JUDGE SHOULD NOT HAVE SEARCHED THE RECORD AND, SUA SPONTE, GRANTED RELIEF NOT REQUESTED IN THE MOTION PAPERS, INCLUDING THE APPLICATION OF THE RES IPSA LOQUITUR DOCTRINE (SECOND DEPT).
The Second Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined the judge should not have, sua sponte, searched the record to grant relief that was not requested in this Labor Law 200, 240(1), 241(6), negligence action. Plaintiff was injured when a portion of a ceiling fell causing a scaffold to collapse on him. The judge should not have granted summary judgment on a negligence cause of action which was not included in the motions, and should not have granted summary judgment on a res ipsa loquitur theory:
While it is well settled that the Supreme Court has the authority to search the record and grant summary judgment to a nonmoving party with respect to an issue that was the subject of a motion before the court (see CPLR 3212[b] …), here, the court, in effect, searched the record and awarded summary judgment to the movant with respect to an issue that was not the subject of the motion before the court. …
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies when the injury-causing event (1) is “of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence”; (2) “[is] caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant”; and (3) was not “due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff” … . Contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, this is not one of “the rarest of res ipsa loquitur cases” where the plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence is so convincing and the defendant’s response so weak that the inference of the defendant’s negligence is inescapable … . Although the first and third elements may be satisfied in the plaintiff’s favor, based upon the limited record, this standard was not met as to the second element. Even though courts do not generally apply the requirement of exclusive control as it is literally stated or as a fixed, mechanical or rigid rule … , the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the plaster ceiling is “structural” and, therefore, the obligation of [defendant] Lexington to maintain pursuant to the terms of the lease it entered into with [defendant] Dover. Moreover, the papers do not establish the plaintiff’s entitlement to summary judgment against Dover on this issue, which was raised by the court sua sponte as against Dover, and was not the subject of the plaintiff’s motion as against Dover. Zhigue v Lexington Landmark Props., LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 02948, Second Dept 5-20-20