Law Re: Liquidated Damages Explained
The Fourth Department concluded that defendant’s papers were not sufficient to warrant summary judgment invalidating a liquidated damages provision of an agreement, but noted that plaintiff may not be able to prove the validity of the provision at trial. Liquidated damages are valid only if they bear a reasonable relationship to the loss; otherwise they constitute an unenforceable penalty. Here plaintiff sold defendant a car with the condition that the car not be re-sold for one year. Defendant sold the car two weeks after purchase and plaintiff sued to enforce the $20,000 liquidated damages provision of the “agreement not to export.” The court explained the relevant law:
Liquidated damages are enforceable only to the extent that they comprise ” an estimate, made by the parties at the time they enter into their agreement, of the extent of the injury that would be sustained as a result of breach of the agreement’ ” … . As a general rule, a liquidated damages clause is enforceable only if the stipulated amount of damages “bears a reasonable proportion to the probable loss and the amount of actual loss is incapable or difficult of precise estimation” … . If, however, the clause provides for damages that are ” plainly or grossly disproportionate to the probable loss, the provision calls for a penalty and will not be enforced’ ” … .
Here, defendant failed to meet his initial burden of establishing as a matter of law that the amount of liquidated damages does not bear a reasonable relation to plaintiff’s actual damages. In support of his motion, defendant relied on affidavits from himself and his attorney, both of whom asserted, upon information and belief only, that plaintiff sustained no actual damages, and that the liquidated damages clause is therefore unenforceable. Defendant offered no evidence in support of those conclusory assertions, and therefore failed to meet his initial burden of proof … . Thus, the court properly denied defendant’s motion, “regardless of the sufficiency of the opposing papers” … . Although defendant may be correct in contending that plaintiff cannot establish at trial that it sustained any actual damages as a result of defendant’s breach of the Agreement, it is well settled that a party moving for summary judgment must affirmatively establish the merits of its cause of action or defense “and does not meet its burden by noting gaps in its opponent’s proof” … . Great Lakes Motor Corp. v Johnson, 2015 NY Slip Op 07394, 4th Dept 10-9-15