JUST RELEASED

MARCH PART I

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

NEGLIGENCE




Res Ipsa Loquitur Need Not Be Pled and Should Have Been Applied



Plaintiff received an electric shock when he stepped on a metal manhole cover while crossing a street.  Defendant was under contract with the city and was doing electrical work in the vicinity of the manhole.  In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant, the First Department discussed the concept of res ipsa loquitur:  “Res ipsa loquitur is not a separate theory of liability but merely ‘a common-sense application of the probative value of circumstantial evidence’ … . A plaintiff’s failure to specifically plead res ipsa loquitur does not constitute a bar to the invocation of res ipsa loquitur where the facts warrant its application … . The plaintiff’s failure here to plead the doctrine in his complaint does not render it unavailable to him … . …  To apply res ipsa loquitur, a plaintiff must establish that (1) the accident [is] of a kind that ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (2) the instrumentality or agency causing the accident [is] in the exclusive control of the defendants; and (3) the accident must not be due to any voluntary action or contribution by plaintiff ….’ .”  Smith v Consolidated Edison …, 9201, 110504/06, 1st Dept. 3-7-13



 

Spoliation of Evidence



Plaintiff was injured in a fall from a chair.  Plaintiff’s notice of claim specifically requested preservation of the chair.  The defendant failed to preserve it.  Plaintiff testified the chair was not broken. In reversing summary judgment granted to the defendant, the First Department determined that an expert could have found a latent defect in the chair if it had been preserved.  Therefore the defendant was sanctioned by the preclusion of any testimony about the condition of the chair and an adverse inference charge to the jury at trial.  Gilchrist v City of New York, 8804, 103400/08, 1st Dept. 3-7-13





Medical Malpractice---Expert Opinion Can Be Based Entirely on Experience



In affirming the denial of defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the First Department noted that an expert’s affidavit can be sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact even where the opinion is based entirely on the expert’s professional experience: “While an expert affidavit cannot be speculative, there is no threshold requirement in an ordinary case, not involving a novel scientific theory, that a medical opinion regarding deviation be based upon medical literature, studies, or professional group rules in order for it to be considered. It can be based upon personal knowledge acquired through professional experience …”.  Mitrovic v Silverman, 9282, 304369/09, 1st Dept. 3-7-13



 

Court Has No Authority to Grant Application to File Late Notice of Claim After Statute of Limitations Has Expired



Plaintiff filed a notice of claim and commenced a suit against the City of New York.  The complaint was amended to add the New York City Transit Authority as a defendant.  The First Department affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against the Transit Authority because no notice of claim against the Transit Authority had been filed and the motion to file a late notice of claim was made more than one year and 90 days after the incident. Martinez v City of New York, et al, 9428, 16403/03, 1st Dept. 3-5-13





Herniated Disc not “Serious Injury”---Insufficient Proof of Physical Limitations



The Second Department reversed the trial court’s denial of a motion pursuant to CPLR 4404 to set aside the jury verdict.  The issue was whether the plaintiff had proven he sustained “serious injury” within the meaning of Insurance Law 5102(d).  The plaintiff had a bulging or herniated disk but did not provide objective proof of the extent or degree of the alleged physical limitations caused by the disc injury. In describing the criteria for analysis, the Court wrote:  “ ‘A motion pursuant to CPLR 4404(a) to set aside a jury verdict and for judgment as a matter of law will be granted where there is no valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences which could possibly lead rational persons to the conclusions reached by the jury on the basis of the evidence presented at trial…’ “.  Bacon v Bostany, 2011-08654, 2012-07634, Index No 997/08, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



 


Hospital Generally Not Liable for Negligence of Private Attending Physician



“ ‘[I]n general, a hospital cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligence of a private attending physician’ … . Further, a hospital cannot be held concurrently liable with such a physician unless its employees commit independent acts of negligence or the attending physician’s orders are contraindicated by normal practice…’ “.  Aronov v Soukkary, 2012-00155, Index No 2061/09, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13




Prior Written Notice Law Protects City from Liability for Dangerous Road Condition



“Where a municipality has enacted a prior written notice law, it may not be subjected to liability for injuries arising from a dangerous roadway condition unless it has received prior written notice of the dangerous condition, or an exception to the prior written notice requirement applies…  .  The only recognized exceptions to the statutory prior written notice requirement involve situations in which the municipality created the defect or hazard through an affirmative act of negligence, or where a special use confers a benefit upon the municipality…” .  Because the City established it had not received prior written notification of the condition which caused plaintiff’s injuries it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Connor v City of New York, 2012-02970, Index No 30407/05, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



 

Defective Handrail Could Have Been Factor in Plaintiff’s Injuries



In reversing the trial court’s grant of a motion to set aside the verdict, the Second Department determined that the violation of an Administrative Code concerning stairway handrails could have been a factor in the injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff tried to stop his fall down a stairway but could not grab the handrail which was flush with the wall.  Expert testimony established that a handrail flush to the wall was dangerous and defective.  Cusumano v City of New York, 2012-00015, Index No 4207/01, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13





Res Ipsa Loquitur Is Rarely a Basis for Summary Judgment/Questions of Fact About Defendant’s Control of the Instrumentality Causing Injury Precluded Summary Judgment



A homeowner was sued by a utility employee who was injured when a staircase leading to the homeowner’s basement collapsed.  At the deposition the homeowner testified the house was new when he bought it and he had made no alterations to the stairway.  The plaintiff was granted summary judgment pursuant to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.  The Second Department reversed because it could not be ruled out that the builder of the home, and not the defendant, was negligent.  It was not demonstrated, therefore, that the accident was caused by an instrumentality in the exclusive control of the defendant.  The Court wrote:

The plaintiff's reliance on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was insufficient to establish his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. A plaintiff must establish the following in order for the doctrine to apply: "(1) the event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff" … . Only in the rarest cases will a plaintiff be awarded summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in the course of a trial by relying upon the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur … .  Bunting v Haynes, 2013 NY Slip Op 01521, 2012-01717, Index No 25382/10, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Absent Landowners Not Liable for Injuries at Party Hosted on their Property



The Fourth Department reversed the trial court and granted a summary judgment motion brought by the owners of a golf course.  At a party that was not hosted by the landowners (and at which the landowners were not present), plaintiff was injured by another party-goer.  In determining the landowners had demonstrated they were not liable, the Fourth Department explained:

In general, “[landowners] are under a common-law duty to ‘control the conduct of third persons on their premises when they have the opportunity to control such persons and are reasonably aware of the need for such control’ ” …Thus, landowners who are not present when a guest engages in harmful conduct and who have neither notice of nor control over such conduct are under no duty to protect others from such conduct …, unless the nature of the relationship between the landowners and the party host is such that the landowners, even if absent, are deemed to share in the duty imposed upon the host ….  Pettit v Green, et al, 80, CA 12-01293, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Owner/Officer of Company Can Be Personally Liable for Toxic Emissions Released by Company



Plaintiffs brought an action for personal injuries and property damage allegedly caused by toxic emissions released by defendant Tonawanda Coke Corporation.  An owner and officer of Tonawanda Coke (Crane) moved to dismiss the cause of action suing him in an individual capacity.  In affirming the denial of that motion, the Fourth Department wrote:

Although “[a] corporate officer is not held liable for the negligence
of the corporation merely because of his official relationship[,]” that officer will be held liable if it is established “that the officer was a participant in the wrongful conduct” … .Plaintiffs alleged in the first amended complaint that Crane was or should have been aware of the relevant environmental regulations, was ultimately responsible for reporting benzene emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency, and personally supervised and exercised control over Tonawanda Coke’s operations … .Thus, plaintiffs have alleged that Crane actively participated in the wrongful conduct by approving the policies that allegedly caused the environmental contamination … .   Abbot v Tonawanda Coke Corporation, et al, 155, CA 12-01384, 4th Dept. 3-15-13




Relation Back Doctrine Allowed Adding Doctor as Defendant in Medical Malpractice Action after Expiration of Statute of Limitations



The relation back doctrine was applied in a medical malpractice action to allow the addition of a doctor as a defendant after the statute of limitations expired. The doctrine applies where “(1) both claims arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence, (2) the additional party is united in interest with the original party, and by reason of that relationship can be charged with notice of the institution of the action such that he or she will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (3) the additional party knew or should have known that, but for a mistake by the plaintiff as to the identity of the proper parties, the action would have been brought against the additional party as well.”  The fact that the omission of the party may have been “negligent,” as opposed to a “mistake,” did not prevent the application of the doctrine. Kirk, et al, v University Ob-Gyn Associates, Inc., et al, 159, CA 12-01405, 4th Dept. 3-15-13



 No Notice of Defect Needed Where Municipality Affirmatively Created It



The First Department reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant village because the village did not rule out the possibility that the sidewalk defect had been affirmatively created by negligent design and construction, an exception to the requirement that the village have prior notice of a sidewalk defect before a personal injury suit will be allowed:



              Here, the defendant established that it did not receive prior written notice of the alleged dangerous condition. Nonetheless, it failed to demonstrate its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. "[T]he prima facie showing which a defendant must make on a motion for summary judgment is governed by the allegations of liability made by the plaintiff in the pleadings" … . Here, the plaintiff's pleadings alleged that the defendant affirmatively created the dangerous condition that caused the accident through negligence in the design and construction of the sidewalk … . Under these circumstances, the defendant was required to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether it affirmatively created the alleged dangerous condition through negligent design and construction to sustain its prima facie burden … . The defendant failed to do so, and therefore, its motion for summary judgment should have been denied without regard to the sufficiency of the plaintiff's opposition papers ….  Carlucci v Village of Scarsdale, 2013 NY Slip Op 01798, 2012-09179, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13


 

 

Failure to Identify Notice Witness, Erroneous Missing Witness Charge and Erroneous Preclusion of Evidence Required Reversal



A judgment in favor of the plaintiff after trial was reversed by the First Department because: (1) plaintiff’s son, a notice witness who testified about the alleged defective condition at the core of the lawsuit, had not been identified before trial; (2) a missing witness charge re: a purported employee of the defendant was given in the absence of proof of the employee’s existence; and (3), the testimony of defense witnesses was erroneously precluded or limited.  Collazo v Riverbay Co-op, 2013 NY Slip Op 01904, 1st Dept. 3-21-13





Prior Written Notice of Defect Not Needed Where It Is Alleged Municipality Created Dangerous Condition



In finding the plaintiff had raised a question of fact about whether the municipality affirmatively created a dangerous condition (a curved section of fence alongside a roadway), the Second Department wrote:

                Where, as here, a municipality has enacted a prior written notice statute, it may not be subject to liability for personal injuries caused by a defective street or sidewalk condition absent proof of prior written notice or an exception thereto … . "The Court of Appeals has recognized two exceptions to this rule, namely, where the locality created the defect or hazard through an affirmative act of negligence [and] where a "special use" confers a special benefit upon the locality'" … .



              The affirmative creation exception "[is] limited to work by the City that immediately esults in the existence of a dangerous condition" … . Thus, while the eventual emergence of a dangerous condition as a result of wear and tear and environmental factors does not constitute an affirmative act of negligence …, where, as here, the allegedly dangerous condition would have been immediately apparent, the affirmative creation exception applies … . Laracuente v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 01810, 2011-09475, Ind No 17543/06, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13



CRIMINAL LAW



“Plain View” Doctrine Does Not Require Certainty Seized Item Is Contraband



In affirming the denial of a suppression motion, the First Department determined that the chain of events observed by the arresting officer before the stop of defendant’s vehicle led to the proper application of the “plain view” doctrine for the seizure of contraband.  Defendant was seen going into a store (which was a frequent target of thieves) with a large empty bag and coming out of the store with the bag visibly heavier and fuller.  After a vehicle stop (the stop was not contested or discussed in the decision), the defendant gave answers to questions that contradicted what the officer had observed and the officer saw a large amount of over-the-counter medications in the bag.  In finding the seizure of the bag justified under the “plain view” doctrine, the Court said:  “The plain view doctrine does not require certainty or near certainty as to the incriminating nature of the items.  Instead, it ‘merely requires that the facts available to the officer would warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief …that certain items may be contraband or stolen property or useful as evidence of a crime; it does not demand any showing that such a belief be correct or more likely true than false.  A practical, nontechnical probability that incriminating evidence is involved is all that is required’ …”.  People v Taylor, 9439, 6265/10, 1st Dept. 3-7-13


Failure to Request Court-Permission to Re-Present Charges to a Grand Jury Is Reversible Error Which Survives a Guilty Plea



As long as the prosecutor presents evidence regarding potential charges to a grand jury, court-permission to re-present the charges is required.  “The critical question is whether the grand jury failed to indict after a full presentation of the case.”  The fact that the prosecutor “withdrew” the charges from the grand jury’s consideration, or allowed the grand jury to vote to “take no affirmative action” on them, is of no consequence.  The prosecutor’s failure to request and receive court-permission to re-present is a reversible error which survives a guilty plea.  People v Dinkins, 8603, 1443/10, 1st Dept. 3-5-13



Strip Search After Controlled Buy Upheld



A warrantless search of “every part of [defendant’s] vehicle” as well as a strip search of the defendant was upheld by the Third Department.  The search of the vehicle was justified by the same evidence which provided probable cause for the arrest (a controlled drug purchase by a confidential informant).  And the strip search was justified by the failure to find narcotics or buy money in the preliminary vehicle search. “[A] strip search must be founded on a reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is concealing evidence underneath clothing and the search must be conducted in a reasonable manner… Some of the factors that may be considered in determining the reasonableness of such a search are the circumstances of the arrest, the defendant’s nervousness or unusual conduct, tips from informants, and ‘an itinerary suggestive of wrongdoing’…”.  People v Anderson, 104220, 104447, 3rd Dept. 3-7-13





Records Sealed Pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law 160.50 Can Be Unsealed in “Dangerous Sex Offender” Proceeding Pursuant to Mental Health Law



In a proceeding which determined respondent was a dangerous sex offender requiring confinement, the court ordered the unsealing of records related to three rapes and two robberies for which respondent was indicted in 1968.  The convictions of one count of rape and one count of robbery had been overturned because respondent was found to have been incompetent at the time he pled guilty. In finding the records of the overturned convictions were properly unsealed, the First Department determined that Mental Health Law 10.08 (c), which provides that the State is entitled to all records relating to the respondent’s commission or alleged commission of a sex offense, supersedes Criminal Procedure Law 160.50, which requires that the record of a criminal proceeding that is terminated in favor of the accused be sealed.  State v John S., 2013 NY Slip Op 01622, 9530, 30051/09m 1st Dept. 3-14-13





Court Participation in Testimony Read-Back Is Error



Although the First Department concluded it was harmless error, the Court noted that the trial court erred when it participated in reading back certain trial testimony to the jury.  The Court wrote:  “We take this opportunity to emphasize that ‘[w]hen, during a read-back of testimony, a trial judge assumes the role of a witness or inquiring counsel, he or she may unwittingly and erroneously convey to [the] jury that the court is aligned with the party or counsel whose role the court has assumed in the read-back’…”.  People v Facey, 2012 NY Slip Op 01568, 2012-11829, Ind No 9839/08, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Guilty Plea Precludes Appeal of Statutory Speedy Trial Violation But Not Constitutional Speedy Trial Violation



By pleading guilty a defendant forfeits appellate review of a claim that his statutory right to a speedy trial pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law 30.30 was violated. However, a defendant’s constitutional speedy trial claim survives both a guilty plea and a waiver of the right to appeal.  People v Franco, 2013 NY Slop Op 01570, 2009-10119, Ind No 10795/07, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13



 

Taser or Stun Gun Is Not a “Dangerous Instrument” for Purposes of Burglary and Menacing Statutes/Court Must Articulate Specific Reasons for Shackling Defendant During Trial



Proof that the defendant threatened the complainant with a taser or stun gun was legally insufficient to establish the “dangerous instrument” element of burglary in the first degree and menacing in the second degree.  Although the Second Department determined it was harmless error, the Court also noted that it was error to shackle the defendant and put black bunting around the defense table, without also putting black bunting around the prosecution table. The jury, in that circumstance, may have inferred the bunting was designed to hide shackles.  “The federal constitution ‘forbids the use of visible shackles … unless that use is justified by an essential state interest … specific to the defendant on trial’ …”.  County Court, in this instance, failed to articulate on the record an adequate justification individualized to the defendant for the shackling … .  People v Morillo, 2013 NY Slip Op 01572, 2010-11438, Ind No 2052/09, 2nd Dept. 2-13-13





Failure of Sentencing Court to Inform Defendant of Period of Post-Release Supervision Required Release after Sentence Served



The Department of Corrections cannot remedy a court’s failure to impose a period of post-release supervision.  In this case the prisoner’s habeas corpus petition was granted and the prisoner, who had served his sentence, was released.  The Fourth Department determined that the sentencing court’s statement---“the supervisory period under the violent felony offender sentencing statute will be five years, which means when you come out on parole, you will be on five years of parole at the conclusion of the ten-year sentence”---did not pronounce the period of post-release supervision as required by Criminal Procedure Law 380.20.  People ex rel Finch v Brown, 23, KAH 11-00862, 4th Dept. 3-15-13



Court’s Failure to Inquire Further When It Was Not Clear Defendant’s Plea Was Knowing and Voluntary Required Vacation of Plea



In a criminal contempt (first degree) case, the Fourth Department determined defendant’s plea colloquy “negated essential elements of the crime to which he pleaded guilty inasmuch as his colloquy indicated that the order of protection was not issued pursuant to the statutory sections set forth in Penal Law [section] 215.51 (c), and that the predicate conviction was not based upon a violation of such an order of protection.”  In light of the colloquy, County Court had a duty to inquire further to make sure the plea was knowing and voluntary.  The plea was vacated. People v Coleman, 25, KA 09-01157, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Violation of Probation Petition May Be Based Upon Hearsay



 

The Fourth Department determined that a “violation of probation” petition need not include non-hearsay allegation establishing every element of the violation charged:



…[A]lthough Family Court Act § 360.2 (2) specifically requires that VOP petitions in juvenile delinquency proceedings contain “[n]on[]hearsay allegations . . . establish[ing], if true, every violation charged,” there is no corresponding requirement in CPL article 410.  At most, CPL 410.70 (2) requires that the court “file or cause to be filed . . . a statement setting forth the condition or conditions of the sentence violated and a reasonable description of the time, place and manner in which the violation occurred.”There is no requirement that the statement contain nonhearsay allegations.



In any event, we agree with the People that, were there such a requirement in the CPL, the reasoning of Matter of Markim Q. (7 NY3d 405, 410-411) would apply such that the lack of nonhearsay allegations in the VOP petition would not constitute a jurisdictional defect. “A VOP petition, [unlike an original accusatory instrument], is not the foundation of the court’s jurisdiction. It does not commence a new proceeding, but is simply a new step in an existing one” (id. at 410).  People v Julius, 175, KA 11-01384, 4th Dept. 3-15-13


17-Year Pre-Indictment Delay Did Not Violate Right to Speedy Tria
l



A 17-year pre-indictment delay did not violate defendant’s right to a speedy trial.  The Fourth Department wrote:
 

On appeal from a judgment convicting him upon a jury verdict of murder in the second degree (Penal Law § 125.25 [1]), defendant contends that the 17-year preindictment delay violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.We reject that contention. In examining the Taranovich factors (People v Taranovich, 37 NY2d 442, 445), we conclude that, although the 17-year preindictment delay was substantial, the nature of the charge was serious, and defendant remained at liberty until he was indicted. Moreover, the People met their burden of establishing a good-faith basis for the delay (see People v Decker, 13 NY3d 12, 14-16; People v Chatt, 77 AD3d 1285, 1285, lv denied 17 NY3d 793). In particular, they established that there was insufficient evidence to charge defendant shortly after the crimes occurred, and it was not until a witness gave new information to the police that identified defendant as the perpetrator and DNA testing was completed that the People brought the charges against defendant. While the delay may have caused some degree of prejudice to defendant, “ ‘a determination made in good faith to delay prosecution for sufficient reasons will not deprive defendant of due process even though there may be some prejudice to defendant’ ” (Decker, 13 NY3d at 14).  People v Gaston, 176, KA 11-00406, 4th Dept. 3-15-13


In SORA Context, Mild Mental Retardation Is Not a “Mental Disability”



In the context of a SORA determination, the Fourth Department noted that proof the victim had been diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded did not demonstrate the victim suffered from a “mental disability” within the meaning of the Correction Law:

We agree with defendant, however, that the People failed to present the requisite clear and convincing evidence that the victim of the underlying crime suffered from a “mental disability” (see generally Correction Law § 168-n [3]), and thus the court erred in assessing 20 points against him under risk factor 6. Although the People presented evidence that the victim was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded, “[t]he law does not presume that a person with mental retardation is unable to consent to sexual [activity], . . . and proof of incapacity must come from facts other than mental retardation alone” (People v Cratsley, 86 NY2d 81, 86). Here, the remaining evidence in the record relating to the victim’s capacity failed to establish that she was “incapable of appraising the nature of [her] own sexual conduct” (id. at 87; see People v Easley, 42 NY2d 50, 55-57; cf. People v Jackson, 70 AD3d 1385, 1385, lv denied 14 NY3d 714).  People v Green, 254, KA 11-00973, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Challenges for Cause Should Have Been Granted



In reversing the conviction, the Second Department determined two juror challenges for cause should have been granted because the jurors indicated they would tend to give added weight to the testimony of police officers and the court did not seek unequivocal assurances the jurors could set aside their bias:


                …[T]he County Court erred in denying the defendant's challenges for cause with respect to two prospective jurors. One of the prospective jurors was a volunteer for the Police Athletic League who knew many police officers, including those assigned to the precinct in which the crime occurred. While he initially stated, "I think I could keep an open mind," and he did not "think" that the fact that police officers from the precinct would testify at the trial would affect his ability to sit fairly on the case, he subsequently agreed that he "might" give police testimony a "leg up," and accord such testimony "a little built in credibility." Another prospective juror indicated that he would be inclined to accept the testimony of police officers as truthful unless there was a "reason that's brought up that would make me think otherwise," that he would have to have "a sense of inconsistency" with respect to the testimony of police officers, and that "unless there is a reason why they would lie or not tell the truth," he would accept the testimony of police officers. It is undisputed that, after the County Court denied the challenges for cause to these two prospective jurors, the defendant exercised peremptory challenges and subsequently exhausted all of his peremptory challenges.


               The two prospective jurors had "a state of mind that [was] likely to preclude [them] from rendering an impartial verdict" (CPL 270.20 [1] [b]), and they did not provide to the County Court "an unequivocal assurance" that they could "set aside any bias and render an impartial verdict based on the evidence" … . Accordingly, the County Court should have granted the challenges for cause with respect to these two prospective jurors, and the matter must be remitted to the County Court, Suffolk County, for a new trial.





  Conviction of Endangering Welfare of a Child Against Weight of Evidence/Defendant Did Not Open Door to Questioning About Prior Bad Acts Ruled Off Limits in Sandoval Hearing/Rape Shield Law Exception Applied



In reversing the conviction, the Second Department determined that the acquittal on a rape count rendered the conviction on a related “endangering the welfare of a child” count “against the weight of the evidence.”  The Second Department also ruled that questions posed by defense counsel did not “open the door” to questioning by the prosecutor about prior “bad acts” which the trial court had ruled off limits in a Sandoval hearing.  The Second Department further ruled that an exception to the “rape shield law” was applicable and evidence the complainant had sex with defendant’s brother should have been admitted because it was relevant to a defense-theory alleging the brother had committed acts with which the defendant was charged. In ordering a new trial on one of the counts, the Second Department found that “the cumulative effect of certain trial errors deprived defendant of a fair trial…”.  In discussing the Sandoval error, the Second Department wrote:

 
               The purpose of a Sandoval hearing is to provide the defendant with “definitive advance knowledge of the scope of cross-examination as to prior conduct to which he will be subjected,” so that the defendant can decide whether to take the witness stand … . In the interest of fairness, a trial court’s authority to change its Sandoval ruling is limited once the defendant has decided to testify in good faith reliance on that ruling … . “When a defendant testifies to facts that are in conflict with the precluded evidence, he opens the door on the issue in question, and he is properly subject to impeachment by the prosecution’s use of the otherwise precluded evidence” … .


With respect to the rape shield law, the Second Department wrote:


                A woman’s character or reputation for chastity is irrelevant to a charge that she was sexually abused … . Thus, the Rape Shield Law, codified in CPL 60.42, provides that “[e]vidence of a victim’s sexual conduct shall not be admissible in a prosecution for an offense or an attempt to commit an offense defined in article one hundred thirty of the penal law [i.e., sex offenses].” CPL 60.42 also provides five statutory exceptions. The first four exceptions allow the admission into evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual conduct in narrowly defined factual circumstances, which are inapplicable here … . The fifth exception, however, “vest[s] discretion in the trial court” … . Pursuant to CPL 60.42(5), evidence of a victim’s prior sexual conduct may be introduced upon a determination by the court that such evidence is “relevant and admissible in the interests of justice” (CPL 60.42[5]…). The Court of Appeals has recognized that, “in the interests of justice,” evidence of a complainant’s sexual conduct may be admissible if it is relevant to a defense … . In contrast, such evidence must be precluded if it does not tend to establish a defense to the crime, and will only harass the victim and possibly confuse the jurors … .  People v Fisher, 2013 NY Slip Op 01847, 2011-06453, Ind No 3421/09, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





Weight of Evidence Review Applies to More than Just Credibility—It Also Applies to Failure to Prove Elements Beyond a Reasonable Doubt



The Second Department determined the conviction for “criminal sexual act in the first degree” was against the weight of the evidence because the relevant testimony, although credible, did not prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:


              The defendant correctly contends that his conviction of criminal sexual act in the first degree is against the weight of the evidence. In fulfilling our responsibility to conduct an independent review of the weight of the evidence (see CPL 470.15[5] …, we essentially sit as the “thirteenth juror” and “decide[ ] which facts were proven at trial” … . Here, we take no issue with the credibility of the People’s witnesses, or the jury’s decision to credit the complainant’s version of events over that of the defendant. However, weight of the evidence review is not limited to issues of credibility … . Rather, “in conducting its weight of the evidence review, a court must consider the elements of the crime, for even if the prosecution’s witnesses were credible their testimony must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt” … .  People v Ross, 2013 NY Slip Op 01860, 2009-00582, Ind No 11304/07, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13



Factual Sufficiency of Indictment Is Non-Jurisdictional Defect



The Third Department noted that the factual sufficiency of an indictment is a non-jurisdictional defect which does not survive a guilty plea.  People v Cruz, 104251, 3rd Dept. 3-21-13





Corroborative Evidence for Confession---Strategy Behind Not Requesting Lesser Included Offenses and Severance



In an opinion by Judge Graffeo, in addressing the appellant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the strategic reasons for not requesting that the jury be charged with lesser included offenses and for not requesting a severance when culpability is arguably unequal were discussed.  In addition, the Court of Appeals addressed the level of corroborative evidence needed to allow into evidence an admission/confession made by the defendant (Criminal Procedure Law 60.50).  People v McGee, No. 30, Court of Appeals 3-21-13





Re-Sentencing Under Drug Law Reform Act---Court Does Not Have Authority to Make Sentences Concurrent if Original Sentences Consecutive



The Court of Appeals ruled that when re-sentencing under the Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 (DLRA--Criminal Procedure Law 440.46), the sentencing court can not alter multiple drug felony convictions originally imposed consecutively so that they run consecutively.  When the court imposes a determinate sentence under the DLRA “[s]uch resentencing constitutes ‘alteration of the existing sentence as authorized by law’ …, rather than imposition of a new sentence or of an additional term of imprisonment” [see Criminal Procedure Law 70.25].  Therefore the re-sentencing court does not have the power to issue concurrent sentences when the original sentences were consecutive.  People v Norris, No. 39, Court of Appeals 3-21-13









CORPORATIONS



From the Point When a Director’s Position Becomes Adverse to the Corporation, the Director Is Not Entitled to Discovery of the Corporation’s Attorney-Client Communications



Plaintiff was both a shareholder in and a director of defendant corporation. In her role as a shareholder, plaintiff brought a special proceeding to compel the corporation to pay the fair market value of her shares pursuant to Business Corporation Law section 623.  The special proceeding was prompted by the corporation’s sale of a 65% interest in the business to a third-party investor---a sale to which plaintiff objected.  During the course of discovery, the defendant corporation’s lawyers turned over thousands of documents to the plaintiff.  Included in those documents were attorney-client communications which took place after plaintiff had voiced her strong objection to the sale of the 65% interest in the business. The motion court determined that the plaintiff, as a director, was a corporate insider by definition, and was therefore entitled to all the corporation’s attorney-client communications, even those communications which took place after she voiced her opposition to the sale.  The First Department reversed.  The Court determined that, once plaintiff objected to the sale and hired her own attorney, her interests became “adverse” to those of the corporation, and she was not entitled to the attorney-client communications made after that point. [There is a long dissent arguing that, pursuant to CPLR 5511, the appellants were not aggrieved by the ruling appealed from and, therefore, the First Department did not have jurisdiction to entertain the appeal.]  Barasch v Williams Real Estate Co. 2013 NY Slip Op 01613, 7405, 500054/09, 1st Dept. 3-14-13







ARBITRATION



Lack of Personal Jurisdiction Is Not a Ground for Avoiding Arbitration

The Second Department reversed an order permanently staying arbitration of claims for no-fault insurance benefits in a proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 75. The permanent stay was granted on the ground that the insurance company was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York.  The Second Department wrote:

Pursuant to CPLR 7503(b), a petition to stay arbitration may be granted on the limited grounds that a valid agreement to arbitrate was not made or has not been complied with, or that the claim sought to be arbitrated is barred by the statute of limitations. In addition, case law recognizes limited instances where arbitration is prohibited on public policy grounds … . Lack of personal jurisdiction is not a basis for granting a stay of arbitration.

The decision includes a discussion of the policy considerations underlying arbitration and explains why the lack of jurisdiction in a court proceeding should not affect arbitration. In the Matter of American Independent Insurance Co. v Art of Healing Medicine, P.C.,  2013 NY Slip Op 01546, 2011-10411, Ind No 16209/11, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13







Res Judicata/Collateral Estoppel



Doctrine of Equitable Mootness for Bankruptcy Ruling


In this contract action, the issue at the heart of the case before the Second Department was the preclusive effect of a bankruptcy court ruling and the doctrine of “equitable mootness” which prohibits disturbing a bankruptcy plan already implemented.  The easiest way to convey the nature of the legal issues in the case is to quote the relevant discussions in the Second Department’s decision:
In light of authority holding that a court should apply the rules of res judicata followed in the jurisdiction that rendered the earlier decision …, we apply federal res judicata law in determining whether the doctrine of res judicata bars this action … .

 

Under federal res judicata law, subsequent litigation is prohibited if a prior court ruling " was (1) a final judgment on the merits, (2) by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) in a case involving the same parties or their privies, and (4) involving the same cause of action” … . This rule applies with full force to matters decided by the bankruptcy courts, including those concerning Chapter 11 reorganization … . Moreover, in the bankruptcy context, the court must also consider whether an independent judgment in a separate proceeding would " impair, destroy, challenge, or invalidate the enforceability or effectiveness'" of the reorganization plan … .
 

The plaintiffs contend that there was no final judgment on the merits because the appeal from the 2009 New York bankruptcy court order was dismissed on the ground of equitable mootness. Equitable mootness is invoked to avoid disturbing a reorganization plan once implemented …. When a plan has been substantially consummated, an appeal should be dismissed unless several requirements, the most important of which is that the appellant sought a stay of confirmation, are satisfied … .
 

Here, the District Court dismissed the appeal from the 2009 New York bankruptcy court order because the Kmart reorganization plan had been implemented and RM 18 had failed to seek a stay of the confirmation. Once the appeal was dismissed as moot, the 2009 New York bankruptcy court order became final …. Since there was no vacatur of the 2009 New York bankruptcy court order, it has preclusive effect … . …[T]he plaintiffs may not maintain the present litigation, which challenges [the] final adjudication by a court of competent jurisdiction … .  RM 18 Corp. v Bank of NY Mellon Trust Co., N.A., 2013 NY Slip Op 01541, 2011-o9112, Inex No 15992/10, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Prior Court Ruling Can Not Be Altered Even If Erroneous



In reversing the trial court’s termination of the plaintiff-husband’s obligation to provide defendant-wife with medical coverage, the Fourth Department explained that it must apply the doctrine of res judicata, even where  the prior ruling had been erroneously decided:

We agree with defendant that the court erred in terminating plaintiff’s obligation to provide her with medical insurance coverage inasmuch as our prior order requires plaintiff to provide her with that coverage. As a general rule, the doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of previously adjudicated disputes “even where further investigation of the law or facts indicates that the controversy has been erroneously decided, whether due to oversight by the parties or error by the courts” … .As relevant here, “a final judgment of divorce settles the parties’ rights pertaining not only to those issues that were actually litigated, but also to those that could have been litigated” … .“[A]bsent unusual circumstances or explicit statutory authorization, the provisions of [such a] judgment are final and binding on the parties, and may be modified only upon direct challenge” … .Here, plaintiff did not take an appeal from our prior order, seek reargument of that order, or make a proper application to modify it. He is therefore foreclosed from collaterally attacking it in the context of this action … . Lomaglio v Lomaglio, 142, CA 12-01317, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Alternative Holding in Prior Appeal Did Not Have Preclusive Effect



In a case involving a contract of sale for a painting (for 2 million euros), the First Department noted that a prior decision of that same court which stated the standing issue was not preserved for appellate review, and that if the issue were to be considered it would be rejected, was not binding for res judicata/collateral estoppel purposes:


               [Defendant] was not barred by either res judicata or collateral estoppel from arguing the issue of standing in his motion to vacate the July 8, 2009 order. In particular, this Court’s holding on the prior appeal in this case (79 AD3d 534) cannot be considered binding for collateral estoppel purposes because this Court’s initial holding as to the issue of standing was that it had not been preserved for review. It was only as an alternate holding that this Court stated that the standing argument, if it were to be considered, would be rejected … .  Van Damme v Gelber, 2013 NY Slip Op 01782, 601995/07, 590203/08, 9553B, 1st Dept. 3-19-13





“Alford” Plea in Related Criminal Proceeding Did Not Have Preclusive Effect



The Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Pigott, held that an “Alford” plea entered in a criminal proceeding, in which there was no factual colloquy about the underlying offenses, should not be given a preclusive effect in a subsequent Worker’s Compensation proceeding related to the same facts.  The opinion includes a discussion of the criteria for and appropriate use of an “Alford” plea (in which guilt is not admitted).  In the Matter of Howard v Statute Electric, Inc., No. 29, Court of Appeals 3-21-13







APPEALS 

 

 

No Appeal Lies from Direction to Settle Judgment on Notice



 

After denying a motion to set aside a verdict, the trial court directed the parties to settle judgment on notice.  The appeal of ruling was dismissed.  The Second Department explained: “[N]o appeal lies from a decision, or an appealed paper directing the settlement of a judgment (see CPLR 5512[a]; … . Moreover, plaintiff’s right to a direct appeal from any order denying a motion to set aside the verdict terminated with the entry of a judgment (see CPLR 5501…).”  Ryals v New York City Tr. Auth., 2013 NY Slip Op 01630, 9544 21244/04, 1st Dept. 3-14-13





Failure to Object to Curative Instruction Precludes Appeal



A curative instruction regarding admitted evidence was requested by the defendant and the court gave the requested instruction to the jury.  The defendant did not object to the instruction and did not seek a mistrial.  Therefore, the curative instruction “must be deemed to have corrected the error to the defendant’s satisfaction,” precluding appeal on that issue.  People v Mendez, 47, KA 09-01194, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Prior Ruling on Appeal is Law of the Case for Both Trial and Appellate Courts



In a case which resulted in a second appeal, defendant contested the validity of a board meeting in both the first and second appeal.  The First Department explained that the ruling in the first appeal was binding both on the trial court and the appellate court as the “law of the case:”

"An appellate court's resolution of an issue on a prior appeal constitutes the law of the case and is binding on the Supreme Court, as well as on the appellate court . . . [and] operates to foreclose re-examination of the question absent a showing of subsequent evidence or change of law"… .  Board of Mgrs. … v Seligson, 2013 NY Slip Op 01926, 1st Dept. 3-21-13





 



EMPLOYMENT LAW




Employer’s Failure to Demonstrate a Proper Inquiry Was Made to Determine Whether Reasonable Accommodations Were Possible for a Disabled Employee Precluded Summary Judgment


In affirming the denial of a summary judgment motion brought by the defendant-employer in an employment (disability) discrimination action, the Fourth Department determined the employer did not eliminate all the triable issues of fact concerning whether reasonable accommodation to the employee’s needs was possible:

Assuming, arguendo, that defendant met its initial burden of establishing that “plaintiff could not perform the essential functions of the position of a” center manager …, we conclude that there are triable issues of fact “whether, ‘upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, [plaintiff was qualified to hold his position and to] perform [ ] in a reasonable manner’ the essential function of that position” … . [U]nder the broad[ ] protections afforded by the State [Human Rights Law], the first step in providing a reasonable accommodation is to engage in a good faith interactive process that assesses the needs of the disabled individual and the reasonableness of the accommodation requested” … .Thus, “[t]he need for individualized inquiry when making a determination of reasonable accommodation is deeply embedded in the fabric of disability rights law . . . [E]mployers (and courts) must make a clear, fact-specific inquiry about each individual’s circumstance” … .In an employment discrimination case based on allegations of disability discrimination, “summary judgment is not available where there is a genuine dispute as to whether the employer has engaged in a good faith interactive process” … .Here, the court properly determined that defendant failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact with respect to, inter alia, whether defendant engaged in an interactive process to ascertain plaintiff’s needs and whether a reasonable accommodation was possible. Martin v United Parcel Service of America, Inc., 135, CA 12-01377, 4th Dept. 3-15-13









WORKERS' COMPENSATION





Refusal to Allow Carrier to Call Witnesses Warranted Reversal



In an opinion by Justice Rose, the Third Department reversed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Board because the Workers’ Compensation Law Judge refused to allow the carrier to further develop the record (by calling witnesses). The Court stated:  “It is axiomatic that both the claimant and the employer or its workers’ compensation carrier are entitled to introduce witnesses in compensation proceedings…”.  In the Matter of Mason v Glens Falls Ready Mix, et al, 514744, 3rd Dept. 3-14-13





Lyme-Disease Disabilities Recognized

In an opinion by Justice Peters, the Third Department upheld the determination of the Workers’ Compensation Board that the claimant, who was bitten by a tick, had established a claim for Lyme disease and was entitled to compensation for “motor neuron disease, as well as consequential anxiety and stress disorder.”  In the Matter of Bailey v Ben Ciccone, Inc., et al, 515309, 3rd Dept. 3-14-13





* Worker’s Claim Not “Truly Closed” So As to Preclude Further Proceedings



The Third Department reversed the finding of the Worker’s Compensation Board that the claimant’s knee injury case had been “truly closed” in 2009, more than 18 years after the original injury.  Worker’s Compensation Law section 123 prohibits an award of benefits “after a lapse of eighteen years from the date of the injury … and also a lapse of eight years from the date of the last payment of compensation” … .  Knee replacement surgery had been authorized in 2009.  “Considering the nature of the surgery being requested, and the fact that medical examinations of claimant in … 2008 revealed that claimant had a moderate partial disability …, the Board’s conclusion that no further proceedings were contemplated in … 2009 when surgery was authorized is dubious ….”.  In the Matter of Riley v P & V Sadowski Construction, 515259, 3rd Dept. 3-21-13







LABOR LAW


Meaning of “Passageway” at Work Site Explained


The Fourth Department discussed the applicable theories of notice and liability for an allegedly dangerous condition just outside a portable toilet at the work site which caused plaintiff to fall and sustain injury.  The Court determined that the area where the accident occurred was not a “passageway” within the meaning of 12 NYCRR 23-1.7(e)(1) which provides that passageways shall be kept free of obstructions.  Justice Whalen dissented, arguing that 12 NYCRR 23-1.7(e)(1) applied and there was an issue of fact whether the regulation was violated.  Steiger v LPCiminelli, Inc., et al, 1439, CA 12-01229, 4th Dept. 3-15-13



Liability of Prime Contractors and Subcontractors Explained



In affirming the motion court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant prime contractor and defendant subcontractors, the Second Department clearly described the relevant proof requirements for Labor Law 200, 240, 241 and common-law negligence causes of action.  Giovanniello v E W Howell, Co., LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 01805, 2011-11465, Ind No 26676/09, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13









WORLD TRADE CENTER DISABILITY BENEFITS





Presumption Disability Related to World Trade Center Work Not Rebutted


In reversing the dismissal of an Article 78 proceeding which sought to annul the denial of petitioner’s application for World Trade Center (WTC) disability benefits, the First Department determined the “World Trace Center presumption” had not been rebutted by the respondents:


                 Once a petitioner establishes that he worked the requisite number of hours at the site, the "World Trade Center presumption" places the burden on the respondents to show that the petitioner's qualifying injury was not incurred in the line of duty … . If a determination is made, even postretirement, that the applicant is disabled by a qualifying WTC condition, it will be presumed, unless rebutted, that the disability was sustained due to a work-related accident, thus entitling the applicant to RSSL [Retirement and Social Security Law] § 605(h) disability retirement benefits.
Although the WTC presumption does not mandate enhanced [accident disability retirement] benefits for first responders in all cases, it is nonetheless incumbent on respondents to come forward initially with affirmative credible evidence to disprove that the officer's disability was causally related to his work at the WTC site … . The Board may not deny benefits solely by relying on the lack of evidence connecting the disability to the exposure, or by "rely[ing] on petitioner's deficiencies to fill its own gap in proof" … .  Matter of Samadjopoulos v New York City Employee’s Retirement Sys., 2013 NY Slip Op 01901, 400912/10, 9493, 1st Dept. 3-21-13









INTENTIONAL TORTS

 



False Arrest, Malicious Prosecution, and 1983 Actions Allowed to Proceed

 

In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants in an action for false arrest, malicious prosecution and violation of 42 USC 1983, the Second Department wrote:


                 …[I]n opposition to the Allstate defendants' prima facie showing, the plaintiff raised triable issues of fact as to whether the Allstate defendants affirmatively induced law enforcement officials to act by taking an active part in the arrest and procuring it to be made, or by engaging in active, officious, and undue zeal to the point where the law enforcement officials were not acting of their own volition … . The plaintiff's submissions were also sufficient to raise triable issues of fact as to whether the Allstate defendants intentionally provided false information to law enforcement officials or withheld material information …, thereby permitting an inference of actual malice … . The plaintiff's submissions additionally raised triable issues of fact as to whether the Allstate defendants "engaged in a conspiracy with state officials to deprive [plaintiff] of federal rights" … . Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have denied the Allstate defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them. Robles v City of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 01814, 2011-11017, Index No 27364/07, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





Criteria for Punitive Damages Award



In an opinion by Chief Judge Lippman, the Court of Appeals explained the criteria for the award of punitive damages in the context of the intentional diversion of storm water onto plaintiff’s property.  In finding the award of punitive damages was not warranted the Court noted:  “…[T]he conduct justifying such an award must manifest ‘spite or malice, or a fraudulent or evil motive on the part of the defendant, or such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others that the conduct may be called willful or wanton’ …, ‘…conduct that represents a high degree of immorality and shows such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations’ “.  Marinaccio v Town of Clarence, et al, No. 31, Court of Appeals 3-21-13



 

ACCIDENTAL DISABILITY BENEFITS





Injuries from Subduing Mentally Disturbed Person Not Accidental

 

In confirming the denial of a police officer’s application for accidental disability retirement benefits, the Third Department noted that the injuries suffered when subduing a mentally disturbed person were the result of a risk inherent in the duties of a police officer and did not constitute “a sudden, fortuitous, out of the ordinary and unexpected event that [did] not result from an activity undertaken in the performance of regular or routine employment duties” … . In the Matter of Carpenter v DiNapoli, 515251, 3rd Dept. 3-21-13





Injury to Officer from Collapsing Stretcher Deemed Accidental



The Third Department annulled a determination denying a police officer’s claim for accident disability benefits.  The officer was injured when a wheeled stretcher collapsed.  The Third Department determined the collapse of the stretcher was not a foreseeable consequence of the officer’s ordinary duties and, therefore, constituted an accident.  In the Matter of Scharp v DiNapoli, 515287, 3rd Dept. 3-21-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW



 

 

CPLR 7511 Review of Compulsory Arbitration Under the Education Law



The First Department explained and applied the principles of a CPLR 7511 review of a hearing officer’s determination after compulsory arbitration pursuant to the Education Law. The case concerned allegations of inappropriate touching of students by a tenured school librarian.  In affirming the hearing officer’s findings and penalty, the Court noted that “ ‘ where the parties have submitted to compulsory arbitration, judicial scrutiny is stricter than that for a determination rendered where the parties have submitted to voluntary arbitration’ … . [T]he determination must be in accord with due process and supported by adequate evidence, and must also be rational and satisfy the arbitrary and capricious standards of CPLR article 78’ …”.  In re Ash v New York City Board/Dept of Education, 8655, 108528/10 1st Dept. 3-5-13



State Equal Access to Justice Act



In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Mazzarelli, the First Department interpreted the State Equal Access to Justice Act to allow the award of attorney’s fees under the “catalyst theory.” The petitioner had brought an Article 78 proceeding to compel the City to reinstate public assistance benefits after the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance had ordered the City to do so. Two weeks after the Article 78 proceeding was started, the City complied with the order and reinstated the benefits.  The First Department determined the Article 78 proceeding was the “catalyst” for the City’s reinstatement of the benefits and, under the State Equal Access to Justice Act, the petitioner was entitled to attorney’s fees.  In re Luz Solla v Berlin, et al, 7847 & 401178/11, 2259, 1st Dept. 3-5-13









CIVIL PROCEDURE





Service Upon Employee Did Not Confer Personal Jurisdiction Over Corporation



Service upon an employee who was not an officer, director, managing agent, cashier, or an agent authorized to accept service, did not confer jurisdiction over a corporation, and the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction should have been granted.  Fernandez v Town of Babylon …, Omni Recycling of Babylon, Inc., 2012-05513, Index No 4102/01, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13





Law Office Failure Justified Vacation of Default Judgment



“Here, the moving defendants’ claim of law office failure was supported by a ‘detailed and credible’ explanation of the default.  Moreover, the moving defendants demonstrated the existence of a potentially meritorious opposition to plaintiff’s motion. Accordingly, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in vacating their default in opposing the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.”  Properties, LLC v McDonald, LLC, et al, 2011-11434, 2012-04529, Index No 14525/09, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



 

Lack of Standing Argument Waived



Failure to raise plaintiff’s lack of standing in either the answer or the pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint constituted a waiver of the defendant’s standing argument.  HSBC Bank USA v Ashley, 513730, 3rd Dept. 3-7-13





Counsel for Nonparty Witness Cannot Participate in Deposition



The Fourth Department determined that counsel for a nonparty witness cannot object, i.e., participate, in a deposition of that witness.  The Court wrote:



…“[C]ounsel for a nonparty witness does not have a right to object during or otherwise to participate in a pretrial deposition.CPLR 3113 (c) provides that the examination and cross-examination of deposition witnesses ‘shall proceed as permitted in the trial of actions in open court’ ” (id. [emphasis added]), and it is axiomatic that counsel for a nonparty witness is not permitted to object or otherwise participate in a trial (see e.g. id.).We recognize that 22 NYCRR 221.2 and 221.3 may be viewed as being in conflict with CPLR 3113 (c) inasmuch as sections 221.2 and 221.3 provide that an “attorney” may not interrupt a deposition except in specified circumstances.Nevertheless, it is well established that, in the event of a conflict between a statute and a regulation, the statute controls (see Matter of Hellner v Board of Educ. of Wilson Cent. School Dist., 78 AD3d 1649, 1651).  Justices Fahey and Martoche dissented in a memorandum. Sciara v Surgical Associates of Western New York, P.C., et al, 1466, CA 12-00809, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Amendment of Reply to Add Statute of 

Limitations Defense Allowed

In affirming the grant of a motion to amend a reply to add the “statute of limitations” defense, the Second Department wrote:

                       

       “Leave to amend a pleading should be freely given (see CPLR                                   3025[b]), provided that the amendment is not palpably insufficient, does not prejudice or surprise the opposing party, and is not patently devoid of merit” … . “A determination whether to grant such leave is within the Supreme Court’s broad discretion, and the exercise of that discretion will not be lightly disturbed” … . “Mere lateness is not a barrier to the amendment. It must be lateness coupled with significant prejudice to the other side” … .The plaintiff waived its statute of limitations defense by failing to assert it as an affirmative defense in its initial reply to the appellants’ counterclaims (see CPLR 3211[e]). However, defenses waived under CPLR 3211(e) can nevertheless be interposed by leave of court pursuant to CPLR 3025(b) so long as the amendment does not cause the other party prejudice or surprise resulting directly from the delay … . Aurora Loan Services, LLC v Dimura, et al, 2013 NY Slip Op 01797, 2012-04739,Index No 2455/09, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





Acknowledgment of Debt in Bankruptcy Proceeding Restarted Statute of Limitations



The defendant’s acknowledgment of a debt in his bankruptcy petition restarted the 20 statute of limitations for the enforcement of a judgment:
Contrary to defendant's contention, enforcement of the judgment issued against him is not barred by CPLR 211(b). While [plaintiff] first sought to enforce the judgment in 2011, more than 20 years after the judgment could have first been enforced, defendant acknowledged the judgment in 2005 within his bankruptcy petition, thereby recommencing the statute of limitations from that date. Based on the 2005 acknowledgment, the statute of limitations to enforce the judgment ran anew in 2005 and [plaintiff] has until 2025 to enforce the judgment … . Since a debtor sufficiently acknowledges a debt pursuant to a judgment simply by admitting to the creditor in writing that a debt is owed, here, defendant's listing of the judgment within his bankruptcy petition constitutes such an admission and is thus, an acknowledgment under the statute. Moreover, insofar as an acknowledgment need not specify the amount nor the character of the debt owed …, defendant's failure to list the correct amount of the judgment or the court in which it was obtained does not constitute a shortcoming which avails defendant. First NY Bank for Bus. v Alexander, 2013 NY Slip Op 01796, 4800/90, 9377, 1st Dept. 3-19-13





Sanctions for Discovery Noncompliance and Spoliation



The First Department concluded preclusion and an adverse inference charge were appropriate discovery sanctions for defendant’s failure to produce documents and the apparent destruction of evidence:


             Having been conditionally ordered to produce all correspondence …, and the transcripts of the audio tapes of meetings …, in order to successfully oppose plaintiff's motion for discovery sanctions, defendant had to demonstrate (1) a reasonable excuse for the failure to produce the requested items and (2) the existence of a meritorious claim or defense in order to relieve itself from the dictates of that order … . Defendant did not satisfy these requirements. Defendant's history of noncompliance with the court's prior discovery orders supports the motion court's finding that defendant's actions were willful and contumacious …. The court providently granted plaintiffs' motion for an order precluding defendant from offering any evidentiary proof with respect to the transcription of committee meetings and/or correspondence … and defendant in defense and/or opposition to plaintiffs' prosecution of their bad faith claim at trial … .
Plaintiffs also made a prima facie showing that defendant had either intentionally or negligently disposed of the transcript of the … meeting and that the spoliation of this critical evidence compromised its ability to prosecute their bad faith action against defendant … . The motion court did not abuse its discretion in finding that certain evidence may have existed, but was not produced by defendant either because it was destroyed or withheld. Although plaintiffs moved to strike the answer, the court imposed the reasonable lesser sanction of an adverse inference charge, which will prevent defendant from using the absence of these documents at trial to its tactical advantage … .  General Motors Acceptance Corp. v New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2013 NY Slip Op 01774, 109668/06, 9272, 1st Dept. 3-19-13





Wife’s Derivative Claim Added to Complaint After Expiration of Statute of Limitations



The First Department held that a wife’s derivative claim in a medical malpractice action brought by her husband could be added to the complaint after the statute of limitations had expired (disagreeing with the Second and Fourth Departments):


                The motion court properly exercised its discretion in granting leave to amend. The original complaint placed Kings Harbor on notice of the underlying transaction (see CPLR 203 [f] …. We are in accord with the Third Department's view that "[i]n the absence of any prejudice and under these circumstances, Supreme Court should be permitted to exercise that same discretion which would allow the addition of a plaintiff's derivative cause of action" … . We disagree with the cases holding that a spouse's derivative claim cannot be added to a complaint through the relation back provision of CPLR 203 (f) (see e.g. Dowdall v General Motors Corp., 34 AD3d 1221, 1222 [4th Dept 2006]; Lucido v Vitolo, 251 AD2d 383, 384 [2d Dept 1998]).  Giambrone v Kings Harbor Multicare Ctr., 2013 NY Slip Op 01898, 9235N 307139/09, 1st Dept. 3-21-13





Court’s Sua Sponte Dismissal of Complaint Reversed



The Second Department reversed the trial court’s sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff’s mortgage foreclosure complaint.  The trial court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the plaintiff lacked standing and imposed sanctions based on plaintiff’s alleged reliance upon a “robosigner” (according to the trial court’s own Internet research).  On the issues of “sua sponte” dismissal and standing, the Second Department wrote:


                The Supreme Court abused its discretion in, sua sponte, directing dismissal of the complaint with prejudice and cancellation of the notice of pendency … . "A court's power to dismiss a complaint, sua sponte, is to be used sparingly and only when extraordinary circumstances exist to warrant dismissal" … . Here, the Supreme Court was not presented with any extraordinary circumstances warranting sua sponte dismissal of the complaint. Moreover, as the defendants failed to answer the complaint and did not make pre-answer motions to dismiss the complaint, they waived the defense of lack of standing … . Furthermore, a party's lack of standing does not constitute a jurisdictional defect and does not warrant sua sponte dismissal of a complaint by the court … .  HSBC Bank USA, NA v Taher, 2013 NY Slip Op 01806, 2011-06455, 2012-00841, Inex No 9320/09, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





Criteria for Motion to Renew Based on New Facts Not Met

In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the Second Department explained that CPLR 2221(a) had been misused to revisit a prior motion, and that the motion should have been brought under CPLR 2221 (e) as a motion for leave to renew based on new facts.  The motion should have been denied because the defendant failed to provide “reasonable justification” for the failure to present the “new” facts in the first motion:


                 The Supreme Court improperly granted the defendant’s motion, denominated as one pursuant to CPLR 2221(a) to modify the order entered September 28, 2011. CPLR 2221(a) merely provides that certain motions may be made, on notice, to the judge who signed the order that is the subject of the motion. In actuality, the defendant sought to present new facts in partial opposition to the motion for summary judgment, which were not presented on the initial motion. Thus, the defendant’s motion should have been made pursuant to CPLR 2221(e) for leave to renew its prior opposition to the motion for summary judgment, based upon new facts, and we construe it as such. However, the defendant failed to show its entitlement to that relief. The defendant failed to demonstrate “reasonable justification” for its failure to present such facts on the prior motion (CPLR 2221[e][2]). Mount Sinai Hosp v Dust Tr., Inc., 2013 NY Slip Op 01811, 2012-03767, Ind No 10715/10, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13

 


Criteria for Dismissal of Cause of Action Based on Documentary Evidence Explained


The Second Department, in reversing the dismissal of causes of action in a complaint, explained the criteria for dismissal based on documentary evidence:


               A motion to dismiss based on documentary evidence pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) may be appropriately granted “only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law” … . Here, to the extent that the sponsor’s submissions constituted “documentary evidence” within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1) …, they failed to utterly refute the cooperative’s allegations … . Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have denied those branches of the sponsor’s motion which were to dismiss the first, second, and fourth causes of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1). North Shore Towers Apts. Inc. v Three Towers Assoc., 2013 NY Slip Op 01812, 2012-00848, Index No 11834/10, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13

 



Deliberate Avoidance of Service of Process



The First Department determined the defendants, who deliberately attempted to avoid notice of the summons and complaint, did not raise an issue of fact in the face of the affidavits of the process server:
 

                  Relief under CPLR 317 is not warranted where, as here, defendants’ failure to obtain proper notice was the result of a deliberate attempt to avoid such notice … . The individual defendant averred that neither he nor the corporate defendant received actual service of the summons and complaint, or of the supplemental summons and amended complaint, or of any of the notices served by plaintiff following commencement of the action. However, this conclusory denial of receipt is insufficient to raise an issue of fact as to proper service in the face of plaintiff’s submission of affidavits from a process server, which constitute prima facie evidence of proper service … .  Pina v JObar, USA, LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 01794, 9570N, 300756/08, 1st Dept. 3-19-13



 


TRIAL PROCEDURES





10-Year-Old Plaintiff’s Testimony Should Have Been Considered---No Need for Hearing to Determine Testimonial Capacity



The trial court’s determination the testimony of the 10-year-old plaintiff at a 50-h hearing should not be considered because there was no hearing to determine the infant plaintiff’s testimonial capacity was reversed by the Second Department.  “None of the parties challenged the infant plaintiff’s capacity to testify.  Under the circumstances, neither the infant plaintiff’s age nor his responses to the questioning necessitated a hearing.”  Perez v City of New York, 2012-03711, Index No 3451/10, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



 

 

 

 

INSURANCE LAW

 



Record-Keeping Was a Condition Precedent to Insurance Coverage



The record-keeping requirement in an insurance policy was a condition precedent. “Here, the defendant established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by submitting evidence that the plaintiff failed to comply with the record-keeping requirement set forth in the subject insurance policy, which was a clear condition precedent to coverage … “ Stars Jewelry…v Hanover Insurance Group, Inc., 2011-09098, Index No 5221/10, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



Punitive Damages Award Not Recoverable in Subsequent  “Bad Faith Failure to Settle” Case Against Insurer



A judgment which included punitive damages was assessed against an insured.  The insured sued the insurance company for a bad-faith failure to settle the libel and slander claims within policy limits.  The First Department determined the insurance company was entitled to summary judgment because public policy precludes the insured from recovering the punitive damages portion of any judgment resulting from the insurer’s bad faith.  The Court also noted that the public policy argument could be raised for the first time on appeal because no new facts were alleged and only purely legal arguments were made.  Seldon v Allstate Ins. Co., 2013 NY Slip Op 01628, 9542, 116217/08, 1st Dept. 3-14-13





Duty to Defend



In finding that an insurance company was required to defend, the Fourth Department explained the relevant criteria in the context of a summary judgment motion:

An insurer’s duty to defend is “ ‘exceedingly broad’ and an insurer will be called upon to provide a defense whenever the allegations of the complaint ‘suggest . . . a reasonable possibility of coverage’ ”.. .“If, liberally construed, the claim is within the embrace of the policy, the insurer must come forward to defend its insured no matter how groundless, false or baseless the suit may be” ….Thus, the duty to defend exists “ ‘even though facts outside the four corners of [the] pleadings indicate that the claim may be meritless or not covered’ ” ….

The insured has the initial burden of establishing coverage under an insurance policy while the insurer bears the burden of proving that an exclusion in the policy applies to defeat coverage … .“[E]xclusions are subject to strict construction and must be read narrowly” … .In order to establish that an exclusion defeats coverage, the insurer has the “heavy burden” of establishing that the exclusion is expressed in clear and unmistakable language, is subject to no other reasonable interpretation, and is applicable to the facts ….An insurer “will be required to ‘provide a defense unless it can “demonstrate that the allegations of the complaint cast that pleading solely and entirely within the policy exclusions, and, further, that the allegations, [in toto], are subject to no other interpretation” ’ ” … .  Georgetown Capital Group, Inc. v Everest National Insurance Company, 82, CA 12-01337, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Late Disclaimer of Coverage Invalid



In finding the insurer’s (Country-Wide’s) disclaimer of coverage invalid, the Second Department wrote:


                   [County-Wide’s] written disclaimer of coverage was untimely and invalid as a matter of law (see Insurance Law § 3420[d][2]). It is undisputed that [plaintiff] Jose R. Ramirez gave notice of the accident and claim to Country-Wide in a letter dated June 14, 2011, and that Country-Wide did not issue its disclaimer until August 15, 2011. While an insurer's time to give written notice of disclaimer "is measured from the point in time when the insurer first learns of the grounds for disclaimer of liability or denial of coverage" …, the record demonstrates that the facts supporting the disclaimer in this case were either apparent from the claim documents submitted by Ramirez or were readily ascertainable upon the performance of a cursory investigation by Country-Wide … . Therefore, even if some investigation was warranted in this matter, the burden was on Country-Wide to demonstrate that the two-month delay in disclaiming was reasonably related to its performance of a prompt, diligent, thorough, and necessary investigation … . Since Country-Wide merely made a conclusory statement that the delay was occasioned by its investigation, and provided no details with regard to the specific efforts undertaken in conducting that investigation, it failed to sustain its burden of demonstrating that the delay was excusable, and the disclaimer was untimely as a matter of law … . Matter of Country-Wide Ins. Co. v Ramirez, 2013 NY Slip Op 01828, 2012-02056, Inex No 12759/11, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13

 

 

 

 


FAMILY LAW





Failure to Hold a Hearing on Mother’s Petition for Custody and Failure to Inform Father of Right to Counsel Required Reversal of Custody Determination



Family Court’s failure to hold a hearing to determine the mother’s petition for custody, and the Court’s failure to advise the father that he had the right to counsel, required reversal of the grant of custody to the mother.   In the Matter of Savoca v Bellofatto, 2012-02935, Docket No V-22033-11



Insufficient Proof to Support “Medical Neglect” Finding



The First Department reversed Family Court’s finding of medical neglect related to a five-month-old’s fractured femur.  Family Court accepted the proof that the baby, for the first time in his life, rolled over and fell off a couch when the father left him briefly to throw away a soiled diaper.  Family Court’s medical-neglect determination was based on testimony that the fracture “would cause the child evident pain…” and the length of time between the accident and when medical attention was sought.  The First Department noted the proof that swelling would not be immediately apparent and that a hairline fracture would not cause much pain until it progressed into a full fracture, as well as a video of the child showing no movement problems or signs of pain. In light of proof the child may not have exhibited symptoms of pain, the First Department determined the finding of neglect was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.  In re Amir L., 2013 NY Slip Op 01617, 9277-9278-9279, 1st Dept. 3-14-13


“Aid of the Court No Longer Required” in Neglect Proceeding

The grandmother and mother of a seven-month-old were found to have neglected the child by briefly leaving the child unattended in the kitchen sink with the water running when the hot water “spiked” causing burns.  The mother and grandmother moved to dismiss the petition pursuant to Family Court Act 1051 (c) on the ground aid of the court was not required.  The Second Department noted that the facts were sufficient to sustain the petition, but determined the petition should be dismissed because the aid of the court was not required.  Following the incident the mother completed all the programs required by children’s services, the grandmother attended parenting classes with the mother voluntarily, the child was returned to the mother 18 months before the hearing, home visits confirmed the child was not left unattended and was bathed properly, and the hot water “spikes” had been eliminated. The Second Department wrote:  “The foregoing demonstrates that the incident on which the petition was based was an isolated one, that the mother and grandmother have been rehabilitated, and that the child is no longer at risk of being neglected …”.  Matter of Kayden H., 2013 NY Slip Op 01549, 2011-09702, 2011-09704, Docket No N-22472-09, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Suspended Sentence for Non-Payment of Support Could Not Be Revoked Without Hearing



The Fourth Department ruled that Family Court could not revoke a suspended jail sentence for non-payment of support by the father without giving the father the chance to rebut the allegations against him:

The Support Magistrate previously had issued an order “on consent” in November 2011 (November order), setting forth that the father admitted that he willfully violated the February order and finding him in willful violation of the February order. The Support Magistrate imposed a sentence of four months in jail but suspended the sentence on the condition that the father did not miss two consecutive support payments.

*  *  *

Although the court had the discretion to revoke the suspension of the jail sentence, the court erred in doing so without first affording the father “an opportunity to be heard and to present witnesses . . . on the issue whether good cause existed to revoke the suspension of the sentence” (Matter of Thompson v Thompson, 59 AD3d 1104, 1105, quoting Family Ct Act § 433 [a] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Ontario County Dept. of Social Servs. v Hinckley, 226 AD2d 1126, 1126). “No specific form of a hearing is required, but at a minimum the hearing must consist of an adducement of proof coupled with an opportunity to rebut it” (Thompson, 59 AD3d at 1105 [internal quotation marks omitted]). “ ‘[I]t is well settled that neither a colloquy between a respondent and Family Court nor between a respondent’s counsel and the court is sufficient to constitute the required hearing’ ” (id.). Here, there was only the admission of nonpayment by the father’s attorney, which was insufficient (see id.), and there was no opportunity for the father to present evidence rebutting the allegations against him.  In the Matter of Davis v Bond, 281, CAF 12-00553, 4th Dept. 3-15-13

 



DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS (INMATES)





Failure to Determine if Witness Would Testify Required New Hearing



“It is well settled that an inmate has a conditional right to call witnesses at a disciplinary hearing provided their testimony would not jeopardize institutional safety or correctional goals… .  ‘[A] hearing officer’s actual outright denial of a witness without a stated good-faith reason, or lack of any effort to obtain the requested witness’s testimony, constitutes a clear constitutional violation … .  On the other hand, where a good-faith reason for the denial appears on the record, this amounts to a regulatory violation requiring that the matter be remitted for a new hearing…”  Here the hearing officer’s failure to determine whether a retired correction officer could testify required a new hearing.  In the Matter of Morris-Hill v Fischer, 514093, 3rd Dept. 3-7-13





Prisoner Must Object at Hearing to Obtain Judicial Review



A prisoner’s failure to object or raise any procedural issues before the Hearing Officer renders any such issues unpreserved for judicial review.  In the Matter of Austin v Fischer, 514568, 3rd Dept. 3-7-13





Punishment Was “Shocking to One’s Sense of Fairness”



In an Article 78 proceeding, the Fourth Department determined the punishment imposed upon an inmate (for an assault on staff) after a Tier III disciplinary hearing, was too severe. The Court determined that “the punishment imposed of four years’ confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) together with four years’ loss of good time and various privileges “ ‘ is so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness’ “ … .  Considering the inmate’s age at the time of the incident (17) and the facts of the incident, the Fourth Department reduced the time in the SHU and the loss of good time and privileges to 18 months.  In the Matter of Cookhorne v Fischer, 162, TP 12-01634, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Tape Recording Reflecting Frustration About Treatment of Muslim Inmates Did Not Warrant Punishment

The Third Department annulled the disciplinary hearing determination which found that the petitioner had engaged in prohibited “violent conduct” based on a tape recorded conversation.  After reviewing the tape, the Court ruled that the disciplinary rules prohibiting “conduct involving the threat of violence” and participation in “a work stoppage, sit-in, lock-n, or other actions which may be detrimental to the order of the facility” had not been violated. The evidence revealed only that “petitioner was agitated after incidents in which other Muslim inmates had allegedly been assaulted by correction officers. He indicated to the inmates at the meeting that they needed to do something about it and specifically mentioned ‘starting a paper trail.’ Significantly, he did not advocate violent or disorderly action.”  In the Matter of Murray, v Fischer, 514687, 3rd Dept. 3-14-13

 

 

 

 


TRUSTS AND ESTATES





Stepmother Had Right to Portion of Children’s Trust Under Spouse’s Right of Election



Petitioners were the children of the grantors of a trust and were co-beneficiaries of the trust.  The grantors of the trust were the beneficiaries’ mother and father. The mother died and respondent was the children’s stepmother.  The children moved to dismiss the objections to the trust accounting made by the respondent-stepmother on the ground she did not have standing.  In ruling the stepmother had standing pursuant to the right of election, the Third Department wrote:  …[A] revocable trust … is a testamentary substitute, subject to [the surviving spouse’s] right of election … . Where a trustee voluntarily commences judicial settlement of the account of a trust, process must be provided ‘to all persons who are entitled absolutely or contingently by the terms of the will, lifetime trust instrument or by operation of law to share in the estate’ …” .  The surviving spouse, by operation of law, was entitled to a portion of the estate, including the trust.  In the Matter of Garrasi …, 515128, 3rd Dept. 3-7-13



Supreme Court Has the Power to Appoint a Temporary Representative to Substitute for a Defendant in a Personal Injury Action



One of the defendants in a personal injury action died.  The plaintiff moved pursuant to CPLR 1015 to have Supreme Court appoint a temporary representative of the estate, and to have the temporary representative substituted for the deceased defendant. The defendants opposed the motion arguing that Surrogate’s Court was the appropriate forum for the appointment of a temporary administrator. In finding that Supreme Court could make the appointment, the Second Department wrote:

"In most instances the personal representative of the decedent's estate should be substituted in the action" …. However, in the event no such representative exists, an appropriate appointment should be made and that individual should be substituted in place of the decedent … . "In determining who shall be substituted for the decedent, conflict of interest questions may be raised" … .

The Second Department, however, determined that the person Supreme Court appointed, the attorney for the insurance company defending the action, had a conflict of interest because the insurance company had disclaimed coverage for the subject accident.  The matter was remitted for the appointment of a different temporary administrator.  Dieye v Royal Blue Services, Inc., 2012 NY Slip Op 01527, 2012-03428, Index No 3392/09, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Co-Executor Can Object to Final Accounting Solely By Virtue of the Executor’s Fiduciary Duty to the Estate



In finding that a co-executor (who could no longer be sued by any of the beneficiaries because all had executed releases) had standing to contest a final accounting submitted by the other co-executor, the Fourth Department wrote:

An executor is a fiduciary who owes “a duty of undivided loyalty to the decedent and ha[s] a duty to preserve the assets that [decedent] entrusted to them” …, and “an executor’s duties are derived from the will itself, not from the letters issued by the Surrogate” … .

“Suffice it to say, an executor who knows that his co[-]executor is committing breaches of trust and not only fails to exert efforts directed towards prevention but accedes to them is legally accountable” … .

…[T]the Surrogate concluded that, because there were no remaining creditors of the estate and all of the other beneficiaries had executed releases absolving objectant of liability, objectant no longer had standing as a co-executor to file any objections to petitioner’s final accounting. * * *

Contrary to the Surrogate’s conclusion, the mere fact that the estate has no creditors and objectant can no longer be sued successfully by any of the beneficiaries does not establish that he has fulfilled his fiduciary duty to the decedent and the estate so as to vitiate his standing to raise objections to the accounting filed by the co-executor.

An executor’s duty is not fulfilled merely because he or she has obtained releases from liability.

The standard of care for a fiduciary cannot be set so low; rather, a fiduciary has a “duty of active vigilance in the collection of assets belonging to the estate” …   In the Matter of Schultz, 51, CA 12-01283, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Old Age, Infirmity, Dementia and Medical Opinion Did Not Demonstrate Lack of Testamentary Capacity



In affirming the dismissal of objections to a will, the Fourth Department explained that proof the decedent suffered from old age, infirmity and dementia was not necessarily inconsistent with testamentary capacity, and, where there is direct evidence the decedent had the necessary ability to understand, even medical opinion is of minor importance:

“It is the indisputable rule in a will contest that ‘[t]he proponent has the burden of proving that the testator possessed testamentary capacity and the [Surrogate] must look to the following factors: (1) whether []he understood the nature and consequences of executing a will; (2) whether []he knew the nature and extent of the property []he was disposing of; and (3) whether []he knew those who would be considered the natural objects of h[is] bounty and h[is] relations with them’ ” … .“ ‘Mere proof that the decedent suffered from old age, physical infirmity and . . . dementia when the will was executed is not necessarily inconsistent with testamentary capacity and does not alone preclude a finding thereof, as the appropriate inquiry is whether the decedent was lucid and rational at the time the will w made’ ”… . “Where there is direct evidence that the decedent possessed the understanding to make a testamentary disposition, even ‘medical opinion evidence assumes a relatively minor importance’ ”….  In the Matter of Alibrandi, 136, CA 12-00963, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





No Proof Misrepresentation Caused Decedent to Disinherit Daughter



In reversing a jury verdict finding that a will had been procured by fraud, i.e., a misrepresentation made to the decedent by one daughter, Zucker, against the other daughter, Ranaldo, resulting in the disinheritance of Ranaldo, the Second Department wrote:


                …[T]here was no evidence presented at trial to demonstrate that Zucker conveyed the alleged misrepresentation to the decedent with the intention of inducing the decedent to alter her estate plan …, or that the alleged misrepresentation in fact induced the decedent to change her testamentary plan. There was no evidence presented to show that the decedent considered or discussed disinheriting Ranaldo when she met with her attorney two weeks after the alleged misrepresentation. The decedent's attorney, who drafted the will, testified that the first time the decedent mentioned disinheriting Ranaldo was at a subsequent meeting, approximately eight months after the alleged misrepresentation. In the absence of any evidence to establish that Zucker conveyed the alleged misrepresentation to the decedent with the intention of inducing the decedent to alter her estate plan, and that the alleged misrepresentation in fact induced the decedent to change her testamentary plan, no valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences could lead a rational person to the conclusion reached by the jury that the will and the first amendment to the Trust were the product of fraud … . Accordingly, the jury's verdict was not supported by legally sufficient evidence … .  Matter of Ranaldo, 2013 NY Slip Op 01834, 2011-03624, 2011-03625, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13









REAL ESTATE




Condominium Unit Owner Has Common Law Right to Examine Books


Although a condominium unit owner is not entitled under the Business Corporation Law to examine the books and records of a condominium, an unincorporated association governed by the Real Property Law, there is a common law right of a stockholder to examine the books and records of a corporation. Because the unit owners of a condominium own the common elements of the condominium and are responsible for common expenses, the common law right of a stockholder to examine the books applies to a unit owner of a condominium.  Pomerance v McGrath, 650129/11, 9457, 1st Dept. 3-7-13


Erroneous Discharge of Mortgage Can Be Set Aside Where No Detrimental Reliance


“ ‘ A mortgagee may have an erroneous discharge of mortgage, without concomitant satisfaction of the underlying mortgage debt, set aside, and have the mortgage reinstated where there has not been detrimental reliance on the erroneous recording’ … .Only bona fide purchasers and lenders for value are entitled to protection from an erroneous discharge of a mortgage based upon their detrimental reliance thereon.”  Beltway Capital, LLC v Soleil,et al, 2011-02773, Index no 22244/07, 2nd Dept. 3-6-13



Procedure for Extending Real Property Lien Based on Money Judgment



The procedure for extending a real property lien which is based on a New York money judgment was explained by the Second Department:

Although a New York money judgment is enforceable for 20 years (see CPLR 211[b]), a real property lien resulting from the judgment is viable for only 10 years (see CPLR 5203[a]). For this reason, the Legislature enacted CPLR 5014 to give a judgment creditor an opportunity to extend the life of the lien by commencing an action for a renewal judgment … . "Pursuant to CPLR 5014(1), an action upon a money judgment may be maintained between the original parties where ten years have elapsed since the judgment was originally docketed" … . "An action may be commenced under subdivision one of this section during the year prior to the expiration of ten years since the first docketing of the judgment" (CPLR 5014). The plaintiff here established her prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law awarding her a renewal judgment pursuant to CPLR 5014(1) by demonstrating the existence of the prior judgment, that the defendant was the judgment debtor, that the judgment was docketed at least nine years prior to the commencement of this action, and that the judgment remains partially or completely unsatisfied …. . Rose v Gulizia, 2013 NY Slip Op 01542, 2011-08302, Inex No 40635/15, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Buyer Not Entitled to “Loss of Bargain” Damages for Breach of Purchase Contract



The contract for the sale of a parcel of real property included the following: 

“It is the understanding of the parties that at the present time, seller is not in title to the property.  Seller is a first mortgage holder and the mortgage is in default.  In the event that the title holder does not agree to signing over a deed in lieu of foreclosure, the seller will institute foreclosure proceedings with the courts.  Seller shall be able to provide good and clear title in accordance with this contract.” The defendant-seller, however, was outbid at the foreclosure sale and could not provide the buyer with good and clear title.  In the lawsuit brought by the buyer, the buyer sought so-called “loss of bargain” damages.  In affirming the trial court’s denial of buyer’s request for “loss of bargain” damages, the Fourth Department explained:

It is well settled that “[t]he vendee in a contract for the sale of land is not ordinarily entitled, upon breach, on failure to convey, to recover of the vendor damages measured by the goodness of his bargain or the financial benefit which would result from performance, and it is only when the vendor is for some reason chargeable with bad faith in the matter that recovery beyond nominal damages on that account can be had” … .Thus, “[i]f a vendee knows of the inability of his vendor to convey the title he has undertaken to convey, the vendee’s damages are not measurable by the loss of his bargain” … .  Khanjani v Schreiber, 141, CA 12-00494, 4th Dept. 3-15-13

Pre-Closing Inspection Disallowed Because There Was No Mention of a Pre-Closing Inspection in the Purchase Contract



A purchase contract that contained a merger clause prohibiting oral modifications and which did not have a provision allowing a pre-closing inspection was held not to provide the buyer with the right to inspect the property.  Under the rules for the interpretation of an unambiguous contract, “ ‘courts should be extremely reluctant to interpret an agreement as impliedly stating something which the parties have neglected to specifically include’ . ..”.  Thirty One Development, LLC v Jeffery Cohen, et al, 161 CA 11-02577, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Injury to Real Property, Waste, Trespass, Conversion and Private Nuisance Actions Based Upon Removal of Trees from Unrecorded Easement



In an action for breach of contract, waste, injury to real property, trespass, conversion and private nuisance, based upon clearing land of trees pursuant to an unrecorded easement, the Second Department wrote:


                 Pursuant to RPAPL 861(1), a property owner may maintain an action for damages against any person who, without the consent of the owner, removes or causes to be removed trees on the owner’s property … . “To recover damages based on the tort of private nuisance, a plaintiff must establish an interference with his or her right to use and enjoy land, substantial in nature, intentional or negligent in origin, unreasonable in character, and caused by the defendant’s conduct”… . “In order to establish a cause of action to recover damages for conversion, the plaintiff must show legal ownership or an immediate superior right of possession to a specific identifiable thing and must show that the defendant exercised an unauthorized dominion over the thing in question . . . to the exclusion of the plaintiff’s rights” … . * * *


                “[A]n unrecorded conveyance of an interest in real property is deemed void as against a subsequent good faith purchaser for value who acquires his interest without actual or constructive notice of the prior conveyance” … . However, “ [w]here a purchaser has knowledge of any fact, sufficient to put him on inquiry as to the existence of some right or title in conflict with that he is about to purchase, he is presumed either to have made the inquiry, and ascertained the extent of such prior right, or to have been guilty of a degree of negligence equally fatal to his claim, to be considered as a bona fide purchaser’” …. “This presumption, however, is a mere inference of fact, and may be repelled by proof that the purchaser failed to discover the prior right, notwithstanding the exercise of proper diligence on his part” … .   Schulz v Dattero, et al, 2013 NY Slip Op 01815, 2011-05813, 2012-02942, Index No 876/06, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





Damages for Breach of Purchase Contract Are Measured by the Difference Between the Purchase Price and the Market Value at Time of Breach



In a lengthy opinion by Judge Read, the Court of Appeals determined that, where a purchase contract for real property has been breached, the measure of damages is the difference between the sale price and the market value of the property at the time of the breach.  The price at which the property subsequently sells can be taken into consideration when determining what the value was at the time of the breach, but it is not the measure of damages.  White v Farrell, et al, No. 43, Court of Appeals, 3-21-13







MEDICAL MALPRACTICE





Failure to Instruct Jury that Medical Practice Guidelines Did Not Set Forth the Applicable Standard of Care Required Reversal



The case turned on whether the defendant failed to recommend and perform a timely colonoscopy (the plaintiff, who had a history of colon polyps, contracted colon cancer).  At trial the defendant doctor was allowed to introduce in evidence guidelines published by the American Gastroenterological Association which included the recommended frequency of colonoscopies.  The plaintiff objected and requested a limiting instruction informing the jury that the guidelines “did not set forth the standards of care with regard to the diagnosis and treatment of plaintiff’s colon cancer.” The trial court gave a cursory limiting instruction at the time the guidelines were admitted, and told the jury another instruction would be forthcoming.  The trial court subsequently declined to give any further instructions on the issue.  In reversing the judgment for the defendant and ordering a new trial, the First Department wrote:
The court erred in failing to give the instruction that plaintiff requested.
Although the trial court's instruction informed the jury that it was to make its determination based on "all the evidence," this instruction was not sufficient to guide the jury on how to apply the Guidelines to the facts before it. The court's instruction as rendered failed to make clear to the jury that the Guidelines were simply recommendations regarding treatment, and thus, that compliance with the Guidelines did not, in and of itself, constitute good and accepted medical practice … . The trial court should have given the jury an instruction specifically stating that the Guidelines were not the same as standards of care and that the jury was to make its determination based on the particular circumstances of the case, not on the Guidelines alone. Introducing the Guidelines into evidence without the appropriate limiting instruction allowed the jury to infer that a physician need not exercise professional judgment with regard to individual patients, but could simply abide by the recommendations promulgated in the Guidelines.  Hall v Kiyici, 2013 NY Slip Op 01616, 9067, 23531/05, 1st Dept. 3-14-13





* “Emergency Exception” to Rule Hospital Is Not Vicariously Liable for Negligence of Non-Employee Physicians Did Not Apply



The Second Department determined the hospital’s (Winthrop-University Hospital’s) motion for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action alleging it was vicariously liable for the actions of a non-employee physician (Raio) should have been granted.  The hospital demonstrated that the “emergency room exception” to vicarious liability for the negligence of a non-employee physician did not apply:


          "In general, a hospital may not be held vicariously liable for the                malpractice of a private attending physician who is not an employee" … . "However, an exception to the general rule exists when a patient comes to the emergency room seeking treatment from the hospital and not from a particular physician of the patient's choosing" … .


          Here, Winthrop-University Hospital made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing so much of the complaint as alleged that it was vicariously liable for the alleged malpractice of Raio by submitting evidence that Raio was not an employee of Winthrop-University Hospital, but rather, an attending physician at the hospital …. Furthermore, Winthrop-University Hospital made a prima facie showing that the emergency room exception was inapplicable, by demonstrating that the decedent was referred to Raio's care by his own internist … .  Giambona v Hines, et al, 2013, NY Slip Op 01803, 2011-05943, Ind No 7819/07, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13



 

Expert Affidavit Did Not Raise a Question of Fact



In affirming the grant of summary judgment to the defendant hospital, the Second Department explained the flaws in the plaintiffs’ expert’s affidavit, finding the expert did not lay a foundation for an opinion outside the expert’s area of specialization and made “speculative” and “conclusory” assertions:


                In opposition, the affidavit of the plaintiffs' expert did not raise a triable issue of fact. When, as here, "a physician opines outside his or her area of specialization, a foundation must be laid tending to support the reliability of the opinion rendered" … . Here, the plaintiffs' expert failed to lay the requisite foundation. Moreover, even assuming the requisite foundation had been laid, the expert's assertions that a diagnosis of the fracture at the hospital would have led to adequate immobilization, without specifying what adequate immobilization would have entailed, and may have resulted in "normal healing," are conclusory and speculative, and thus, insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to causation … . Shashi v Nassau Communities Hosp., 2013 NY Sip Op 01818, 2011-04552, Index No 15636/08, 2nd Dept. 3-20-13





NOTARY PUBLIC





No Need to Demonstrate Detrimental Reliance to Recover for Misconduct by Notary Public



The Second Department determined that “detrimental reliance” does not need to be demonstrated to recover for misconduct by a notary public under Executive Law section 135 where the plaintiff does not allege fraud as the theory of recovery.  The plaintiff in this case alleged the notary’s misconduct resulted in the recording of a forged deed which caused the subrogors to sustain damages.  In reversing the trial court’s dismissal of the notarial-misconduct cause of action, the Second Department wrote:

Executive Law § 135 provides, in relevant part, that "[f]or any misconduct by a notary public in the performance of any of his powers such notary public shall be liable to the parties injured for all damages sustained by them." Thus, the plain language of the statute does not require a showing of detrimental reliance … . Rather, a plaintiff seeking to recover under that section need only show that the notary engaged in notarial misconduct and that such misconduct was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury … .  Chicago Title Insurance Co. v LaPierre, 2013 NY Slip Op 01523, 2012-05101, Index No 15384/08, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13









CONTRACT LAW





Interpretation of Unambiguous Language/Doctrine of Expressio Unius est Exclusio Alterious/Criteria for Declaratory Judgment



In a contract action, the Second Department laid out the black letter law on the interpretation of unambiguous language, the doctrine of “exclusio unius est exclusio alterious,” and the criteria for a declaratory judgment.  The controversy concerned the amount of a bonus which was determined, according to the terms of the contract, by whether the plaintiff resigned or was fired, a disputed issue:

The defendant acknowledges that if the language of a written contract is free of ambiguity, the court must determine its meaning as a matter of law based upon the writing alone, without resort to extrinsic evidence …. Contrary to the defendant’s contention, the language of paragraph 4.2 clearly limits bonus compensation to a share of distributions based upon either the sale of all of RDL’s assets, or some of RDL’s assets. Pursuant to the doctrine of “exclusio unius est exclusio alterious,” which means that the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other …, the references to the sale of assets implies that bonus compensation does not apply to distributions based upon something other than the sale of assets. If the parties had intended for bonus compensation to be based upon all distributions, these references to the sale of assets would have been unnecessary.  * * * The courts may issue declaratory judgments declaring the rights of the parties only where there is a justiciable controversy …. There is no justiciable controversy warranting declaratory relief if the controversy is over a future event “beyond the control of the parties and may never occur” … . However, in the instant case, the future event is in the control of RDL …, and is likely to occur … . Therefore, the question of whether the defendant was discharged without cause or resigned constitutes a justiciable controversy, which must be resolved by the Supreme Court after a trial.  Realtime Data, LLC v Melone, 2013 NY Slip Op 01540, 2011-11936, Index No 50021/10, 2nd Dept. 3-13-13





Performance and Design Specification Contracts Defined



This breach of contract case concerned the installation of “jet grout bottom seal” at a wastewater treatment plant.  In the course of its discussion, the Fourth Department explained the difference between performance and design specification contracts:



We … conclude that there are issues of fact concerning whether the contract was one of performance or design specification, thus precluding summary judgment with respect to the additional expenses that plaintiff allegedly incurred in remediating the jet grout bottom seal. “A performance specification [contract] requires a contractor to produce a specific result without specifying the particular method or means of achieving that result” (Fruin-Colnon Corp. v Niagara Frontier Transp. Auth., 180 AD2d 222, 229).“In other words, the contractual risk of nonperformance is upon the contractor” (id.). In contrast, a design specification contract is one in which “the owner specifies the design, materials and methods and impliedly warrants their feasibility and sufficiency” (id.).     “In that instance, the contractor’s guarantee . . . is limited to the quality of the materials and workmanship employed in following the owner’s design” (id. at 230). The proper characterization of a construction contract as one of either performance or design specification “depends upon the language of the contract as a whole,” and relevant factors in such an inquiry “include the nature and degree of the contractor’s involvement in the specification process, and the degree to which the contractor is allowed to exercise discretion in carrying out its performance” (id.).Here, the unresolved issues of fact with respect to those factors, particularly as to plaintiff’s ability to change the design without Falter’s approval, precludes a determination whether as a matter of law the subject contract is one of either performance or design specification, and thus whether plaintiff may recover expenses incurred in remediating the jet grout bottom seal.  Howard Baker, Inc. v C.O. Falter Construction Corp., et al, 1441, CA 12-00398, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





Flaws in Fraud and Negligent Misrepresentation Allegations in Complaint Explained



The First Department, in affirming the dismissal of fraud and negligent misrepresentation claims in a contract action, described the flaws in the complaint as follows:
 

             The court properly dismissed the fraud claim for failure to plead fraud with the particularity required by CPLR 3016(b) and for failure to plead loss causation … .

 
             The court properly dismissed the negligent misrepresentation claim for failure to plead a special relationship. An arm's length business relationship, as existed here, is not generally considered to be the sort of confidential or fiduciary relationship that would support a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation … . Nor did [defendants] "possess unique or specialized expertise" … .  Greentech Reasearch LLC v Wissman, 2013 NY Slip Op 01787, 9561, 602477/09, 1st Dept. 3-19-13









MUNICIPAL LAW





County Executive Has Authority to Commence Lawsuit Without Resolution from County Legislature



The Fourth Department determined the Erie County Executive had the authority to bring a lawsuit alleging fraud on the part of a County Commissioner which resulted in the payment of more than $4,000,000 for goods and services that had not been provided.  The defendant contended the County could not bring the suit absent a resolution by the County Legislature.  The Fourth Department wrote:



There is no dispute that the County Legislature did not pass a resolution authorizing the commencement of this action. Contrary to defendant’s contention, however, we conclude that, notwithstanding the absence of such a resolution, the County Executive was empowered to commence this action on behalf of the County (see Matter of County of Rockland v Town of Clarkstown, 167 Misc 2d 367, 371). Under the County Charter, the County Executive is the Chief Executive Officer, the administrative head of the County government, and the Chief Budget Officer of the County.The County Charter grants the County Executive “all necessary incidental powers to perform and exercise any of the duties and functions specified . . . or lawfully delegated to him” (Erie County Charter § 302 [former (n)], now [m]).The County Executive is empowered by the County Charter to authorize the County Attorney to commence civil litigation to enforce any of the duties and functions lawfully designated to the County Executive (see § 602; see also § 302 [former (m)], now [l]; [former (n)], now [m]).Inasmuch as this action seeks to recover over $4 million dollars of the County’s funds that were allegedly improperly paid under the M/A-Com contract as a result of defendant’s alleged fraud, we conclude that the County Executive’s duties as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Budget Officer of the County clearly embrace the subject matter of this action and empower him to authorize the County Attorney to commence the litigation (see Rockland County, 167 Misc 2d at 371).  Justices Sconiers and Whalen disagreed in a substantial dissent.  County of Erie v M/A-Com, Inc., et al, 1184, CA 12-00075, 4th Dept. 3-15-13





DEFAMATION



Elements of Defamation, Invasion of Privacy and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Explained



Plaintiff, an English professor, brought suit for defamation and invasion of privacy based upon two articles in the defendant New York Post and on the websites of two other defendants.  In affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants, the First Department applied the facts of the case to the proof requirements for defamation (finding the statements were not false or were expressions of opinion), “invasion of privacy” pursuant to the NY Civil Rights Law sections 50 and 51 (involving the use of plaintiff’s image), prima facie tort and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The decision briefly but clearly articulates the essential elements of these causes of action and the reasons the elements were not demonstrated.  Fleischer v NYP Holdings, Inc., 2013 NY Slip Op 01784, 150164/10, 9557, 1st Dept. 3-19-13



 

 

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