JUST RELEASED

Updated June 30th, 2013

Summaries of recently released decisions to be included in the next issue of the Digest (uncorrected)

NEGLIGENCE
 

Ambulance Services Provided by Municipality Constitute a Governmental, Not Proprietary, Function

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Graffeo, with two concurrences, the majority determined ambulance assistance rendered by first responders is a governmental, not proprietary, function.  The majority also concluded a question of fact had been raised about whether the city owed a “special duty” to the plaintiff, who suffered serious brain damage after going into anaphylactic shock.  Judges Smith and Abdus-Salaam disagreed with the majority and would have found that the ambulance service was a proprietary function.  The Court explained:

 

When a negligence claim is asserted against a municipality, the first issue for a court to decide is whether the municipal entity was engaged in a proprietary function or acted in a governmental capacity at the time the claim arose. If the municipality's actions fall in the proprietary realm, it is subject to suit under the ordinary rules of negligence applicable to non-governmental parties…. A government entity performs a purely proprietary role when its "activities essentially substitute for or supplement traditionally private enterprises"…. In contrast, a municipality will be deemed to have been engaged in a governmental function when its acts are "undertaken for the protection and safety of the public pursuant to the general police powers" …. * * *

 

If it is determined that a municipality was exercising a governmental function, the next inquiry focuses on the extent to which the municipality owed a "special duty" to the injured party. The core principle is that to "'sustain liability against a municipality, the duty breached must be more than that owed the public generally'"… .  Applewhite, et al, v Accuhealth, Inc, et al, No 86, CtApp 6-25-13

 

 

Hospital Did Not Owe Intoxicated Patient a Duty to Prevent Him from Leaving Hospital

 

Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, determined (under the facts of the case) a hospital and an emergency room doctor did not owe an intoxicated patient a duty to prevent him from leaving a hospital.  The patient was struck by a car an hour or two after leaving. 

 

…Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09 specifically addresses the question of when a hospital may retain "a person whose mental or physical functioning is substantially impaired as a result of the presence of alcohol . . . in his or her body" (Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09 [a] [1]). The statute deals separately with the case of an intoxicated person "who comes voluntarily or is brought without his or her objection" to a hospital or other treatment facility (§ 22.09 [d]) and one "who is brought with his or her objection" (§ 22.09 [e]). In the latter case, the person "may be retained for emergency treatment" if he or she is examined by a doctor and found to be incapacitated to such a degree that "there is a likelihood to result in harm to the person or others" (§ 22.09 [e]); a "likelihood to result in harm" to oneself must be "manifested by threats of or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm or other conduct" that demonstrates a danger of self-injury (Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09 [a] [3]). For the former category -- people who, like plaintiff, come to the hospital voluntarily -- the Mental Hygiene Law makes no provision for involuntary retention.

 

Plaintiff concedes that he could not have been retained under Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09. He argues that the Mental Hygiene Law is not the only possible source of a right to confine an intoxicated person. We need not decide that question: Plaintiff cites no other statute, and there is no principle of common law, that would permit the restraint of a patient on the facts of this case.  Kowalski v St Francis Hospital and Health Centers, et al, No 128 6-26-13

 

 

Contractual Relationship Did Not Preclude Causes of Action Sounding in Tort

 

In affirming most of Supreme Court’s denial of a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the Fourth Department explained why the economic loss doctrine did not preclude plaintiff’s recovery in tort, in spite of the contractual relationship between plaintiff and defendant and the contract-based causes of action in the complaint.  Pursuant to two contracts, the defendant supplied electronics and fluorescent-tube recycling systems which allegedly failed resulting in mercury contamination:

 

...[T]he economic loss doctrine does not preclude plaintiff from recovering in tort as a matter of law.“ Pursuant to that doctrine, a plaintiff may not recover in tort against a manufacturer for economic loss that is contractually based, ‘whether due to injury to the product itself or consequential losses flowing therefrom’ ”…. Where, however, there is harm to persons or property other than the property that is the subject of the contract, a plaintiff is entitled to recover in tort… .  The factors to consider are “the nature of the defect, the injury, the manner in which the injury occurred, and the damages sought”…. We conclude that defendant failed to meet its initial burden on the motion with respect to the causes of action sounding in tort because the evidence submitted by defendant establishes that the mercury contamination of plaintiff’s facility, which was allegedly caused by defendant’s products, caused damage to persons and property other than the property that was the subject of the contracts.   Electrical Waste Recycling Group, Limited v Andela Tool & Machine, Inc…, 626, 4th Dept 6-28-13

 

 

Voluntary Participation in Fight Precludes Suit Alleging Inadequate Building Security

 

The First Department determined that plaintiff’s voluntary participation in a fight severed any causal connection between his injuries and the defendant building owner’s and defendant building manager’s alleged failure to keep the premises safe:

 

Courts in all four judicial departments have found that one who voluntarily participates in a physical fight cannot recover from a party generally charged with ensuring a safe environment. Thus, in Williams v Board of Educ. of City School Dist. of City of Mount Vernon (277 AD2d 373 [2d Dept 2000]), the duty of supervision normally imposed on a school was found to have been displaced by the plaintiff student's voluntary participation in a fight. Similar results obtained in Borelli v Board of Educ. of Highland School Dist. (156 AD2d 903 [3d Dept 1989) and in Ruggerio v Board of Educ. of City of Jamestown (31 AD2d 884, 884 [4th Dept 1969] [holding that "(p)laintiff's conduct, demonstrating a lack of reasonable regard for his own safety, was a direct cause of the incident resulting in his injury and, as such, defeats his right of recovery against the defendant Board of Education"], affd 26 NY2d 849 [1970]).  This Court in Vega v Ramirez (57 AD3d 299 [1st Dept 2008]) also held that a plaintiff's willing participation in a fight negates any negligence committed by a defendant with a duty to provide security.  Carreras v Morrisania Towers Hous Co Ltd Partnership, 2013 NY Slip Op 04893, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

Company Hired on On-Call Basis for Elevator Repair Not Liable for Allegedly Faulty Elevator Door Interlock Where Last Repair Made 13 Months Before Accident

 

Plaintiff’s decedent fell down an elevator shaft, allegedly due to the condition of a door interlock.  The First Department determined the wrongful death complaint against New York Elevator and Electrical Corporation (NYE) should have been dismissed because the company was retained only on an on-call basis for repairs and there was no evidence NYE was negligent when it inspected the elevator 13 months before the accident:

 

The amended complaint should have been dismissed as against defendant/third-party plaintiff NYE in its entirety. NYE did not have an exclusive agreement with Broadway to maintain or service the freight elevator…. It was merely retained on an on-call basis to make specific repairs and inspections and, therefore, did not have a duty to inspect or repair unrelated defects…. Indeed, NYE may only be held liable if it failed to exercise reasonable care in making any requested repairs or inspections….  Casey v New York El & Elec Corp, 2013 NY Slip Op 04745, 1st Dept 6-25-13

 

 

 

Theories Not Included in Notice of Claim Precluded

 

In a slip and fall case, the First Department precluded plaintiff from asserting theories of liability not in the notice of claim:

 

The notice of claim limited plaintiffs' theory of liability to negligent maintenance, upkeep and repair of the subject staircase, asserting that the infant plaintiff was caused to slip and fall due to a liquid substance on the floor and inadequate lighting. The infant plaintiff testified that he was caused to fall by "slippery juice" that was "all over the stairs." He testified that he wasn't able to see all of the juice due to insufficient lighting. Plaintiffs' new theory, in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, that the infant plaintiff was caused to slip and fall due to various design defects including, inter alia, treads and risers of insufficient length, an improperly placed handrail and stairs not coated with nonskid materials, is precluded… Rodriguez v Board of Educ of the City of NY, 2013 NY Slip Op 04912, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

Late Notice of Claim Properly Allowed in Absence of Reasonable Excuse

 

The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s grant of leave to serve a late notice of claim against a school district, in the absence of a reasonable excuse:

 

Here …[t]he District…acquired actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting the claim within 90 days after the claim arose. The District's employee witnessed the infant petitioner's accident, which occurred during supervised cheerleading practice, and a designated school authority prepared a medical claim form within a week after the accident…. Furthermore, the infant petitioner was transported from the school to the hospital to be treated for a broken arm…. Since the District acquired timely knowledge of the essential facts constituting the petitioners' claim, the petitioners met their initial burden of showing a lack of prejudice…. The District's conclusory assertions of prejudice, based solely on the petitioners' two-month delay in serving the notice of claim, were insufficient to rebut the petitioners' showing….  While the petitioners' excuses for their failure to serve a timely notice of claim were not reasonable…, the absence of a reasonable excuse is not fatal to the petition where, as here, there was actual notice and an absence of prejudice … .  Matter of Viola v Ronkonkoma Middle Sch, 2013 NY Slip Op 04819, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

FAMILY LAW

 

Criteria for Changing Custody Arrangement Entered Into by Agreement

 

In reversing Family Court’s denial of a modification of a custody arrangement, the Second Department explained the criteria for changing a custody arrangement entered into by agreement:

 

Where parents enter into an agreement concerning custody, that agreement will not be modified unless there is a sufficient change in circumstances since the time of when the agreement was entered into, and unless modification of the custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child…. "In order to determine whether modification of a custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the court must weigh several factors of varying degrees of importance, including, inter alia, (1) the original placement of the child, (2) the length of that placement, (3) the child's desires, (4) the relative fitness of the parents, (5) the quality of the home environment, (6) the parental guidance given to the child, (7) the parent's financial status, (8) his or her ability to provide for the child's emotional and intellectual development, and (9) the willingness of the parent to assure meaningful contact between the child and the other parent"….  * * * Here, considering, inter alia, the acrimony between the parties, the Supreme Court's determination to award legal custody to the father and residential custody to the mother lacked a sound and substantial basis in the record …. McAvoy v Hannigan, 2013 NY Slip Op 04785, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

Derivative Severe Abuse Finding Reversed

 

In reversing Family Court’s finding of derivative severe abuse, the Third Department explained the proof requirements as follows:

 

…[W]e agree with respondent that Family Court erred in concluding  that Nicholas and  Carolina were derivatively severely abused by respondent. As the Court of Appeals recently clarified in Matter of Dashawn W. (21 NY3d 36 [2013]), a determination of severe abuse requires that the court find, by clear and convincing evidence, as relevant here, not only that "the child [is] an  abused  child as a result of reckless or intentional acts of the parent committed under circumstances evincing a depraved  indifference to human  life, which  result in serious physical injury to the child as defined in [Penal Law  § 10.00 (10)]" (Social Services Law  §  384-b  [8] [a] [i]), but  also that petitioner "made  diligent efforts to encourage  and strengthen the parental relationship, including efforts to rehabilitate the respondent, when such efforts will not be detrimental to the best interests of the child, and  such  efforts have been unsuccessful and are unlikely to be successful in the foreseeable future" (Social Services Law  §  384-b  [8] [a] [iv]). Here, inasmuch as Family Court did not make either of the foregoing determinations and the evidence in the record does not enable us to do so, a finding of severe abuse against respondent cannot be sustained.  Matter of Nicholas S…, 511568, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Events Before Last Custody Order Could Be Considered re: “Best Interests of Child” Even Though Only Post-Custody-Order Events Can Be Considered re: “Change of Circumstances”

 

 

In upholding Family Court’s custody ruling, the Third Department noted that events which occurred before the last custody order could be considered with respect to the best interests of the child”

 

Family Court did not err in considering evidence of events that occurred before the entry of the prior custody order. Although  the inquiry as to whether  a substantial change  in circumstances has occurred should be limited to occurrences since the date of the prior custody order…, a best interests inquiry is broader and may include other facts that give the court a view of the totality of the circumstances and family dynamics, including proof that relates to either party's fitness as a parent….  As less weight  is afforded to a stipulated order, admission of evidence concerning previous behavior or events is especially proper where no prior plenary hearing has been held and the prior order was issued on consent…. Here, Family Court did not abuse  its broad  discretion in determining the scope of the proof….  Matter of James E…, 513811, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Family Court Could Not Countermand County Court’s Order of Protection

 

The Third Department noted that Family Court can not countermand County Court’s order of protection stemming from the father’s assault of the mother.  Therefore, Family Court could not require the mother to facilitate the reading of the father’s letters to the child: 

 

Family Court does not have jurisdiction to countermand the provisions  of a  criminal court  order  of protection ….  Considering that "an order of protection issued incident to a criminal proceeding is an ameliorative measure intended to safeguard the rights of victims"…, the criminal court order of protection would have to be modified, if deemed appropriate by County Court, before Family Court would be authorized to require the mother to accept, read or facilitate the reading of the father's communications to the child.  Matter of Samantha WW v Gerald XX, 513853, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Family Court’s Finding Father in Default for Nonappearance Reversed

 

In reversing Family Court’s finding the father in default for nonappearance in a custody and visitation modification proceeding, the Third Department noted that the father’s counsel did not tell the father his appearance was required and the court made no attempt to reach the father by phone:

 

The nonappearance of a party does not necessarily result in a default, "particularly where counsel appears upon the absent party's behalf and offers an  explanation for his or her failure to attend".   The father's counsel stated that, while the father had elected not  to appear, counsel had  not  informed  him  that his appearance  was  necessary.  Family Court did not challenge the accuracy of that representation and, moreover, made no effort to reach the father telephonically or by other means.  Under these circumstances, Family Court erred in holding that the father's nonappearance constituted a default …  Matter of Freedman, 514882, 414883, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Default Judgment against Mother for Failure to Appear Reversed

 

In vacating a default judgment entered against the mother who failed to appear in a custody and visitation proceeding, the Third Department noted that, in her motion to vacate, the mother offered a reasonable excuse for not appearing (car broke down), and the best interests of the child would be served by a plenary hearing:

 

"We must remain vigilant that the ultimate issue here is what is in [the children's] best interest[s], not whether [the mother] should be punished for her actions"….  Here, the lack of a full hearing to determine the best interests of the children, a determination in which Family Court "is bound to assess numerous  factors," constitutes a meritorious defense …. Accordingly, the default judgment entered against the mother must be vacated, and the matter remitted for further proceedings… .  Matter of Brown v Eley, 514981, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Denial of Request to Take Child’s Testimony Outside Parents’ Presence Was Abuse of Discretion

 

The Third Department noted that it was an abuse of discretion to deny the request for a Lincoln hearing in a custody proceeding (allowing a child to testify outside the parties’ presence):

 

Although not an issue directly raised on appeal, the attorney for the child and the father both requested that Family Court hold a Lincoln hearing … rather than require the child to testify in open court.  Unfortunately, this request was denied and, after the mother refused to consent to the child testifying outside of the parties' presence, the child had to testify under oath in front of both parents. While we recognize that Family Court has the discretion to decide whether a Lincoln hearing is appropriate…, it was clearly an abuse of discretion for the court to put the child in this awkward position… . We again emphasize that "'a child . . . should not be placed in the position of having [his or her] relationship with either parent further jeopardized by having to publicly relate [his or her] difficulties with them'" when explaining the reasons for his or her preference…. Given the circumstances of this case and the fact that – at her age [14]– her preference would  be  entitled to great weight, the record indicates that a Lincoln hearing would have limited the risk of harm and "would have been far more informative and worthwhile than . . . an examination of the child under oath in open court"… . Matter of Casarotti v Casarotti, 515270, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Family Court Cannot Review Support Magistrate’s Order in Absence of Specific Objection

 

In reversing Family Court, the Third Department explained that Family Court does not have the authority to review those portions of a Support Magistrate’s order to which no specific objection his been made:

 

It is well established that "an order from a Support Magistrate is final and  Family Court's review under Family Ct Act § 439 (e) is tantamount to appellate review and requires  specific  objections  for  issues  to  be  preserved"  ….  Family Court therefore lacked the authority to review the  order  dismissing  the  mother's  first modification  petition,  to which no  objections had  been  filed… .  Matter of Hubbard v Barber. 514420, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Absence of Complete Financial Disclosure Did Not Preclude Family Court from Making “Change-of-Circumstances” Determination

 

The Third Department affirmed Family Court’s modification of the father’s support obligation in the absence of complete financial disclosure because reliable financial evidence was in the record:

 

Although Family Court was entitled to deny the father's requested relief based upon  his failure to comply with Family Ct Act § 424–a, this Court has approved orders of support in the absence of complete financial disclosure where reliable evidence otherwise has appeared on  the face of the record…. Here,  the father's sworn statement of net worth and testimony, the latter of which was subject to examination by the Support Magistrate and cross-examination by the mother, was sufficient to demonstrate the requisite change in circumstances.  Matter of Mata v Nebesnik, 516104, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Child Support Awarded to Wife Even though Husband Awarded Sole Custody/Residency Shared Equally/Husband Has Much Higher Income than Wife

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Lindley, the Fourth Department determined child support should have been awarded to the wife (defendant), even though the husband had sole legal custody, because the residency of the children was shared equally and the wife’s income was less than the husband’s:

 

…[T]he court erred in awarding child support to plaintiff and that the court instead should have awarded child support to her. It is well settled that in shared residency arrangements, where neither parent has the children for a majority of the time, the party with the higher income is deemed to be the noncustodial parent for purposes of child support….  Here, as noted, the residency schedule affords the parties equal time with the children, and thus neither party has the children for the majority of the time. Inasmuch as plaintiff’s income exceeds that of defendant — at the time of trial, plaintiff earned $134,924.48 annually, while the JHO imputed income of $25,000 to defendant, whose actual earnings were $14,109.53— plaintiff is the “noncustodial” parent and, as such, he must pay child support to defendant.

 

It is true, as plaintiff points out, that [the cited cases] involve awards of joint legal custody, whereas he was awarded sole legal custody; that fact, however, should not affect the child support determination.  Although the award of sole legal custody to plaintiff allows him to make important decisions in the children’s lives, that decision-making authority does not increase his child-related costs. A parent’s child-related costs are dictated by the amount of time he or she spends with the children, and, here, plaintiff spends no more time with the children than does defendant.  We note, moreover, that there is already a significant disparity in the parties’ incomes, and an award of child support to plaintiff would only widen that gulf.  In our view, the children’s standard of living should not vary so drastically from one parent’s house to the other.

 

Thus, under the circumstances of this case — where plaintiff has sole legal custody, but the residency schedule affords the parents equal time with the children — an award of child support to defendant will best “assure that [the] children will realize the maximum benefit of their parents’ resources and continue, as near as possible, their preseparation standard of living in each household” … .  Leonard v Leonard, 402, 4th Dept 6-28-13 

 

 

Standing Requirements for Grandparent Seeking Visitation Explained

 

The Second Department explained the standing requirements for a grandparent seeking visitation with a grandchild:

 

In a grandparent visitation proceeding, "the burden of establishing standing lies with the grandparent and it is conferred by the court, in its discretion, only after it has examined all the relevant facts'"…. In determining whether grandparents have standing or a right to be heard on a petition for visitation with a grandchild, the essential components to the inquiry are the "nature and extent of the grandparent-grandchild relationship" … and "the nature and basis of the parents' objection to visitation" …. "The evidence necessary will vary in each case but what is required of grandparents must always be measured against what they could reasonably have done under the circumstances"…. A hearing to determine the issue of standing is not necessary where the submitted papers do not raise a triable issue of fact… .  Matter of Bender v Cendali, 2013 NY Slip Op 04796, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

Criteria for Derivative Neglect Finding Explained (Evidence Insufficient)

 

The Second Department, in reversing Family Court’s finding, explained the criteria for a finding of derivative neglect:

 

…[A] finding of sexual abuse of one child does not, by itself, establish that other children in the household have been derivatively abused or neglected …. The focus of the inquiry to determine whether derivative neglect is present is whether the evidence of abuse or neglect of one child indicates a fundamental defect in the parent's understanding of the duties of parenthood …. Here, a derivative finding of neglect as to the child Brandon J. was warranted since the abuse was perpetrated while he was in the home…. However, given the limited duration and nature of the sexual abuse, as well as the remoteness in time between when Monica C. M. was abused and when Joshua A., the appellant's biological son, was born more than four years later, there was insufficient evidence to support the Family Court's determination that Arnold A. derivatively neglected Joshua A…..  Matter of Monica CM, 2013 NY Slip Op 04808, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

Neglect Proceeding “Adjourned in Contemplation of Dismissal” Properly Considered and Findings of Forensic Psychologist Properly Ignored in Modification of Custody Proceeding

 

In affirming Family Court’s modification of custody, the Second Department noted that Family Court properly considered a neglect proceeding that was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal (not a determination on the merits) and Family Court was not required to accept the recommendations of the court-appointed forensic psychologist.  Matter of Selliah v Penamente, 2013 NY Slip Op 04815, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

Default Finding Should Not Have Been Made Where Attorney Appeared and Asked for Adjournment

 

In reversing the order of Family Court, the Fourth Department determined the Support Magistrate should not have ruled respondent had defaulted (respondent’s attorney appeared and requested an adjournment) and the colloquy between petitioner and the Support Magistrate was not a sufficient basis for a factual finding respondent had willfully violated a support order.  Family Court, therefore, should not have confirmed the Support Magistrate’s order.  Matter of Manning v Sobotka, 739, 4th Dept 6-28-13

 

 

 

CRIMINAL LAW

 

Illegal Arrest Did Not Taint Identification Procedure - Attentuation Doctrine Applied

 

Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, determined that the defendant’s identification in a line-up, after an admittedly illegal arrest, was not tainted by the arrest under the doctrine of “attenuation.”  The operative legal principles were described as follows:

 

The sergeant's initial arrest of defendant was without probable cause and therefore illegal. But evidence discovered subsequent to an illegal arrest is not indiscriminately subject to the exclusionary rule…. Instead, the People "must have 'somehow exploited or benefitted from [the] illegal conduct' such that 'there is a connection between the violation of a constitutional right and the derivative evidence' obtained by the police"…. 

 

Defendant claims that the lineup identification must be suppressed because it was the product of an illegal arrest. In order to counter that challenge, the People were required to demonstrate that the identification was "acquired by means sufficiently distinguishable from the arrest to be purged of the illegality" …, i.e., that the taint of the illegal arrest was "attenuated" …. In order to determine whether attenuation exists, the court must "consider the temporal proximity of the arrest and [the evidence at issue], the presence of intervening circumstances and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct"…. *  *  *

 

By the time the sergeant effected the illegal arrest, the detective already had in his possession sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for defendant's arrest. People v Jones, No 125, CtApp 6-25-13

 

 

Defendant May Not Be Cross-Examined About Criminal Conviction on Direct Appeal

 

In reversing defendant’s assault conviction, the Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined a defendant with a conviction pending appeal may not be cross-examined about the underlying facts of that conviction until direct appeal has been exhausted.  Judge Lippman wrote:

 

At trial, the defense was justification and defendant planned to testify, but the People received permission, after a Sandoval hearing, to cross-examine him about his recent rape conviction, still pending on direct appeal, as well as the underlying facts, and the sentence he received. After the People rested, defense counsel asked the court to reconsider the Sandoval ruling, objecting that an appeal of the rape conviction was pending and, therefore, cross-examination about the conviction and its underlying facts would violate defendant's constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, but the court adhered to its ruling. Defendant did not testify and was convicted of third-degree assault. Subsequently, his conviction for rape was reversed for ineffective assistance of counsel, his prior attorney having failed to impeach the complainant with exculpatory hospital records…. Defendant was retried and acquitted.  * * *

 

…[I]n ruling that the prosecution could cross-examine defendant about the underlying facts of his rape conviction, presumably the court was not implying that defendant could not assert his Fifth Amendment privilege in response to those questions. However, "taking the Fifth," is highly prejudicial as to both the instant case and the conviction pending appeal. To a jury, it appears as though defendant is admitting the truth of the leading questions posed by the prosecutor; "[i]t exerts an undeniable chilling effect upon a real 'choice' whether to testify in one's own behalf" …. More problematic, defendant must invoke the Fifth Amendment as to both exculpatory and inculpatory questions to protect himself; otherwise he might waive the privilege… .  People v Cantave, No 129, CtApp 6-25-13

 

 

No Standing to Contest Search of Guest Room

 

The Court of Appeals determined there was support in the record for the trial court’s finding that defendant did not have standing to contest the search of a room in his grandmother’s house where a weapon was found:

 

The judge credited the grandmother's testimony that the bedroom where the gun was found was an extra or guest bedroom; and that defendant had a separate room and did not stay in the guest bedroom. Given these facts, Supreme Court held that defendant failed to meet his burden of establishing a reasonable expectation of privacy in "a room that wasn't his, that was used by several other people."  People v Leach, No 130, CtApp 6-25-13

 

 

 

Resentencing (Re: Postrelease Supervision) of Defendants Who Have Completed Determinate Sentence But Are Still Serving Aggregate Sentence Does Not Violate Double Jeopardy

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, the Court of Appeals determined defendants who have completed the determinate sentence for which mandatory postrelease supervision was not imposed but have not completed their aggregated sentences under Penal Law 70.30 can be resentenced to postrelease supervision without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause:

 

In these unrelated cases, each defendant claims that the imposition of mandatory postrelease supervision (PRS) to his determinate sentence at resentencing violates the Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy Clause of the federal constitution. Defendants claim that they have completed their determinate sentences, therefore imposition of PRS violates the prohibition against multiple punishments. We conclude that the respective resentences do not constitute violations of the Double Jeopardy clause because defendants do not have a legitimate expectation of finality until they have completed their aggregated sentences under Penal Law § 70.30.  People v Brinson… Nos 135, 136, CtApp 6-26-13

 

 

Grand Jury Proceeding Not Tainted by Excused Juror’s Statements About Having Arrested and Having Been Threatened by Defendant

 

The Third Department reversed County Court’s dismissal of indictments based upon a finding the integrity of the grand jury had been impaired.  A potential grand juror was excluded after stating he had arrested the defendant at least once and the defendant had threatened his family.  The Third Department wrote:

 

The prosecutor immediately excused this juror and instructed the remaining grand jurors to disregard and ignore the comment and to base their deliberations solely on the evidence provided by the sworn witnesses. While County Court found the prosecutor's efforts in that regard to be inadequate, "the grand jury is presumed to have followed the prosecutor's curative instructions, dispelling any prejudice to [] defendant"….  Furthermore, given the strength of the evidence supporting the indictments, the grand juror's comment lacked the potential to prejudice the grand jury's ultimate decision….   Accordingly, dismissal of the indictments was unwarranted.  People v Farley, 103105, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

County Court’s Jurisdiction Over Crimes Committed in Other Counties, Among Many Other Issues, Explained

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Egan, the Third Department affirmed the conviction of the director of facilities for the Schenectady City School District for arson, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and other offenses.  Among the issues (all resolved against the defendant) addressed in substantive discussions: (1) whether Schenectady County Court had jurisdiction over the counts of the indictment which were alleged to have occurred in other counties; (2) whether the jurisdictional facts were sufficiently alleged and proven; (3) severance of counts; (4) suppression of evidence found in a briefcase in an area for which a search warrant had been issued; (5) whether questions amounted to impermissible interrogation; (6) the admission of Molineux evidence; (7) whether testimony relating to non-testifying chemist’s findings in a report was a Crawford violation (a violation of the right of confrontation); (8) and the admissibility of demonstrative evidence.  With respect to the jurisdiction issue, the court wrote:

 

…[I]n order for prosecutorial jurisdiction to lie in Schenectady County for the extraterritorial crimes, defendant’s conduct must have “had, or was likely to have, a particular effect upon [the] [C]ounty . . . or part thereof, and [have been] performed with intent that it would, or with knowledge that it was likely to, have such particular effect therein” ….To that end criminal conduct has a “particular effect” upon a county when the consequences thereof “have a materially harmful impact upon the governmental processes or community welfare” of that county (CPL 20.10 [4]) such that the defendant’s out-of-county conduct “expose[s] a large number of county residents to a specific harm”… .In this regard, the injury alleged must  be  “concrete and  identifiable” and of the type that can be demonstrated by proof… .  The People bear the burden of proving  that venue is proper by a preponderance of the evidence, and whether the subject county has geographic jurisdiction over each of the charged offenses presents a factual issue for the jury to resolve … .  People v Raucci, 103996, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Defendant’s Being in the “General Area” Where Was Weapon Was Found and Defendant’s DNA on the Weapon Was Not Enough to Support Possession Conviction

 

The Third Department reversed defendant’s conviction for criminal possession of a weapon as against the weight of the evidence.  The evidence demonstrated that the defendant was in the general area where the gun was found and the defendant could not be excluded from the mixed DNA found on the gun.  The court wrote:

 

No one saw defendant with the gun, he was just near where it was found and his DNA was on it. The officer testified that defendant was 20 to 30 feet past the house, whereas Fox [defendant’s companion] was off his bicycle and appeared to be doing something near the house. The officer further testified that he found the gun in front of that house, and vaguely stated that defendant  was  in "the general area" where the gun was found. This does not prove that defendant possessed the gun on Sheridan Avenue at that time. Based  on  the  testimony  of the  officer and  the  forensic scientist, it is possible that Fox – who  the officer had seen directly in front of the house – could have had the gun and left it on the ground at that time, and defendant's DNA could have been there from handling  it previously (which  may  prove  that defendant handled the  gun at some  point, but not  at the date and time alleged in the  indictment) or through  secondary  transfer (i.e., if Fox  touched defendant  and  then  the  gun,  transferring some  of defendant's DNA onto the gun). Because this scenario is equally likely to have occurred, we cannot say that the weight of the evidence supports the verdict finding defendant guilty  ….  People v Graham, 104177, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Required Reversal

 

In reversing the defendant’s conviction, the Third Department determined the defendant did not receive effective assistance of counsel:

 

Here, defense counsel did not give an opening statement. The People produced five witnesses and, during their testimony, there were no objections despite some objectionable questions. The  People's  exhibits  were  received  without  objection,  including one  after proof  was  closed. Cross-examination, when conducted, was cursory and elicited little information that  would  be  useful or pertinent to a defense strategy. No witnesses were called on behalf of defendant.    Defense counsel's summation,  which  was  only four sentences, started with the unhelpful comment  that "the reason we are here today is because [defendant] was unable to successfully  enter  a  plea  of  guilty by  way  of  providing an adequate  colloquy,"  and  added  little else  other  than  the conclusory request  for "the  [c]ourt  to  consider  this matter simply in regard to whether  there is reasonable doubt." With no opening statement, no witnesses called and a feckless summation, counsel's strategy  of  defense  is not apparent. In  addition,  pretrial efforts to  suppress  or  limit evidence – such as defendant's statement to police and evidence about  uncharged  conduct  –  were  not  pursued. People v Bush, 105005, 3rd Dept 6-25-13

 

 

Failure to Fully Inform About Postrelease Supervision Required Reversal

 

After noting that a waiver of appeal does not preclude a challenge to the voluntariness of a guilty plea, the Third Department reversed because the defendant was not fully informed about the promised duration or potential range of postrelease supervision:

 

Here, the record reflects, as the People concede, that while the plea agreement included a specific negotiated sentence and a mention of postrelease supervision, defendant was never advised by the court of either a promised specific duration or the potential range of the mandatory postrelease supervision component prior to sentencing. Accordingly, his decision to plead guilty was not a knowing, voluntary and intelligent one and, therefore, the judgment of conviction must be reversed… . People v Brown, 105107, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

County Court’s Suppression of Statements and Fruits of Search Reversed

 

The Third Department reversed County Court’s suppression of defendant’s statements and County Court’s finding that defendant had not voluntarily consented to the search of his car (both based on the absence of Miranda warnings).   The Third Department determined a reasonable person innocent of a crime would still have felt he was free to leave (i.e., that he was not in custody) after his failure of field sobriety tests and a negative alcosensor test.  The Third Department further noted that the failure to provide Miranda warnings would not necessarily render a consent to search involuntary:

 

The court ….overlooked the settled proposition that "[a] temporary roadside detention pursuant to a routine traffic stop is not custodial within the meaning of Miranda" … .The facts here reveal a reasonable initial interrogation attendant to a roadside detention that was merely investigatory…. The Troopers' inquiries, the mixed results of the field sobriety tests and a negative alcosensor test would not have caused a reasonable person innocent of any wrongdoing to believe that he or she was in custody….   In our view, the Troopers' observations of defendant's condition justified the further  detention  for the  limited  purpose  of  investigating whether  he  was  operating his motor  vehicle in an  impaired condition… .  People v Brown, 105134, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Defendant Should Have Been Adjudicated a Youthful Offender/Waiver of Appeal Not Valid

 

The Fourth Department determined the defendant’s waiver of appeal was invalid and County Court should have adjudicated the defendant a youthful offender (re: criminal possession of a weapon):

 

…[T]he waiver of the right to appeal is invalid because “the minimal inquiry made by County Court was insufficient to establish that the court engage[d] the defendant in an adequate colloquy to ensure that the waiver of the right to appeal was a knowing and voluntary choice”… .

 

A defendant between the ages of 16 and 19 who, like defendant herein, “has been convicted of an armed felony offense . . . is an eligible youth if the court determines that . . . [there are] mitigating circumstances that bear directly upon the manner in which the crime was committed” (CPL 720.10 [3] [i]), and we conclude that such is the case here. The record reflects that defendant was the victim of a brutal attack by multiple perpetrators the day prior to the armed felony offense at issue herein. … Defendant told the police that he had fired a single shot into the porch of his attackers’ house “to send a message to them to stop messing with him as he was a serious threat if need be.” According to defendant, he knew that his attackers would not be home and, indeed, the record reflects that the residence was unoccupied at the time of the shooting.  People v Amir W, 759, 4th Dept 6-28-13

 

 

Supreme Court Case Relied Upon to Vacate Convictions by Guilty Plea Where Defendant Not Informed of Possibility of Deportation Can Not Be Applied Retroactively

 

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Tom, reversed the sentencing court’s vacation of defendant’s conviction (by guilty plea).  The sentencing court had reversed the conviction on the ground defendant had not been informed of the risk of deportation based on the plea.  The sentencing court’s ruling was based upon the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Padilla v Kentucky, 559 US 356 (2010), which the sentencing court determined should be applied retroactively.  The First Department explained that Padilla should not be applied retroactively, overruling First Department and Third Department precedent:

 

Padilla has been accorded retroactive application by this Court …and the Third Department…. However, since Padilla "marks a break from both Federal and State law precedents . . . and fundamentally alters the Federal constitutional landscape, the principles of retroactivity developed by the Supreme Court in construing Federal constitutional law govern the disposition of this case" (People v Eastman, 85 NY2d 265, 275 [1995]).. 

 

The holding that Padilla announced new law, by which this Court is bound, dictates the conclusion that it has no retroactive application. As Eastman explains: 

 

"Pursuant to Teague, new rules of constitutional criminal procedure are applied retrospectively in one of two situations: (1) where the new rule places certain kinds of primary, private individual conduct beyond the power of the criminal law making authority to proscribe' or (2) where the new rule alters a bedrock procedural element of criminal procedure which implicates the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the trial" (Eastman, 85 NY2d at 275, quoting Teague, 489 US at 311-312).

 

The rule announced in Padilla does neither, merely prescribing a duty imposed on counsel, and does not warrant retroactive application. Thus, defendant may not avail himself of the ruling… People v Verdejo, 2013 NY Slip Op 04913, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Plea Colloquy Raised Concerns Requiring Further Inquiry Re: Defendant’s Mental Health

 

The Second Department determined that defendant’s plea colloquy raised concern about defendant’s mental health requiring inquiry by the sentencing court.

 

Here, in light of the defendant’s known history of mental illness, and the finding within six days after commission of the instant sex offense that the defendant was suffering from psychotic symptoms attributable to bipolar disorder, for which he required hospitalization, certain statements made during the defendant’s plea allocution—specifically, statements regarding the complainant’s impression that, at the time of incident, the defendant was “very very much mentally unwell”—“signaled that [the defendant] may have been suffering from a mental disease or defect” when the offense was committed, thereby triggering the Supreme Court’s duty to inquire…. The trial court’s failure to conduct any inquiry as to a potential affirmative defense to the charges based upon mental disease or defect (see Penal Law 40.15), requires vacatur of the defendant’s plea of guilty…. While the People are correct that the defendant’s argument is unpreserved for appellate review, preservation is not required where, as here, under the totality of the circumstances, the defendant’s guilt and the voluntariness of the plea were called into question before the court….  People v Grason, 2013 NY Slip Op 04827, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

Motion for Resentencing Under CPL 440.46 (Drug Reform Law) Properly Denied

 

The Second Department affirmed Supreme Court’s denial of defendant’s motion for resentencing pursuant to CPL 440.46:

 

When a defendant is eligible for resentencing pursuant to CPL 440.46, there is " a presumption in favor of granting a motion for resentencing relief absent a showing that substantial justice dictates the denial thereof'"…. "However, resentencing is not automatic, and the determination is left to the discretion of the Supreme Court"…. In exercising its discretion, a court may "consider any facts or circumstances relevant to the imposition of a new sentence which are submitted by [the defendant] or the people" (L 2004, ch 738, § 23), including the defendant's institutional record of confinement, the defendant's prior criminal history, the severity of the current offense, whether the defendant has shown remorse, and whether the defendant has a history of parole or probation violations…. Relevant considerations include the defendant's status as a probation or parole violator as a consequence of the conviction for which resentencing is sought…, and the defendant's conviction of a violent felony subsequent to the commission of the narcotics felony for which resentencing is sought…. People v Parker, 2013 NY Slip Op 04831, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

EMINENT DOMAIN/REGULATORY TAKING

 

Closure of Railroad Crossing Did Not Constitute a Taking of Claimant’s Lane

 

The Court of Appeals determined the closure of a railroad crossing did not constitute a regulatory taking of claimant’s land.  Claimant used the crossing to move equipment from one part of his land to another:

 

The basis for the claim is that the State Department of Transportation required the closure of a railroad crossing that claimant had used to move equipment from one part of its land to another. The record shows that the Department ordered the closure after it determined that the crossing presented a safety hazard. It found that fast moving trains passed by frequently; that a curve in the tracks limited the distance at which a train could be seen from the crossing; that heavy, slow-moving farm equipment was being transported over the tracks; and that there was a substantial grade at the approaches to the crossing, which made it necessary for crossing vehicles to reduce their speed. In an article 78 proceeding brought by claimant, the Department's determination was upheld as being supported by substantial evidence….

 

On this record, the conclusion is inescapable that the closure of the crossing was a proper exercise of the State's police power. Moreover, claimant has failed to show the extent to which the Department's action diminished the value of its land, and has not argued that its easement to cross the railroad tracks should be treated for these purposes as an item of property separate from the land itself. Claimant's claim of a regulatory taking is without merit.  Island Park, LLC v State of New York, No 132, CtApp 6-26-13

LABOR LAW

 

Starbuck’s Tip-Splitting Policy Analyzed

 

The Second Circuit asked the Court of Appeals to answer certified questions about how the Labor Law relates to a tip-splitting policy used by Starbucks.  Over two dissents, the Court of Appeals determined, under the Labor Law, limited supervisory duties did not mandate exclusion from the tip pool:

 

Starbucks maintains a written policy governing the collection, storage and distribution of customer tips. Pursuant to this policy, each Starbucks store places a plexiglass container at the counter where patrons may deposit tips. Once these tip canisters become full, Starbucks requires that they be emptied into a bag and the money is stored in a safe. At the end of each week, the tips are tallied and distributed in cash to two categories of employees -- baristas and shift supervisors -- in proportion to the number of hours each employee worked. Starbucks does not permit its assistant store managers or store managers to share in the weekly distribution of tips. The company's decision to include shift supervisors in these tip pools was the impetus for the first lawsuit before us, while its exclusion of assistant store managers underlies the claims in the second action. * * *

 

…[A]n employee whose personal service to patrons is a principal or regular part of his or her duties may participate in an employer-mandated tip allocation arrangement under Labor Law § 196-d, even if that employee possesses limited supervisory responsibilities. But an employee granted meaningful authority or control over subordinates can no longer be considered similar to waiters and busboys within the meaning of section 196-d and, consequently, is not eligible to participate in a tip pool. * * * 

 

…Starbucks' decision to exclude assistant store managers from the tip pool is not contrary to Labor Law § 196-d.  Barenboim, et al v Starbucks Corporation, No 122, CtApp 6-26-13

 

 

Bed and Breakfast Not Entitled to Homeowner’s Exemption

 

The Third Department determined the owner of a bed and breakfast was not entitled to the homeowner’s exemption from the Labor Law:

 

…[A]lthough "[b]oth Labor Law § 240 (1) and § 241 impose nondelegable duties upon contractors, owners and their agents  to comply  with  certain safety practices for the protection of workers engaged in various construction-related activities . . . [,] the  Legislature has carved  out  an  exemption for the owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work"….    That exemption, however, "is not available to an owner who uses or intends  to use  [the] dwelling  only  for commercial  purposes"… .  Bagley v Moffett, 515914, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE

 

Statute of Limitations Defense in Article 78 Proceeding Waived Because Not Raised in Answer or Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss

 

In reversing Supreme Court’s dismissal of an Article 78 proceeding as untimely, the Third Department determined the statute of limitations defense was waived because it was not raised in the answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss:

 

Petitioner contends that Supreme Court erred in granting respondent's oral motion to dismiss the petition based upon statute of limitations grounds inasmuch as respondent  failed to timely raise this defense/objection in either its verified answer or a pre-answer motion to dismiss. We agree. It is well established that an aggrieved party must raise a statute of limitations defense/objection in either the answer or a pre-answer motion  to  dismiss  (see  CPLR  3211  [e]; 7804  [f];…). A pre-answer motion  to dismiss based  upon  a statute of limitations defense/objection necessarily "must  be  made  prior to the time in which to serve an  answer, and the failure to do  so will result in a waiver of the defense unless [thereafter] raised in the responsive pleading"… .  Matter of Kowalczyk v Village of Monticello, 515968, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Statute of Limitations for Article 78 “Mandamus to Compel”/Doctrine of Laches Applied

 

The Fourth Department affirmed the dismissal (as untimely) of an Article 78 proceeding against the City of Buffalo and others which sought to compel the city to investigate two fires pursuant to General Municipal Law section 204-d.  The Fourth Department explained when the four-month statute of limitations in this “mandamus to compel” action was triggered and applied the doctrine of laches:

 

…[T]the petition is in the nature of mandamus to compel inasmuch as petitioner seeks to “compel the performance of a ministerial act [imposed] by law”… . In such a proceeding, the four-month statute of limitations begins to run when a respondent refuses a petitioner’s demand that it “perform its duty” (CPLR 217 [1];…). The petitioner’s “demand must be made within a reasonable time after the right to make the demand occurs”…. Here, petitioner made a February 8, 2010 written demand to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office to conduct a further investigation. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office, however, is not a named respondent, and we conclude that petitioner “unreasonably delayed” in failing to make the demand to respondents on February 8, 2010 and that “this proceeding is barred by laches” ….  Matter of Van Tol v City of Buffalo…, 582, 4th Dept 6-28-13

 

 

Motion for Default Judgment Should Have Been Denied/Motion to Compel Acceptance of Late Answer Should Have Been Granted

 

The Second Department determined Supreme Court should not have granted plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment and denied defendant’s motion to compel the acceptance of a late answer:

 

Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court improvidently exercised its discretion in granting the plaintiffs' motion pursuant to CPLR 3215 for leave to enter a default judgment against the defendant Lockwood Associates, LLC (hereinafter Lockwood), and in denying Lockwood's cross motion pursuant to CPLR 3012(d) to compel the plaintiffs to accept service of its answer. Considering the lack of any prejudice to the plaintiffs as a result of Lockwood's relatively short delay in answering, the existence of a potentially meritorious defense, and the public policy favoring the resolution of cases on the merits, Lockwood's delay in answering should have been excused….  Grammas v Lockwood Assoc LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 04776, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

“Grouping of Contacts” Analysis to Determine Which State’s Law Applies

 

The First Department noted Supreme Court correctly applied the “grouping of contacts” analysis in determining whether New York or Maryland law applied in an action to determine which insurance company was required to defend and indemnify.  The First Department further noted that late notice to the carrier because of the need to investigate did not warrant the carrier’s disclaimer of coverage.  Addressing the “grouping of contacts,” the court explained:

 

The motion court correctly determined that, under the standard "grouping of contacts" analysis, New York law, rather than Maryland law, applies in this case …. Indeed, the subcontract between Hayward Baker and Schiavone involved construction services at a site located in New York, Schiavone formed a joint venture in New York to perform those services, the accident and resulting litigation occurred in New York, Zurich asserts that it is a New York corporation with a home office in New York, Illinois National is licensed to do business in New York, and the demand letters and responses were sent from the parties' New York offices … .  Illinois Natl Ins Co v Zurich Am Ins Co, 2013 NY slip Op 04881, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Late Amendment of Complaint (After Note of Issue Filed) Should Have Been Granted

 

The First Department reversed the IAS court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to serve a third amended complaint.  The court noted that plaintiff’s failure to vacate his note of issue did not require the denial of the motion. In explaining that mere lateness is not a barrier to amendment, the court wrote:

 

…”[M]ere lateness is not a barrier to . . . amendment. It must be lateness coupled with significant prejudice to the other side . ….. "The kind of prejudice required to defeat an amendment . . . must . . . be a showing of prejudice traceable not simply to the new matter sought to be added, but also to the fact that it is only now being added. There must be some special right lost in the interim, some change of position or some significant trouble or expense that could have been avoided had the original pleading contained what the amended one wants to add"…. Defendants failed to show such prejudice. Jacobson v Croman, 2013 NY Slip Op 04909, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

CONTRACT 

 

The Term “Casualty” In Lease Covered Flooding Due to Malfunctioning HVAC System

 

The First Department determined Supreme Court should have denied plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff was the owner and landlord of a building and defendant was a commercial tenant.  Section 7.04 of the lease stated: "each party releases the other with respect to any claim (including a claim for negligence) which it might otherwise have against the other party for loss, damage or destruction with respect to its property by fire or other casualty . . . occurring during the terms of this Lease" … .  A gauge in the HVAC system burst, causing flooding. Plaintiff sued defendant for the cost of repair, alleging defendant failed to maintain the HVAC system.  The issue was whether the word “casualty” in the lease meant “act of god” only, or included damage from human error.  The First Department (reversing Supreme Court) determined human error was included in the meaning of “casualty:”

 

[W]here a clause is unambiguous, contract language and terms are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning…. Here, the lease provides that the parties agreed on mutual releases in case of damage "by fire or other casualty." In light of this phrasing, in which "other casualty" is placed in the same category as "fire," it cannot be said that the word "casualty" excludes events resulting from human error. On the contrary, a fire might have myriad causes, many of which do result from human error. However, the parties did not restrict the types of fires that would fall under the release — for example, by stating that only fires caused by severe weather or other natural causes would trigger a release from liability. Accordingly, the phrase "fire or other casualty," as construed by an ordinary business person, would describe an event, rather than the cause of that event. 45 Broadway Owner LLC v NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund, 2013 NY Slip Op 04895, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Procedure for Applying to be a “Defender” in America’s Cup Regatta, as Alleged in Complaint, Constitutes an “Offer” and “Acceptance”

 

The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Acosta, in the context of whether the complaint stated a cause of action sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss, determined that the procedures in a Deed of Gift and Protocol for the America’s Cup sailing regatta constituted and “offer” and “acceptance” resulting in an enforceable contract with the plaintiff which had applied to be a “Defender Candidate” in the regatta.  A lengthy and well-reasoned dissent by Justice Tom argued that the procedures did not amount to an offer because the defendant was free to accept or reject any applicant in the exercise of judgment.  The opinion and dissent discuss the most basic “offer” and “acceptance” criteria for an enforceable contract.  African Diaspora Mar Corp v Golden Gate Yacht Club, 2013 NY Slip Op 04752, 1st Dept 6-25-13

 

 

Exceptions to “No-Damage-for-Delay” Clause in Construction Contract Explained

 

The defendant library was sued by the plaintiff contractor which claimed the library caused a delay in the performance of a contract by failing to secure access to an adjacent property which was necessary before plaintiff could complete the work.   In affirming the denial of summary judgment to the defendant library, the Second Department listed the exceptions to the enforceability of a “no-damage-for-delay” clause:

 

"A clause which exculpates a contractee from liability to a contractor for damages resulting from delays in the performance of the latter's work is valid and enforceable and is not contrary to public policy if the clause and the contract of which it is a part satisfy the requirements for the validity of contracts generally"…. However, "even with such a clause, damages may be recovered for: (1) delays caused by the contractee's bad faith or its willful, malicious, or grossly negligent conduct, (2) uncontemplated delays, (3) delays so unreasonable that they constitute an intentional abandonment of the contract by the contractee, and (4) delays resulting from the contractee's breach of a fundamental obligation of the contract"….  Aurora Contrs Inc v West Babylon Pub Lib, 2013 NY Slip Op 04762, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

FORECLOSURE

 

“Standing” to Bring Foreclosure Action Defined

 

The Second Department explained “standing” as it relates to a mortgage foreclosure action as follows:

 

Where, as here, standing is put into issue by the defendant, "the plaintiff must prove its standing in order to be entitled to relief"…. "In a mortgage foreclosure action, a plaintiff has standing where it is both the holder or assignee of the subject mortgage and the holder or assignee of the underlying note at the time the action is commenced" … ."Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note prior to the commencement of the foreclosure action is sufficient to transfer the obligation" … .  Deutsche Bank Natl Trust Co v Whalen, 2013 NY Slip Op 04770, 2nd Dept 6-25-13

 

 

Foreclosure Proceeding Can Be Brought by Party Who Did Not Provide Consideration/Tenants By the Entirety Can Mortgage Their Interest in Property

 

In a mortgage foreclosure action, the Second Department explained that it was not necessary that the foreclosing party have provided the consideration and that, with respect to a tenancy by the entirety, each tenant can sell, mortgage or otherwise encumber his or her rights in the property, subject to the continuing rights of the other:

 

"[T]he validity of the mortgage usually depends indirectly upon consideration, not for the mortgage itself, but for the obligation upon which it depends"…. It is not necessary, however, that the party seeking to foreclose provided the consideration. A mortgage may be valid as long as proper consideration exists for the underlying obligation; once a party has lawfully obtained both the mortgage and the underlying promissory note, that party has standing to foreclose on the mortgage in the event of the default on the borrower's obligation. * * *

 

"As tenants by the entirety, both spouses enjoy an equal right to possession of and profits yielded by the property" …. However, "there is nothing in New York law that prevents one of the co-owners from mortgaging or making an effective conveyance of his or her own interest in the tenancy. To the contrary, each tenant may sell, mortgage or otherwise encumber his or her rights in the property, subject to the continuing rights of the other"…. Nevertheless, "a conveyance by one tenant, to which the other has not consented, cannot bind the entire fee"… .  Rose v Levine, 2013 NY Slip Op 04788, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

REAL ESTATE 

 

Validity of Easement for Access to Lake Affirmed

 

In affirming Supreme Court’s determination that the relevant deed allowed recreational use of a parcel of land (parcel 4) for access to a lake, and Supreme Court’s order to remove a fence which blocked access, the Third Department explained the relevant legal principles as follows:

 

"[T]he construction of a  deed, including  any  easements  set  forth  therein,  is generally  a question of law for the court, with extrinsic evidence being considered only if there are ambiguities"….  As owners  in the subdivision, plaintiffs' deed sets forth various rights regarding parcel 4, including swimming privileges, docking privileges and – as relevant here – recreational  privileges. The recreational right is broadly set forth as having "the right to use, for recreational purposes, Parcel #4." Significantly, this is not a  right merely  to cross parcel 4 to reach the lake. Consistent with the expansive right granted, subdivision owners exercised the recreational right in sundry manners, such as having picnics in various places on parcel 4 or placing chairs on the parcel to enjoy the view. Once on parcel 4, there is no relevant limitation – other than reasonableness and safety – as to where on the parcel subdivision owners  exercised their recreational rights (see generally Bruce and Ely, The Law of Easements and Licenses in Land, Location and Dimensions  of  Easements  §  7:3).  Jankowski v Lake Forest Homeowners, Inc, 516015, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

Plaintiffs Demonstrated They Acquired Title to Property with Cabin by Adverse Possession

 

The Third Department affirmed Supreme Court’s grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs in their RPAPL article 15 action to quiet title under the doctrine of adverse possession.  The owner of the property, which included a cabin, died intestate and plaintiffs, who allegedly were close personal friends with the owner’s brother (who used the cabin and also died intestate), took possession of the property.  The Third Department wrote:

 

…[T]o successfully acquire title by adverse possession, plaintiffs must establish by clear and convincing evidence that their occupation of the property was "(1) hostile and under a claim of right . . ., (2) actual, (3) open and notorious, (4) exclusive, and  (5) continuous for the statutory period (at least ten years)" … .  Additionally, because plaintiffs' "claim was not founded upon a written instrument describing the boundaries of the property," they were required to "establish that the land was usually cultivated or improved or 

protected by  a substantial inclosure….In support of their motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs submitted evidence that, since the time of [the owner’s brother’s] death in 1976, they have enjoyed the exclusive use and possession of the property, have paid the taxes and made repairs upon the property, and have permitted various family members to use and reside upon the property.  In 1990, plaintiffs improved the cabin to make it suitable for year-round use, and have used it throughout the year since that  time.  According to plaintiffs, no one  else has had  possession or control of the property since they first took it more than 35 years ago.  Quinlan v Doe, 516140, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

CORRECTION LAW

 

Supreme Court’s Denial of Application for Stationary Engineer License Based on Applicant’s Criminal Record Reversed

 

The First Department, in this and several other similar rulings, reversed Supreme Court’s denial of petitioner’s application for a stationary engineer license determining that petitioner’s criminal record bore no relationship to the duties of a stationary engineer:

 

The determination to deny petitioner’s renewal application for a stationary engineer license was in violation of lawful procedure and lacked a rational basis. Respondents arbitrarily concluded that petitioner’s prior federal conviction for conspiracy bore a direct relationship to the duties and responsibilities attendant to a stationary engineer, the license for which he sought renewal after having his license renewed several times (see Correction Law § 750[3]; 752[2];…. Petitioner’s prior conviction resulted from the misuse of his administrative powers in his former position, which granted him control over hiring, payroll, and selection of vendors. Such actions bear no direct relationship to the equipment maintenance duties and responsibilities inherent in the stationary engineer license, and thus do not satisfy the first exception to the general prohibition of discrimination against persons previously convicted of criminal offenses (see Correction Law § 752[1]).  Matter of Donovan v LiMandri, 2013 NY Slip Op 04737, 1st Dept 6-25-13

 

 

 

CIVIL PROCEDURE/APPEALS

 

Article 78 Petition in Nature of Prohibition Against Judge and District Attorney Granted

 

The Second Department explained the criteria for an Article 78 action (against a judge and district attorney) in the nature of prohibition.  In this case Supreme Court had ordered defendant to appear for resentencing after the Appellate Division had ruled without remitting the matter to Supreme Court for further proceedings.  The Second Department granted the petition and prohibited the resentencing:

 

The remedy of prohibition generally lies when a court or an officer acts or threatens to act without jurisdiction or exceeds its authorized powers in a proceeding over which it has jurisdiction (see CPLR 7803[2];…). To warrant the extraordinary remedy of prohibition, it is not enough that the court made a mere legal error. Rather, the court’s error must implicate its very powers and thereby be subject to correction by prohibition….  Matter of Dow v Tomei, 2013 NY Slip Op 04799, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

MENTAL HYGIENE

 

Petition by Guardian to Transfer Assets of Incapacitated Person Properly Denied

 

In denying a petition by a guardian to transfer some of the assets of an incapacitated person, the Second Department explained the relevant criteria:

 

A court may grant a petition pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law § 81.21 to authorize a guardian to transfer a part of an incapacitated person's assets to or for the benefit of another person if it is satisfied by clear and convincing evidence, inter alia, that "a competent, reasonable individual in the position of the incapacitated person would be likely to perform the act or acts under the same circumstances" (Mental Hygiene Law § 81.21[e][2];…. Here, given the limited information …in support of the petition, and the absence of any indication that the proposed asset transfer plan was approved by the guardian of the property …., the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in denying the petition.  Matter of Modesta V, 2013 NY slip Op 04818, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

 

Finding that No Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Needed for Proposed Wind Turbines Reinstated/But Denial of Special Use Permit Upheld

 

The Third Department reversed Supreme Court’s annulment of a negative declaration with respect to the need for an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed wind turbine installation, but upheld Supreme Court’s denial of a special use permit based on violations of the Town Law’s public hearing and notice requirements (among other grounds).  In describing the review standards for the respondent planning board’s determination an EIS was not required, the Third Department wrote:

 

….[W]e begin our analysis by noting that an environmental impact statement (hereinafter EIS) is required "'on any action . . . which may have a significant effect on the environment'"….   A  type I action, such as the project here, "carries with it the presumption that it is likely to have a significant adverse impact on  the environment" (6  NYCRR  617.4 [a] [1];…).   However,  when  a lead agency  "'determine[s] either that there will be no adverse environmental impacts or that the identified adverse environmental impacts will not be significant,'" it may  issue a negative declaration and, in such instance, no  EIS is required…. "Although the threshold triggering an EIS is relatively low"…, judicial review of a negative declaration is limited to whether "the [lead] agency identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a hard look at them, and made a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its determination"….  In this regard, "[i]t is not the province of the courts to second-guess thoughtful agency decision making and, accordingly, an agency decision should be annulled only if it is arbitrary, capricious or unsupported by the evidence"…. Matter of Frigault v Town of Richfield Planning Board, et al, 515528, 3rd Dept 6-27-13
 

 

 

LANDLORD/TENANT

 

Chronic Nonpayment Not Subject to 15-Day Cure Period/Chronic Nonpayment is Treated Differently from Occasional Nonpayment

 

The First Department explained the legal principles which apply to chronic nonpayment of rent as follows:

 

…[P]laintiff chronically failed to pay its rent, having forced defendant to bring 10 nonpayment proceedings over the last seven years. This is a breach of a substantial obligation under the lease…, and is a type of default that plaintiff cannot cure within the 15-day cure period provided for in the lease …. Accordingly, plaintiff was properly denied a Yellowstone injunction, since that relief requires a showing that plaintiff is able to cure….  Defendant was not limited to a nonpayment proceeding under the term of the lease that provided for such proceedings for nonpayment. Chronic nonpayment is a violation of a different type than occasional nonpayment. Nor can plaintiff rely on any defect of the notice of default, since no such notice is even necessary for an action based on chronic nonpayment….  Definitions Personal Fitness Inc v 133 E 58th St LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 04892, 1st Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

LABOR LAW

 

 Worker Taking Onsite Measurements for Offsite Fabrication Covered Under Labor Law 240 (1)

 

The Second Department determined that a worker who was injured while he was taking measurements at the worksite for stonework which was to be fabricated offsite was engaged in a covered activity under the Labor Law.  The court further found that the absence of safety equipment supported summary judgment in favor of the worker even though no one witnessed the accident. With respect to “covered activity,” the Second Department wrote:

 

To invoke the protections afforded by Labor Law § 240(1), a " plaintiff must demonstrate that he [or she] was both permitted or suffered to work on a building or structure and that he [or she] was hired by someone, be it owner, contractor or their agent,'" to work at the site…. Moreover, the plaintiff must have, at the time of the accident, been engaged in a "covered activity" under the statute…. "Section 240 is intended to place the ultimate responsibility for building practices on the owner and general contractor in order to protect the workers who are required to be there but who are scarcely in a position to protect themselves from accidents," and it is to be liberally construed to achieve this purpose…. Here, [plaintiff] had been hired to fabricate sills, lintels, and coping stones to be used in the construction of the subject building. Part of that job included going to the work site and climbing to the roof of the building to take measurements in preparation for the fabrication. Thus, the injured plaintiff was performing a task ancillary to the construction work and was engaged in a "covered activity" within the meaning of Labor Law § 240(1) … .  Gallagher v Resnick, 2013 NY Slip Op 04774, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

Glass Plate in Wall Under Demolition Was Not a “Falling Object” within the Meaning of Labor Law 240 (1)

 

The Second Department determined injury caused by a glass plate that cracked and fell on plaintiff during demolition was not a “falling object” injury within the meaning of Labor Law 240 (1) because the glass did not requiring securing and the accident was not due to the absence of safety equipment:

 

The Supreme Court should have granted that branch of the defendants' cross motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging a violation of Labor Law § 240(1). Not every object that falls on a worker gives rise to the extraordinary protections of Labor Law § 240(1) ….. To recover, a plaintiff must show that, at the time the object fell, it was being hoisted or secured, or "required securing for the purposes of the undertaking"…. The plaintiff also must show that the object fell "because of the absence or inadequacy of a safety device of the kind enumerated in the statute" …. Here, the glass pane that caused the plaintiff's injuries was slated for demolition at the time of the accident, and the defendants established, prima facie, that the glass pane was not an object that required securing for the purposes of the undertaking, that is, the demolition… .  Maldonado v AMMM Props Co, 2013 NY Slip Op 04781, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

NEGLIGENCE/MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

 

Hospital Can Be Vicariously Liable for Actions of Non-employee Physician Under Apparent or Ostensible Agency Theory

 

The Second Department explained when a hospital can be held vicariously responsible, under a theory of apparent or ostensible agency, for the actions of non-employee physicians who provide medical services at the hospital:

 

"A hospital [is] responsible to a patient who sought medical care at the hospital, . . . rather than from any particular physician although the physician whose malpractice caused injury to the patient was not an employee of the hospital"… . To create an apparent or ostensible agency, the plaintiff must reasonably rely on the appearance of authority, based on some misleading words or conduct by the principal, not the agent. Moreover, the plaintiff must accept the services of the agent in reliance upon the perceived relationship between the agent and the principal, and not on reliance on the agent's skill…. In the context of a medical malpractice action, the patient must have reasonably believed that the physicians treating her were provided by the hospital or acted on the hospital's… . In evaluating whether a doctor is the apparent agent of a hospital, a court should consider all attendant circumstances to determine whether the patient could properly have believed that the physician was provided by the hospital… .  Loaiza v Lam, 2013 NY Slip Op 04780, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

 

Home Rule Provision of New York State Constitution Not Violated by Tax Funding Metropolitan Transportation Authority

 

The Second Department determined Tax Law article 23, imposing a tax on employers to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which provides services in New York City and the counties of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester.  The Second Department held that the tax did not violate the “home rule” provision in the New York Constitution because the tax benefitted the whole state:

 

Article IX, § 2 of the New York Constitution provides that “special law[s]” relating to the property, affairs or government of any local government may not be enacted without a “home rule message” from the locality or the localities affected by the law (NY Const, art IX, § 2[b][2]). Regardless of whether a special law such as the MTA Employer Tax Law is a law relating to the property, affairs, or government of any local government and, thus, would otherwise require a home rule message, “[a] recognized exception to the home rule message requirement exists when a special law serves a substantial State concern”…. A subject may be a substantial State concern even where it is intermingled with the concerns of the locality …. Certain matters of local concern have been held to be of sufficient importance affecting the whole of the State, including differing threshold requirements under the amended Wicks law…, the regulation of taxis in the City of New…, the sewer system of the city of Buffalo…, the limitation of New York City rent controls…, the salaries of district attorneys of certain counties …, the protection of the resources of the Adirondack Park region…, and solid waste disposal in Nassau and Suffolk Counties …. Mangano v Silver, 2013 NY Slip Op 04783, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

 

 

COUNTY LAW/EMPLOYMENT LAW

 

Orange County Executive Did Not Have Authority to Terminate County Employees Before County Legislature Eliminated Positions

 

The Second Department reversed Supreme Court and determined the Orange County Executive did not have the authority to terminate county employees before the legislature acted to removed funding for the positions:

 

The doctrine of "[l]egislative equivalency requires that a position created by a legislative act can only be abolished by correlative legislative act"…. Pursuant to section 2.02(1) of the Orange County Charter and Orange County Administrative Code, the Orange County Legislature possesses sole authority to "establish or abolish positions of employment and titles thereof." Here, the County Legislature had not taken any action to abolish the subject positions at the time the County Executive terminated the subject employees' employment. While the Orange County Charter and Orange County Administrative Code give the County Executive the authority to "supervise, direct and control and administer all departments" (Orange County Charter § 3.02[e]; Administrative Code § 3.02[e]), they do not give the County Executive the authority to terminate the employment of civil service employees without a proper abolition of the positions by the County Legislature in accordance with the doctrine of legislative equivalency…. Further, County Charter § 4.10(a) does not authorize the County Executive to undertake any "remedial action" constituting, inter alia, unilateral modification to the budget and/or abolition of legislatively created positions…. Therefore, under these circumstances, the County Executive did not have the authority to terminate the subject employees' employment for economic reasons, effective October 29, 2010.   Matter of Civil Serv Empls Assn Inc v County of Orange, 2013 NY Slip Op 04798, 2nd Dept 6-26-13

 

FRAUD

 

Attorney General’s Civil Suit Against Former Officers of AIG Survived Summary Judgment

 

In a full-fledged opinion by Judge Smith, the Court of Appeals determined the Attorney General’s civil suit, seeking equitable relief (based upon allegations of fraud) against two former officers of AIG, survived summary judgment.  The Court explained the nature of the suit as follows:

 

The Attorney General began this civil suit against AIG, Maurice Greenberg and Howard Smith in 2005. Until shortly before the suit was brought, Greenberg was the Chief Executive Officer, and Smith the Chief Financial Officer, of AIG. AIG has settled the case; Greenberg and Smith remain as defendants.

 

The Attorney General alleges that Greenberg and Smith violated section 63(12) of the Executive Law and Article 23-A of the General Business Law (the Martin Act), and committed common law fraud. The statutes on which the Attorney General relies are broadly worded anti-fraud provisions, prohibiting among other things "repeated fraudulent or illegal acts" (Executive Law § 63[12]), "persistent fraud or illegality" (id.), and "fraud, deception, concealment, suppression [or] false pretense" (General Business Law § 352-c [1] [a]). It is not disputed that the Attorney General is empowered to sue for violation of these statutes.

 

The gist of the Attorney General's claim, to the extent that it is now before us, is that Greenberg and Smith participated in causing AIG to enter into a sham transaction with General Reinsurance Corporation (GenRe) in which AIG purported to reinsure GenRe on certain insurance contracts. The Attorney General asserts that the transaction transferred no real risk from GenRe to AIG, and therefore should not have been treated as an insurance transaction on AIG's books; and that the transaction's sole purpose was to increase the insurance reserves shown on AIG's financial statements, thereby creating the impression of a healthy insurance business and bolstering AIG's stock price.  People v Greenberg, et al, No 63, CtApp, 6-25-13

 

 

 

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

 

Benefits Awarded for Psychic Injury (Stress) Affirmed

 

The Third Department affirmed an award of Workers’ Compensation benefits based on psychic injury (stress).  Due an audit of the travel reimbursement policies of the employer, the employee (claimant) was required to pay taxes on “income” of $100,000 (the reason for the employee’s psychic injury).  The Third Department explained the analytical factors as follows:

 

A  workers' compensation claim for psychic injury stemming  from work-related  stress is not  compensable  if it was "a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion, or termination taken in good  faith by the employer"… .  Claimant, however, was not accused of wrongdoing by the employer.    Instead, her mental injuries stemmed from the serious financial liabilities she incurred as a result of a review of the employer's reimbursement practices….[W]e  will not disturb the Board's determination that the stress that claimant experienced was greater than that generally experienced by similarly situated workers in a normal work environment… .  Matter of Brittain v NYS Insurance Dept, 515279, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

 

Board’s Determination Business Was Claimant’s “Employer” Reversed

 

In reversing the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s determination that “Quick Change” was claimant’s employer and therefore was liable for contributions to unemployment benefits, the Third Department noted:

 

Here, Quick Change did not screen claimant but, rather, retained his services based upon his reputation in the industry. Claimant was  free to accept or reject an  assignment  from  Quick Change,  was  not prohibited  from  working  for others,  did  not  sign a written contract and  received no  fringe benefits. Although Quick Change arranged for claimant to begin working at a specific time and place designated by the client, the work schedule thereafter  was  dictated  solely by  the  client, and  a  representative from  Quick Change  was  never present at the job site. Quick Change did not train claimant or instruct him in any aspect of how to perform his work, and claimant was not required to report to Quick Change in any manner. Claimant furnished his own supplies and received no reimbursement from Quick Change. Once the work was completed, claimant submitted invoices to Quick Change for payment. Quick Change set the rate of pay; however, it was based upon the established market  for such  services. Moreover, while the owner of Quick Change hypothesized that she would likely pay claimant in the event that the client did not pay, this was based  upon  a sense of personal obligation rather than a  contractual  commitment.  In the Matter of Richins…, 515330, 515370, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

PAROLE

 

Parole Board Could Require No-Contact-with-Wife for One Year as a Condition

 

In upholding the Board of Parole’s determination that, as a condition of release on parole, petitioner, who had attacked his wife in the past, must refrain from any contact with his wife for one year and complete a domestic violence offenders program, the Third Department wrote:

 

…[T]the Board is vested with discretion to determine the conditions upon which an inmate is released, and its decision in that regard is not subject to judicial review if made in accordance with the law (see Executive Law §§ 259-c [2]; 259-i [5];…). Petitioners argue that the conditions at issue are unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, in that they lack a sufficient factual basis in the record and improperly impair their fundamental right to maintain a marital relationship. We disagree. Parole conditions that  are  "rationally  related  to  the inmate's criminal history, past conduct and  future chances of recidivism" are not arbitrary and capricious ….   Moreover, petitioner's fundamental rights to associate and marry may be restricted by  parole  conditions  that  are  "reasonably  related  to legitimate  penological  interests" … .  George v NYS Department of Corrections …, 516126, 3rd Dept 6-27-13

 

 

 

INTENTIONAL TORTS

 

Malicious Prosecution Action Against County, Medical Examiner and District Attorney Survived Motion to Dismiss/Prosecutorial and Governmental Immunity Doctrines Explained

 

The Fourth Department affirmed Supreme Court’s denial of a motion to dismiss a malicious prosecution (intentional tort) action against two counties, a district attorney and a medical examiner.  The action was commenced after plaintiff was arrested and indicted for the death of his seven-month-old daughter (the indictment was subsequently dismissed).  In explaining the nature of the action, the Fourth Department wrote:

 

Once a suspect has been indicted, the grand jury action creates a presumption of probable cause….  “If plaintiff is to succeed in his malicious prosecution action after he has been indicted, he must establish that the indictment was produced by fraud, perjury, the suppression of evidence or other police conduct undertaken in bad faith” … .  Here, the complaint sufficiently alleges fraud, perjury, and conduct undertaken in bad faith. Plaintiff alleged that the police concluded in their initial investigation, based upon statements by [the medical examiner], that the infant’s death was accidental, and the case was closed. However, after plaintiff’s wife spoke with [the district attorney], [the district attorney] allegedly began a campaign to bring charges against plaintiff despite knowing that plaintiff’s wife was giving inconsistent information. Plaintiff alleged that [the district attorney] encouraged or coached [the medical examiner] to provide false information to the police and false testimony to the grand jury regarding the infant’s cause of death and time of death. Plaintiff further alleged that [the district attorney] and [the medical examiner] were aware that the information was not mentioned in the autopsy report, was not supported by any document, and had no scientific basis.

 

In concluding the prosecutorial and governmental-function immunity doctrines did not require the dismissal of the complaint, the Fourth Department described the elements of both as follows:

 

Prosecutorial immunity provides absolute immunity “for conduct of prosecutors that was ‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process’ ” …, i.e., conduct that involves “ ‘initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State’s case’ ” ….  Thus, a prosecutor’s conduct in preparing for those functions may be absolutely immune, but acts of investigation are not ….  Prosecutors are afforded only qualified immunity when acting in an investigative capacity…   The focus is on the conduct for which immunity is claimed … .It is therefore the case that, where the prosecutor advises the police … or performs investigative work in order to decide whether a suspect should be arrested …, the prosecutor is not entitled to absolute immunity.  * * *The governmental function immunity defense “shield[s] public entities from liability for discretionary actions taken during the performance of governmental functions” …. This limitation on liability “ ‘reflects a value judgment that—despite injury to a member of the public—the broader interest in having government officers and employees free to exercise judgment and discretion in their official functions, unhampered by fear of second- guessing and retaliatory lawsuits, outweighs the benefits to be had from imposing liability for that injury’ ”…. 

 

“Whether an action of a governmental employee or official is cloaked with any governmental immunity requires an analysis of the functions and duties of the actor’s particular position and whether they inherently entail the exercise of some discretion and judgment . … If these functions and duties are essentially clerical or routine, no immunity will attach” …. Discretionary acts “involve the exercise of reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results whereas a ministerial act envisions direct adherence to a governing rule or standard with a compulsory result” …. If a functional analysis shows that the employee’s position is sufficiently discretionary, then the municipal defendant must also show “that the discretion possessed by its employees was in fact exercised in relation to the conduct on which liability is predicated” )….

 

“[G]overnmental immunity does not attach to every action of an official having discretionary duties but [attaches] only to those involving an exercise of that discretion” …. .

 

Here, the functions and duties of…the Medical Examiner include conducting an autopsy, reporting his findings to the police, and testifying before a grand jury.  The functions and duties of …an assistant district attorney include evaluating the evidence assembled by police officers. Those functions and duties are discretionary …..

 

Based on plaintiff’s allegations, however, it cannot be said that the conduct of [the medical examiner] and [the district attorney] was related to an exercise of their discretionary duties. Plaintiff alleged that [the medical examiner] fabricated findings and gave testimony that was not included in his autopsy report, and that [the district attorney] coached [the medical examiner] to lie. That alleged conduct plainly did not involve the exercise of “reasoned judgment which could typically produce different acceptable results” …..  Kirchner v County of Niagara …, 561, 4th Dept 6-28-13

 

 

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