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September Page I

Summaries of Recently Released Decisions and Opinions to Be Included in the Next Issue of the Digest (uncorrected)


Click on the Case Name to Link to the Full Decision



Cause of Action for Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Should Be Dismissed When It Is the Same as the Breach of Contract Claim


The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Renwick, upheld most of the motion court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss a breach of contract action, but agreed with the defendant that the cause of action for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing should have been dismissed because it was the same as the breach of contract claim.  (The opinion is detailed and fact-specific with little discussion of general legal principles and therefore is not summarized here):



Where a good faith claim arises from the same facts and seeks the same damages as a breach of contract claim, it should be dismissed ... . Mill Fin LLC v Gillett, 2014 NY Slip Op 06039, 1st Dept 9-4-14






Hearsay Deemed Insufficient to Support Determination


The Third Department annulled the disciplinary determination because the hearsay information upon which it was based was deemed insufficient:



"While hearsay evidence in the form of confidential information may provide substantial evidence to support a determination of guilt, the information must be sufficiently detailed to allow the Hearing Officer to make an independent assessment to determine its reliability and credibility" ... . Notably, where the Hearing Officer obtains such information through the testimony of a correction officer who has interviewed a confidential informant, the questioning must be thorough and specific, to allow an adequate basis to gauge the informant's knowledge and reliability ... . The Hearing Officer may not base his or her conclusion solely upon the correction officer's assessment of the confidential informant's truthfulness ... .



Here, the captain who prepared the misbehavior report stated that an inmate he spoke with identified petitioner as the individual who told other inmates in the mosque not to participate in the ILC election process. He stated that another inmate, who he apparently did not interview, gave a note to another correction official that similarly implicated petitioner. The correction official who received the note testified that he received several confidential letters from inmates indicating that petitioner was a major participant in the scheme to force inmates to boycott the ILC election process. He stated that he personally interviewed three inmates and, without revealing their identities to the Hearing Officer, related the information that they disclosed to him.



A number of deficiencies with the in camera interview lead us to conclude that it did not provide an adequate basis for the Hearing Officer to independently assess the credibility and reliability of the confidential information. First, the captain did not provide any testimony to establish whether the inmate he interviewed had previously provided credible information to him or other officials, and he admitted that he did not even know the inmate who gave the note to the other correction official. Similarly, the correction official who interviewed the three unidentified inmates did not articulate the bases for finding their statements to be believable. Significantly, none of the letters or notes written by inmates allegedly implicating petitioner were admitted into evidence ... . Further, the statements of the inmates interviewed by the two officials lacked adequate specificity to establish petitioner's status as a leader of the boycott, or his act of threatening violence ... . Given these deficiencies, and as the confidential information was instrumental to the finding of guilt, we conclude that the determination is not supported by substantial evidence and must be annulled ... . Matter of Muller v Fischer, 2014 NY Slip Op 06024, 3rd Dept 9-4-14






One Year Statute of Limitations in Labor Law 740 Trumps the One-Year-Ninety-Days Statute of Limitations in General Municipal Law 50-e(5) (Incorporated Into the Health & Hospitals Corporation Act)


The First Department, over a dissent, determined plaintiff's action was time-barred pursuant to Labor Law 740 and was not covered by Labor Law 741. Plaintiff sued the NYC Health & Hospitals Corp (HHC) after she was terminated.  She alleged her termination was in retaliation for her objecting to the documentation submitted concerning human-subject research programs.  Plaintiff's job entailed reviewing the documentation and did not involve caring for patients:



We turn first to the claim under Labor Law § 740. That cause of action is time-barred under the terms of the statute itself because ...HHC terminated petitioner's employment on April 6, 2009, and petitioner filed her petition for leave to file a late notice of claim on July 2, 2010, after the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations incorporated into the statute (see Labor Law § 740[4][a]). General Municipal Law § 50-e(5), made applicable to HHC by HHC Act § 20(2), permits a court to entertain a motion for leave to serve a late notice of claim only within the applicable limitations period, not, as here, after the limitations period has expired. Contrary to Supreme Court's view, the one-year statute of limitations that is part of section 740 takes precedence over the one-year and 90-day limitations period set forth in the HHC Act ... .



Although not time-barred, the claim under Labor Law § 741 is also without merit as a matter of law. Section 741 affords to a health care "employee," as defined in the statute, a cause of action against the employer for "retaliatory action" (§ 741[2]) taken "because the employee does any of the following:


"(a) discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor, or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer or agent that the employee, in good faith, reasonably believes constitutes improper quality of patient care; or

"(b) objects to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy or practice of the employer or agent that the employee, in good faith, reasonably believes constitutes improper quality of patient care."



Section 741 defines the term "employee," as used in that statute, as "any person who performs health care services for and under the control and direction of any public or private employer which provides health care services for wages or other remuneration" (§ 741[1][a] [emphasis added]). The Court of Appeals, describing this definition as "exactingly specific" ... . Matter of Moynihan v New York City Health & Hosps Corp, 2014 NY Slip Op 06038, 1st Dept 9-4-14






Continuous Treatment Doctrine (Tolling the Statute of Limitations) Explained In Depth


The First Department, over a dissent, determined that the jury's conclusion the statute of limitations was tolled under the continuous treatment doctrine should not be disturbed.  Plaintiff underwent Lasik surgery and complained of blurry vision and other complications in several follow up visits which ended in 2004.  Plaintiff commenced the lawsuit after a subsequent visit in 2007.  The question was whether the 2007 visit was related to the 2004 visits such that the continuous treatment doctrine applied.  The court discussed the doctrine in depth.  The court noted that the doctrine did not apply to plaintiff-wife's derivative claims:


Plaintiff ... asserts that the 2007 visit satisfied CPLR 214-a, because it was for the "same" condition as the 2004 visits, which was blurry vision in his left eye. He further argues that whether he and defendant agreed that he would seek further treatment after the May 2004 visit is irrelevant, because defendant "guaranteed" that the Lasik procedure would correct the blurry condition, and stated that he was plaintiff's "doctor for life" for that purpose.


Although the CPLR defines "continuous" treatment as treatment "for the same illness, injury or condition" out of which the malpractice arose (CPLR 214-a [emphasis added]), the controlling case law holds only that the subsequent medical visits must "relate" to the original condition ... . Here, plaintiff initially engaged defendant to correct his blurry vision, and the 2007 visit was motivated by continued blurriness in plaintiff's eye, thus making the two visits "related" ... . Devadas v Niksarli, 2014 NY Slip Op 06032, 1st Dept 9-4-14





Plaintiff Entitled to Summary Judgment Pursuant to Res Ipsa Loquitur Doctrine---Doctrine Explained In Depth


The First Department, over a dissent, determined summary judgement should have been granted to the plaintiff pursuant to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.  Plaintiff, a passenger on defendant's train, was struck when a ceiling panel (used to access the ventilation system) swung open.  The decision includes an extensive discussion of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine:


While summary judgment is rarely granted in res ipsa loquitur cases, it is appropriate in "exceptional case[s]," such as this one, where "the plaintiff's circumstantial proof is so convincing and the defendant's response so weak that the inference of defendant's negligence is inescapable" ... .



To demonstrate a claim under the doctrine, a plaintiff must establish three elements: (1) the accident is of a kind that ordinarily does not occur in the absence of defendant's negligence; (2) the instrumentality causing the accident was within defendant's exclusive control; and (3) the accident was not due to any voluntary action or contribution by plaintiff ... .



Plaintiff met all three elements with her submission of witness testimony and the testimony of defendant's foreman. The foreman testified that the train's HVAC and ventilation system was accessible through the ceiling panel that hit plaintiff. He also testified that to his knowledge, no one but defendant's personnel accessed the ceiling panels and that he had no explanation for how the accident occurred. The foreman described the panel as being fastened to the ceiling with four screws outside and two safety latches and a safety chain inside.


Defendant concedes the first and third elements but argues that it did not have exclusive control over the ceiling panels. However, defendant offers no evidence to support its argument. Rather, defendant simply offers its attorney's affirmation, in which counsel opines that "the only logical conclusion," considering the foreman's testimony, was that the accident occurred because [*2]of tampering by unauthorized individuals. This statement, which amounts to no more than counsel's speculation about what might have happened, is insufficient to defeat plaintiff's motion ... . Barney-Yeboah v Metro-North Commuter RR, 2014 NY Slip Op 06036, 1st Dept 9-4-14





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