The Third Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff should have been allowed to amend the complaint to cure a pleading omission in this slip and fall case. The complaint did not allege the defendant city had written notice of the sidewalk condition which allegedly caused plaintiff’s fall. The amendment sought to cure the omission. The Third Department explained that plaintiff did not need to present any proof at this pre-discovery stage. As long as the amendment is not palpably devoid of merit and does not prejudice the defendant it should have been allowed. Therefore Supreme Court should not have considered plaintiff’s “written notice” proof and denied the amendment on the ground the proof did not demonstrate the defendant city had written notice of the condition:
As it is undisputed that plaintiff timely filed a notice of claim concerning her fall and the City and plaintiff thereafter participated in a 50-h hearing (see General Municipal Law§ 50-h), the City cannot allege prejudice or surprise. Moreover, as demonstrated by her proposed amended complaint, plaintiff is not changing her theory of causation, but merely curing her pleading omission. Although Supreme Court correctly determined that the proposed amended complaint cured the pleading omission, its attendant conclusion that “[plaintiff’s] claim is belied by the documentary evidence” and subsequent dismissal of the action on that basis was error.
At this stage of the litigation, where discovery has not yet even commenced, plaintiff has no burden to submit any proof. As such, the documents that she did submit are of no moment, and do not provide a basis upon which to dismiss her action … .. … [C]ontrary to the City’s assertion that the proposed amended complaint contains bare legal conclusions, plaintiff need not establish the merits of the proposed amendments … . Inasmuch as the proposed amendments were not palpably insufficient or patently meritless, and the City cannot allege surprise or prejudice as the proposed amended complaint otherwise contains facts formerly pleaded and previously known to it, leave should have been granted to amend the complaint … . Mohammed v New York State Professional Fire Fighters Assn., Inc., 2022 NY Slip Op 05909, Third Dept 10-20-22
Practice Point: Here plaintiff’s motion seeking leave to amend the slip and fall complaint by curing the omission of the “written notice” allegation should have been granted. Plaintiff did not need to present proof that the city actually had written notice. The only issues before the court were whether the amendment was palpably devoid of merit or the amendment would prejudice the city. Therefore Supreme Court erred by considering the “written notice” evidence presented by the plaintiff and denying the amendment because that evidence did not prove the city had written notice of the sidewalk condition.