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

 


JUDGE SHOULD NOT HAVE, SUA SPONTE, TERMINATED THE GUARDIANSHIP OF AN INCAPACITATED PERSON WITHOUT HOLDING A HEARING (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the judge should not have, sua sponte, terminated the guardianship of an incapacitated person (IP) without holding a hearing:

In April 2016, Fanny K. commenced this proceeding pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law article 81 seeking to be appointed as the guardian to manage Angeliki K.’s property located in Greece. After a hearing, the Supreme Court determined that Angeliki K. (hereinafter the IP) was incapacitated within the meaning of Mental Hygiene Law article 81 and appointed Fanny K. (hereinafter the guardian) as the guardian of her property. In September 2018, due to the IP’s health problems and resultant inability to communicate in English, the IP was admitted to an assisted living and rehabilitation facility in Athens, Greece. In November 2018, the guardian moved for leave to change the IP’s place of abode from New York to the assisted living and rehabilitation facility, with the IP continuing to maintain her permanent residence in New York. The court, without a hearing, denied the motion and, sua sponte, terminated the guardianship due to a lack of a continuing nexus between the guardianship and New York.

The Supreme Court should not have, sua sponte, terminated the guardianship, without a hearing, as a guardianship may be terminated “only on application of a guardian, the incapacitated person, or any other person entitled to commence a proceeding under Mental Hygiene Law article 81 with a hearing on notice” (… see Mental Hygiene Law §§ 81.36[b], [c] …). Matter of Angeliki K. (Fanny K.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02786, Second Dept 5-13-20

 


FAMILY COURT SHOULD HAVE REOPENED THE NEGLECT HEARING WHEN MOTHER ARRIVED AT COURT SHORTLY AFTER SUMMATIONS (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Family Court, determined Family Court should have reopened the neglect hearing when mother arrived just after summations:

The Family Court conducted a fact-finding hearing over the course of several days, during which the mother was present, and the maternal grandmother and a DSS caseworker testified. On the fifth day of the hearing, the mother was late in arriving to court because she allegedly was traveling by bus from Georgia to New York, and the bus was delayed. The mother’s counsel notified the court of the mother’s transportation issue, and of her intention to testify, and requested an adjournment. The court denied the adjournment request and directed that the hearing proceed as scheduled. The mother arrived shortly after summations, but the court did not reopen the hearing to afford the mother the opportunity to testify.

Following the hearing, the Family Court found that the mother neglected the child. …

A finding of neglect constitutes “a permanent and significant stigma” which might indirectly affect the mother’s status in future proceedings … . The Family Court has the authority to reopen a Family Court Act article 10 proceeding to allow a party to present additional testimony at a fact-finding hearing … .

Under the circumstances of this case, the Family Court should have exercised its discretion to reopen the fact-finding hearing to afford the mother the opportunity to present her case. Matter of Katie P.H. (Latoya M.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02265, Second Dept 4-9-20

 


JUDGE EXHIBITED BIAS AGAINST MOTHER AND INTERFERED EXCESSIVELY IN THE CUSTODY HEARING; NEW HEARING ORDERED BEFORE A DIFFERENT JUDGE (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Family Court, determined the judge was biased against mother and excessively interfered in the custody hearing:

The record of the proceedings supports the mother’s contention that the Family Court was biased against her, depriving her of a fair and impartial hearing. Although the mother’s claim of bias is not preserved for appellate review … . Here, the record demonstrates that the court predetermined the outcome of the case during the hearing and took an adversarial stance against the mother by, among other things, interjecting itself into the proceedings by cross-examining the mother on matters irrelevant to a determination of custody, including referring to the mother as “emotionally excessive” and inquiring as to how many online dating web sites the mother utilized at the time she met the father and as to when the mother and the father became intimate. The court also asked the mother, “so you were looking to start a relationship with someone?” and then commented, “And so you were married at the time?” Although the father was also married to someone when he began his relationship with the mother, no such questions or comments were directed to him by the court. The court’s inquiry of the mother exceeded 30 pages of transcript over the course of the two-day hearing. Although the court also questioned the father, the first inquiry related to setting up a parental access schedule for the father while the hearing was pending and the second set of inquiries appeared designed to elicit testimony from the father that was unfavorable to the mother, including one instance where the court intimated that the mother was practicing “extortion” against the father in order to gain an advantage in the proceedings … . Matter of Siegell v Iqbal, 2020 NY Slip Op 02084, Second Dept 3-25-20

 


JUDGE SHOULD NOT HAVE, SUA SPONTE, APPOINTED A RECEIVER BECAUSE THAT RELIEF WAS NOT REQUESTED BY A PARTY (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the judge should not have, sua sponte, appointed a receiver and should not have referred an issue to a court attorney referee in this dispute between plaintiff condominium boards and homeowners association and their management company and attorney. The complaint alleged breach of contract and negligence:

The Supreme Court improvidently exercised its discretion in, sua sponte, appointing a receiver to manage the plaintiff entities, since the complaint did not seek the appointment of a receiver, no “person having an apparent interest” in the plaintiff entities sought such relief, and there is no evidence that such a drastic remedy was warranted (CPLR 6401[a] …).

The Supreme Court should not have referred the issue of which Board of Managers and/or which management company shall be implemented to manage the affairs of the plaintiffs to a court attorney referee to hear and report, since the defendants lack standing to challenge the alleged violations of the plaintiffs’ bylaws in the elections of new board members (see N-PCL 618 …). Further, the reference of the issue of attorney’s fees was premature … . Board of Mgrs. of Golfview Condominium I v Island Condo Mgt. Corp., 2020 NY Slip Op 02070, Second Dept 3-25-20

 


JUDGE SHOULD NOT HAVE, SUA SPONTE, ASSESSED POINTS ON A THEORY NOT RAISED BY THE BOARD OF EXAMINERS OF SEX OFFENDERS OR THE PEOPLE; DEFENDANT WAS THEREBY DEPRIVED OF HIS RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, reversing County Court, determined the judge should not have, sua sponte, assessed points on a theory not raised by the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders or the People:

… [D]efendant contends, and the People correctly concede, that County Court violated his right to due process by sua sponte assessing points on a theory not raised by the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders or the People … . The due process guarantees in the United States and New York Constitutions require that a defendant be afforded notice of the hearing to determine his or her risk level pursuant to SORA and a meaningful opportunity to respond to the risk level assessment … . Here, no allegations were made either in the risk assessment instrument (RAI) or by the People at the SORA hearing that defendant should be assessed 30 points under risk factor 3, and defendant learned of the assessment of the additional points under that risk factor for the first time when the court issued its decision … . …

The court stated that, if defendant were a presumptive level one risk, an upward departure to level two would be warranted based on certain aggravating factors stemming from the nature of the crimes. Because those factors were not presented as bases for departure in the RAI or by the People at the hearing, defendant was not afforded notice and a meaningful opportunity to respond to them … . People v Wilke, 2020 NY Slip Op 02002, Fourth Dept 3-20-20

 


THE JUDGE SHOULD NOT HAVE DISMISSED CAUSES OF ACTION ON A GROUND (STANDING) NOT RAISED BY A PARTY (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the judge should not have, sua sponte, dismissed causes of action for lack of standing when that issue was not raised by the parties:

We thus conclude that the court erred in sua sponte reaching the issue of standing with respect to the second and third causes of action … . Standing “is an aspect of justiciability which, when challenged, must be considered at the outset of any litigation” … . Inasmuch as the … respondents’ cross motion with respect to the second and third causes of action was not based on petitioners’ alleged lack of standing, there was no basis for the court to reach that issue.  Matter of Barbeau v Village of LeRoy, 2020 NY Slip Op 01732, Fourth Dept 3-13-20

 


JUDGE WHO WAS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN DEFENDANT WAS INDICTED WAS DISQUALIFIED FROM HEARING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO VACATE HIS CONVICTION (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, reversing County Court’s summary denial of defendant’s motion to vacate his conviction, determined the judge, who was the District Attorney when defendant was indicted, was disqualified from handling the motion:

The Judge who denied defendant’s motion had been the Niagara County District Attorney when defendant was indicted in 2007 on the charges that resulted in the judgment now sought to be vacated and, in fact, had signed the indictment. Thus, we conclude that the Judge was disqualified from entertaining the motion pursuant to Judiciary Law § 14, which provides in relevant part that “[a] judge shall not sit as such in, or take any part in the decision of, an action, claim, matter, motion or proceeding to which he [or she] is a party, or in which he [or she] has been attorney or counsel” (emphasis added). Inasmuch as “this statutory disqualification deprived the court of jurisdiction,” the order on appeal is void … . We therefore reverse the order and remit the matter to County Court for further proceedings on the motion before a different judge … . People v Simcoe, 2020 NY Slip Op 01729, Fourth Dept 3-13-20

 


FAMILY COURT DID NOT MAKE THE REQUISITE FINDINGS IN THIS CUSTODY MATTER WHERE A GRANDPARENT WAS SEEKING CUSTODY, MATTER REMITTED; ASSUMING FAMILY COURT’S ORDER WAS NOT FINAL, THE NOTICE OF APPEAL WAS DEEMED AN APPLICATION FOR LEAVE TO APPEAL; THE DISSENT ARGUED THE ORDER IS NOT APPEALABLE (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, remitting the matter, over a dissent, determined Family Court should not have the requisite findings in this custody matter where a grandparent was seeking custody. Family Court had ordered the parties to stipulate to the custody arrangement noting that , if the parties do not agree, a hearing would be held. The dissent argued the order was not final and therefore was not appealable. The majority, assuming the order was not final, deemed the notice of appeal to be an application for leave to appeal:

With respect to the merits of the mother’s contentions regarding the court’s award of joint custody to the father and the maternal grandmother, we conclude that the court failed to set forth “those facts upon which the rights and liabilities of the parties depend” … , specifically its analysis of whether extraordinary circumstances existed to warrant an inquiry into whether an award of joint custody to the maternal grandmother was in the best interests of the child. ” It is well established that, as between a parent and a nonparent, the parent has a superior right to custody that cannot be denied unless the nonparent establishes that the parent has relinquished that right because of surrender, abandonment, persisting neglect, unfitness or other like extraordinary circumstances . . . The nonparent has the burden of proving that extraordinary circumstances exist, and until such circumstances are shown, the court does not reach the issue of the best interests of the child’ ” … . Thus, we agree with the mother that the court erred in not determining whether extraordinary circumstances existed before awarding joint custody to the maternal grandmother. The maternal grandmother here had the burden of establishing extraordinary circumstances, which remains the case “whether the nonparent is seeking sole custody or joint custody with one of the parents” … .

We conclude that ” [t]he absence of the required findings precludes proper appellate review’ ” … . Matter of Steeno v Szydlowski, 2020 NY Slip Op 01808, Fourth Dept 3-13-20

 


DEFENDANT WAS THREATENED WITH A HARSHER SENTENCE SHOULD SHE DECIDE TO GO TO TRIAL; PLEA VACATED (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, reversing defendant’s conviction by guilty plea, determined defendant was improperly threatened with a heavier sentence should she decide to go to trial:

At an appearance prior to the plea proceeding, the court stated that, if defendant decided to reject the plea offer and was convicted after trial, it intended to impose the maximum sentence on the top count and consecutive time on an unnamed additional count. At that same appearance, the court said that defendant and her codefendants, who were her sister and brother-in-law, would also be federally prosecuted and that “the evidence is overwhelming here.” It is well settled that “[a] defendant may not be induced to plead guilty by the threat of a heavier sentence if he [or she] decides to proceed to trial” … . Here, we agree with defendant that “the court’s statements do not amount to a description of the range of the potential sentences but, rather, they constitute impermissible coercion, rendering the plea involuntary and requiring its vacatur’ ” … . People v Shields, 2020 NY Slip Op 01767, Fourth Dept 3-13-20

 

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