The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the trial should not have, sua sponte, declared a mistrial in this summary jury trial (SJT) in an attempt to correct an evidentiary error. The mistrial violated the parties’ STJ stipulation which constitutes a binding contract:
The SJT rules to which the parties stipulated provide, among other things, that “[p]arties agree to waive any motions for directed verdicts as well as any motions to set aside the verdict or any judgment rendered by said jury” and that the “Court shall not set side any verdict or any judgment entered thereon, nor shall it direct that judgment be entered in favor [of] a party entitled to judgment as a matter of law, nor shall it order a new trial as to any issues where the verdict is alleged to be contrary to the weight of the evidence” … .
The court erred in sua sponte declaring a mistrial and setting aside the verdict. While this was an attempt to correct an admittedly erroneous evidentiary ruling, the parties’ stipulation to a summary jury trial, subject to the applicable rules and procedures for Bronx County, was a legally binding contract … . Since the summary jury trial rules for Bronx County do not provide for any means to correct errors of law committed during trial, the court exceeded the boundaries of the parties’ agreement by setting aside the verdict, regardless of whether it in fact did so on its own initiative in the interest of justice … .
… [T]his holding does not proscribe post-trial motions of any kind in connection with summary jury trials; rather, it abides by the parties’ own proscriptions made at the time that they stipulated to proceed with a summary jury trial. There was nothing barring the parties from stipulating to reserve their right to appeal or move to set aside the verdict on the ground of an error of law. Vargas v LaMacchia, 2020 NY Slip Op 00556, First Dept 1-28-2o