx Day Care) in that action. The court explained the doctrine of judicial estoppel:
The doctrine of judicial estoppel prevents a party who assumed a certain position in a prior proceeding and secured a ruling in his or her favor from advancing a contrary position in another action, simply because his or her interests have changed … . Also known as the "doctrine of estoppel against inconsistent positions" …, the doctrine "rests upon the principle that a litigant should not be permitted to lead a court to find a fact one way and then contend in another judicial proceeding that the same fact should be found otherwise" … . Applying this doctrine, we find that plaintiff has failed to show that she was "qualified" for the ECEC position, as required to make out a prima facie case of discrimination since plaintiff is judicially estopped from denying that, at the time she was allegedly discriminated against by defendants, she was actually employed with East Bronx Day Care, which would make it impossible for her to carry out her duties for defendants. Becerril v City of New York Dept of Health & Mental Hygiene, 2013 NY Slip Op 06783, 1st Dept 10-17-13
Erasure of Audio Recording Constituted Negligent Spoliation of Evidence Under New York Common Law---No Need to Turn to Federal Law Re: Preservation of Electronically Stored Information
In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Saxe, the First Department determined the City’s erasure of an audio recording related to a police chase that resulted in injuries to plaintiffs constituted negligent spoliation under New York common law and there was no need to rely on federal authority re: the spoliation of electronically stored information [ESI]:
…[P]laintiffs' spoliation claim can be fully addressed under New York's common-law spoliation doctrine. However, because plaintiffs rely exclusively on the [federal] Zubulake IV rule that "[o]nce a party reasonably anticipates litigation, it must suspend its routine document retention/destruction policy and put in place a litigation hold'" to preserve evidence (220 FRD at 218), we briefly address the question of whether we need to import Zubulake's rules into the established New York common-law rules as to spoliation of non-ESI evidence.
The cases in which this Court has explicitly adopted the Zubulake rulings have involved ESI discovery … . The usefulness of the Zubulake standard in the e-discovery arena, is … that it "provides litigants with sufficient certainty as to the nature of their obligations in the electronic discovery context and when those obligations are triggered" (93 AD3d at 36). At the same time, … Zubulake "is harmonious with New York precedent in the traditional discovery context" … . This is an area that did not need greater certainty or clarification. * * *
We … conclude that reliance on the federal standard is unnecessary in this context. Zubulake interpreted federal rules and earlier federal case law to adapt those rules to the context of ESI discovery. However, the erasure of, and the obligation to preserve, relevant audiotapes and videotapes, can be, and has been, fully addressed without reference to the federal rules and standards. Strong v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 06655, 1st Dept 10-15-13
Provision Requiring Nonincumbents to Reside in District Does Not Violate Equal Protection
The Second Department determined that a charter provision requiring nonincumbents (here, Shapiro) to reside in the legislative district at the time of their nomination for the county legislature does not violate the equal protection clause:
Shapiro contends that the residency requirement for nominees as set forth in the Charter is unconstitutional and, thus, he should not have been disqualified. In particular, Shapiro challenges § 112(3) of the Charter, which grants incumbents one year to move into a newly drawn district following a "readjustment or alteration of the county legislative district." Shapiro argues that the Charter, in requiring nonincumbents to reside in the legislative district at the time of their nomination, does not afford nonincumbents the same opportunity. "Legislative enactments enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality . . . [and] parties challenging a duly enacted statute face the initial burden of demonstrating the statute's invalidity beyond a reasonable doubt'"… . Based on the record before us, Shapiro failed to meet his initial burden of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that the Charter's residency provisions violated the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution (US Const, 14th Amend, § 1) or the New York Constitution (NY Const, art I, § 11). Matter of Becker v Shapiro, 2013 NY Slip Op 06679, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Substitution of Candidate Invalid
The Second Department determined a substitution of a candidate for the county legislature, based on the failure of the initial candidate (Roth) to meet residency requirements, was invalid because the substitution was made by the Committee to Fill Vacancies and not pursuant to Election Law 6-148(3):
The vacancy at issue here was created at the time of Roth's nomination, when he still did not reside in the district. This constituted a vacancy in nomination rather than in designation. Election Law § 6-148(3) states, in relevant part, as follows: "A vacancy in a nomination made at a primary . . . may be filled by a majority of the members, of the party committee or committees last elected in the political subdivision in which the vacancy occurs."
Here, since Roth's disqualification created a vacancy made in a nomination at a primary, any substitution should have been made pursuant to Election Law § 6-148(3), not by the Committee to Fill Vacancies. "After the primary election has been held the committee named in the designating petition has no function and is without authority" … . The "statute is explicit" that the procedure outlined in Election Law § 6-148(3) governs a vacancy in a nomination that has been made at a fall primary … . Since the purported substitution was not made in accordance with Election Law § 6-148(3), it was invalid. Matter of Venditto v Roth, 2013 NY Slip Op 06699, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Insufficient Evidence to Warrant Jury Charge on Intoxication Defense
The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s rape conviction finding that defendant presented insufficient evidence to warrant a jury charge on the intoxication defense:
Although intoxication is not a defense to a criminal offense, a defendant may offer evidence of intoxication whenever relevant to negate an element of the charged crime (see Penal Law § 15.25). An intoxication charge should be issued when, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to defendant …, "there is sufficient evidence of intoxication in the record for a reasonable person to entertain a doubt as to [an] element . . . on that basis" … . In order to meet this "relatively low threshold," defendant must present evidence "tending to corroborate his claim of intoxication, such as the number of drinks, the period of time between consumption and the event at issue, whether he consumed alcohol on an empty stomach, whether his drinks were high in alcoholic content, and the specific impact of the alcohol upon his behavior or mental state" … .
Here, the evidence was insufficient to allow a reasonable juror to harbor a doubt concerning the element of intent on the basis of intoxication. Defendant's bare assertions concerning his intoxication were, by themselves, insufficient … . Nor did his statement to police and the victim's testimony that she smelled alcohol on his breath corroborate defendant's claim. While he may, indeed, have consumed alcohol prior to the events leading up to the crimes alleged, the evidence established that defendant's conduct was purposeful. He cut a hole in a screen to gain entry, instructed the victim to be quiet, threw a blanket over her head, and stole her cell phone so she could not call the police. Given this evidence, the court correctly ruled an intoxication charge was not warranted. People v Beaty, 148, Ct App 10-17-13
Emergency Doctrine Applied—Statements Made to Police and Overheard by Police Not Suppressible
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of motions to suppress certain statements made by the defendant to the police and to a friend in the presence of the police under the emergency doctrine. [The concurring judge felt the emergency was over when defendant spoke to his friend and his prior request for counsel rendered those statements suppressible. The majority held that the conversation with the friend was not police interrogation because there was no police involvement and the conversation was not a ploy by the police to elicit information from the defendant.] When the police encountered the defendant his clothes had wet blood on them and blood was found in defendant’s vehicle. The emergency doctrine applied because the police were justified in questioning the defendant to determine if someone was injured and needed help:
As a general rule, a person who is in custody cannot be questioned without first receiving Miranda warnings or after the right to counsel attaches … . There are exceptions to these principles, one of which is referred to as the "emergency doctrine" … . It recognizes that the Constitution "is not a barrier to a police officer seeking to help someone in immediate danger" …, thereby excusing or justifying otherwise impermissible police conduct that is an objectively reasonable response to an apparently exigent situation … . We have explained that the exception is comprised of three elements: (1) the police must have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property and this belief must be grounded in empirical facts; (2) the search must not be primarily motivated by an intent to arrest and seize evidence; and (3) there must be some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place to be searched … . People v Doll, 141, Ct App 10-17-13
Out of State Conviction of then 15-Year-Old Could Not Serve as Basis for Second Felony Offender Sentence
The Court of Appeals determined that the defendant’s Pennsylvania conviction for third degree murder (when the defendant was 15) could not serve as the basis for a second felony offender sentence. In so finding, the court noted that the error did not need to be preserved for the Court of Appeals to reach it:
As an initial matter, we conclude that this case falls within the narrow exception to our preservation rule permitting appellate review when a sentence's illegality is readily discernible from the trial record … . * * *
Penal Law § 30.00 (1) specifies that a person must be at least 16 years old to be criminally responsible for his conduct. Penal Law § 30.00 (2) lists crimes that are exceptions to this age requirement, but second-degree manslaughter is not among them. So assuming as we must for purposes of this appeal that third-degree murder in Pennsylvania is equivalent to second degree manslaughter in New York, defendant's Pennsylvania conviction was not a predicate felony conviction within the meaning of Penal Law § 70.06 (b) (i) because he could not even have been prosecuted for second-degree manslaughter in New York at the age of 15. People v Santiago, 159, Ct App 10-15-13
Failure to Allow Hearsay Admissible as Statement Against Penal Interest Required Reversal
In a weapon-possession case, the Court of Appeals, over a dissent, reversed the appellate division and held the defendant should have been allowed to call an attorney to testify that a (separately tried and acquitted) co-defendant told the attorney the weapon at issue was hers. The court found the attorney’s testimony was admissible under the statement-against-penal-interest exception to the hearsay rule:
The declaration against penal interest exception to the hearsay rule "recognizes the general reliability of such statements . . . because normally people do not make statements damaging to themselves unless they are true" … . The exception has four components: (1) the declarant must be unavailable to testify by reason of death, absence from the jurisdiction or refusal to testify on constitutional grounds; (2) the declarant must be aware at the time the statement is made that it is contrary to penal interest; (3) the declarant must have competent knowledge of the underlying facts; and (4) there must be sufficient proof independent of the utterance to assure its reliability … . The fourth factor is the "most important" aspect of the exception … . Assuming that the other elements are satisfied, such statements can be admissible if there is "a reasonable possibility that the statement might be true" … .
We conclude that the courts below erred by focusing on the inconsistency between the … codefendant's trial testimony and her pretrial statement to [the] lawyer. Knowledge that a declaration is against penal interests must be assessed "at the time" it was made …, and later recantations generally affect the weight and credibility that a fact-finder should ascribe to the statement. Applying this legal standard, there was adequate evidence to establish admissibility under the particular facts of this case: the handgun was found in a handbag located in the rear of the automobile directly adjacent to the … codefendant; she was the only woman in the vehicle; and the circumstances under which the utterance was declared make it clear that the statement was against her interests. Contrary to the dissent's contention, there was also sufficient proof that the woman was not available to testify. Finally, the exclusion of the statement cannot be deemed harmless because the People's case was not overwhelming. Defendants are therefore entitled to a new trial. People v Shabazz, 150, Ct App 10-15-13
SORA Determination Made at Sentencing (Which Included Incarceration) Invalid
The Second Department reversed Supreme Court’s SORA determination because the court failed to follow the procedure required for an incarcerated defendant. The SORA determination was made at sentencing:
In this case, the Supreme Court sentenced the defendant to a nine-month term of incarceration without any probation supervision. The court conducted the risk assessment hearing and made its risk level determination immediately after sentencing, using a risk level assessment instrument prepared by the District Attorney's office. This violated SORA and deprived the defendant of his right to due process … . Pursuant to the SORA statutory scheme, a risk level determination should not have been made until 30 days before his release from custody (see Correction Law § 168-n… ). The court's determination should have been preceded by the Board's risk level recommendation, and the defendant should have been notified of the opportunity to submit to the Board any information that he believed was relevant for its review (see Correction Law § 168-n, ). Under the circumstances presented here, the fact that the defendant did not explicitly object to this procedure does not indicate that he knowingly and intelligently waived these statutory and due process rights or failed to preserve the issue for appellate review … . Moreover, while Correction Law § 168-l(8) provides that, notwithstanding the Board's failure to act, a court may still make a determination regarding a sex offender's risk level, "this must be read as applying only where the Board had the opportunity to make a recommendation in the first instance" … . Here, the Board had no such opportunity, since the risk level determination was erroneously made immediately after the defendant was sentenced. As a result, "the Supreme Court was without a statutorily-authorized basis for making a risk level determination"… . People v Game, 2013 NY Slip Op 06670, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
In SORA Proceeding, Offender Did Not Provide Sufficient Proof of Exceptional Response to Treatment
The Second Department noted that while an offender’s response to treatment can be a mitigating factor supporting a downward departure in a SORA proceeding, there was insufficient evidence of an exceptional response to treatment in this case:
A downward departure from a sex offender's presumptive risk level generally is only warranted where there exists a mitigating factor of a kind, or to a degree, that is not otherwise adequately taken into account by the Sex Offender Registration Act (hereinafter SORA) Guidelines … . A defendant seeking a downward departure has the initial burden of "(1) identifying, as a matter of law, an appropriate mitigating factor, namely, a factor which tends to establish a lower likelihood of reoffense or danger to the community and is of a kind, or to a degree, that is otherwise not adequately taken into account by the Guidelines; and (2) establishing the facts in support of its existence by a preponderance of the evidence" … .
Here, the defendant identified an appropriate mitigating factor that could provide a basis for a discretionary downward departure (see Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 17 … .). In this regard, the SORA Guidelines recognize that "[a]n offender's response to treatment, if exceptional, can be the basis for a downward departure" (Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 17 …). However, the defendant failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, the facts in support of its existence… . People v Guzman, 2013 NY Slip Op 06671, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Robbery Conviction Against Weight of Evidence---Hand In Pocket Not Evidence of Threat to Use Force
In reversing the defendant’s robbery conviction as against the weight of the evidence, the Second Department determined the fact that defendant’s hand was in his pocket did not support the “threat to use immediate physical force” element of the offense:
This Court has held that where an unarmed person "positions his hand in his pocket in a manner that is intended to convey to his victim the impression that he is holding a firearm," that qualifies as displaying what appears to be a gun … . Since the defendant here admitted to knowingly entering the warehouse with the intent to commit a crime therein, the acquittal of burglary in the second degree could only be based upon the People's failure to prove that the defendant displayed what appeared to be a firearm, or, in other words, upon the People's failure to prove that the defendant positioned his hand in his pocket in a manner intended to convey to the complainants the impression that he was holding a gun.
The trial court's factual finding that the defendant did not display what appeared to be a firearm is supported by the record. The trial court, however, failed to give that finding the proper weight with respect to the crime of robbery in the third degree … . If the People failed to prove that the defendant displayed what appeared to be a firearm by holding his hand in his pocket, then there was no basis on which the trial court could conclude that the defendant's conduct of holding his hand in his pocket constituted a threat to use immediate physical force upon the complainants in order to overcome their resistance. Accordingly, the verdict of guilt with respect to robbery in the third degree was against the weight of the evidence, and we vacate that conviction and the sentence imposed thereon… . People v Johnson, 2013 NY Slip Op 06709, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Sexual Offense Convictions Reversed as Against the Weight of the Evidence---Too Many Inconsistencies and Contradictions in Proof
The Second Department reversed defendant’s convictions on sexual offenses as against the weight of the evidence:
The testimony of the prosecution's witnesses failed to provide a credible foundation for the defendant's convictions due to numerous inconsistencies and contradictions. * * *
…[T]the prosecution's witnesses testified that the defendant and the mother separated in 2002, and, at the time, the defendant had already moved out of the home where the abuse allegedly took place. Thus, many of the alleged incidents of abuse took place after the defendant had moved out of the home and no longer had a key to it. From 2003 to 2005, a restraining order that the mother obtained against the defendant was in effect, and the mother confirmed that, during one period of time in 2004, the defendant conducted all of his visits with the children outside of the home. The testimony of the prosecution's witnesses was generally inconsistent as to whether, during the other visits, the defendant stayed alone with the children in the mother's home, or whether the grandmother or the mother was always present. In any event, although the younger stepdaughter alleged that the defendant molested her twice per week between 2000 and 2004, the trial testimony clearly established that the defendant's access to the children was often limited after he moved out of the mother's home in 2002. People v McMitchell, 2013 NY Slip Op 06713, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
People Failed to Prove Seizure of Cocaine at Police Station Was Not the Fruit of the Illegal Arrest---Attenuation Not Demonstrated
The Third Department determined the People failed to prove that the cocaine seized from the defendant at the police station after his arrest was not the product of the earlier illegal arrest of the defendant (fruit of the poisonous tree). At the Dunaway hearing, the People presented no witnesses concerning the seizure at the police station. County Court’s finding that the “attenuation” doctrine supported the legitimacy of the seizure at the station was therefore not supported by the record:
Under well-established exclusionary rule principles, where police have engaged in unlawful activity – here, by arresting defendant without probable cause – evidence which is a result of the "exploitation of that illegality" is subject to suppression as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" unless one of the recognized exceptions to the exclusionary rule is applicable … . The exception at issue here, as specifically decided by County Court thereby preserving the issue for appeal (see CPL 470.05 …), is attenuation, that is, whether the production of the cocaine evidence during defendant's illegal detention resulted from the exploitation of that illegality, directly or derivatively … . The focus of the attenuation exception is "on the presence or absence of 'free will' or voluntariness regarding a defendant's . . . acts which follow illegal police conduct; thus, the attenuation inquiry resolves whether the causal connection between the police misconduct and the later discovery of the challenged evidence is so far removed as to dissipate the taint" … . "That determination requires consideration of the temporal proximity of the arrest and [acquisition of evidence] . . ., the presence of intervening circumstances and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct" … .
Given the complete lack of testimony at the Dunaway hearing regarding the post-illegal-arrest incident at the police station – including any intervening circumstances – in which cocaine evidence was reportedly seized from defendant's person, we find that the People failed to satisfy their burden of proving the applicability of the attenuation exception. That is, the People did not prove that the evidence was not acquired by exploiting the illegal arrest but, rather, came about by means "sufficiently distinguishable from [the illegality] to be purged of illegality" … . Thus, County Court's finding of attenuation is not supported by the hearing record. People v Small, 103485, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
No Evidence Defendant Agreed to Adjournment—Indictment Dismissed on Speedy Trial Grounds
In reversing County Court and dismissing the indictment on speedy trial grounds, the Third Department noted there was no evidence the defense agreed to an adjournment during the period another criminal proceeding against the defendant was ongoing:
There is no support in the record for the People's unsubstantiated claim that "it was agreed and understood" that defendant consented to an adjournment or waiver from March 27, 2009 until July 17, 2009. "Adjournments consented to by the defense must be clearly expressed to relieve the People of the responsibility for that portion of the delay" … . "While a defendant may waive rights under CPL 30.30, the record here contains no evidence of any waiver, written or oral," and the Court of Appeals has made clear that "prosecutors would be well advised to obtain unambiguous written waivers in situations like these" … . As the People failed to meet their burden of proving that the disputed 112-day period was not chargeable to them …, the People did not establish that they were ready for trial within the statutory six-month period (see CPL 30.30  [a]). Therefore, defendant was entitled to dismissal of the indictment pursuant to CPL 30.30. People v Smith, 104091, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Plea Allocution Insufficient—Plea Vacated in Absence of Motion to Withdraw or Vacate
The Third Department determined defendant’s guilty plea was invalid (based on the allocution) and vacated it in the absence of a motion to withdraw the plea or vacate the judgment of conviction:
As the record before us does not indicate that defendant ever actually entered a guilty plea pursuant to the plea agreement, we reverse. While defense counsel indicated that it was defendant's "intent" to do so, after County Court had recited the terms of the plea agreement, which defendant indicated he had "heard," defendant never actually admitted his guilt in any manner and did not enter a valid plea. The plea allocution simply does not reflect that defendant "understood the nature of the charge against him . . . and voluntarily entered into such plea" .. . Further, while defendant "was not required to recite the elements of his crime or engage in a factual exposition," County Court did not pose any questions, read the count of the indictment, or explain the crime (or its elements) to which he was entering a plea, so as to "establish the elements of the crime" … ; nor did defendant provide "unequivocal . . . responses" or "indicate that he was entering the plea because he was, in fact, guilty" … .
While defendant did not move to withdraw the plea (and we have no indication on this record that defendant moved to vacate the judgment of conviction) so as to preserve his challenge to the factual sufficiency of the plea allocution … , we find it appropriate to exercise our interest of justice jurisdiction and reverse given, in part, that defense counsel may have been dissuaded from making such a motion by County Court's advisement to defendant during the plea colloquy that if he violated the conditions of his release he "will not be permitted to withdraw [his] plea of guilty." Thus, we find that the plea was invalid. People v Beniquez, 104692, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Failure to Set Forth Manner and Timing of Restitution Required Remittance
The Third Department determined the failure of County Court to set forth the manner and time of the payment of restitution required that the restitution order be vacated and the matter remitted to correct the omissions. Peoplev Durham, 105027, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Leading Questions and Elicitation of Hearing in Grand Jury Proceedings Did Not Constitute Prosecutorial Misconduct
The Third Department reversed County Court and determined leading questions and elicitation of hearsay in the grand jury proceedings did not constitute prosecutorial misconduct:
"Dismissal of an indictment pursuant to CPL 210.35 (5) is a drastic, exceptional remedy and should thus be limited to those instances where prosecutorial wrongdoing, fraudulent conduct or errors potentially prejudice the ultimate decision reached by the [g]rand [j]ury" … . Contrary to County Court's finding, the record as a whole does not reveal a "pervasive mishandling" of the manner in which this case was presented to the grand jury. To the extent that the prosecutor asked leading questions or elicited hearsay testimony from the various witnesses, we note that "not every improper comment, elicitation of inadmissible testimony, impermissible question or mere mistake renders an indictment defective. [Rather], the submission of some inadmissible evidence [typically] will be deemed fatal only when the remaining evidence is insufficient to sustain the indictment" … . Inasmuch as we are satisfied – based upon our review of the grand jury minutes – that there otherwise is legally sufficient (and admissible) evidence to sustain count 1 of the indictment, the isolated instances of hearsay testimony, which were accompanied by appropriate limiting instructions, do not warrant dismissal thereof … . We similarly are persuaded that the prosecutor's limited use of leading questions did not impair the integrity of the grand jury proceeding… . People v Miller, 105721, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
CRIMINAL LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Failure to Move to Dismiss Indictment on Speedy Trial Grounds Constituted Ineffective Assistance of Counsel---Inexcusable Post-Indictment Delay Required Dismissal
The Third Department determined defense counsel’s failure to move to dismiss the indictment on speedy trial grounds constituted ineffective assistance of counsel, requiring that defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea be granted, and the postindictment delay, for which the People had no adequate excuse, required that the indictment be dismissed:
A Washington County grand jury handed up a four-count sealed indictment in October 2011 charging defendant with criminal sale and possession of controlled substances occurring in September and November 2010. An arrest warrant was issued and provided to the State Police, who for well over six months were reportedly unable to locate defendant, who had relocated, until he was arrested during a traffic stop in Chautauqua County, where he had been residing. He was arraigned on the indictment on June 14, 2012. * * *
…[D]efendant's ineffectiveness of counsel claim was preserved by his motion to withdraw his plea and adequately alleges that it impacted the voluntariness of his plea and appeal waiver, so as to survive both … . Thus, we address defendant's speedy trial claim in the context of ascertaining whether he was deprived of meaningful representation, mindful that "[a] single error of failing to raise a meritorious speedy trial claim [may be] sufficiently egregious to amount to ineffective assistance of counsel" … . * * *
The People's fleeting description of the efforts made to locate defendant fell far short of "all reasonable efforts to enforce judicially issued warrants" … required to satisfy the "due diligence" standard (CPL 30.30  [c] [i]). As such, the People failed to meet their burden of establishing the statutory exclusion for this postindictment prereadiness delay … . Accordingly, all of this unready time would be chargeable to the People … . People v Devino, 105441, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Waiver of Appeal Not Effective
In finding the defendant did not effectively waive his right to appeal, the Second Department explained:
…[T]he record does not demonstrate that the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to appeal … . The defendant's purported waiver of the right to appeal is unenforceable, as the record does not indicate that he had " a full appreciation of the consequences'" of such waiver … . While the defendant signed a written waiver, a written waiver "is not a complete substitute for an on-the-record explanation of the nature of the right to appeal, and some acknowledgment that the defendant is voluntarily giving up that right" … . Accordingly, in the absence of a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver of the right to appeal, the defendant retained his right to challenge the denial of that branch of his omnibus motion which was to suppress identification testimony… . People v Crawford, 2013 NY Slip Op 06705, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Uncharged Crime Evidence (911 Call) Admissible to Explain Aggressive Actions of Police
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Abdus-Salaam, over a dissent, the Court of Appeals determined it was not an abuse of discretion to allow in evidence a 911 call, which could have been interpreted to have implicated defendant in an uncharged robbery, to explain the aggressive actions of the police when they stopped and seized the defendant, who was convicted of a weapon-possession charge:
Determining whether the probity of such evidence exceeds the prejudice to the defendant “is a delicate business,” and as in almost every case involving Molineux or Molineux-type evidence, there is the risk “that uncharged crime testimony may improperly divert the jury from the case at hand or introduce more prejudice than evidentiary value” … . Yet this case-specific, discretionary exercise remains within the sound province of the trial court …, which is in the best position to evaluate the evidence … . Thus, the trial court’s decision to admit the evidence may not be disturbed simply because a contrary determination could have been made or would have been reasonable. Rather, it must constitute an abuse of discretion as a matter of law … .
On this record, we cannot say that the admission of the 911 evidence was an abuse of discretion. The trial court reasonably determined that, given the aggressive nature of the police confrontation with defendant and the attendant risk of improper speculation by the jury, the 911 evidence was necessary to provide background information explaining the police actions, and that its probative value outweighed the potential prejudice to defendant … . Defendant claims that the 911 evidence had no probative value because he admitted to possessing the gun and agreed not to challenge the propriety of the police stop. But the 911 evidence was probative of all of the police conduct in this case, not just the stop itself. The police behaved aggressively after the stop and before they discovered the gun by singling out defendant, grabbing him, and forcing him up against their patrol car. By specifying why the officers stopped defendant in the first instance, the 911 evidence allowed the jury to put this conduct in the proper context.
The evidence was also probative of the officers’ credibility, which was a central issue for the jury to resolve on the resisting arrest charge …. The People had the burden of proving every element of the resisting arrest charge …, and meeting that burden depended largely on the jury’s evaluation of the officers’ testimony and, particularly, the weight the jury accorded it in relation to contrary testimony proffered by defendant … . Although the officers admitted to grabbing defendant, pushing him against the car, and tackling him when he tried to escape, defendant testified that the officers hit him several times in the head and face, that he never tried to escape, and that the officers’ violent acts were essentially unprovoked. There was also contrary testimony about how the officers recovered the gun, which direction defendant was walking when he was stopped, and whether he was alone or with two black men as described in the radio run. The 911 evidence better enabled the jury to resolve these discrepancies and assess the credibility of the officers’ testimony. Without a complete picture of the events preceding the encounter, the jury would have had little reason not to fault the officers for being overly aggressive and to discredit their testimony as untruthful.
Any potential for prejudice here was offset by the trial court’s four strong limiting instructions, which emphasized that the 911 evidence “was not to be considered proof of the uncharged crime” … . People v Morris, 147, Ct App 10-15-13
Failure to Exercise Peremptory Challenge Not Ineffective Assistance
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals determined the failure to exercise a peremptory challenge against a juror (Peters) who was a long-time friend of the prosecuting attorney did not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel:
…[D]efendant can prevail on his ineffective assistance claim only by showing that this is one of those very rare cases in which a single error by otherwise competent counsel was so serious that it deprived defendant of his constitutional right (see People v Turner, 5 NY3d 476, 478 ). We held in Turner that this had occurred where a lawyer overlooked "a defense as clear-cut and completely dispositive as a statute of limitations" (id. at 481). The mistake that defendant accuses defense counsel of making here was not of that magnitude.
It could be argued that counsel's decision not to use a peremptory challenge on Peters was a mistake for two reasons: because Peters, as a juror, would be biased in the prosecution's favor; and because, by not using a peremptory challenge to excuse him, counsel failed to preserve for appeal any claim that the court erred in rejecting the for-cause challenge. We consider those arguments separately.
The first argument is a weak one, because defense counsel may reasonably have thought Peters an acceptable juror from the defense point of view. * * *
The second argument -- that counsel erred by failing to preserve the issue of the for-cause challenge for appeal -- gives us somewhat more pause. The trial court's decision to deny the challenge for cause may have been error … . Counsel's choice not to exercise a peremptory challenge deprived defendant of the opportunity to make that argument on appeal; under CPL 270.20 (2), where a defendant has not exhausted his peremptory challenges, a denial of a challenge for cause "does not constitute reversible error unless the defendant . . . peremptorily challenges such prospective juror." Considering the poor odds of acquittal that defendant was facing, it is hard to see how keeping a particular juror -- no matter how strong defense counsel's hunch that he would be favorable -could justify the loss of a significant appellate argument.
We conclude, however, that counsel's mistake, if it was one, was not the sort of "egregious and prejudicial" error that amounts to a deprivation of the constitutional right to counsel… . People v Thompson, 144, Ct App 10-10-13
Trial Judge’s Participation in Readbacks Not Mode of Proceedings Error
In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined the trial judge’s participation in the readbacks of testimony requested by the jury did not amount to a mode of proceedings error.
…[T]he two jury notes -- requests for readbacks of two witnesses' testimony -- were disclosed in their entirety in open court before the trial judge responded to them. And the judge explained exactly how he was going to conduct the readbacks. If defense counsel considered the judge's intended approach prejudicial, he certainly had an opportunity to ask him to alter course, and it behooved him to do so… . * * *
…[W]e agree with the Second Department that, as a general matter, a trial judge should shun engaging in readbacks of testimony. In the usual case, it is easy enough for a judge to assign this task to non-judicial court personnel and thereby avoid any risk of creating a misperception in the minds of the jurors.
In a case where a trial judge nonetheless elects to participate in a readback (certainly, nothing in CPL 310.30 prohibits it), any error is not of the mode of proceedings variety. "Not every procedural misstep in a criminal case is a mode of proceedings error"; rather, this narrow exception to the preservation rule is "reserved for the most fundamental flaws," such as shifting the burden of proof from prosecution to the defense, or delegating a trial judge's function to a law secretary… . People v Alcide, 143, Ct App 10-10-13
Accomplice Testimony Corroboration Insufficient Under Law Read to Jury
Even though the evidence of corroboration of accomplice testimony was sufficient under People v Reome, 15 NY3d 188 , it was not sufficient under the stricter criteria of People v Hudson, 51 NY2d 233  which Reome overruled. Because the jury was read the Hudson criteria, that criteria applied and the evidence of corroboration was not sufficient to support conviction:
Under the Hudson standard, the corroborating evidence was insufficient. The evidence that was "independent" of the accomplice testimony in the Hudson sense proved, at most, that defendant had driven a minivan that was the same color as a car that was used to commit some of the crimes charged. This by itself did not tend "to connect the defendant with the commission" of the crimes (CPL 60.22 ). People v Rodriguez, 169, Ct App 10-17-13
Parental Rights Termination Based Upon Mental Illness Reversed---Psychologist’s Report Included Inadmissible Hearsay
The Third Department reversed Family Court’s determination that mother’s parental rights should be terminated based upon her mental illness. The psychologist’s (Liotta’s) report, upon which Family Court based its ruling, should not have been admitted in evidence because it included inadmissible hearsay:
Pursuant to the professional reliability exception to the hearsay rule, an expert witness may rely on information that would otherwise constitute inadmissible hearsay "if it is of a kind accepted in the profession as reliable in forming a professional opinion or if it comes from a witness subject to full cross-examination on the trial" … . While some of the individuals with whom Liotta spoke testified during the hearing and were thus subject to cross-examination, several others did not. Liotta was not asked and offered no opinion as to whether the information he gleaned from the interviews with individuals who did not testify was professionally accepted as reliable in performing mental health evaluations. Respondent objected on hearsay grounds to Liotta's testimony about these interviews and to the admission of his report – which contained detailed accounts of each interview – but the court overruled these objections. Moreover, when respondent's counsel sought to ask about the effect of the collateral source interviews on his opinions, the court precluded him from doing so. As a result, no proper foundation was laid for the admission of Liotta's testimony or his report… . Matter of Dakota F …, 513066, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Imputed Income, As Opposed to Actual Income, Used to Determine Mother’s Contribution to College Costs
The Third Department used imputed income to determine mother’s ability to contribute to the children’s college education:
In determining child support or related expenses, a court may impute income to a parent based on that party's failure to seek more lucrative employment that is consistent with his or her education, skills and experience … . Imputed income more accurately reflects a party's earning capacity and, presumably, his or her ability to pay … . Thus, imputed income may be attributed to a party as long as the court articulates the basis for imputation and record evidence supports the calculations … .
Here, Family Court accepted the mother's income as $15,000, without imputing any income to her. She testified that she earned approximately that amount at her part-time job as a tax preparer, but acknowledged that she has a Bachelor's degree in accounting and could work full time, yet chooses to work reduced hours out of loyalty to her employer. Because we are basing the college expenses on the parties' ability to pay rather than their actual income, we will impute income to the mother based on her underemployment and ability to earn more ,,, . Using the mother's testimony that she earned approximately $15,000 working full time from January through April and two days per week for the remainder of the year, we can extrapolate a full-time salary for her at the same earning rate, resulting in an imputed income of $25,000. Matter of Curley…, 514294, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Custody Petition by Maternal Grandmother Denied in Favor of Child’s Mother
In affirming the denial of custody to petitioner, the maternal grandmother, in favor of the child’s mother, the Third Department explained the relevant criteria:
"'[A] biological parent has a claim of custody of his or her child, superior to that of all others, in the absence of surrender, abandonment, persistent neglect, unfitness, disruption of custody over an extended period of time or other extraordinary circumstances'" … . Significantly, the nonparent seeking custody bears a heavy burden of establishing the existence of extraordinary circumstances … .
Persistent neglect will be found where the parent "has failed either to maintain substantial, repeated and continuous contact with a child or to plan for the child's future" … . While relinquishing care and control of a child for a continuous period of 24 months will be considered an extraordinary circumstance (see Domestic Relations Law § 72 …), petitioner concedes that no such period of separation occurred here … . Although the child had visits with petitioner that lasted multiple weeks and, on at least one occasion, three months, the record does not reflect a prolonged period of separation or "a complete abdication of parental rights and responsibilities"… . Matter of Mildred PP v Samantha QQ, 514416, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
No Sound Basis for Family Court’s Determination Shared Custody Was Appropriate
The Third Department determined there was not a sound basis for Family Court’s determination that shared custody was appropriate:
…[N]either party appears to have requested such relief, and the parties' testimony at the fact-finding hearing was replete with mutual allegations of domestic violence and poor communication, as well as descriptions of vastly differing parenting styles. Moreover, although not a determinative factor, we note the absence in the court's decision of any discussion concerning the wishes or preferences of the children, both of whom are in their teens, even though this factor should be "entitled to great weight" … . Nor is there any discussion addressing the difficulties in a shared custody arrangement raised by the testimony concerning the son's alleged preference to live in the mother's home. Additionally, while the court specifically found that there was some evidence that the father "does not fully understand or appreciate the daughter's dietary needs and her medical issues," it was not explained how this concern would be met by the alternating physical custody schedule set forth in the decision. Given these and other concerns raised by the parties' testimony, we deem it appropriate to remit the matter to Family Court for a determination of primary physical custody of the children, accompanied by appropriate findings detailing the facts essential to such decision… . Matter of Glenna Y…, 514558, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Resort to Contempt for Failure to Make Payments Appropriate
In finding the resort to contempt for failure to make payments pursuant to a judgment in a matrimonial action was appropriate, the Second Department explained the criteria:
Pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 245, where a spouse fails to make payments of money pursuant to an order or judgment entered in a matrimonial action, the aggrieved spouse may apply to the court to punish the defaulting spouse for contempt, but only if "it appears presumptively, to the satisfaction of the court," that payment cannot be enforced by other means such as enforcement of a money judgment or an income execution order (Domestic Relations Law § 245…). In order to punish the defaulting spouse for contempt, the aggrieved spouse is not required to exhaust all alternative remedies; proof that alternative remedies would be ineffectual is sufficient … . Here, the defendant satisfied that burden… . Longman v Longman, 2013 NY Slip Op 06664, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Child Support Standards Act Formula Should Have Been Used
The Third Department determined Family Court erred in determining the parents’ respective contributions to child support when it used the catchall factor (factor 10, FamCtAct 413 (1)(f)(10)) to deviate from the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) formula because the father had custody of the older child all the time and the younger child every other week. The Third Department determined the CSSA formula should have been applied:
Here, the Support Magistrate stated that he was relying on factor 10, the catch-all provision for "[a]ny other factors the court determines are relevant in each case" (Family Ct Act § 413  [f] ). His stated reason for deviating from the presumptive amount was that the father has physical custody of the older child all of the time and of the younger child every other week, so the Support Magistrate adjusted the amount such that the father would not pay support when both children are with him. This was merely another way of applying the proportional offset method, which would reduce a parent's child support obligation based upon the amount of time that he or she actually spends with the child … .
The Court of Appeals has rejected this method as impractical, unworkable and contrary to the statute and legislative history … . … While application of the CSSA formula may seem to produce unfair results where, as here, the parties equally share parenting time with a child, "[t]he difficult policy choices inherent in creating an offset formula for shared custody arrangements are better left to the Legislature" … . The costs of providing suitable housing, clothing and food for the children during custodial periods do not qualify as extraordinary expenses so as to justify a deviation from the presumptive amount (see Family Ct Act § 413  [f] …). While there may be circumstances in which a deviation is warranted in situations involving shared parenting time, the Support Magistrate's articulated reason did not provide an adequate basis for such deviation here… . Matter of Ryan v Ryan. 514954, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Family Court Properly Assumed Jurisdiction Over California Order
In affirming Family Court’s dismissal of mother’s petition for a modification of custody, the Third Department noted that Family Court properly assumed jurisdiction over a California custody order:
Family Court properly assumed jurisdiction over this proceeding. As California no longer had exclusive continuing jurisdiction over this matter (see 28 USC § 1738A [d]), New York could assume jurisdiction for the purpose of modifying the California order so long as it "[was] the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent . . . continues to live in this state" (Domestic Relations Law § 76  [a]; see Domestic Relations Law § 76-b). "Home state" is defined as "the state in which a child lived with a parent . . . for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding" (Domestic Relations Law § 75-a ). Matter of Clouse v Clouse, 514987, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Order Prohibiting Visitation Unless Recommended by Therapist Improper
The Third Department affirmed Family Court’s neglect finding but determined the order prohibiting visitation unless recommended by a therapist improperly delegated the court’s authority to make determinations in the best interests of the child:
…[W]e find merit to respondent's argument that Family Court's order prohibiting visitation except "as therapeutically recommended or attendance at therapy with [the child] as recommended by a therapist after review by . . . Family Court" constitutes an improper delegation of the court's authority to make determinations on the issue of the best interests of the child … . Although the record contains some indication that Family Court recognized and attempted to avoid this delegation, the order failed to require further review unless triggered by the therapist, and did not direct the child to attend therapy with respondent unless recommended by the therapist. As the order thus makes the recommendation of a therapist a prerequisite for any visitation, we find that there was an improper delegation of the court's authority, and the matter is therefore remitted to Family Court for further proceedings regarding the issue of visitation… . Matters of Alisa M…, 515188, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Father Not Denied Due Process by Absence from Portion of Neglect Proceeding
In affirming Family Court’s finding that the parents had permanently neglected their daughter, the Third Department noted that father had not been denied due process based on his absence from some of the proceedings:
We reject the father's assertion that his due process rights were violated when Family Court proceeded with a portion of the fact-finding hearing in his absence. Although a parent in a proceeding seeking to terminate parental rights has a right to be present for all stages of the proceeding, that right is not absolute … . On the second day of the factfinding hearing, the father's counsel appeared and informed the court that his client would not be present due to health reasons. Rather than request an adjournment, counsel affirmed that the father's attendance at the hearing "would not be required today," requested another hearing date – which the court agreed to schedule – so as to allow the father to testify, and thereafter actively participated in the hearing. Under these circumstances, we discern no error in Family Court's decision to proceed with the hearing in the father's absence or any prejudice inuring to the father as a result thereof… . Matter of Arianna BB…, 515318, 515317, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Court Should Have Held Lincoln Hearing to Learn Preferences of 12-Year-Old Child
The Third Department remitted the matter to Family Court for a Lincoln hearing to determine the preferences of the 12-year-old child with respect to custody:
While the decision whether to conduct such a hearing lies within the court's discretion …, it is often the preferable course … . In this case, the court originally indicated that it intended to speak with the child and later reiterated this position. While we can assume that the court ultimately decided that an interview with the child was not warranted or appropriate, the record is bereft of any articulation or explanation for such decision.
Additionally, we cannot ascertain from the record whether Family Court failed to consider the child's wishes with respect to spending time with her father or whether it considered the child's wishes, but rejected them as a basis for a modification. While Family Court stated in regard to the violation petition that the child's wishes did not excuse the mother from complying with the existing orders, it is not clear to what extent, if any, this conclusion played in the court's determination regarding the modification petition. To be sure, the wishes of this 12-yearold child were "at minimum, entitled to consideration" …, and the record does not reflect whether such consideration was given to the child's wishes. As a result, and because we conclude that a Lincoln hearing is called for under the circumstances here … , we must remit the modification petition to Family Court. Matter of Yeager v Yeager, 515860, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
Failure to Call Treating Physician Allowed Negative Inference in Case Alleging Mother Incapable of Caring for Child by Reason of Mental Illness
The First Department determined Family Court properly found mother incapable of caring for her child by reason of mental illness and noted the court properly drew a negative inference from the mother’s failure to call her own treating physician to rebut the allegations in the petition and a suspended judgment is not available:
The evidence, including testimony from a court-appointed psychologist who examined respondent mother, provided clear and convincing evidence that she is presently and for the foreseeable future unable, by reason of mental illness, to provide proper and adequate care for the child (see Social Services Law § 384-b[c], [a]…). The psychologist testified that respondent mother suffers from, inter alia, bipolar disorder, which interferes with her ability to care for the child, placing the child at risk of becoming neglected if she is returned to her mother's care. Moreover, respondent mother's testimony confirms that she lacks insight into the nature and extent of her mental illness … .
Contrary to respondent mother's contention, the Family Court properly exercised its discretion by drawing a negative inference against her for failing to call her treating physician or other medical providers to rebut the allegations raised in the petition and by the testimony after she expressed an intention to call her providers … .
The Family Court did not err in denying respondent mother's application for a suspended judgment. This dispositional alternative is not available after a fact-finding determination of mental illness (see SSL § 384-b  [g],  [c]…). Matter of Love Joy F, 2013 NY Slip Op 06792, 1st Dept 10-17-13
Variance Should Not Have Been Granted to Homeowner Who Built Swimming Pool In Violation of Set-Back Requirements
The Second Department reversed Supreme Court’s annulment of a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) determination that a variance should not be granted to a homeowner who, without a permit, constructed a swimming pool in violation of a rear-yard setback.
In deciding whether to grant an application for an area variance, the Board "is required to engage in a balancing test that weighs the benefit to the applicant if the variance is granted against the detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community" … . The Board must consider whether (1) an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties will result by the granting of the area variance, (2) the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some feasible method other than an area variance, (3) the requested area variance is substantial, (4) the proposed variance will adversely impact the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood if it is granted, and (5) the alleged difficulty was self-created (see Town Law § 267-b[b]). * * *
Contrary to the conclusion reached by the Supreme Court, the ZBA's determination had a rational basis and was not arbitrary and capricious. The evidence before the ZBA supported its conclusions that granting the requested variance would produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, the variance was substantial, and any hardship was self-created (see Town Law § 267-b[b]). Contrary to the petitioner's contention, the ZBA's granting of two prior applications seeking, inter alia, area variances for rear-yard setbacks of in-ground swimming pools, did not constitute a precedent from which the ZBA was required to explain a departure, because the two prior applications, inter alia, involved lots that were not near the subject property and were located in different zoning districts. Thus, the petitioners failed to establish that either of the two cases in which a variance was granted bore sufficient factual similarity to the subject application so as to require an explanation from the ZBA… . Matter of Blandeburgo v Zoning Bd of Appeals Town of Islip, 2013 NY Slip Op 06680, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
EDUCATION LAW/LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION
Law School Properly Rescinded Student’s Application for Admission Based Upon Omissions Concerning Criminal Record
The Second Department affirmed a law school’s rescission of admission of a student based upon the student’s responses to a question about criminal charges on the school’s admission form:
When the petitioner endeavored to obtain an advance ruling on his eligibility for and the likelihood of his admission to the New York State bar in light of his conviction, the law school first learned of the original charges that had been asserted against the petitioner, including, inter alia, charges for distribution of LSD in the second degree, possession of LSD with the intent to distribute in the second degree, possession of Ecstasy in the third degree, and possession of Ecstasy with the intent to distribute. The law school then advised the petitioner that he must amend his application for admission and include a full accounting of what transpired with respect to his arrest in July 1999 and an explanation with respect to his failure to initially disclose this information. Although the petitioner advised the law school that the statement in his application concerning his criminal record was not factually incorrect and did not need to be amended, he nonetheless supplemented his application and made available all details and documents surrounding his expunged record. In his supplement, the petitioner acknowledged that he had been arrested for distribution and had knowingly distributed illegal substances, and freely admitted his guilt of that crime, although he maintained that he did not engage in distribution of illegal substances on a regular basis.
The law school's determination was made on the grounds of the petitioner's misrepresentations and omissions on his application regarding the extent of his prior criminal background, and was based upon the exercise of discretion after a full review. Despite the petitioner's subsequent disclosure, under the circumstances presented here, and in light of the true nature of the petitioner's prior criminal activity, the law school's determination to rescind his acceptance was not arbitrary and capricious, and does not warrant judicial intervention… . Matter of Powers v St John’s Univ Sch of Law, 2013 NY Slip Op 06688, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
EDUCATION LAW/CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
In College Disciplinary Action, Victim Need Not Testify---Failure to Detail Factual Findings in Determination Violates Due Process
The Third Department, in a disciplinary action by SUNY Cortland, determined the alleged victim of harassment was not the complainant in the disciplinary proceeding and therefore the alleged victim need not testify in the proceeding. The court, however, determined the school’s failure to set forth detailed factual findings in its disciplinary determination violated the student’s due process rights. The matter was sent back for those factual findings, after which the student could pursue administrative remedies:
We reject petitioner's contention that the Hearing Panel failed to substantially adhere to its rules and regulations published in the Code … . Although petitioner correctly notes that the Code requires the "complainant" to present his or her own case, the "complainant" is defined as "any person or persons who have filed disciplinary charges against a student." Here, the complainant was SUNY Cortland's Director of Judicial Affairs. Thus, petitioner's contention that the Hearing Panel did not comply with the Code because the victim did not present the case is unavailing. Furthermore, as the victim was not called as a witness by either side and nothing in the Code establishes that the victim is a party to a disciplinary proceeding, we find that the Hearing Panel substantially complied with its rule requiring it to afford petitioner the opportunity to question all parties. …
We do agree, however, that petitioner was denied due process because the Hearing Panel failed to set forth detailed factual findings in its disciplinary determination. In a disciplinary proceeding at a public institution of higher education, due process entitles a student accused of misconduct to "a statement detailing the factual findings and the evidence relied upon by the decision-maker in reaching the determination of guilt" … . Recognized as one of the "'rudimentary elements of fair play'" in this context …, "[s]uch a statement is necessary to permit the student to effectively challenge the determination in administrative appeals and in the courts and to ensure that the decision was based on evidence in the record"… . Matter of Boyd v SUNY Cortland, 514925, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
TRUSTS AND ESTATES
Conveyance Was For Convenience (Getting a Loan) and Was Not a Gift---Property Therefore Remained in Decedent’s Estate
The Second Department determined Surrogate’s Court correctly found that the conveyance of a one-third interest in property was for the decedent’s convenience and was not a gift. Therefore, the one-third interest was in the decedent’s estate:
The petitioner presented evidence establishing that the decedent's conveyance was for his convenience, and was designed to obtain a refinance mortgage loan on the property at a more favorable interest rate than would have been offered had decedent's name remained on the title. The petitioner also presented evidence that, after the refinancing was completed, the decedent's one-third interest in the subject real property was to be reconveyed to him. …
"In a turnover proceeding, the burden of establishing that the property was that of the decedent rests with the petitioner, and once that burden is met, it shifts to the respondent to establish that it was a gift" … . Here, the petitioner met her initial burden of establishing that the one-third interest in the subject real property belonged to the decedent. The petitioner's proof included, inter alia, deposition testimony given by [decedent’s brother] George in a related proceeding, wherein he acknowledged that the decedent's one-third interest was to be reconveyed to the decedent after the refinancing. [Decedent’s sister] Elaine failed to come forward with clear and convincing proof that the decedent intended to make a gift of his interest in the subject real property… . Matter of Voyiatgis, 2013 NY Slip Op 06700, 2nd Dept 10-16-13
Revocation of Empire Zone Program Certifications Cannot Be Applied Retroactively
The Third Department noted that revocation of Empire Zone Program certifications cannot be applied retroactively pursuant to James Sq Assoc LP v Mullen, 21 NY3d 233 . Matter of Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC v NY Dept of Economic Development…, 514812, 3rd Dept 10-17-13
New Medicaid Reimbursement Procedures Did Not Violate State Administrative Procedure Act
The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court and determined that a modified Medicaid reimbursement procedure for the school supportive health services program (SSHSP) did not violate the State Administrative Procedure Act because the new administrative directives (referred to as Q & A’s) were not new rules triggering the requirements of the Act:
The documentation and reimbursement eligibility requirements reflected in the challenged Q & As were not required to be promulgated as rules under the State Administrative Procedure Act. For purposes of rule-making notice and filing requirements (see State Administrative Procedure Act § 202), a rule is defined as "the whole or part of each agency statement, regulation or code of general applicability that implements or applies law, or prescribes . . . the procedure or practice requirements of any agency, including the amendment, suspension or repeal thereof" (State Administrative Procedure Act § 102  [a]). Expressly excluded from the definition are "rules concerning the internal management of the agency which do not directly and significantly affect the rights of or procedures or practices available to the public" (State Administrative Procedure Act § 102  [b] [i]), and "forms and instructions, interpretive statements and statements of general policy which in themselves have no legal effect but are merely explanatory" (State Administrative Procedure Act § 102  [b] [iv]). The Court of Appeals has recognized "that there is no clear bright line between a 'rule' or 'regulation' and an interpretative policy" (Cubas v Martinez, 8 NY3d 611, 621 ). Courts have previously found administrative directives to be interpretive statements when they rely on and constitute reasonable interpretations of existing regulations or statutes, or merely address the type of documentation needed to establish whether a predetermined test of eligibility has been met … . Board of Education of the Kiryas Joel Village Union Free School District, 516336, 3rd Dept 10-17-13