Order of Attachment / Slash and Burn

Somewhat gory staged photo of a man with clown makeup, sitting on the ground, holding a hatchet, with blood on his shirt. Illustrates a case study about an order of attachment

[Reader Advisory:
This case study begins with a graphic and possibly upsetting description of violent events leading up to a criminal case. Then, the narrative continues with a discussion of the accompanying civil case. If the reader prefers to begin with the discussion of the civil case, they may skip to the second heading “Order of Attachment.”]

He Drove from New York to Florida.

“Jeff” drove to his ex-wife, “Lauren”‘s Florida condominium and attacked her in her home. Jeff handcuffed Lauren’s arms and legs so she was unable to move. Then, Jeff repeatedly cut, beat, suffocated, threatened and tortured his ex-wife for over six hours. Throughout this ordeal, Jeff forced Lauren to answer intimate questions by threatening her with a knife he held up to her neck, putting tape over her mouth and suffocating her by putting a pillow over her face. Jeff referred to this as “phase one” of his plan. He threatened to do her more harm during “phase two” of his planned attack.

While being held against her will, Lauren continuously pled with Jeff for her life and safe release to no avail. Lauren’s son-in-law saw the ordeal as it was taking place because Jeff was broadcasting it online. He called the police, who arrested Jeff before “phase two” could take place and, luckily, before further harm could be done to Lauren.

In the criminal case, the jury rendered verdicts against Jeff, finding him guilty of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon; kidnapping; aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; and assault. Jeff was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Order of Attachment

Lauren retained a personal injury attorney to sue Jeff in a civil action in New York for the intentional torts he committed against her. Jeff owned a couple of buildings in New York and a half-interest in the Florida condominium. The attorney hired Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, as special counsel to seek to ” attach ” Jeff’s properties to ensure that he wouldn’t sell, mortgage or dispose of them in order to evade payment of monetary damages to Lauren.

An ” Order of Attachment ” is a provisional remedy used by a judge to ensure that there will be assets and property belonging to the defendant to pay any prospective judgment to be awarded to the plaintiff after trial. The operative rule, CPLR 6201, provides, in relevant part:

An order of attachment may be granted in any action, except a matrimonial action, where the plaintiff has demanded and would be entitled, in whole or in part, or in the alternative, to a money judgment against one or more defendants, when:

3. the defendant, with intent to defraud his creditors or frustrate the enforcement of a judgment that might be rendered in plaintiff’s favor, has assigned, disposed of, encumbered or secreted property, or removed it from the state or is about to do any of these acts;

As held by the Second Department in Mineola Ford Sales Ltd. v Rapp, 242 AD2d 371, 371 [2d Dept 1997], ” In order to obtain an order of attachment under CPLR 6201(3), the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant has or is about to conceal his or her property in one or more of several enumerated ways, and has acted or will act with the intent to defraud his or her creditors, or to frustrate the enforcement of a judgment in favor of the plaintiff (see, Arzu v. Arzu, 190 A.D.2d 87, 91, 597 N.Y.S.2d 322; Societe Generale Alsacienne De Banque, Zurich v. Flemingdon Dev. Corp., 118 A.D.2d 769, 772, 500 N.Y.S.2d 278). The moving papers must contain evidentiary facts-as opposed to conclusions-proving the fraud (Societe Generale Alsacienne De Banque, Zurich v. Flemingdon Dev. Corp., supra; see also, Rothman v. Rogers, 221 A.D.2d 330, 633 N.Y.S.2d 361; Rosenthal v. Rochester Button Co., 148 A.D.2d 375, 376, 539 N.Y.S.2d 11). In addition to proving fraudulent intent, the plaintiff must also show probable success on the merits of the underlying action in order to obtain an order of attachment (see, CPLR 6212[a]; Societe Generale Alsacienne De Banque, Zurich v. Flemingdon Dev. Corp., supra; Computer Strategies v. Commodore Business Machs., 105 A.D.2d 167, 172, 483 N.Y.S.2d 716). “

In her request for the Order of Attachment, Lauren provided recordings of jailhouse telephone conversations between Jeff and another party which demonstrated that Jeff intended on quickly transferring his various real estate interests, seemingly to avoid a prospective judgment against him. The judge decided to issue the Order of Attachment in order to keep Jeff’s real estate in place to ensure that Lauren would have available assets from which to collect her potential judgment.

Out-of-State Property May Be Attached.

As to the Florida condominium unit jointly owned by Lauren and Jeff, the judge determined that he had jurisdiction to issue an injunction to prevent Jeff from disposing of his interest in it. While generally a New York State court has jurisdiction over only property located within the State, it can exercise jurisdiction over property in another state under certain circumstances. See, Gryphon Domestic VI, LLC v. APP International Finance Company, B.V., 41 AD3d 25 [1st Dept. 2007] (New York court can restrain transfers of property outside the state so long as it has jurisdiction over the transferor).

The defendant Was Deemed a New York Domiciliary.

Jeff made a request of the judge to dismiss the lawsuit against him, claiming that the court did not have jurisdiction over him because he was now considered a Florida resident (because he ‘resides’ in jail in Florida). This request was challenged by showing the judge that Jeff’s last residence before entering prison was New York.

In Farrell v Lautob Realty Corp., 204 AD2d 597, 598 [2d Dept 1994], the Second Department held that:

…it is long-established law in New York that a person does not involuntarily lose his domicile as a result of imprisonment. …As stated by the Court of Appeals: ” [A] patient or inmate of an institution does not gain or lose a residence or domicile, but retains the domicile he had when he entered the institution ” (Matter of Corr v Westchester County Dept. of Social Servs., 33 NY2d 111, 115).

Further, the fact that the prison is located in a different state from the defendant’s previous state of domicile is irrelevant to the above jurisdictional rule. See, Poucher v. Intercounty Appliance Corp., 336 F.Supp.2d 251, 253 (E.D.N.Y.2004) (” It is well-established that a prisoner does not acquire a new domicile when he is incarcerated in a state different from his previous domicile.”)

Notice of Attachment

The judge granted the Order of Attachment in favor of Lauren. This allowed a Notice of Attachment to be filed against each of Jeff’s properties. A Notice of Attachment is similar to a Notice of Pendency (Lis Pendens) in that it serves as notice to others that there is a pending lawsuit that may affect the ownership of real estate. Once the Order of Attachment was granted, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, where Jeff agreed to transfer to Lauren one of his buildings and his half-interest in the condominium.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Image at top of page: Shutterstock

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Free: RPAPL 881 Booklet by Richard A. Klass. Newly Published.

A Man’s Home Is (Not Always) His Castle:
RPAPL 881 License to Enter Neighbor’s Property

by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

Cover of book " A Man’s Home Is (Not Always) His Castle: RPAPL 881 License to Enter Neighbor’s Property " by Richard A. Klass, Esq.

Download and view the free E-Book version in PDF format.
Click here to view the free on-line web-book.
12 pages/830 KB

Summary

A Man’s Home Is (Not Always) His Castle

In the current economic and political climate in New York City, which encourages building more and more housing units for the multitudes, it is not surprising that property owners are experiencing “growing pains.” Among those “growing pains” are the inconvenience and annoyance to neighboring property owners when a developer buys land next door, then seeks to build on that land, and must gain access through the adjacent owners’ property in order to do the work. Access may be needed to move equipment, build up to the property line, or deliver material to the building site.

RPAPL 881 grants a license to enter property:

New York law seeks to find middle ground between the property developer and the neighboring owner so that the developer may build its structure while the neighbor can be left relatively undisturbed.

(Click here to read the book.)

R. A. Klass
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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.”

copyr. 2018 Richard A. Klass
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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).

R. A. Klass
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Ready, Willing and Able

Blond adult woman, shown in a mirror, putting on lipstick.

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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All in the Family: Inherited Real Estate the Subject of Siblings’ Lawsuits

Two kids yelling at each other illustrating article by Richard Klass about a dispute between siblings over real estate profits and limited partnerships.

All in the Family

Inherited Real Estate the Subject of Siblings’ Lawsuits

Acrobat PDF Version

Their mother owned several valuable properties. While she was alive, the mother did some estate planning to minimize potential estate taxes. As part of her estate plan, she transferred the properties into limited partnerships, keeping for herself a life estate (the right to retain some ownership until her death).

Every year, she transferred certain percentages of each limited partnership to each of her children, of which there were five — two brothers and three sisters. As part of her estate plan, the mother set up a separate company to manage the limited partnerships’ real estate, appointing herself and one of her sons to be the two managers of the company. She also made a Will which directed that her children equally share in the proceeds of the sale of her real estate interests after her demise.
After her death, the son whom she had appointed manager was now in charge of managing the limited partnerships’ real estate. He found buyers and sold two of the properties held by the limited partnerships. After the sales, the son/manager sent each of his siblings a letter stating how much each property sold for and the amount of the net proceeds from the closings. After meetings and conversations among the siblings about their mother’s estate and the son/manager’s sale of the properties, a couple of the sisters accused the son/manager and his brother of committing fraudulent acts. Specifically, they accused the brothers of selling the properties at below-market prices to entities owned by the brothers, without any prior notice to the sisters, in order to develop the properties.

Refusal to Waive Claims

Faced with the threat of litigation, and on advice of estate counsel, the son/manager sent each of his siblings a letter offering to distribute to each sibling his/her share of the proceeds of the property sales from the limited partnerships provided each sibling signed a Receipt and Release Agreement, which would release the son/manager from any potential claims. The sisters refused to sign the Receipt and Release Agreement, claiming that its terms were unconscionable and oppressive.

Through counsel, the sisters then requested copies of certain documents from their brother’s attorney. The son/manager’s attorney provided documentation of the property sales. Despite providing the requested documents, two of the sisters commenced a lawsuit against the two brothers alleging, among other things, that the brothers failed to provide all documents related to the sales of the properties and, also, that the brothers breached their fiduciary duties.

Commingling of Individual and Derivative Claims

In the first lawsuit, the sisters sued in their own individual capacities and not on behalf of the limited partnerships. In dismissing the case, the judge held that the sisters were required to sue on behalf of the limited partnerships, as their claims were derivative claims. “Derivative claims” are those brought by a member of an entity, on its behalf, against another person.

After the first case was dismissed, one of the sisters brought a new case suing both on her behalf and on behalf of the limited partnerships. The case against the two brothers asked for essentially the same relief as in the first case. The brothers retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, who argued that the new case should be dismissed because the complaint failed to distinguish between the sister’s individual claims and the derivative claims. The reasoning for requesting dismissal was that commingling (or mixing) the claims together would confuse who is entitled to which relief. See, Wallace v. Perret, 28 Misc.3d 1023; Pomerance v. McGrath, 2011 NY Slip Op. 34060(U). New York Partnership Law §121-1002 provides that a limited partner may bring a derivative claim to address harm to the limited partnership.

Dissolution of the Limited Partnerships not Directed

One argument made by the sister was that, as there had been no activity by the limited partnerships since selling the real estate, the limited partnerships should be judicially dissolved (or terminated by the court). She argued that her brother (the son/manager) was holding her money hostage simply for her to release him from any liability.

In response, Your Court Street Lawyer pointed out that the operating agreements for the limited partnerships provide for certain specific events which would trigger their dissolution, mainly (a) an act or omission by a partner under New York’s Partnership law; (b) agreement of all of the partners; or (c) January 1, 2050. Since none of these events occurred as of yet, it was urged by the brothers, there was no cause of action for dissolution. The son/manager argued that it was within his right as the manager/general partner to elect to retain the net proceeds unless and until the release is provided; the limited partnerships’ moneys needed to be preserved to defend the lawsuits filed by the sister.

No Proof Submitted in Opposition to Summary Judgment

In response to the sister’s motion to dissolve the limited partnerships, the brothers brought their own motion seeking summary judgment, in order to dismiss the sister’s case entirely. They submitted affidavits in support of the motion, claiming that their sister had no case against them. The brothers claimed that they were innocent of any wrongdoings.

In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the sister’s attorney provided his affirmation with nothing more; there was no affidavit from the sister or any documentary evidence in opposition to the motion. The judge pointed out to the sister’s attorney that he could have provided an appraisal of the fair market value of the two properties to show that they were sold below-market. But, she hadn’t. The judge held that failure to provide any meaningful opposition was fatal to her case. The judge dismissed the case.

— Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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33 Year Old Mortgage Doomed by Statute of Limitations

Photo, of a dog wearing a pink dress and pink sunglasses with the caption "That's Queen to You," illustrating an article, by Richard A. Klass, entitled Statute of Limitations Dooms Sister-in-Law’s 33 Year Old Mortgage

Way back in 1982, a wife and her husband purchased a home in Brooklyn. The wife’s mother-in-law — her husband’s mother — provided $20,000 to help the couple make the purchase. At the time the money was provided, the mother-in-law had not firmly decided whether she considered the $20,000 a gift or a loan.

In any event, the wife signed a mortgage in favor of her mother-in-law which contained no terms of repayment (that part was left blank) and no mortgage note was signed. The mortgage stated that the whole balance could be declared due at the option of the mortgagee after default in the payment of any installment or principal or of interest for fifteen days. It was alleged that the mother-in-law never made any demand during her lifetime for repayment of the money. The mortgage was never recorded by the mother-in-law with the City Register’s Office.

Sister-in-Law’s Assignment of Mortgage

In 1998, the mother-in-law signed an assignment of the $20,000 mortgage over to her own daughter. In 1999, the mother-in-law passed away. Unfortunately, in September 2013, the husband passed away, leaving the wife, now a widow, the sole owner of the house as the surviving spouse. About a month after the husband’s death, the sister-in-law — the dead husband’s sister — recorded both the mortgage and the assignment of mortgage with the City Register’s Office.

Sale of the House

After the death of her husband, the widow/homeowner decided to sell the house and relocate from New York. In connection with the sale, the woman now had to deal with her sister-in-law and the $20,000 “mortgage.” The widow retained Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to sue her sister-in-law to discharge the mortgage of record. An action was brought under New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law Section 1501(4).

The sister-in-law answered the complaint, alleging that both her brother and his wife frequently reassured her and her mother that the mortgage would be satisfied when the house was sold. She claimed that the law should uphold the covenant to pay the debt as set forth in the mortgage even though there was no note. The sister-in-law also asserted counterclaims (and brought the house’s new owners into the case) to foreclose on the old mortgage and obtain a money judgment, claiming the sums of $20,000 for the principal amount of the loan plus another $98,000 representing 33 years’ worth of interest at 15% per annum.

Mortgage Barred by Statute of Limitations

New York State law provides that “an action upon a bond or note, the payment of which is secured by a mortgage upon real property, or upon a bond or note and mortgage so secured, or upon a mortgage of real property, or any interest therein,” must be commenced within six years. CPLR 213(4). When the terms of the mortgage provide for its repayment in installments, separate causes of action for each installment accrues and the Statute of Limitations begins to run on the date each installment becomes due. Pagano v. Smith, 201 AD2d 632 [1994]. However, once the mortgage debt is accelerated, the entire amount is due and the Statute of Limitations begins to run on the entire mortgage debt. Lolacono v. Goldberg, 240 AD2d 476 [1997].

In this case, the 1982 mortgage had no provision stating when payment was due, since those provisions of the mortgage were left blank. Under such circumstance, New York courts have held that the loan is presumed to be payable upon demand, and the Statute of Limitations accrues from the date of the mortgage. See, Martin v. Stoddard, 127 NY 61 [1891]. Corrado v. Petrone, 139 AD2d 483 [1988]. The court noted that, absent any written payment terms, the Statute of Limitations began to accrue when the 1982 mortgage was executed, expiring six years later in 1988 (more than ten years before the 1998 assignment to the sister-in-law).

No oral representations

In response to the sister-in-law’s claim that her brother and his wife repeatedly said that the debt would be paid at the end of the 30-year term, the court rejected the claim, noting that the mortgage contained an important clause stating that “this mortgage may not be changed or terminated orally.” Oral representations (such as those allegedly made in this case) may not be considered based upon the “parol evidence rule,” by which oral statements in contravention to the written contract are inadmissible as evidence.

In granting the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the counterclaims, the Judge held that the defenses and proposed counterclaims of the sister-in-law should properly be dismissed and the mortgage canceled and discharged of record. Nagrotsky v. Koch, Sup. Ct., Kings Co. Index No. 506293/2015, 1/19/2016.

— Richard A. Klass, Esq.

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 by phone at (718) COURT-ST or e-mail at RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

RPAPL Section 1308 Enacted

RPAPL Section 1308

Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) Section 1308 (RPAPL Section 1308) has been enacted, “Subject to bankruptcy filings, cease and desist orders, threats of violence or active loss mitigation efforts, within 90 days of a borrower’s delinquency, the servicer authorized to accept payment of the loan shall complete an exterior inspection of the subject property to determine occupancy. Thereafter, throughout the delinquency of the loan, the servicer shall conduct an exterior inspection of the property every 25-35 days at different times of day.” If the house is determined to be vacant and abandoned, the servicer has to post a notice within 7 days on an easily accessible part of the house with the servicer’s contact information. If there’s not response to the notice, then the servicer must take certain steps to secure the house, including boarding up windows and doors, taking measures concerning basic utilities on the property, and removing any harmful risks to neighboring properties. The servicer has to take reasonable and necessary actions to maintain the house until one of the following events occur: an occupant claims a right to occupy the house or the servicer has received threats of violence, the borrower files for bankruptcy, a court orders the care to cease, the property has been transferred to a new owner, the mortgage on the property has been released, or the mortgage note has been assigned, transferred or sold to another servicer.

RPAPL 1309

RPAPL 1309 allows for an expedited foreclosure process when the house is vacant and abandoned. As opposed to the normal foreclosure step of seeking the appointment of a referee to compute the amounts due to the foreclosing plaintiff on the mortgage, the plaintiff may apply to the court for a judgment of foreclosure and sale immediately after the time for the defendant/homeowner to answer has expired and is in default. Specific notices, affidavits, information concerning utilities and photographs establishing vacancy and abandonment are required to be included in the motion papers to be served upon the defendants. The court may then dispense with a referee’s computation and, instead, proceed directly to judgment based upon the calculations set forth by the plaintiff.

– Richard A. Klass, Esq.
Your Court Street Lawyer

 

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Caveat emptor: Developer should’ve taken ” Loft Law 101 “

Caution Buyer Beware: illustrating article about New York Loft Law, Caveat Emptor, special facts doctrine, Transfer of Development Rights, and temporary restraining order
He was the owner of two buildings on one lot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Greenpoint is an area well known for its warehouses and lofts, and is now a very desirable neighborhood for residential development. It is also well known that many tenants in commercial lofts in and around Greenpoint reside in them instead of just using them as artist studios or business spaces. One building housed the owner’s gym business and the other was a three story loft building. Along with the property itself, the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) were very valuable to developers, as they would allow greater development of another property. The owner negotiated the sale of the whole property for $16 million. The buyer was a sophisticated real estate developer with numerous large real estate projects who already owned other lots next to the owner’s property. He had designs to demolish the existing structures and build residential apartments on the combined properties.
The contract of sale was signed by the parties; it included various representations and warranties of both the seller/owner and buyer. The contract included a schedule of all rents, security deposits and lease expiration dates of the loft tenants, along with copies of the leases (which referred to the lofts as ‘apartments’). There was also a statement made in the contract that all of the loft leases were commercial leases.
After the contract was signed, the seller/owner directed his attorney to make crystal clear to the buyer by giving notice that most of the loft tenants were living there (despite there being commercial leases). The owner’s attorney emailed the buyer’s attorney to inform that most, if not all of the loft tenants resided in their lofts in violation of their leases and to extend to the buyer a 7-day period in which to cancel the contract and receive a full refund of his down payment. The buyer declined this opportunity to cancel the contract, opting instead to proceed with the purchase. The closing took place and the $16 million purchase price was paid to a §1031 qualified intermediary company so that the seller could purchase a replacement property as a like-kind exchange and defer capital gains taxes under the Internal Revenue Code.

Subsequent to the closing of title, the buyer/developer learned that the loft tenants had filed a loft law application with the New York City Loft Board to recognize their status as residential tenants. The implications of their attaining residential loft status would mean that the building would have to be upgraded to bring it up to the City’s residential code and the certificate of occupancy would have to be revised from commercial to residential. Obviously, the loft law application created a huge impediment to the developer’s plan to demolish the building. So, the developer decided to sue the owner for allegedly not disclosing that loft tenants were residing in the commercial units in violation of their leases. The developer claimed that he was fraudulently induced into buying the property for $16 million when it was now virtually worthless because of the loft law application and his inability to demolish the structures.

Temporary restraining order granted without notice

Simultaneously with filing his lawsuit, the developer requested that the judge immediately restrain the $16 million being held by the §1031 qualified intermediary company. He made this request without giving prior notice to the owner. In tying up the $16 million, the developer was preventing the owner from closing on his replacement property that he already went to contract to purchase and putting at risk both the down payment moneys paid for the replacement property and substantial tax liabilities. The developer relied upon an exception to the notice rule laid out in Rules of Court §202.7(f) that a party seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) does not have to give notice to the other side of the request when there is a risk of ‘significant prejudice.’ He alleged that the $16 million would be spirited away if notice was given. After the temporary restraining order was granted, the court scheduled a date for the owner to appear and oppose the imposition of an injunction on the money throughout the pendency of the lawsuit.

No grounds for a preliminary injunction

The owner hired Richard A. KlassYour Court Street Lawyer, to ask the court to lift the restraining notice and obtain the immediate release of his $16 million. The owner argued that there were no grounds for the court to grant the developer a preliminary injunction. CPLR 6301 requires a party seeking an injunction to show (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable injury in the absence of the injunction; and (3) a balancing of the equities in its favor. Courts realize what a drastic remedy an injunction is and, therefore, require a demonstrated clear right to the relief based upon undisputed facts; where the facts are sharply in dispute, an injunction will not issue. See, Sumiko Enterprises, Inc. v. Town Realty Co. LLC, 259 AD2d 483 [2 Dept. 1999]. Here, the facts were very much in dispute – the owner alleged that the developer was fully aware from the time he negotiated the deal through the closing that tenants were residing in the commercial lofts in violation of their leases.

Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware!

This well-known expression means that the law does not impose any duty on the seller to disclose information concerning a purchase when the contracting parties deal at arm’s length with each other unless there is some conduct on the part of the seller which constitutes active concealment. See, Platzman v. Morris, 283 AD2d 561 [2 Dept. 2001]. The doctrine of caveat emptor applies to real estate transactions, where the buyer has the duty to satisfy himself as to the quality of his bargain. London v. Courduff, 141 AD2d 803 [2 Dept. 1988]. In the context of real estate transactions, a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation or inducement must be analyzed within the doctrine of caveat emptorMandarin Trading Ltd. v. Wildenstein, 16 NY3d 173 [2011]. The owner urged that he owed no duty to the developer concerning the loft tenants; and he did not actively conceal the fact they were living there. Rather, it was argued that the developer utterly failed to perform any due diligence before making the purchase. Indeed, the owner suggested that a couple buying a single family home did more to look into their purchase than the developer did. Shockingly, the developer claimed that he did not even walk through the whole building, order a building inspection or even an appraisal, and a visual view of the building plainly showed what looked like an apartment building.

Sophisticated developer did not exercise due diligence

The owner contended that the real estate developer did absolutely no due diligence before plunking down $16 million in cash, including claiming that: the developer claimed he did not walk through a single loft unit; the developer did not obtain any building appraisals; the building looks like an apartment building with lots of windows; the owner told him that commercial tenants were living there; the real estate broker knew tenants were living in the building; the leases referred to “apartments;” the owner’s real estate attorney emailed the developer’s attorney to notify that tenants were living there and gave the developer a 7-day right to cancel the contract; the developer requested from the owner authorizations to review the records of the NYS Homes and Community Renewal and NYC Loft Board; and the contract of sale permitted the developer to enter the premises to inspect.
There is a principle that a sophisticated party has the “duty to exercise ordinary diligence and conduct an independent appraisal of the risks [he is] assuming.” Abrahami v. UPC Constr. Co., Inc., 224 AD2d 231, 234 [1 Dept. 1996]. Accordingly, a sophisticated party cannot claim it justifiably relied on alleged misrepresentations if that party failed to make use of available means of verification that would have likely disclosed the risk. See, Lampert v. Mahoney, Cohen & Co., 218 AD2d 580 [1 Dept. 1995]. The owner asserted that the developer should be held to the sophisticated party standard. (Indeed, the judge later found that the developer was a “sophisticated party well-versed in the purchase of multi-million dollar properties.”)
Moreover, the owner asserted that the special facts doctrine did not apply to this case. The special facts doctrine requires the satisfaction of a two-pronged test: that the material fact was information peculiarly within the knowledge of one party and that the information was not such that could have been discovered by the other party through the exercise of ordinary intelligence. Black v. Chittenden, 69 NY2d 665 [1986]. By the developer not taking an appraisal or walking through the loft units, the owner suggested to the court that the developer “never even bothered to ‘kick the tires’ of the property.”

Contractual Disclaimers

Aside from the back-and-forth allegations as to whether the developer knew loft tenants lived in the building, the contract of sale contained very specific disclaimers which could bar any action. New York contract law provides that, where a contract of sale contains a provision that the plaintiff is fully aware of the condition of the premises based upon its own inspection and is not relying upon any representations of the seller, any subsequent action for fraud is barred. See, Daly v. Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78 [2 Dept. 2009]. In this contract of sale were various provisions, including representations that:
  • Purchaser inspected the premises, is fully familiar with its condition and is accepting it in “as is” condition;
  • Purchaser examined the operations of the premises and is not relying upon any warranties or statements of the seller not expressly set forth in the contract;
  • Seller does not warrant that any particular lease or tenancy will be in force and effect at the closing or that the tenants will have performed their obligations thereunder;
  • Purchaser had the right to access the property to conduct inspections, investigations and studies prior to closing;
  • The contract constituted the entire understanding of the parties and any prior agreements or statements merged into the contract – the so-called “Merger Clause;” and
  • Seller made no representations or warranties as to the suitability of the premises for Purchaser’s intended use.
Courts have held that specific disclaimers in contracts of sale, which are not just ‘generalized boilerplate exclusions’ and which cover the subject matter of the alleged misrepresentation with sufficient specificity bar fraud claims. See, HSH Nordbank AG v. UBS AG, 95 AD3d 185 [1 Dept. 2012]; Danann Realty Corp. v. Harris, 5 NY2d 317 [1959] (The court actually held that not enforcing the specific disclaimer clause would be tantamount to condoning the fraudulent statement of a purchaser that he was not relying on anything else except the contract representations themselves).

Vacating Temporary Restraining Order and Denying Injunction

In granting the owner’s motion to vacate the temporary restraining order and deny the developer the injunction, the judge found that the developer’s “decision to rely on [the owner’s] statements in lieu of inspecting the tenants’ units to verify the ‘real quality’ of defendant’s representation that the tenants and leases were ‘commercial’ shows a lack of due diligence.” The developer could not show that he would be irreparably harmed if money damages could be awarded; merely claiming an increased difficulty in enforcing a possible judgment is not enough to show irreparable harm. In balancing the equities of the situation, the party seeking the injunction must show that the burden caused to a defendant by the imposition of an injunction is less than the harm caused to the plaintiff by the defendant’s activities. See, Edgeworth Food Corp. v. Stephenson, 53 AD2d 588 [1 Dept. 1976]. In this case, the owner has placed all $16 million into a §1031 Like-Kind Exchange with a replacement property; he would have lost his entire down payment if he didn’t timely close and would have also suffered severe tax liabilities on the proceeds from the sale of the Greenpoint property.
– Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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 by phone at (718) COURT-ST or e-mail at RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Full Balance: Landlord / Tenant

Landlord may pursue tenant for full balance of a lease

When a tenant vacates the premises prior to the expiration of the lease, the landlord is within its rights under New York law to do nothing and collect the full rent due under the lease (see Holy Props. v. Cole Prods., 87 N.Y.2d 130, 134, 637 N.Y.S.2d 964, 661 N.E.2d 694; see also Rios v. Carrillo, 53 A.D.3d 111, 113, 861 N.Y.S.2d 129). REP A8 LLC v. Aventura Tech., Inc., 68 AD3d 1087, 1089 [2d Dept 2009]; (“If the lease provides that the tenant shall be liable for rent after eviction, the provision is enforceable.” Gallery at Fulton St., LLC v. Wendnew LLC, 30 AD3d 221, 222 [1st Dept 2006]).

 

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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