The court reporting agency is in the business of making stenographic records…

Stenotype machine illustrating article by Richard A. Klass, Esq. about  Stenographic (court reporting) Services

The court reporting agency is in the business of making stenographic records of depositions and proceedings in litigation. A law firm ordered the services of the court reporting agency’s stenographers to take down witnesses’ testimony in various personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

The law firm broke up and its partners agreed to close their firm, discharge its liabilities and settle all accounts. In their settlement of their dissolution, the partners agreed to remain liable for all debts, liabilities and other obligations of the firm; reimburse disbursements and expenses incurred by the firm; and be personally responsible for an obligation of the firm.

Unfortunately, the court reporting agency had not been paid for services rendered in some of the cases previously handled by the law firm. The agency retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to collect on the unpaid invoices.

Attorneys Are Responsible for Stenographic Services:

At one time, there was a difference of opinion as to whether an attorney who orders a court reporter to record testimony at a deposition is liable for the charge. Some court decisions held that the attorney was merely an agent of a disclosed principal (client) and was not responsible and the client was liable to pay the bill. Other court decisions recognized that the attorney was the one ordering the services and the client had little to nothing to do with the decision, and it put a great burden on the court reporting company to pursue its bill against an unknown client. Ultimately, the New York State legislature resolved the matter by enacting a special law to cover payment of these charges.

According to General Business Law Section 399-cc, an attorney who orders or requests stenographic services is responsible to pay for such services:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, when an attorney of record orders or requests either orally or in writing that a stenographic record be made of any judicial proceeding, deposition, statement or interview of a party in a proceeding or of a witness related to such proceeding, it shall be the responsibility of such attorney to pay for the services and the costs of such record except where:

1. payment is otherwise provided by law or where the attorney is providing representation through a not-for-profit provider of criminal or civil legal services; or

2. the attorney expressly disclaims responsibility for payment of the stenographic service or record in writing at the time the attorney orders or requests that the record be made.

Based upon the above statute, the law firm could be held liable for the bill. However, knowing that the law firm was dissolved, it was crucial to collection to also sue the individual former partners.

Certification of Expenses in Personal Injury Cases:

By court rule, when a personal injury and medical malpractice action settles, the attorney must file an Office of Court Administration (“OCA”) Closing Statement, wherein he certify the expenses paid on behalf of his client. See, NY R A DIV 2 DEPT Section 691.20 (“13. Itemized statement of the amounts of expenses and disbursements paid or agreed to be paid to others for expert testimony, investigative or other services properly chargeable to the recovery of damages together with the name, address and reason for each payment”).

On a settled case, the court rule further creates a special account in which the moneys are to be held pending payment of the disbursements. See, NY R A DIV 2 DEPT Section 691.20(d) “Deposit of Collections; Notice. (1) Whenever an attorney, who has accepted a retainer or entered into an agreement as above referred to, shall collect any sum of money upon any such action, claim or proceeding, either by way of settlement or after a trial or hearing, he shall forthwith deposit the same in a special account in accordance with the provisions of Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Within 15 days after the receipt of any such sums he shall cause to be delivered personally to such client or sent by registered or certified mail, addressed to such client at the client’s last known address, a copy of the closing statement required by this section. At the same time the attorney shall pay or remit to the client the amount shown by such statement to be due the client, and he may then withdraw for himself the amount so claimed to be due him for compensation and disbursements.”

Discovery of OCA Closing Statements Sought:

It was alleged that the law firm previously settled some of the cases in which payment for the court reporting services was sought. Therefore, a lien existed upon any settlements to the extent that the bills were unpaid and enforcement could be pursued against the individuals. In responding to the individual attorneys’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit against them, it was urged that discovery be had in the collection case in order to seek the production of the OCA Closing Statements in those settled cases to ascertain whether the attorneys stated in them that all expenses of litigation, including the court reporting company’s bills, were paid. See, Cantor v Levine, 115 AD2d 453, 453 [2d Dept 1985] (“When knowledge of facts is necessary for a party to properly oppose a motion to dismiss, and those facts are within the sole knowledge or possession of the movant, discovery is sanctioned if it has been demonstrated that such facts may exist (CPLR 3211[d]; Cosmos Mason Supplies v. Lido Beach Assoc., 95 A.D.2d 818, 464 N.Y.S.2d 12).”).

Confronted with the opposition to their motions to dismiss, the former law firm and its individual partners agreed to settle the lawsuit and enter into an agreement to pay the court reporting agency for services rendered.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Enforcing Judgments Against Bank Accounts Held Outside N.Y.

By Richard A. Klass and Elisa S. Rosenthal

[This article first appeared in the November 20, 2014 edition of the New York Law Journal.]

Enforcing a judgment entered in New York

New York Civil Practice Law and Rules Article 52 dictates the procedures that a judgment creditor must follow to exercise its rights to enforce a judgment entered in New York.

When both the judgment debtor and its assets are located within New York State, the procedure is fairly straightforward. When the assets of the judgment debtor are located outside of New York State, however, the ability to levy upon the judgment debtor’s assets can be tricky.

There are several factors that both federal and state courts in New York have considered in determining whether or not assets held in another state can be used to satisfy a New York judgment, including: (a) the separate entity rule; (b) jurisdiction; and (c) the type of proceeding.

The Separate Entity Rule

The separate entity rule, one which was adopted from the old English common law, provides that each branch of a bank is considered to be a separate entity. The mere fact that a bank may have a branch inside of New York is insufficient to render accounts outside of New York subject to attachment by a New York court. See Motorola Credit Corp. v. Uzan, 288 F.Supp.2d 558 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

In 2009, the separate entity rule was loosened by the Court of Appeals, due to the computerization of bank information and centralized systems, Digitrex v. Johnson, 491 F.Supp. 66 (S.D.N.Y. 1980). Indeed, in Koehler v. Bank of Bermuda, 12 N.Y.3d 533 (2009), the New York State Court of Appeals held that the Legislature intended CPLR Article 52 to have extraterritorial reach when it amended CPLR 5224 (Consol. 2011) to facilitate the disclosure of materials located outside of New York to judgment creditors seeking to collect a judgment.

Following Koehler, courts facing similar issues wondered whether the separate entity rule had been completely abrogated by Koehler. See, e.g.,Global Tech. v. Royal Bank of Can., 34 Misc.3d 1209(A) (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2012), Parbulk II AS v. Heritage Maritime, 35 Misc.3d 235 (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2011). Subsequent decisions, particularly in the First Department, however, have held that if the Court of Appeals had intended to eliminate the separate entity rule, it would have, and that “any future exception to the separate entity rule would require a pronouncement from the Court of Appeals or an act of the Legislature.” Ayyash v. Koleilat, 38 Misc.3d 916, 924 (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2012) citing Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Advanced Empl. Concepts, 269 A.D.2d 101 (1st Dept. 2000).

In fact, several trial courts since Koehler have instead held by the traditionally well-settled rule that “in order to reach a particular bank account the judgment creditor must serve the office of the bank where the account is maintained.” See, e.g., Global Tech. v. Royal Bank of Can., 34 Misc.3d 1209(A) (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2012), Parbulk II AS v Heritage Maritime, 35 Misc.3d 235 (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2011). The Court of Appeals’ deliberate sidestepping1 the issue of the separate entity rule in Koehler may be the impetus for its most recent determination in Motorola Credit v. Standard Chartered Bank, decided on Oct. 23, 2014.

In a divided opinion, the Court of Appeals, in Motorola, affirmed the long-standing common law tenet of the separate entity rule, holding that “limiting the reach of CPLR 5222 restraining notice in the foreign banking context, the separate entity rule promotes international comity and serves to avoid conflicts among competing legal systems.” Motorola Credit v. Standard Chartered Bank, No. 162, NYLJ 1202674400477 at *11 [Oct. 23, 2014].

Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction in connection with judgment enforcement proceedings

The Court of Appeals in Koehler analyzed the issue of jurisdiction in connection with judgment enforcement proceedings. The court explained that since a post-judgment enforcement action is against a person, and the purpose of the proceeding is to force the person to convert property he owns into money for payment to a creditor, that New York has the authority to order the holder of a judgment debtor’s asset to turn over property of the judgment debtor held outside the state if the court has personal jurisdiction over a judgment debtor. Koehler, 12 N.Y.3d at 540, citing Siegel, N.Y. Prac. Section 510, at 866 [4th ed].

In Koehler, the plaintiff sought to enforce a domesticated foreign judgment as against the defendant by issuing a restraining notice to the Bank of Bermuda, which it asserted held stock on behalf of the defendant. The court established personal jurisdiction over the defendant based upon defendant’s willingness to subject itself to the court’s jurisdiction without objection. The court then determined that, based upon its in personam jurisdiction over the defendant, it can extend its reach to assets of the defendant, even when those assets are held outside of New York State, either in another state or another country. Koehler v. Bank of Bermuda, 12 N.Y.3d 533 (2009). In fact, the court in Koehler went so far as to hold that the broad language of CPLR Article 52 extends to the turnover of out-of-state assets held by a garnishee. Id. at 541.

Utilizing a jurisdictional analysis to determine whether the out-of-state assets of a judgment creditor can be turned over, as in Koehler, has precedential support. In U.S. v. First Nat’l City Bank, the case involved notice and levy of a federal tax lien upon all of the assets of an Uruguayan corporation. U.S. v. First Nat’l City Bank, 379 U.S. 378 (1965). The United States sought to foreclose its tax lien upon all sums held for the corporation in the Montevideo branch office of the bank. Id. The bank had been served with an injunction preventing the bank from transferring any assets of the corporation during the pendency of the foreclosure, but the corporation had not been served. Id.

The U.S. Supreme Court held the bank “has actual, practical control over its branches; it is organized under a federal statute, which authorizes it to sue and be sued, complain and defend, in any court of law and equity, as fully as natural persons as one entity, not branch by branch. Id. The branch bank’s affairs are, therefore, as much within the reach of the in personam order entered by the District Court as are those of the home office…” Id.

Although the determinations in Koehler and First Nat’l City Bank appear to put to bed the issue of New York’s jurisdiction over out-of-state bank branches, there remains an important factor to address before determining whether, in fact, a judgment should, or needs to be domesticated in a foreign state or whether New York can assert its jurisdiction. The remaining issue is determining whether the proceeding is an attachment proceeding, an injunction proceeding or a turnover/garnishment proceeding.

Collection Proceedings

Under New York law, there are several different ways in which a debtor’s assets can be reached; (a) attachment; (b) turnover proceeding; and (c) restraining notice/execution.

Attachment:

An attachment proceeding is a pre-judgment remedy involving the seizure of the defendant/debtor’s property so that they are no longer able to use the property in order to ensure satisfaction of a prospective judgment. Attachment proceedings in New York are governed by CPLR Article 62, and as stated in Koehler, enable a court to have jurisdiction over the property rather than the person. Koehler, 12 N.Y.3d at 539, (“It is a fundamental rule that in attachment proceedings, the res must be within the jurisdiction of the court issuing the process in order to confer the jurisdiction”).

In Abuhamda, moneys were transferred from a bank branch located in New York to a branch in Jordan. Abuhamda v. Abuhamda, 654 N.Y.S.2d 11 (1st Dept. 1997). The court held that it had the authority to order a preliminary injunction to direct the bank to freeze the account in Jordan, based upon the Supreme Court’s ruling in First Nat’l City Bank. Id. The fact that the bank did business in New York State subjected the bank to its jurisdiction. Id.

Turnover Proceeding:

A turnover proceeding is a post-judgment special proceeding, under CPLR Article 52, in which the judgment creditor may obtain an order from the court forcing a third-party garnishee in possession of property belonging to the judgment debtor to turn the property over to the judgment creditor. The analysis performed in Koehler resulted in a determination that “a New York court with personal jurisdiction over a defendant may order him to turn over out-of-state property regardless of whether the defendant is a judgment debtor or garnishee.”

In Gryphon, the plaintiff, through a turnover proceeding, sought to have assets of the defendant turned over to the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment issued against the defendant based upon its non-payment of guaranteed notes. Gryphon Dom. VI v. APP Int’l. Fin. Co., 41 A.D.3d 25 (1st Dept. 2007). The court held that New York had jurisdiction over the defendant based upon the language of the notes and that on the basis of the court’s jurisdiction over the defendant it could order the turnover of assets held outside of New York. Id.

Although the Court of Appeals in Koehler appeared to give broad discretion to a judgment creditor in terms of its ability to enforce its judgment, in 2013, the court narrowed the holding in Koehler in the case of Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 21 N.Y.3d 55 (2013).

In Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, the issue became one of not just possession and custody, but of control over the judgment debtor’s assets. Id. The court held that the bank’s parent company in Toronto maintained possession and custody over the judgment debtor’s assets, not the subsidiary, and the fact that the holder of the assets controls the subsidiary was not sufficient to “compel another entity, which is not subject to this state’s personal jurisdiction, to deliver assets held in a foreign jurisdiction.” Id.

Restraining Notices/Execution:

A restraining notice or execution does not necessarily require court assistance or intervention. Once the court has issued a judgment, the judgment creditor may pursue collection of that judgment pursuant to the rules laid out in CPLR Article 52, including issuance of an income execution, a restraining notice upon a bank, or an execution issued to the sheriff to levy upon property owned by the judgment debtor.

In Global Tech., a restraining notice relative to a judgment was served upon a defendant, Royal Bank of Canada, on its New York branch. The court in Global Tech. discussed that, “a party that seeks a restraining notice need only engage an attorney, who is authorized to issue a restraining notice as an officer of the Court. The court has no involvement with the issue of whether service of the restraining notice upon the garnishee comports with due process until the garnishee challenges the restraining notice…when serving a restraining notice of assets held outside the state, the restraining notice must be served upon the individual bank branches holding the assets of the judgment debtor, rather than the home office or a branch within the State of New York.” Global Tech. v. Royal Bank of Can., 34 Misc.3d 1209(A) (Sup. Ct. New York Co. 2012).

The holding in Global Tech. has support in Koehler as well. In the court’s analysis of CPLR 5225(a)-(b) (Consol. 1964), the court took special note of the how the authority is invoked; in CPLR 5225(a) the judgment creditor must file a motion to order the judgment debtor to turn over property in his possession, while CPLR 5225(b) requires a special proceeding by the judgment debtor over a garnishee who is not a party to the main action. See Koehler, 12 N.Y.3d at 541.

In Motorola, the issue with Standard Chartered Bank began when Motorola served a restraining order on the New York branch of the defendant, a foreign bank from the United Kingdom. Motorola argued that based upon Koehler, the separate entity rule was no longer valid law. Standard Chartered Bank disagreed, asserting the separate entity rule is essential in the realm of international banking. The Court of Appeals’ determination affirmed Standard Chartered Bank’s position that “abolition of the separate entity rule would result in serious consequences in the realm of international banking.” Motorola v. Standard Chartered Bank at *13.

On the question of how to enforce a judgment against a judgment debtor against assets held outside of New York, a determination of the type of enforcement action must first be ascertained. If the judgment creditor prefers collection by a restraining notice, the separate entity rule applies, and the judgment should then be domesticated in the foreign jurisdiction in order to assert jurisdiction over the assets. Should the judgment creditor instead prefer to enforce its judgment by a turnover proceeding, the court can assert its authority over assets held outside of the state so long as the court has exercised its jurisdiction over the holder of the assets.

Endnotes:

1. “Notably absent from our decision in Koehler was any discussion of the separate entity rule.”Motorola Credit v. Standard Chartered Bank, No. 162, NYLJ 1202674400477 at *9 (Oct. 23, 2014).

Richard A. Klass is an attorney with the Law Office of Richard A. Klass in Brooklyn. Elisa S. Rosenthal is an associate of the firm.

Reprinted with permission from the November 20, 2014 edition of the New York Law Journal © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
Further duplication without permission is prohibited. ALMReprints.com – 877-257-3382 – reprints@alm.com.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq. and Elisa S. Rosenthal

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The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com

Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Debt Collection Tips: Motions to Dismiss Affirmative Defenses or Counterclaims

After a suit is filed against a debtor to collect upon a debt, the defendant will file an Answer which may include “affirmative defenses” or “counterclaims.”  These allegations must be handled with vigilance from the onset to attempt successful recovery in the litigation.

An “affirmative defense” is a defense to a law suit which must be proved by the defendant.  Examples of affirmative defenses would include, e.g., bankruptcy, statute of limitations, improper service, and accord and satisfaction.  The notion is that those types of defenses would likely be determinative to the claim.  Therefore, the defendant must assert them in the Answer so as not to “surprise” the plaintiff-creditor at the time of trial.  Some affirmative defenses must be asserted either pre-Answer or in the Answer, or they are deemed waived by the defendant.  After receipt of the Answer, the plaintiff’s counsel should scan the Answer to identify any affirmative defenses and assess their viability.  To the extent that an affirmative defense seems frivolous, meritless, or superfluous, an appropriate motion to dismiss the affirmative defense should be made sooner rather than later.  The court will then determine whether to sustain the affirmative defense or dismiss it from the onset of the litigation.

As to any counterclaims which may be asserted in the Answer, a careful review must take place as to whether it relates to the matter complained of in the complaint, or relates to a separate matter.  Sometimes, the plaintiff will have an insurance policy which covers the counterclaim, and the insurance company will provide a defense to the counterclaim separate from the prosecution of the underlying suit.  If it is deemed that the counterclaim “fails to state a valid cause of action,” then an appropriate motion may be brought to dismiss the same.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

———–
copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

New York foreclosure cases nearing 6 year statute of limitations

As reported today in the New York Times, there are increasing numbers of foreclosure cases in New York State where lenders may be unable to seize homes.  Why?  Because the State’s statute of limitations on foreclosure cases may be exceeded.

If you have a foreclosure case that has been dragging on for nearly six years, there may be relief on the horizon.

Does this sound similar to your situation?  If so, and if you require legal representation, call my office for more information.

The full New York Times article is available here: http://nyti.ms/1G6IuQ3

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

———–
copyr. 2015 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Debt Collection Tips: Restraining an Account

Once the creditor has obtained a Judgment from a court, one of the options for obtaining payment of the Judgment is to restrain funds of the debtor contained in an account.

The process is to serve a “restraining notice” upon the subject bank, as permitted by statute.  In turn, the bank then holds the funds contained in accounts belonging to the judgment debtor pending further action on the part of the creditor.  This restraint remains in effect upon the funds for a period of one year.

The next step of the creditor is to remove the restrained funds from the bank.  This is done either through an Execution issued to a Sheriff or Marshal (since that person is deemed as “enforcement officer” able to obtain the funds), or through a “turn-over proceeding,” where the creditor begins a separate action against the debtor and the bank as a garnishee requesting that the court direct the garnishee/bank to turn over the restrained funds.

Once the restrained funds are delivered to the creditor through either of the above methods, the accounts of the debtor will continue to be restrained by the bank (where, in the event that new funds were deposited, they would be restrained as well) until the creditor issues a “release” letter to the bank or a Satisfaction of Judgment is filed by the creditor.

Where an account of the debtor is held jointly with another person, it is necessary to file a turn-over proceeding, as the court must determine the respective rights of the account-holders to the funds.  One defense to the proceeding is that the debtor is a joint account-holder only for convenience purposes.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

———–
copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Debt Collection Tips: Docketing the Judgment

Once the creditor has obtained a Judgment from a court, the collection process has now begun.  In the context of collecting the money due on the Judgment, it may be necessary to “docket” the Judgment in the County Clerk’s Office.

In each county of the State, there is a court of general jurisdiction called the “Supreme Court.”  In some counties, towns, cities, and villages, there are lower courts (such as Civil Court, District Court, etc.).  Judgments entered in those courts are not automatic liens upon any realty that the debtor may own in the county.  Rather, a “Transcript of Judgment” must be obtained from the court and filed with the County Clerk to create the lien.  Once docketed, the Transcript of Judgment will serve as notice to others that there is a lien upon any realty owned by the debtor; other parties are now aware that the lien must be paid according to its priority.

Judgments entered in a Supreme Court case are automatically docketed with the County Clerk.

Unlike New Jersey or some other states, which have state-wide recognition, the Judgment must be docketed by the filing of a Transcript of Judgment in each county in which the debtor has realty in order to create the lien.

The docketing of a Judgment is also essential when attempting to issue an Income Execution to a County Sheriff in another county (where, perhaps, the employer of a debtor is located).  Another purpose of docketing a Judgment may be where the Judgment was entered in federal District Court and the creditor wants to use a Sheriff instead of a United States Marshall.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

———–
copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Difference of Opinion regarding Mandatory Attorney Fee Dispute Arbitration

The Fee Dispute Resolution Program (22 NYCRR Section 137) was created to mandate arbitration of fee disputes between attorneys and their former clients in civil matters. It has been subject to differing opinions among different departments leading to divergent opinions on the issue of whether or not an arbitration is necessary when the former client fails to object the validity of the underlying fee.

In 2000, the Second Department determined in Scordio that when there is a fee dispute between an attorney and a former client, the attorney was not required to send notice to the former client informing them of their rights to arbitrate when there was no dispute or objection to the reasonableness of the attorney’s fees. Scordio v. Scordio, 270 A.D.2d 328 (2nd Dept. 2000).

The decision in Scordio would ordinarily lend to the notion that an attorney may pursue collection of his fees without notice to a client of his right to arbitration but the rules regarding arbitration of fee disputes were modified and expanded in 2002, and now lists exceptions to when a notice to a client of his right to arbitrate can be waived. In Wexler & Burkhart, the court held that a reading of the Rules in this way would “effectively eviscerate Part 137 of the Rules, a comprehensive scheme for the informal and expeditious resolution of fee disputes between attorneys and clients through arbitration and mediation.” Wexler & Burkart LLP v. Grant, 12 Misc.3d 1162(A) (Nassau Cty. 2006).

The court in Rotker determined that “the rules of the appellate division establish a clear public policy in favor of the arbitration of attorney-client fee disputes.” Rotker v. Rotker, 195 Misc.2d 768 (Westchester Cty. 2003). Rotker was a matrimonial case where the attorneys for the wife instituted a retainer lien against her for non-payment of her fees. The attorneys asserted that since the client had not disputed the fees, under Scordio, they were entitled to payment without arbitration. The court held that even if it was determined that counsel was not fired for cause, the attorneys were required to provide the client notice of her rights to arbitrate the dispute, with said notice given in writing. If the client then failed to avail herself of her right to arbitrate after 30 days of mailing the notice, the right to arbitration would be waived. Id at 790-791.

The court in Rotker went so far as to hold that the failure of former counsel to send the 30-day notice, regardless of whether or not there is a dispute, would mandate the dismissal of any action for unpaid counsel fees. Rotker at 791.

The basic tenet held in these decisions is the idea that if the Scordio argument is used as a means to avoid Rule 137, then nearly anyone can circumvent the protections that Rule 137 was meant to provide. Wexler & Burkhart LLP at 214;

The position of the Wexler & Burkhart decision and the Rotker decision was most recently supported in Noel F. Caraccio, where the court held that regardless of whether there was an objection or dispute as to the fees when they were billed, the attorney was still required to send the 30-day notice of the right to arbitrate. Noel F. Caraccio PLLC v. Thomas, 29 Misc.3d 1230 (A) (City Ct., Rye 2010); Rotker at 791.

Thus, it is questionable as to whether Scordio remains good law, and as such, it is prudent to notify the former client of his rights to arbitrate the fee in order to prevent a dismissal of an attorney’s action for payment.

— Elisa S. Rosenthal, Esq.
Associate
Law Office of Richard A. Klass
Copyr. 2014

Elisa S. Rosenthal, Esq. is an associate of the law firm of Richard A. Klass, Esq.. She practices primarily in the areas of commercial litigation, debt collection/enforcement of judgments, legal malpractice and real estate litigation. She may be reached by phone at (718) COURT-ST [(718) 268-7878)] or www.courtstreetlaw.com.

———–
copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

An attorney maintains a common law and statutory charging lien in the judgment

Under common law, an attorney was originally only entitled to a lien upon the judgment but the scope of the charging lien was extended by statute [Judiciary Law Section 475] to give the attorney a lien upon the client’s cause of action as well. The lien comes into existence, without notice or filing, upon commencement of the action or proceeding. See, Matter of Heinsheimer, 241 NY 361 [1915]. In Matter of Heinsheimer, Judge Cardozo stated,

If the attorney got possession of the fund, he had a general lien. If he did not get possession, his lien was for the services that brought the fund into existence. This charging lien still exists under our statutes. It has been enlarged to the extent that it now attaches to a cause of action even before judgment. ‘From the commencement of an action or special proceeding‘ the attorney now has a lien ‘upon his client’s cause of action, claim or counterclaim, which attaches to a verdict, report, decision, judgment or final order in his client’s favor, and the proceeds thereof in whosoever hands they may come.‘ (Judiciary Law, Cons. Laws, ch. 30, section 475.) Except as thus changed, the charging lien is today what it was at common law.

The concept of protecting an attorney’s lien in litigation from inception through and after entry of judgment is an old one. As stated in the decision of Fischer-Hansen v. The Brooklyn Heights Railroad Company, 173 NY 492 [1903].

There is much learning in the books relating to the lien of an attorney upon a judgment for his costs as it existed before the statute, and though now virtually obsolete, it shows the fixed determination of the courts to protect attorneys against fraudulent settlements. The lien upon a judgment was not created by statute, but was ‘a device invented by the courts for the protection of attorneys against the knavery of their clients by disabling their clients from receiving the fruits of recoveries without paying for the valuable services by which the recoveries were obtained.’ Goodrich v. McDonald, 112 NY 157 [1889].

In Peri v. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, 152 NY 521 [1897], the Court of Appeals held that an attorney’s charging lien is a statutory lien “of which all the world must take notice, and any one settling with a plaintiff without the knowledge of his attorney, does so at his own risk.” In this case, that risk is borne by all of the defendants.

New York Judiciary Law Section 475 provides:

From the commencement of an action, special or other proceeding in any court or before any state, municipal or federal department, except a department of labor, or the service of an answer containing a counterclaim, or the initiation of any means of alternative dispute resolution including, but not limited to, mediation or arbitration, or the provision of services in a settlement negotiation at any stage of the dispute, the attorney who appears for a party has a lien upon his client’s cause of action, claim or counterclaim, which attaches to a verdict, report, determination, decision, award, settlement, judgment or final order in his client’s favor, and the proceeds thereof in whatever hands they may come; and the lien cannot be affected by any settlement between the parties before or after judgment, final order or determination. The court upon the petition of the client or attorney may determine and enforce the lien.

The Court of Appeals noted, in Matter of City of New York (United States of America-Coblentz), 5 NY2d 300 [1959], that the statute gives an attorney a lien on the cause of action which attaches to the judgment from the commencement of the action. In the decision, the Court stated that Section 475, in substance, declares the common law. The origin of an attorney’s lien, whether as retaining or as charging, is obscure, but in all events, irrespective of type, has been recognized and enforced by the courts from very early times (see Fourth Annual Report of N. Y. Judicial Council, 1938, p. 49; 7 C. J. S., Attorney and Client, Section 210 et seq.; 5 Am. Jur., Attorneys at Law, Section 208 et seq.). The underlying purpose at both common law and now, by statute, is to protect an attorney against the ‘knavery of his client’ (Matter of Rosentover v. Weiss, 247 AD 137 affirmed 272 N.Y 557; Goodrich v. McDonald, 112 NY 157) and, being created by statute, does not require the giving of any notice in order to bring it into existence (Matter of Drake v. Pierce Butler Radiator Corp., 202 Misc. 935) for it is generally regarded as an equitable assignment to the attorney of the fund procured by his efforts to the extent of the amount of his lien (Matter of Herlihy, 274 AD 342).

Other parties do not have the ability to destroy the attorney’s vested property rights in and to the Judgment. See, LMWT Realty Corp. v. Davis Agency, Inc., 85 NY2d 462 [1995] (“Manifestly, then, an attorney’s charging lien is something more than a mere claim against either property or proceeds; an attorney’s charging lien “is a vested property right created by law and not a priority of payment”).

In enforcing the charging lien, the attorney is not required to solely chase after his client for the money he is owed; he can also pursue the other defendants. In Haser v. Haser, 271 AD2d 253 [1 Dept. 2000], the court held that, under New York law, a plaintiff’s attorney may enforce her statutory charging lien against the defendant’s own assets, if he still possesses the settlement proceeds or knowingly paid them to the plaintiff so as to deprive the attorney of her compensation (citing to Kaplan v Reuss, 113 AD2d 184, 186-187, affd 68 NY2d 693; Fischer-Hansen v Brooklyn Hgts. R. R. Co., 173 NY 492, 502). The lien which attaches in the attorney’s favor cannot be impaired by a collusive settlement.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Debt Collection Tips: Docketing a Judgment Lien

Once a Judgment has been entered in a court, there are various methods which may be utilized by the judgment creditor to collect the Judgment from the debtor.

Where the debtor owns real estate, a lien may be placed upon the property. This type of lien is referred to as a Judgment lien under Article 52 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR).

The Judgment lien is placed upon real estate by the “docketing” of a Transcript of Judgment with the County Clerk’s Office.  Once the Judgment is docketed or registered, the judgment creditor may issue an Execution to the Sheriff to levy and sell the real estate, or merely leave the lien against the property until the debtor sells or transfers the property (at which time, the Judgment will likely be paid from the proceeds at closing).

If the Judgment was obtained in the Supreme Court of the county in which the property is located, no further action is required to docket the lien.

If the Judgment was obtained in another court (such as the New York City Civil Court, federal court, Family Court, or District Court), that court will issue, for a fee, a Transcript of Judgment with a raised seal, which Transcript of Judgment will then be filed with the County Clerk’s Office, at which point the lien will be effective.

If the debtor owns real estate in a county different from the one in which the Judgment was entered, a Transcript of Judgment should issue from the County Clerk’s Office in which the Judgment was entered and be filed with the County Clerk’s Office in which the property is located to effectuate the lien.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

———–
copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Debt Collection Tips: Executions

Once a Judgment has been obtained against a debtor, an “Execution” may issue to a Sheriff or Marshal. An Execution is a legal document which directs the Sheriff or Marshal to levy upon certain assets of the debtor.

There are three types of Executions:

1. Property Execution: issues against personal property of any nature belonging to the debtor, including bank accounts, cars, shares of stock, equipment, etc.

2. Real Property Execution: issues against real estate owned by the debtor, permitting the sale of the real estate at auction.

3. Income Execution: issues against a debtor’s wages, permitting the garnishment of the debtor’s salary or compensation.

Each county of New York State has a Sheriff, who performs the above functions. Within the City of New York, a City Marshal may be selected by the creditor in lieu of a Sheriff (except for real estate sales). Some creditors prefer using a City Marshal instead of a Sheriff because City Marshals are not City employees, but rather work strictly upon a percentage of the amount collected. The perception is that City Marshals have more incentive to work harder because of this fee structure.

According to statute, the Sheriff/Marshal is entitled to collect a levy fee and “poundage” of 5% from the debtor on top of the Judgment amount as a fee.

In some situations, the Sheriff cannot levy upon property, where there may be title issues relating to the ownership of the property, at which time further legal proceedings may be necessary.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.