…client’s allegations were previously addressed in a prior matter.

In Knox v Aronson, Mayefsky & Sloan, LLP, 2018 NY Slip Op 09030 [1st Dept Dec. 27, 2018], the court dismissed a legal malpractice case where the client’s allegations were previously addressed in a prior matter.  The court held:

Supreme Court properly dismissed plaintiff’s complaint as against FBK, since the only claim asserted, a legal malpractice claim, is barred by the doctrine of res judicata (see Matter of Hunter, 4 N.Y.3d 260, 269, 794 N.Y.S.2d 286, 827 N.E.2d 269 [2005] ).  Plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim is based on the same conduct that was the basis of the counterclaim previously dismissed by Supreme Court Westchester County.  Res judicata bars all claims “ arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions … even if based upon different theories or if seeking a different remedy ” (Jumax Assoc. v. 350 Cabrini Owners Corp., 110 A.D.3d 622, 623, 973 N.Y.S.2d 631 [1st Dept. 2013] [internal quotation marks omitted], lv denied 23 N.Y.3d 907, 2014 WL 2922240 [2014]).  Contrary to plaintiff’s contention, the dismissal in the Westchester action was on the merits.  The order addressed the merits of the counterclaim, dismissing it on the basis of the settlement and the custody decision in the matrimonial action (see Plaza PH2001 LLC v. Plaza Residential Owner LP, 98 A.D.3d 89, 98, 947 N.Y.S.2d 498 [1st Dept. 2012] ).

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Client alleged attorney failed to provide legal advice … immigration consequences

The First Department kept a legal malpractice case alive and partially denied the attorney’s motion to dismiss action, where the client alleged that the attorney failed to provide legal advice. In Sehgal v DiRaimondo, 165 AD3d 435, 436-37 [1st Dept 2018], the court held:

We affirm dismissal of part of the malpractice claim on alternative grounds. Plaintiff’s claim that he pleaded guilty to criminal charges in reliance on defendants’ negligent legal advice concerning the immigration consequences of the plea is barred by his guilty plea and lack of any claim of innocence (Carmel v. Lunney, 70 N.Y.2d 169, 173, 518 N.Y.S.2d 605, 511 N.E.2d 1126 [1987]; Yong Wong Park v. Wolff & Samson, P.C., 56 A.D.3d 351, 867 N.Y.S.2d 424 [1st Dept. 2008], lv denied 12 N.Y.3d 704, 876 N.Y.S.2d 705, 904 N.E.2d 842 [2009] ). However, the policy underlying the rule established in Carmel v. Lunney, supra, does not require dismissal of the entirety of plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim, because the remainder of his claim that defendants failed to advise him of the potential immigration consequences of traveling outside the United States as a result of entering a guilty plea does not dispute the validity of his conviction (see generally Carmel v. Lunney, supra; see also Bass & Ullman v. Chanes, 185 A.D.2d 750, 586 N.Y.S.2d 610 [1st Dept. 1992] ). Further, plaintiff’s allegations that he relied on defendants’ faulty legal advice concerning the immigration consequences of his guilty plea in deciding to travel abroad after he pled guilty, resulting in his being detained and subjected to removal proceedings, state a valid cause of action for legal malpractice. Defendants’ other arguments present disputed factual issues concerning the standard of care and proximate cause that are not properly resolved on a motion to dismiss the complaint (see Urias v. Daniel P. Buttafuoco & Assoc., PLLC, 120 A.D.3d 1339, 1343, 992 N.Y.S.2d 552 [2d Dept. 2014] ).

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Second Department reiterated general rule on a pre-answer motion to dismiss that letters and emails are generally not considered documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1)

The Second Department reiterated the general rule on a pre-answer motion to dismiss that letters and emails are generally not considered documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1). In First Choice Plumbing Corp. v Miller Law Offices, PLLC, 164 AD3d 756 [2d Dept 2018], the court held:

The plaintiffs First Choice Plumbing Corp. (hereinafter First Choice) and Malacy Plumbing Supply, Inc. (hereinafter Malacy), commenced this action to recover damages for legal malpractice against the defendant Miller Law Offices, PLLC, for its alleged negligence concerning two mechanic’s liens. The complaint alleges that the plaintiffs failed to receive full payment for plumbing services and supplies they provided on a construction project, and that the plaintiffs each filed a mechanic’s lien to recover the monies owed. The complaint further alleges that the liens were extended once, but subsequently lapsed and were extinguished by operation of law, due to the defendant’s negligence.

The defendant made a pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), (5), and (7). The defendant argued, among other things, that no attorney-client relationship existed with respect to the mechanic’s liens. In support of that contention, the defendant submitted copies of the lien extensions, which were filed by nonparty Speedy Lien; a copy of a contract between First Choice and nonparty Construction Lien Consultants, LLC, to investigate, recover, and/or settle the debts owed to First Choice, as reflected in one of the mechanic’s liens; and emails and a letter. In the order appealed from, the Supreme Court found *173 that the defendant submitted documentary evidence which utterly refuted the plaintiffs’ allegation that there was an attorney-client relationship between them and the defendant with respect to the liens and their extensions. Accordingly, the court granted that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint on the ground that no attorney-client relationship existed, and denied, in effect, as academic, the remaining branches of the defendant’s motion. The plaintiffs appeal.

A motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action is barred by documentary evidence “may be appropriately granted only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law” (Goshen v. Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 N.Y.2d 314, 326, 746 N.Y.S.2d 858, 774 N.E.2d 1190; see Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511). “In order for evidence to qualify as ‘documentary,’ it must be unambiguous, authentic, and undeniable” (Granada Condominium III Assn. v. Palomino, 78 A.D.3d 996, 996–997, 913 N.Y.S.2d 668; see Fontanetta v. John Doe 1, 73 A.D.3d 78, 86, 898 N.Y.S.2d 569). “[J]udicial records, as well as documents reflecting out-of-court transactions such as mortgages, deeds, contracts, and any other papers, the contents of which are essentially undeniable, would qualify as documentary evidence in the proper case” (Fontanetta v. John Doe 1, 73 A.D.3d at 84–85, 898 N.Y.S.2d 569 [internal quotation marks omitted] ). “Conversely, letters, emails, and affidavits fail to meet the requirements for documentary evidence” (25–01 Newkirk Ave., LLC v. Everest Natl. Ins. Co., 127 A.D.3d 850, 851, 7 N.Y.S.3d 325; see Phillips v. Taco Bell Corp., 152 A.D.3d 806, 807, 60 N.Y.S.3d 67; Prott v. Lewin & Baglio, LLP, 150 A.D.3d 908, 909, 55 N.Y.S.3d 98; Gawrych v. Astoria Fed. Sav. & Loan, 148 A.D.3d 681, 682, 48 N.Y.S.3d 450).

Here, the emails and letters submitted in support of the defendant’s motion were not documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1). To the extent that the other evidence submitted was documentary, that evidence did not conclusively establish the absence of an attorney-client relationship between the plaintiffs and the defendant with respect to the liens and their extensions. Thus, the Supreme Court should not have granted that branch of the defendant’s motion which was to dismiss the complaint on this ground.

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What’s Yours Is Mine and What’s Mine Is Yours: Tenancy by the Entirety

Gray-haired couple in embrace illustrating article by Richard Klass Esq. about Tenancy by the Entirety

He owned his own house. When Harald married Florence a year later, he transferred title to the house from himself to “Harald and Florence, his wife.” By virtue of this language in the deed, ownership of the house was now held in a “ tenancy by the entirety ” (see, Estates, Powers & Trusts Law Section 6-2.2). After many years of marriage, Florence passed away, leaving Harald as the surviving spouse of the former tenancy by the entirety and sole owner of the house by operation of law. Subsequently, Harald transferred title to the house to his nieces.

Executor of Estate of Deceased Wife Sues

Florence’s executor brought a lawsuit against Harald and his two nieces to claim Florence’s share in the house as part of her estate. The executor demanded that the house be returned to Florence’s estate for disposition according to her Will. In response, Harald and his nieces filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit based upon documentary evidence.

Dismissal Based upon Documentary Evidence

Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, filed the motion to dismiss based upon documentary evidence. CPLR 3211(a)(1) provides that dismissal of a lawsuit is appropriate when the document itself resolves all factual issues as a matter of law. In order to be considered documentary evidence under CPLR 3211(a)(1), the evidence “must be unambiguous and of undisputed authenticity.” Rabos v. R&R Bagels & Bakery, Inc., 100 AD3d 849 [2012]; Fontanetta v. John Doe, 73 AD3d 78 [2010]. In considering such a motion, the court is to afford the complaint its most favorable intendment and the plaintiff’s allegations which are contrary to the documentary evidence are to be accepted. However, “a complaint containing factual claims that are flatly contradicted by documentary evidence should be dismissed.” See, Well v. Rambam, 300 AD2d 580 [2002].

Tenancy by the Entirety Deed

Quoting from an 1883 decision from the NYS Court of Appeals, a “ tenancy by the entirety ” is derived from the common law (“when land was conveyed to husband and wife, they did not take as tenants in common or as joint tenants but each became seized of the entirety, and upon the death of either the whole survived to the other.”) On the death of either spouse, the property’s title vested in the other spouse because the survivor is deemed the representative of the single ownership. Indeed, the surviving spouse receives the entire property interest free and clear of any debts, claims, liens or encumbrances against the deceased spouse. See, Cormack v. Burks, 150 AD3d 1198 [2017].

Longstanding New York State law holds that a grant of real property to a husband and wife creates a tenancy by the entirety “unless expressly declared to be a joint tenancy or tenancy in common.” See, Prario v. Novo, 168 Misc.2d 610 [Sup. Ct., Westchester Co. 1996]; In re Faeth’s Will, 200 Misc. 143 [Sur. Ct., Queens Co. 1951]; Estates, Powers & Trusts Law § 6-2.2(b). Courts have recognized that a tenancy by the entirety cannot be altered without the mutual consent of the spouses or divorce. In Sciacca v. Sciacca, 185 Misc.2d 105 [Sup. Ct. Queens Co. 2000], the court held that: “As articulated by the Court of Appeals in Kahn v. Kahn, 43 N.Y.2d 203, a court cannot direct the disposition of property held by married couples as tenants by the entirety until the court first alters the marital status, such as by entering a judgment of divorce or separation. Indeed, the law is long-settled that neither entirety tenant may, without the consent of the other, dispose of any part of the property to defeat the right of survivorship.”

That the executor was pursuing rights on behalf of Florence’s estate was irrelevant. Numerous cases have held that, regardless of any purported disposition of real property owned by spouses as tenants by the entirety, the surviving spouse takes the whole by operation of law. See, e.g. Levenson v Levenson, 229 AD 402 [2d Dept 1930] (“A question of property held jointly was not involved. Naturally, the survivor took that regardless of the will.”); In re Maguire’s Estate, 251 AD 337 [2d Dept 1937], affd sub nom, 277 NY 527 [1938] (“In an estate by the entirety the husband and wife are each seized of the entire estate, per tout et non per my. Each owns, not an undivided part, but the whole estate. ‘The survivor, upon the death of the other, does not take a new acquisition, but holds under the original grant or devise, the estate being merely freed from participation by the other.”)

At the time of Florence’s death, she and Harald were still married. There was also no evidence that they altered their tenancy by the entirety either by judicial decree (such as a divorce judgment) or written instrument satisfying General Obligations Law Section 3-309. Therefore, the Deed itself was dispositive of the issue of ownership of the house vesting solely into Harald as the surviving spouse.

Foreign Affidavit Properly Accepted by Court

In support of the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Harald submitted his affidavit signed by him in Jamaica, his new home country. The executor took issue with the court accepting the affidavit without it having been executed before a Notary Public. In rejecting this argument, the court noted that Harald’s affidavit was signed in accordance with the rule set forth in CPLR 2106(b) (“The statement of any person, when that person is physically located outside the geographic boundaries of the United States, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, or any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, subscribed and affirmed by that person to be true under the penalties of perjury, may be used in an action in lieu of and with the same force and effect as an affidavit. Such affirmation shall be in substantially the following form:

I affirm this … day of ……, …., under the penalties of perjury under the laws of New York, which may include a fine or imprisonment, that I am physically located outside the geographic boundaries of the United States, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, or any territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, that the foregoing is true, and I understand that this document may be filed in an action or proceeding in a court of law.”)

Based upon the above long-standing case law, the court determined that there was no valid cause of action against the defendants. In making that determination, the court cited to the rule that “the sole criterion is whether the pleading states a cause of action, and if from the four corners factual allegations are discerned which, taken together, manifest any cause of action cognizable at law, a motion to dismiss will fail… However, allegations constituting bare legal conclusions as well as factual claims flatly contradicted by documentary evidence are not entitled to any such considerations.”

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…plaintiff could not establish liability because he could not prove the underlying action.

In Blair v Loduca, 164 AD3d 637, 638-40 [2d Dept 2018], the Second Department considered the argument made by the defendant-attorney sued for legal malpractice that the plaintiff could not establish liability because he could not prove the underlying action.

“ To establish the required element of causation in a legal malpractice action, ‘ a plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action … but for the lawyer’s negligence ’ ” (Balan v. Rooney, 152 A.D.3d 733, 733, 61 N.Y.S.3d 29, quoting Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; see Detoni v. McMinkens, 147 A.D.3d 1018, 48 N.Y.S.3d 208). The only issue raised in the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was whether the plaintiff could have prevailed in the underlying action against the property owner.

In a premises liability case, a defendant property owner who moves for summary judgment has the initial burden of making a prima facie showing that it neither created the allegedly *639 dangerous or defective condition nor had actual or constructive notice of its existence (see Martino v. Patmar Props., Inc., 123 A.D.3d 890, 890, 999 N.Y.S.2d 449; Kruger v. Donzelli Realty Corp., 111 A.D.3d 897, 975 N.Y.S.2d 689; Smith v. Christ’s First Presbyt. Church of Hempstead, 93 A.D.3d 839, 941 N.Y.S.2d 211; Meyers v. Big Six Towers, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 877, 925 N.Y.S.2d 607). “ Under the so-called ‘ storm in progress ’ rule, a property owner will not be held responsible for accidents occurring as a result of the accumulation of snow and ice on its premises until an adequate period of time has passed following the cessation of the storm to allow the owner an opportunity to ameliorate the hazards caused by the storm ” (Marchese v. Skenderi, 51 A.D.3d 642, 642, 856 N.Y.S.2d 680; see Solazzo v. New York City Tr. Auth., 6 N.Y.3d 734, 810 N.Y.S.2d 121, 843 N.E.2d 748; Dumela–Felix v. FGP W. St., LLC, 135 A.D.3d 809, 810, 22 N.Y.S.3d 896; McCurdy v. Kyma Holdings, LLC, 109 A.D.3d 799, 799, 971 N.Y.S.2d 137; Smith v. Christ’s First Presbyt. Church of Hempstead, 93 A.D.3d 839, 840, 941 N.Y.S.2d 211; Weller v. Paul, 91 A.D.3d 945, 947, 938 N.Y.S.2d 152; Mazzella v. City of New York, 72 A.D.3d 755, 756, 899 N.Y.S.2d 291). If a storm is ongoing, and a property owner elects to remove snow, the owner must do so with reasonable care or it could be held liable for creating a hazardous condition or exacerbating a natural hazard created by the storm (see Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640; Petrocelli v. Marrelli Dev. Corp., 31 A.D.3d 623, 817 N.Y.S.2d 913; Salvanti v. Sunset Indus. Park Assoc., 27 A.D.3d 546, 813 N.Y.S.2d 110; Chaudhry v. East Buffet & Rest., 24 A.D.3d 493, 808 N.Y.S.2d 239). In such an instance, that property owner, if moving for summary judgment in a slip-and-fall case, must demonstrate in support of his or her motion that the snow removal efforts he or she undertook neither created nor exacerbated the allegedly hazardous condition which caused the injured plaintiff to fall (see Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d at 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640).

In support of their motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint in this action, the defendants submitted the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, the deposition testimony of the building’s doorman, the affidavit of a meteorologist, and certified climatological data. These submissions demonstrated that a storm was in progress at the time of the accident, that there was no preexisting ice on the ground when the storm commenced, and that the property owner did not create or exacerbate the allegedly dangerous condition created by the storm in progress (see Aronov v. St. Vincent’s Hous. Dev. Fund Co., Inc., 145 A.D.3d 648, 649, 43 N.Y.S.3d 99; **135 Kantor v. Leisure Glen Homeowners Assn., Inc., 95 A.D.3d at 1177, 944 N.Y.S.2d 640; Ali v. Village of Pleasantville, 95 A.D.3d 796, 797, 943 N.Y.S.2d 582). Since the defendants made a prima facie showing that the storm in progress rule applied *640 to the underlying action, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to show that something other than the precipitation from the storm in progress caused the accident (see Baker v. St. Christopher’s Inn, Inc., 138 A.D.3d 652, 653, 29 N.Y.S.3d 439; Burniston v. Ranric Enters. Corp., 134 A.D.3d 973, 974, 21 N.Y.S.3d 694; Meyers v. Big Six Towers, Inc., 85 A.D.3d 877, 877–878, 925 N.Y.S.2d 607; Alers v. La Bonne Vie Org., 54 A.D.3d 698, 699, 863 N.Y.S.2d 750). The plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint because the plaintiff could not have prevailed in the underlying action against the property owner (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d at 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Balan v. Rooney, 152 A.D.3d at 733, 61 N.Y.S.3d 29; Detoni v. McMinkens, 147 A.D.3d at 1018, 48 N.Y.S.3d 208).

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Ready, Willing and Able

I’m ready, willing and able / And honey, now it’s up to you.
So lay your cards on the table / And tell me what you plan to do.
– Doris Day

 

The owner of a 4-family house was ready to make a quick sale for $1.5 million. The buyer agreed to enter into a contract of sale for the house in “as is” condition in an all-cash deal to close seven days after signing the contract. Right before the closing, however, a dispute arose between the parties regarding the actual closing date. The seller attempted many times to close title, including sending several “time of the essence” notices to set a firm closing date. Each time, the buyer’s attorney responded that it could not close on the date but proposed an alternate closing date.

Alleged Title Issues

More than one month after the closing should have taken place, the buyer finally provided a title report to the seller. In the title report, it was revealed that there were five (albeit small) NYC Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) violations against the house. The buyer claimed that those HPD violations were impediments to closing and ultimately violated the terms of the contract of sale if not resolved.

Based upon the buyer’s course of conduct in delaying the closing date and raising minor title exceptions, the seller decided to declare the buyer in material default under the contract and presented notice that the $152,000 down payment being held in escrow would be forfeited unless the closing took place in 10 days.

Lis Pendens Filed

Threatened with the potential loss of its down payment, the buyer filed a lawsuit against the seller seeking specific performance of the contract, breach of contract and monetary damages. Simultaneously with filing the action, the buyer filed a Notice of Pendency against the property (commonly known as a “lis pendens”). A Notice of Pendency may be filed in any case in which the outcome can affect the title, use or possession of real estate, and serves as notice to the world that a party lays claim to the property. Many times, an aggrieved buyer will file a lis pendens in order to tie up the property in litigation to either force concessions from the seller or protect a down payment from being turned over to the seller when in default under the contract of sale.

Ready, Willing and Able:

Failure to Prove Buyer Was “Ready, Willing and Able” to Close

To defend the lawsuit, the seller retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, who filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In the motion, the seller claimed that the complaint failed to state that the buyer substantially performed its contractual obligations and was ready, willing and able to close title.

In determining a motion to dismiss, a court must construe the complaint and accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and any submissions in opposition to the dismissal motion. 511 W. 232nd Owners Corp. v. Jennifer Realty Co., 98 NY2d 144 [2002]. Further, a court must give the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable theory. Leon v. Martinez, 84 NY2d 83 [1994]. Further, a court may consider additional facts contained in affidavits submitted by a plaintiff to remedy any defects in the complaint. Rovello v. Orofino Realty Co., 40 NY2d 633 [2 Dept. 1976].

In an action for specific performance, the elements of the complaint must show that “the plaintiff substantially performed its contractual obligations and was willing and able to perform its remaining obligations, the defendant was able to convey the property, and that there was no adequate remedy at law.” E&D Group, LLC v. Theodore Vialet, 134 AD3d 981 [2 Dept. 2015]. In this case, the judge found that the complaint did not allege all of the elements necessary to establish its right to specific performance. Also, the plaintiff failed to submit any affidavit but only its attorney’s affirmation; and an attorney’s affirmation is of no probative or evidentiary significance (see, Warrington v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 35 AD3d 455 [2 Dept. 2006]).

In deciding to grant the seller’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the judge held, “Notably, [Buyer’s] exhibits tend to show just the opposite, to wit that [Buyer] failed to perform on the contract and may even have been in breach of the contract by attempting to assign the contract to another entity.” Accordingly, the judge dismissed the complaint.

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The Producer: overselling available interests

The Rehearsal Onstage (detail), c. 1874, by Edgar Degas (1834–1917).

Mel Brooks’ movie and musical The Producers may have been a fictional story of fraudsters selling more shares in the production of their Broadway show “Springtime for Hitler” than actually existed, but such fraudsters exist in real life, overselling available interests not only in Broadway productions, but in every type of investment, including real estate.

In this modern day The Producers story, a particular real estate broker (we’ll give him the name “Bob”) had a plan. The idea behind this particular investment was simple: purchase a house in Passaic, New Jersey; fix it up; and then resell it for a profit—the classic real estate “flip.” This broker solicited a number of investors. Each investor would purchase a membership interest in a limited liability company [LLC]. With the funds provided by the members, the LLC would buy the house. A contractor-partner would be hired to renovate the house. Each investor was promised a certain percentage of the net proceeds from the ultimate sale of the house. Unfortunately, the real estate market tanked, construction costs soared and the investment became a huge loss before construction was ever completed.

New Jersey state court action

One of the investors (we’ll call him “John”) brought a lawsuit in the Superior Court in New Jersey for breach of contract, misappropriation of funds, and fraud. In that case, the judge appointed a special fiscal agent (similar to a court-appointed receiver) to manage the operations of the house, list the house for sale, and take all steps necessary to sell the house and distribute the net proceeds to the LLC’s investors.

Real estate broker files for bankruptcy

Bob filed for personal bankruptcy in the New Jersey Bankruptcy Court to avoid his liability to the investors. John filed a lawsuit (known as an adversary proceeding) against Bob in the New Jersey bankruptcy case to have Bob’s liability in this house-investment-gone-wrong declared “nondischargeable.” (The adversary proceeding here was a mini-lawsuit inside of the bankruptcy case, intended to have the effect that Bob would remain liable to John for the collapse of the real estate deal.) In the adversary proceeding, John alleged that Bob brought too many investors into the deal without telling the other investors. A settlement was reached between John and Bob in the “adversary proceeding” and John negotiated with the bankruptcy trustee to purchase the house directly from the trustee to recoup some of his (John’s) losses.

Another investor (we’ll call her “Sally”) who lost money in the same Passaic real estate deal then sued John (now the owner of the Passaic real estate) in New York City’s Civil Court, claiming that John defrauded Sally by not including her in the buy-out of the house. This is when John sought help from Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer. The aim was to have Sally’s lawsuit, brought in New York, dismissed.

Lack of jurisdiction in the New York Civil Court

There is a basic concept involving any court system that a particular court maintains the authority (“jurisdiction”) to make decisions and orders over a particular controversy.

According to New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules [CPLR] Section 302, New York State courts may exercise jurisdiction over nonresidents under certain circumstances, when the defendant:

1. Transacts any business within the state or contracts anywhere to supply goods or services in the state; or 2. Commits a tortious act within the state, except as to a cause of action for defamation of character arising from the act; or 3. Commits a tortious act without the state causing injury to person or property within the state.

There is a separate rule as to when New York City’s Civil Court may exercise jurisdiction over cases because it is considered a court of “limited” jurisdiction (See Civil Court Act Section 202).

In asking the judge to dismiss the New York Civil Court case, Richard A. Klass argued that any action that could be brought by Sally must be brought in the State of New Jersey, and not in New York. The project-house was located in New Jersey; the LLC was a New Jersey entity; both the New Jersey Superior Court and New Jersey Bankruptcy Court had pending cases involving the house and the LLC; and all of the events transpired in New Jersey. It was urged that New York was the wrong forum for Sally to bring this dispute, citing to Epstein v. Sirivejkul, 48 NY2d 728 [1979]; Irrigation and Industrial Development Corp. v. Indag S.A., 37 NY2d 522 [1975].

The Civil Court judge agreed with the arguments of Richard A. Klass and determined that the New York Civil Court lacked jurisdiction over the case. The judge specifically found that the transaction in dispute occurred in New Jersey and the plaintiff presented no allegations that there was tortious conduct within New York State; also, the fact that there were existing proceedings in New Jersey courts confirmed the conclusion that New Jersey was the proper forum for any dispute. The court then dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

— by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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copyr. 2013 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, 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.

Plaintiff Has Stated Valid Causes of Action Sufficient to Withstand Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Action

In an action, Defendants may move to dismiss a Plaintiff’s Complaint based upon the allegation that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) and (7). In deciding such a motion, the court must accept the facts as alleged in the Complaint as true, according the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory. Goldman v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 5 NY3d 561 [2005]. Essentially, the court should impose a “four corners” test in liberally construing the four corners of the pleading to see whether they establish valid causes of action. Schwaner v. Collins, 17 AD3d 1068 [4 Dept. 2005].

As the Court of Appeals enunciated in Guggenheimer v. Ginzburg, 43 NY2d 268 [1977], on a motion to dismiss made pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), “the sole criterion is whether the pleading states a cause of action, and if from its four corners factual allegations are discerned which taken together manifest any cause of action cognizable at law.” Further, “when evidentiary material is considered, the criterion is whether the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he has stated one, and unless it has been shown that a material fact as claimed by the pleader to be one is not a fact at all and unless it can be said that no significant dispute exists regarding it, again dismissal should not eventuate.” Guggenheimer, supra at 275.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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copyr. 2012 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, 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.

The Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

In an action, a Defendant can move to dismiss a Plaintiff’s Complaint based upon the allegation that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), (5) and (7). In deciding such a motion, the court must accept the facts as alleged in the Complaint as true, according the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory. Goldman v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 5 NY3d 561, 807 NYS2d 583 [2005]. The Complaint in this action makes factual allegations which, for the most part, have already been established by the Order. These facts amply support the causes of action alleged in the Complaint.

Essentially, the court should impose a “four corners” test in liberally construing the four corners of the pleading to see whether they establish valid causes of action. Schwaner v. Collins, 17 AD3d 1068 [4 Dept. 2005]. As the Court of Appeals enunciated in Guggenheimer v. Ginzburg, 43 NY2d 268 [1977], on a motion to dismiss made pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), “the sole criterion is whether the pleading states a cause of action, and if from its four corners factual allegations are discerned which taken together manifest any cause of action cognizable at law.” Further, “when evidentiary material is considered, the criterion is whether the proponent of the pleading has a cause of action, not whether he has stated one, and unless it has been shown that a material fact as claimed by the pleader to be one is not a fact at all and unless it can be said that no significant dispute exists regarding it, again dismissal should not eventuate.” Guggenheimer, supra at 275.

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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copyr. 2012 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, 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.

Amendment to Bankruptcy Petition Worth Millions!

painting by Giovanni Fattori illustrating article by Richard Klass on topics that include bankruptcy petition

A brother tried to help his sister, and it almost cost him millions of dollars. Based upon the brother’s good credit, his sister bought a house in Queens in his name. At some point, she was unable to keep up with the mortgage payments and the house fell into foreclosure.

On the eve of the foreclosure sale, the brother filed bankruptcy to “stay” the sale. In the mad rush to save the family home (which, unfortunately, is common these days!), the brother did not understand something very important: the personal injury lawsuit he filed years earlier, relating to a construction work-site injury in which he was severely injured, was an “asset” of his to be listed in his bankruptcy petition. Unfortunately, the Chapter 13 bankruptcy case was dismissed because the brother could not make the mortgage or bankruptcy plan payments. The house was later sold at foreclosure sale.

State Court Motion to Dismiss:

Subsequently, the defendants in the state court personal injury case asked the judge to dismiss the case based upon the failure of the plaintiff/injured person to list the pending lawsuit as a “contingent asset” in his bankruptcy petition. Substantial New York case law, going all the way up to the New York State Court of Appeals, has held that the failure to list the asset in the petition is fatal to the continuance of the personal injury case – every case on point says the injured person’s lawsuit gets dismissed without any recovery, no matter how grave the injury.

Uncharted Course to Be Taken:

Faced with this apparently insurmountable challenge, Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, was brought in to help save the man’s personal injury case. The strategy developed was to return to the Bankruptcy Court to seek to amend or fix the petition to reflect the existence of the personal injury claim. This was trail-blazing!

Bankruptcy Petition

In determining that the debtor/personal injury plaintiff should be permitted to amend his bankruptcy petition to list the claim as an asset, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Craig stated: “This Court has not found any statute, rule or precedent that provides that a debtor’s right to amend expires upon dismissal of the case, or that the order dismissing the case must be vacated before schedules, statements or lists may be amended.” In re Severius Raggie, New York Law Journal 7/9/2008.

Interplay between “Closed” and “Closed”:

At first glance, the court noted that the bankruptcy case was marked “closed.” The judge was skeptical that an amendment to the petition could be made because Bankruptcy Rule 1009 provides that “a voluntary petition, list, schedule, or statement may be amended by the debtor as a matter of course at any time before the case is closed.”

However, in relying upon the decision in In re Critical Care Support Services, 236 BR 137, it was pointed out that a case can only be “closed” when the assets of the bankruptcy estate have been fully administered. The term “closed,” as used in Bankruptcy Rule 1009 and Bankruptcy Code §350, does not encompass “dismissed” cases. Thus, an Order dismissing a case accomplishes a completely different result than an Order closing it would; essentially, upon dismissal of a bankruptcy case, all of the debtor’s rights in his property revert back to him.

Separately, the court also held that, as part of accepting the debtor’s amendment, it could reject the amendment when “the facts and circumstances presented indicate that the amendment was filed in bad faith, fraudulent or prejudicial.” Citing to In re Nye, 250 BR 46. In this case, Judge Craig held that there was no evidence of bad faith, fraud or prejudice; the state court defendants’ argument that granting the amendment would “reward” the debtor was not persuasive. In the absence of any evidence that the debtor deliberately omitted the personal injury claim from his schedules to defraud his creditors, permitting the debtor to amend did not reward wrongdoing.

After Judge Craig granted the debtor’s motion to amend his bankruptcy petition, the state court defendants in the personal injury lawsuit withdrew their motion to dismiss the case. The plaintiff’s case is now winding through the New York State Supreme Court towards a trial, in which his serious injuries will be considered by a jury.

— Richard A. Klass, Esq.

©2008 Richard A. Klass. Art credits: Selbstporträt mit fünfzig Jahren, by Giovanni Fattori, 1884; Porträt der dritten Ehefrau, by Giovanni Fattori, 1905. Newsletter marketing by The Innovation Works, Inc.
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copyr. 2011 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, 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.