Town, Not the Town Board, Was the Proper Party/Town Could Not Use Article 78/Declaratory Judgment to Enforce a Contract/Town Entitled to Specific Performance of Contract
The Fourth Department, in the context of an action by the town for specific performance of a contract with a volunteer fire department, determined: (1) the town, not the town board, was the proper party to bring the action; (2) the hybrid Article 78/declaratory judgment action could not be brought by the town to enforce a contract; (3) the action should have been brought as one seeking specific performance; (4) the town was entitled to specific performance of the contract:
…[T]he Town Board lacks capacity to bring this proceeding/action. As “artificial creatures of statute,” governmental entities such as the Town Board “have neither an inherent nor a common-law right to sue. Rather, their right to sue, if it exists at all, must be derived from the relevant enabling legislation or some other concrete statutory predicate” … . Here, Town Law § 65 (1) provides in relevant part that “[a]ny action or special proceeding for or against a town, or for its benefit, . . . shall be in the name of the town,” and that “[t]he town board of any town may authorize and direct any town officer or officers to institute, defend or appear, in any action or legal proceeding, in the name of the town, as in its judgment may be necessary, for the benefit or protection of the town” … . Under the circumstances of this case, we exercise our power pursuant to CPLR 2001 to correct that irregularity and to amend the caption by substituting the Town for the Town Board, “on behalf of” the Town … . …
… [A]lthough a CPLR article 78 proceeding may be brought against public or private corporations that “take on a quasi-governmental status” …, such “a . . . proceeding is not the proper vehicle to resolve contractual rights’ ” … . Moreover, a declaratory judgment action is also not a proper vehicle to resolve the contractual rights herein because ” a full and adequate remedy is already provided by another well-known form of action’ ” … . Pursuant to CPLR 103 (c), however, “[i]f a court has obtained jurisdiction over the parties, a civil judicial proceeding shall not be dismissed solely because it is not brought in the proper form, but the court shall make whatever order is required for its proper prosecution.” We thus exercise our discretion under CPLR 103 (c) and convert this hybrid CPLR article 78 proceeding/declaratory judgment action to an action for specific performance … .
“Specific performance is a discretionary remedy which is an alternative to the award of damages as a means of enforcing the contract’ . . . The right to specific performance is not automatic . . . The equitable remedy of specific performance is available in the court’s discretion when the remedy at law is inadequate . . . Finally, . . . the party seeking equity must do equity, i.e., he must come into court with clean hands” … . Here, the Town met its burden of proving that it “substantially performed [its] contractual obligations . . . within the time specified in the [2011 Contract, and] that [it] is ready, willing and able to perform those contractual obligations not yet performed and not waived by the [West Brighton Fire Department (WBFD)]” …, and the WBFD failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition thereto … . Matter of Town Bd. of Town of Brighton v West Brighton Fire Dept., Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 02581, Fourth Dept 3-27-15