DIFFERENT STANDARDS OF PROOF OF EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE NY CITY HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, AS OPPOSED TO THE NY STATE HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, EXPLAINED IN SOME DEPTH; PLAINTIFF’S CAUSE OF ACTION FOR GENDER DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE NY CITY HUMAN RIGHTS LAW ON A THEORY OF A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT REINSTATED (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, in a comprehensive opinion by Justice Brathwaite Nelson, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined plaintiff’s cause of action for gender discrimination on a theory of a hostile work environment under the NY City Human Rights Law should not have been dismissed. The Second Department held that the “materially adverse” change in employment conditions, which applies to the NY State Human Rights Law, does not apply to the NY City Human Rights Law. The standard under the NY City Human Rights Law is a showing that plaintiff was subject to an unfavorable change or treated less well than other employees on the basis of a protected characteristic. The Second Department took pains to explain the different standards of proof under the State and City Human Rights Laws:

… [U]nder the City Human Rights Law, in order to demonstrate liability, a plaintiff need not establish that she or he was subjected to a “materially adverse” change to terms and conditions of employment, but only that she or he was subject to an unfavorable change or treated less well than other employees on the basis of a protected characteristic … . * * *

The alleged comment by Denesopolis [plaintiff’s boss], that he did not “like women on this job because they have babies,” plainly expresses a view of the role of women in the workplace. Considering the totality of the circumstances, which include the plaintiff’s testimony that Denesopolis expressed displeasure upon learning of her transfer to his unit as a pregnant woman, and then again at her second pregnancy, we cannot say that this is a “truly insubstantial case” as a matter of law. In addition, while it might be inferred that the incidents in which Denesopolis publicly reprimanded the plaintiff and referred to her as an “empty suit” and “Sergeant do nothing” were related to deficiencies in her performance as a sergeant, on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, we must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. A jury could agree with the plaintiff that the conduct was based upon her pregnancies and conclude that the plaintiff was subject to a workplace in which she was treated less well than others because of her gender. Accordingly, the cause of action alleging gender discrimination on a theory of a hostile work environment under the City Human Rights Law must be reinstated.  Golston-Green v City of New York, 2020 NY Slip Op 02768, Second Dept 5-13-20

 


BECAUSE THE HOLDER OF A FIRST MORTGAGE WAS A DEFENDANT IN THE TAX FORECLOSURE PROCEEDINGS, THE MORTGAGE HOLDER DID NOT NEED TO FILE ITS OWN FORECLOSURE ACTION TO ENFORCE ITS LIEN ON THE SURPLUS TAX-FORECLOSURE-SALE PROCEEDS (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Scheinkman, determined that HPD,  the holder of a first mortgage on property which was the subject of a tax foreclosure, was entitled to the surplus funds from the tax foreclosure sale. The issue was whether HPD’s action seeking the surplus was time-barred because it didn’t enforce the lien on the surplus within six years of the tax foreclosure sale. The Second Department held no further action to enforce the lien was necessary because HPD was a defendant in the tax foreclosure proceedings:

… HPD’s appearance in the tax lien foreclosure action put [the property owner] and anyone else interested in a potential surplus on notice of HPD’s claims. To require HPD to commence a separate foreclosure action, when an action to foreclose the tax lien was already pending, would serve no useful purpose. NYCTL 1997-1 Trust v Stell, 2020 NY Slip Op 02802, Second Dept 5-13-20

 


PLAINTIFFS, THE DRIVER AND PASSENGER IN THIS TRAFFIC ACCIDENT CASE, REPRESENTED BY THE SAME ATTORNEY, REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW 50-h HEARING(S) UNLESS EACH PLAINTIFF WAS PRESENT WHEN THE OTHER TESTIFIED; THE COURT OF APPEALS AFFIRMED THE DISMISSAL OF ACTION BASED UPON PLAINTIFFS’ FAILURE TO APPEAR FOR THE 50-h HEARING(S) (CT APP).

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Stein, over a concurring opinion, determined plaintiffs, the driver and passenger in this traffic accident case, did not have the right to observe each other’s testimony at a General Municipal Law 50-h hearing. Both plaintiffs were represented by the same attorney. The action was dismissed because plaintiffs refused to appear for the hearing(s) after plaintiffs’ counsel insisted that both plaintiffs be present during the testimony. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the action:

As General Municipal Law § 50-h (5) makes clear on its face, compliance with a municipality’s demand for a section 50-h examination is a condition precedent to commencing an action against that municipality … . A claimant’s failure to comply with such a demand generally warrants dismissal of the action … . Requiring claimants to comply with section 50-h before commencing an action augments the statute’s purpose, which “is to afford the city an opportunity to early investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident and to explore the merits of the claim, while information is readily available, with a view towards settlement” … . Colon v Martin, 2020 NY Slip Op 02681, CtApp 5-7-20

 


THE CITY’S AND THE ABUTTING PROPERTY OWNER’S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN THIS SIDEWALK SLIP AND FALL CASE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN GRANTED; THE CITY DID NOT SHOW THAT IT DID NOT CREATE THE DEFECT; THE ABUTTING PROPERTY OWNER HAS A NONDELEGABLE DUTY TO KEEP THE SIDEWALK SAFE (FIRST DEPT).

The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the city’s and the abutting property owner’s motions for summary judgment in this sidewalk slip and fall case should not have been granted. The defect was a mound of concrete with a piece of metal in the sidewalk. Although the city demonstrated it did not have written notice of the defect, the city did not demonstrate it did not create the defect. And the abutting property owner had a nondelegable duty to keep the sidewalk in a safe condition. O’Connor v Tishman Constr. Corp., 2020 NY Slip Op 02383, First Dept 4-23-20

 


PLAINTIFF SOCIAL WORKER WAS MENACED BY A TENANT IN CITY HOUSING WIELDING A KNIFE AND SUED THE CITY; THE CITY WAS ACTING IN A GOVERNMENTAL CAPACITY; THERE WAS NO SPECIAL DUTY OWED TO PLAINTIFF BY THE CITY; THE ATTACK WAS NOT FORESEEABLE; SECURITY WAS ADEQUATE; THE COMPLAINT WAS PROPERLY DISMISSED (FIRST DEPT).

The First Department determined plaintiff social worker’s suit against the city based on a tenant’s menacing her with a knife  was properly dismissed. The incident happened at city housing for mentally ill and homeless persons:

The court correctly concluded that the City defendants were acting in a governmental capacity when they provided funding for the facility and its services. A party seeking to impose liability on a municipality acting in a governmental capacity must establish the existence of a special duty to plaintiff, which is more than the duty owed to the public generally … . Here, plaintiff presented no evidence that would provide a basis for finding that a special duty was owed to her by the City defendants.

Regarding defendants owner and managing agent of the premises, a landowner must act as a reasonable person in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury and the burden of avoiding the risk … . The owner and managing agent demonstrated that the incident was not reasonably foreseeable in that the tenant was a resident in the facility for nine years and had no record of violent behavior or threats of violence to others … . Plaintiff asserts that the tenant was an unsuitable tenant for the facility because of his mental illness and prior criminal conduct. However, the tenant’s criminal conduct took place 15 years before the incident.

Plaintiff argues that the facility lacked adequate security given its “high risk” population. However, surveillance cameras controlling building access and functioning locks on office doors, which were present here, have been found to be sufficient to satisfy the “minimal precautions” standard … . Furthermore, since the incident was over in less than a minute and security personnel were alerted and responded, additional security could not have prevented the incident … . Musano v City of New York, 2020 NY Slip Op 02368, First Dept 4-23-20

 


GENERAL BUSINESS LAW 349 DECEPTIVE BUSINESS PRACTICES CAUSE OF ACTION IN THE CONTEXT OF A RENT STABILIZATION LAW (RSL) RENT-OVERCHARGE SUIT WAS PROPERLY DISMISSED (CT APP).

The Court of Appeals, over a partial dissent, determined the General Business Law 349 cause of action alleging deceptive business practices in the context of the Rent Stabilization Law (RSL) rent-overcharge suit was properly dismissed:

… General Business Law … , section 349 prohibits “deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business, trade or commerce or in the furnishing of any service in this state” … . We have held that this statute “cannot fairly be understood to mean that everyone who acts unlawfully, and does not admit the transgression, is being deceptive’” within the meaning of section 349 … . For purposes of this appeal, we assume without deciding that a claim may lie under General Business Law § 349 based upon a landlord’s alleged misrepresentation to the public that an apartment was exempt from rent regulation following deregulation in violation of the Rent Stabilization Law. Here, however, plaintiffs alleged only that defendants failed to admit that they violated the Rent Stabilization Law in deregulating plaintiffs’ apartments—three of which were, in fact, never deregulated—rather than any affirmative conduct that would tend to deceive consumers. Inasmuch as plaintiffs failed to allege more than “bare legal conclusions” … regarding the existence of consumer-oriented, deceptive acts … , their General Business Law claim was properly dismissed. Collazo v Netherland Prop. Assets LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 02128, CtApp 4-2-20

 


THE HOUSING STABILITY AND TENANT PROTECTION ACT OF 2019 (HSTPA) DOES NOT APPLY RETROACTIVELY TO RENT OVERCHARGE ACTIONS UNDER THE RENT STABILIZATION LAW (RSL) COMMENCED BEFORE THE COURT OF APPEALS RULING IN ROBERTS (CT APP).

The Court of Appeals, in a per curiam opinion, over a three-judge dissent, determined the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA) did not apply retroactively to extend the look back period for rent overcharge actions from four to six years, and did not alter the overcharge calculation methodology for pre-Roberts actions. The opinion and the dissent are too comprehensive and detailed to fairly summarize here:

… [T]hese four appeals … present a common issue under the Rent Stabilization Law (RSL): what is the proper method for calculating the recoverable rent overcharge for New York City apartments that were improperly removed from rent stabilization during receipt of J-51 benefits prior to our 2009 decision in Roberts v Tishman Speyer Props., L.P. (13 NY3d 270 [2009]). …

… [T]he HSTPA includes amendments that, among other things, extend the statute of limitations [and] alter the method for determining legal regulated rent for overcharge purposes and substantially expand the nature and scope of owner liability in rent overcharge cases … . The tenants in these cases urge us to apply the new overcharge calculation provisions to these appeals that were pending at the time of the HSTPA’s enactment, some of which seek recovery of overcharges incurred more than a decade before the new legislation. * * *

We … decline to create a new exception to the lookback rule and instead clarify that, under pre-HSTPA law, the four-year lookback rule and standard method of calculating legal regulated rent govern in Roberts overcharge cases, absent fraud. * * *

We conclude that the overcharge calculation amendments [enacted by the HSTPA] cannot be applied retroactively to overcharges that occurred prior to their enactment. Matter of Regina Metro. Co., LLC v New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 2020 NY Slip Op 02127, CtApp 4-2-20

 


QUESTION OF FACT WHETHER THE ‘RECKLESS DISREGARD’ STANDARD APPLIES TO THIS POLICE-CAR TRAFFIC ACCIDENT CASE (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in this police-car traffic accident case should not have been granted. The Second Department held there was a question of fact whether the police officer was an “authorized emergency vehicle” triggering the “reckless disregard” standard of care:

The plaintiff commenced this action to recover damages for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when a vehicle she was operating collided with a police vehicle operated by the defendant Moira T. Larmour, a police officer. According to Larmour’s deposition testimony, the collision occurred when Larmour, who had been traveling west, made an “exaggerated u-turn” in an attempt to conduct a traffic stop of an unrelated vehicle for an allegedly expired inspection sticker and accelerated her vehicle, which spun on wet pavement and came into contact with the plaintiff’s vehicle, which was traveling east. * * *

Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 qualifiedly exempts drivers of authorized emergency vehicles from certain traffic laws when they are involved in an “emergency operation” … . An “emergency operation” is defined under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 114-b as, among other things, pursuing an “actual or suspected violator of the law.” Those privileges set forth in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104 include passing through red lights and stop signs, exceeding the speed limit, and disregarding regulations governing the direction of movement or turning in specified directions … . However, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(e), “[t]he foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his [or her] reckless disregard for the safety of others.” This is commonly referred to as the reckless disregard standard of care, which requires a plaintiff to establish that a police officer acted in reckless disregard for the safety of others in order to impose civil liability upon that officer … . Anderson v Suffolk County Police Dept., 2020 NY Slip Op 01894, Second Dept 3-18-20

 


PLAINTIFF DID NOT HAVE STANDING TO CONTEST PERMITS GRANTING THE CONVERSION OF DEFENDANT’S PROPERTY FROM MANUFACTURING TO RETAIL; PROXIMITY TO DEFENDANT’S PROPERTY WAS NOT ENOUGH (SECOND DEPT).

The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff did not have standing to contest the defendant City’s issuing permits allowing defendant CAB to convert property from manufacturing to retail. Plaintiff operated a grocery store 450 feet from CAB’s property. The Second Department held proximity was not enough to confer standing on plaintiff:

“In land use matters, . . . [the plaintiff] must show that it would suffer direct harm, injury that is in some way different from that of the public at large’” … . “An allegation of close proximity may give rise to an inference of damage or injury that enables a nearby property owner to challenge a land use decision without proof of actual injury” … . “However, this does not entitle the property owner to judicial review in every instance” … . “Rather, in addition to establishing that the effect of the proposed change is different from that suffered by the public generally, the [property owner] must establish that the interest asserted is arguably within the zone of interests the statute protects” … . Thus, “even where [the property owner’s] premises are physically close to the subject property, an ad hoc determination may be required as to whether a particular [property owner] itself has a legally protectable interest so as to confer standing” … .

Here, the plaintiff alleged standing on the basis of proximity, issues and interests within the zone of interests, and adverse impacts. We disagree with the Supreme Court’s finding that the plaintiff had standing to commence this action. The plaintiff failed to allege any harm distinct from that of the community at large … . 159-MP Corp. v CAB Bedford, LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 01892, Second Dept 3-18-20

 


CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE TOWN AND THE PROPERTY OWNER AMOUNTED TO AN AGREEMENT TO AGREE, NOT AN ENFORCEABLE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT ALLOWING CONSTRUCTION; SUPREME COURT’S DIRECTIVES TO THE TOWN ENCROACHED UPON THE TOWN’S ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY (FOURTH DEPT).

The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined: (1) the correspondence between the property owner (PCP) and the town concerning proposed construction created an agreement to agree, not an enforceable settlement agreement allowing construction; and (2), Supreme Court’s directing what the town could and could not consider with respect to the construction project encroached upon the town’s administrative authority:

… [T]he letters that the court found to have memorialized the settlement agreement did not contain all the material terms of the settlement and constituted no more than an agreement to agree … . [The town] stated therein only that it was “now in a position to agree to a settlement of the mass and scale issues,” but that first it would “need to receive, review and approve all of the items that it normally reviews in connection with any application it receives.” Any agreement was further conditioned on [the town’s] receipt of additional documentation from PCP, including “an accurate, to-scale site plan” and further roof specifications … .

We further conclude that, in the absence of an enforceable settlement agreement, the court’s hearing on the issues of mass and scale, subsequent decision rendering findings of fact related to PCP’s new application for a certificate of approval, and remittal to [the town] for consideration of that application with specific directives regarding what [the town] could and could not consider were impermissible intrusions into respondents’ administrative domain … . Matter of Pittsford Canalside Props., LLC v Village of Pittsford Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 2020 NY Slip Op 01812, Fourth Dept 3-13-20

 

Copyright © 2019 New York Appellate Digest.