Caveat Emptor: “All Houses Wherein Men Have Lived and Died Are Haunted Houses.”

person in exercise clothing looking through magnifying glass at damage in home. Illustrating article by Richard A. Klass about Caveat Emptor

The buyer of a Brooklyn building sued the seller for fraud and breach of contract after the closing of title. The buyer made several claims against the seller, including that the roof was leaking, it wasn’t new, and the construction and renovations performed on the building were shoddy and done only to quickly “flip” the property. The buyer also claimed that the tenant’s signed estoppel certificate was false. The buyer’s attorney claimed that no ordinary amount of due diligence would have revealed that the roof was leaking; only destructive testing done prior to closing would have shown water intrusion or mold. The seller’s position was that any alleged defects in connection with the sale of the building could have been raised before the closing of title. Once the closing took place, any alleged defects were waived; the representations in the contract of sale merged with the transfer of title.

Disclaimers in the Contract of Sale

In the contract of sale between the seller and buyer, there were numerous clauses that contained specific disclaimers.[1] Among these disclaimers was the following one (which is fairly typical in real estate contracts):

The Purchaser acknowledges that they have physically inspected the Premises prior to signing this Contract and are aware of the physical condition of the Premises and agree to take the Premises in “AS IS CONDITION” in its present physical condition. Purchaser acknowledges that the Seller has made no representation or warranties and concerning the physical condition of the Premises other than those that are specifically set forth herein.

Doctrine of Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware!

The seller retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, to defend the lawsuit brought by the buyer. A motion to dismiss the case was filed based on several legal arguments, first and foremost being the defense of caveat emptor (meaning that the buyer was responsible for checking the quality of his purchase).

New York adheres to the caveat emptor doctrine and imposes no duty on the seller to disclose any information concerning the premises when the parties deal at arm’s length, unless there is some conduct on the part of the seller which constitutes active concealment. Platzman v. Morris, 283 AD2d 561 [2 Dept. 2001]. As held by the Second Department in London v. Courduff, 141 AD2d 803 [2d Dept. 1988], “The buyer has the duty to satisfy himself as to the quality of his bargain pursuant to the doctrine of caveat emptor, which in New York State still applies to real estate transactions.”

As held in Simone v Homecheck Real Estate Services, Inc., 42 AD3d 518, 521 [2d Dept 2007], “Where the contract specifically disclaims the existence of warranties or representations, a cause of action alleging breach of contract based on such a warranty or representation cannot be maintained (see Bedowitz v Farrell Dev. Co., 289 AD2d 432 [2001]). Here, the contract of sale specifically provided that the premises had been inspected by the buyer and was being sold ‘as is’ without warranty as to condition, express or implied. Furthermore, a specific merger clause is contained in the rider to the contract and precludes the buyer from claiming that he relied on any of the sellers’ alleged misrepresentations (see London v Courduff, supra). In addition, because title to the property had closed and the deed was delivered, the doctrine of merger extinguished any claim the buyer may have had regarding the contract of sale (see Ka Foon Lo v Curis, 29 AD3d 525 [2006]). Hence, the cause of action to recover for breach of contract cannot be maintained and should have been dismissed pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (7).”

Where the contract of sale, as in this case, contains a provision that the plaintiff is fully aware of the condition of the premises based upon his own inspection and is not relying upon any representations of the seller, any subsequent action for fraud is barred. Daly v. Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78 [2 Dept. 2009]; Platzman v. Morris, 283 AD2d 561, 563 [2 Dept. 2001] (“Since the contract contained a provision that the plaintiffs were fully aware of the condition of the premises based upon their own inspection and investigation, and not based upon any information or representations, written or oral, made by the sellers, the plaintiffs cannot claim fraud.”).

No ‘latent defect’ exception to the merger doctrine

The buyer argued in opposition to the motion that the merger doctrine did not apply to latent defects (which may only be discovered after occupancy of the premises). He incorrectly cited Fehling v Wicks, 179 Misc 2d 1041 [App Term 1999] as being a decision from the Second Department. It is actually a decision of the Appellate Term, Second Department. More importantly, the Fehling v Wicks decision has been rejected by the Appellate Divisions.

In Arnold v Wilkins, 61 AD3d 1236, 1237 [3d Dept 2009], the court held: “Plaintiffs alternatively contend that the merger doctrine does not apply here because the faulty sewage system was a ‘latent defect.’ In support, they rely on Fehling v. Wicks, 179 Misc.2d 1041, 687 N.Y.S.2d 868 [1999] for the proposition that ‘where the purchaser discovers latent defects which are discoverable only after the purchaser occupies the premises,’ the merger doctrine is inapplicable (id. at 1042, 687 N.Y.S.2d 868). Importantly, however, the purported ‘latent defect’ exception to the merger doctrine has not been adopted by the Appellate Divisions or the Court of Appeals in these circumstances.”

In TIAA Glob. Investments, LLC v One Astoria Sq. LLC, 127 AD3d 75, 85 [1st Dept 2015], the court held (emphasis added):

The merger doctrine in a real estate transaction provides that once the deed is delivered, its terms are all that survive and the purchaser is barred from prosecuting any claims arising out of the contract (Ka Foon Lo v. Curis, 29 A.D.3d 525, 526, 815 N.Y.S.2d 131 [2d Dept.2006] ). The only exception to this rule is where the parties clearly intended that the particular provision of the contract supporting the claim would survive the delivery of the deed (id.). Further, an “as is” clause in a contract to sell real property will ordinarily bar a claim for breach of contract (see Board of Mgrs. of the Chelsea 19 Condominium v. Chelsea 19 Assoc., 73 A.D.3d 581, 581, 905 N.Y.S.2d 8 [1st Dept.2010] ). Plaintiff argues that the merger doctrine does not apply here because of the latent nature of the defects at issue. It further contends that its allegations of deceptive behavior on Seller’s part to mask the true condition of the building render the “as is” clause inoperable.

Although plaintiff cites trial court opinions identifying a latency exception to the merger doctrine, the concept has not been adopted by any of the Appellate Divisions or by the Court of Appeals (see Arnold v. Wilkins, 61 A.D.3d 1236, 1237, 876 N.Y.S.2d 780 [3d Dept.2009]), and we are not adopting it here.

It was urged that the seller was bound to the decisions of the Appellate Divisions, as the Second Department has not opined on the issue yet. See, Summit Const. Services Group, Inc. v Act Abatement, LLC, 34 Misc 3d 823, 831 [Sup Ct 2011] (“The general rule is that trial courts must follow applicable decisions of the Appellate Division in their Department. If there is no decision from the Appellate Division in the Department in which the trial court is located, the trial court must follow the decision of another Department. This is because the Appellate Division is a single statewide court divided into departments for administrative convenience.”)

Seller did not engage in active concealment

The buyer’s attorney also argued that there was active concealment of defects by the seller. The complaint failed to make any allegation that the buyer was somehow thwarted by the seller from conducting any inspections or due diligence which could have discovered the purported defects. It was necessary for the buyer to allege material facts as essential allegations that the seller thwarted any efforts on his part to perform his due diligence. See, Jablonski v Rapalje, 14 AD3d 484, 485 [2d Dept 2005] (“To maintain a cause of action to recover damages for active concealment, the plaintiff must show, in effect, that the seller or the seller’s agents thwarted the plaintiff’s efforts to fulfill his responsibilities fixed by the doctrine of caveat emptor.”)

In Laxer v Edelman, 75 AD3d 584, 586 [2d Dept 2010], the Second Department held:

New York adheres to the doctrine of caveat emptor and imposes no liability on a seller [or the seller’s agent] for failing to disclose information regarding the premises when the parties deal at arm’s length, unless there is some conduct on the part of the seller[‘s agent] which constitutes active concealment” of a defective condition (Simone v Homecheck Real Estate Servs., Inc., 42 AD3d 518, 520 [2007]; see Daly v Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78, 87 [2009]; cf. Real Property Law §§ 462, 465). Moreover, even proof of active concealment will not suffice when the plaintiff should have known of the defect (see Richardson v United Funding, Inc., 16 AD3d 570, 571 [2005]). A plaintiff seeking to recover damages for active concealment must show that the defendant “thwarted” the plaintiff’s efforts to fulfill his or her responsibilities imposed by the doctrine of caveat emptor (Kerusa Co. LLC v W10Z/515 Real Estate Ltd. Partnership, 12 NY3d 236, 245 [2009] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Rozen v 7 Calf Cr., LLC, 52 AD3d 590, 593 [2008]).

Based on the arguments presented, the judge granted the motion to dismiss. The judge held that the “defendants have established that the merger doctrine bars any claims arising out of the contract, requiring dismissal of the plaintiff’s cause of action for breach of contract. In a real estate transaction, the merger doctrine provides that, once title to the property closed and the deed was delivered, any claims that the plaintiff might have had arising from the contract of sale were extinguished.”


End Notes

[1] Section 11(c) stated: Except as otherwise expressly set forth in this contract, none of Seller’s covenants, representations, warranties or other obligations contained in this contract shall survive Closing.

Section 12 stated: Condition of Property. Purchaser acknowledges and represents that Purchaser is fully aware of the physical condition and state of repair of the Premises and of all property included in this sale, based on Purchaser’s own inspection and investigation and not upon any information, data, statements or representations, written or oral, as to the physical condition, state of repair, use, cost or operation or any other matter related to the Premises or the other property included in the sale, given or made by Seller or its representatives, and shall accept the same “as is” except as set forth herein in their present condition and state of repair; subject to reasonable use, wear, tear and natural deterioration between the date hereof and the date of Closing (except as otherwise set forth in paragraph 16(f), without any reduction in the purchase price or claim of any kind for any change in such condition by reason thereof subsequent to the date of this contract. Purchaser and its authorized representatives shall have the right, at reasonable times and upon reasonable notice (by telephone or otherwise) to Seller, to inspect the Premises before Closing.

Section 28 stated: Miscellaneous. (a) All prior understandings, agreements, representations and warranties, oral or written, between Seller and Purchaser are merged in this contract; it completely expresses their full agreement and has been entered into after full investigation, neither party relying upon any statement made by anyone else that is not set forth in this contract.

Rider at Section 12 stated: Tenancies. The purchaser herein agrees to take title to the Premises, SUBJECT TO the following tenancies: NONE. PURCHASER SHALL RECEIVE A CREDIT OF $5,000 FROM SELLER FOR THE LOWER RENT AMOUNTS & SECURITY DEPOSITS.

Rider at Section 15 stated: No representations by Seller. Seller makes no warranties or representations concerning the physical condition, work repairs, renovations, or improvements, if any, income, expenses for operation, taxes or fitness of the Premises except as specifically set forth herein. The Purchaser acknowledges that they have physically inspected the Premises prior to signing this Contract and are aware of the physical condition of the Premises and agree to take the Premises in “AS IS CONDITION” in its present physical condition. Purchaser acknowledges that the Seller has made no representation or warranties and concerning the physical condition of the Premises other than those that are specifically set forth herein. The Seller shall not be bound by or liable for any representations, oral or written, pertaining to the Premises, furnished or made by any real estate broker or salesperson, agent or employee, servant or other, unless same is specifically set forth herein. Notwithstanding, none of the representations, warranties, covenants or other obligations of SELLERS hereunder shall survive the CLOSING, except as expressly provided herein. Acceptance of the deed by PURCHASERS shall be deemed full and complete performance and discharge of every agreement and obligation of SELLERS hereunder, except those, if any, which expressly are stated herein to survive the CLOSING.

Rider at Section 22 stated: Delivery and Acceptance of the Deed. The delivery and acceptance of the deed at closing by the Purchaser shall constitute full compliance by the Seller of all of the terms and conditions of this Contract, and none of the terms and conditions of this Contract shall survive the delivery of the deed unless specifically stated otherwise.

Rider at Section 32 stated: Entire Understanding. This agreement constitutes the entire Contract between the parties. It may not be modified orally or in any other manner except by an agreement in writing signed by the parties hereto.

Rider at Section 38 stated: Property Condition Disclosure Credit. Seller will not provide to the Purchaser the Property Condition Disclosure Statement under Article 14 of the New York Real Property Law. The Purchaser agrees to the $500.00 monetary credit as set forth in section 465(a) of the Property Condition Disclosure Act. By the acceptance of a $500.00 credit, the purchaser waives any failure or misrepresentation whether of not knowing or willful on the part of the Seller. The purchase price reflected herein is net of the $500.00 given by Seller to Purchaser as a credit in lieu of Purchasers receiving a property condition disclosure statement from Sellers.

Richard A. Klass, Esq.
Your Court Street Lawyer

#caveatemptor, #buyerbeware, #realestatelaw

Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT●ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

© 2021 Richard A. Klass

Scales of justice

Plaintiffs could not show that the continuous representation toll applied.

In Pace v Horowitz, 190 AD3d 619 [1st Dept 2021], the plaintiffs could not show that the continuous representation toll applied. It was held:

The court correctly determined that plaintiffs failed to show that there is an issue of fact as to whether the legal malpractice claim was timely filed based on the application of the continuous representation doctrine toll (see Marzario v. Snitow Kanfer Holzer & Millus, LLP, 178 A.D.3d 527, 528, 116 N.Y.S.3d 199 [1st Dept. 2019] ). The continuous representation doctrine toll does not apply based merely on the existence of an ongoing professional relationship, but only where the particular course of representation giving rise to the particular problems resulting in the alleged malpractice is ongoing (see Matter of Lawrence, 24 N.Y.3d 320, 341, 998 N.Y.S.2d 698, 23 N.E.3d 965 [2014]; Williamson v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 9 N.Y.3d 1, 840 N.Y.S.2d 730, 872 N.E.2d 842 [2007] ). Here, while plaintiffs allege that defendant law firm provided continuing estate administration work as part of an ongoing professional relationship of estate administration, they do not adequately allege that the particular course of representation regarding the sale of estate assets in 2007, which gave rise to the malpractice allegations, continued through February 2015, so as to make the instant malpractice claim timely filed.

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Court relied on an order as documentary evidence.

In Zeppieri v Vinson, 190 AD3d 1173 [3d Dept 2021], the court affirmed the dismissal of a legal malpractice action where the lower court relied on an order as documentary evidence. The court held:

Plaintiff Thomas J. Zeppieri is the Chief Executive Officer of plaintiff Adirondack Entertainment and Recreation, Inc. Defendant Jessica Hugabone Vinson is an attorney employed by defendant Barlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, P.C. Plaintiffs retained defendants to represent them against Adirondack Lakeview, LLC and The Fort Henry Corp. (hereinafter collectively referred to as Adirondack Lakeview) in a property boundary dispute (hereinafter the underlying action). In the underlying action, Adirondack Lakeview alleged causes of action contending encroachment and trespass. Defendants, on plaintiffs’ behalf, answered and asserted counterclaims for adverse possession and a prescriptive easement. Following a trial in the underlying action, Supreme Court (Muller, J.), by order dated July 3, 2018, found plaintiffs liable for encroachment and trespass and dismissed plaintiffs’ counterclaims as meritless.

Thereafter, plaintiffs commenced this action for legal malpractice. The primary contention in the amended complaint was that Vinson failed to object to inadmissible hearsay testimony by Robert F. Flacke, Adirondack Lakeview’s president, and that such testimony destroyed their counterclaims for adverse possession and easement by prescription. Defendants moved, pre-answer, to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (7) and 3013, arguing, among other things, that plaintiffs’ claims were vague, conclusory and otherwise refuted by documentary evidence. Supreme Court (McGrath, J.) found that the July 2018 order constituted documentary evidence that directly refuted plaintiffs’ primary allegation of malpractice and that the remaining allegations were conclusory. As such, Supreme Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the amended complaint. Plaintiffs appeal arguing that Supreme Court erred in relying on impermissible documentary evidence.

To recover damages for legal malpractice, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession and that the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages. To establish causation, a plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages, but for the lawyer’s negligence” (Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385 [2007] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Mid–Hudson Val. Fed. Credit Union v. Quartararo & Lois, PLLC, 155 A.D.3d 1218, 1219–1220, 64 N.Y.S.3d 389 [2017], affd 31 N.Y.3d 1090, 78 N.Y.S.3d 703, 103 N.E.3d 774 [2018] ). When determining whether a complaint fails to state a cause of action, “the court must afford the pleadings a liberal construction, take the allegations of the complaint as true and provide the plaintiff the benefit of every possible inference” (MLB Constr. Servs., LLC v. Lake Ave. Plaza, LLC, 156 A.D.3d 983, 984, 66 N.Y.S.3d 568 [2017] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted]; see Sim v. Farley Equip. Co. LLC, 138 A.D.3d 1228, 1228, 30 N.Y.S.3d 736 [2016] ). “However, allegations consisting of bare legal conclusions as well as factual claims flatly contradicted by documentary evidence are not entitled to any such consideration” (Myers v. Schneiderman, 30 N.Y.3d 1, 11, 62 N.Y.S.3d 838, 85 N.E.3d 57 [2017] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Wisdom v. Reoco, LLC, 162 A.D.3d 1380, 1381, 79 N.Y.S.3d 717 [2018] ).

“A motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint as barred by documentary evidence may be properly granted only if the documentary evidence utterly refutes the plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law. To qualify as documentary evidence, the evidence must be unambiguous and of undisputed authenticity” (Koziatek v. SJB Dev. Inc., 172 A.D.3d 1486, 1486, 99 N.Y.S.3d 480 [2019] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted] ). “[I]t is clear that judicial records, as well as … any other papers, the contents of which are essentially undeniable, would qualify as documentary evidence in the proper case” (Jenkins v. Jenkins, 145 A.D.3d 1231, 1234, 44 N.Y.S.3d 223 [2016] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Magee–Boyle v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 173 A.D.3d 1157, 1159, 105 N.Y.S.3d 90 [2019] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citation omitted] ).

In support of their motion, defendants submitted the July 2018 order, the transcript of the bench trial and an email that had been accepted into evidence. The July 2018 order clearly qualifies as documentary evidence. As Supreme Court observed, the July 2018 order “refutes plaintiffs’ primary contention that defendants’ failure to object to Flacke’s testimony was the proximate cause of plaintiffs’ damages.” Where Supreme Court specifically states that its order is based on the decision from the underlying action, we find ourselves with “the proper case” in which a judicial record qualifies as appropriate documentary evidence sufficient to defeat the action (Jenkins v. Jenkins, 145 A.D.3d at 1234, 44 N.Y.S.3d 223). Moreover, even if the court also relied on the underlying transcript, contrary to plaintiff’s contention, there is no per se prohibition on said reliance, where, as here, the contents of the transcript are undeniable (see Tyree v. Castrovinci, 164 A.D.3d 1399, 1400, 81 N.Y.S.3d 741 [2018] ). We agree that Supreme Court properly granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the amended complaint based upon documentary evidence (see Ganje v. Yusuf, 133 A.D.3d 954, 957, 19 N.Y.S.3d 355 [2015]; Doller v. Prescott, 167 A.D.3d 1298, 1300, 91 N.Y.S.3d 533 [2018] ). Given our finding, the remainder of plaintiffs’ arguments are academic.

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re Article 16 joint tortfeasors

In Lavelle-Tomko v Aswad & Ingraham, 191 AD3d 1142, 1148 [3d Dept 2021], the court dismissed the law firm’s affirmative defense re Article 16 joint tortfeasors, holding:

“plaintiff is entitled to dismissal of defendants’ third affirmative defense based on CPLR article 16, which does not apply to this action. The provisions of that article apply to joint tortfeasors sharing liability for noneconomic damages (see CPLR 1601, 1602); legal malpractice actions permit a plaintiff to recover only economic damages (see Kaiser v Van Houten, 12 AD3d 1012, 1014 [2004]; Risman v Leader, 256 AD2d 1245, 1245 [1998]).”

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Only certain documentary evidence can qualify for dismissal of an action.

The court in Bianco v Law Offices of Yuri Prakhin, 189 AD3d 1326 [2d Dept 2020] held that only certain documentary evidence can qualify for dismissal of an action under CPLR 3211(a)(1):

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211, the pleading is to be afforded a liberal construction (see CPLR 3026). The facts as alleged in the complaint are accepted as true, the plaintiff is afforded the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and the court determines only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87–88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511). Under CPLR 3211(a)(1), a dismissal is warranted only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes the plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law (see 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; Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d at 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 (see Granada Condominium III Assn. v. Palomino, 78 A.D.3d 996, 996–997, 913 N.Y.S.2d 668; 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]; see First Choice Plumbing Corp. v. Miller Law Offs., PLLC, 164 A.D.3d 756, 758, 84 N.Y.S.3d 171). Neither affidavits, deposition testimony, nor letters are considered documentary evidence within the intendment of CPLR 3211(a)(1) (see *579 Fox Paine & Co., LLC v. Houston Cas. Co., 153 A.D.3d 673, 678, 60 N.Y.S.3d 294; Granada Condominium III Assn. v. Palomino, 78 A.D.3d at 997, 913 N.Y.S.2d 668).

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New video: Foundations of Bankruptcy

Video: Foundations of Bankruptcy

with Richard A. Klass, Esq. (October, 2020)

From the Brooklyn Bar Association Access to Justice Task Force‘s Webinar Series Know Your Rights!
from Jen Bryan on Vimeo.

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Rehabilitation Center: Arguing with a nursing home administrator is like wrestling with a pig in the mud: After a few minutes, you realize the pig likes it.

Woman with white hair and pink smock holding hands in front of face, illustrating article by Richard Klass about nursing homes and rehabilitation centers

She had to convalesce in a rehabilitation center for comprehensive (sub-acute) in-patient care following illness. Upon admission, the resident was presented with the facility’s admission agreement for her to sign. The agreement provided that, in exchange for payment through Medicaid, Medicare, insurance or direct pay, the facility would provide all of the patient’s basic and routine services, including lodging and boarding and professional nursing care.

The agreement specified that the resident anticipated paying the costs of care through her managed care organization (MCO) (which contracts through a network or group for the delivery of health care). However, the agreement left the section for private payment rates for daily charges blank.

Motion to Dismiss the Facility’s Case

Post-discharge, the rehabilitation facility brought an action against the former resident, alleging that she obligated herself to pay for the room, board, nursing and health care services but failed to made payment. To mount the best defense possible, the former resident retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, who immediately moved to dismiss the case.

In the Complaint, the facility alleged that it was a corporation duly organized and existing under and by virtue of the laws of the State of New York. Based upon a search of the New York State Department of State online records, there was no corporation with the plaintiff’s name registered to do business in New York State. Business Corporation Law § 301(a)(1) specifies that the name of a domestic or foreign corporation “shall contain the word ‘corporation’, ‘incorporated’ or ‘limited’, or an abbreviation of one of such words; or, in the case of a foreign corporation, it shall, for use in this state, add at the end of its name one of such words or an abbreviation thereof.” There was no such designation in its name in the Summons or Complaint. To the extent that the facility may have claimed it was suing under an assumed name, General Business Law § 130(1) provides that there are certain requirements to be met.

Consumer credit transaction

The pending motion to dismiss set up settlement discussions about the procedural and substantive defenses to the facility’s case. As to the procedural aspect, the next line of defense was to threaten dismissal of the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds.

The Summons failed to prominently display at the top the words “Consumer Credit Transaction.” CPLR 305(a) specifies that the Summons must have those words on the top where the court held that the debt on an obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family or household purposes. In Jack Mailman & Leonard Flug DDS, PC v. Whaley, 2002 WL 31988623 [Civil Court, Richmond Co. 2002], the court held that medical debts were deemed consumer debts.

Residential Care Facilities – Residents’ Rights

Nursing facilities, including nursing homes and rehabilitation centers

Nursing facilities, including nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, that accept residents whose charges will be paid in whole or in part by Medicaid are governed by the federal Nursing Home Reform Act (42 USC §1396r) and federal and state regulations (42 CFR §483; and 10 NYCRR §415).

Through these enactments, there was the creation of a so-called residential care patient’s “Bill of Rights.” These “Rights” include the rights to freedom from abuse, mistreatment and neglect; privacy; accommodation for mental, physical, psychological and emotional needs; treatment with dignity; and being fully informed and participating in one’s care.[1]

Financial obligation rights

Among residents’ rights are those relating to financial obligations to the facility, including informing the resident of those services and items that the facility offers for which the resident may be charged. 10 NYCRR §415(h). These laws and regulations govern nursing facility admission agreements. See, Prospect Park Nursing Home v. Goutier, 824 NYS2d 770 [Civil Court, Kings Co. 2006].

The resident did not read or write in the English language. The admission agreement was not translated for her. The resident alleged that when she asked what she was signing, she was told that her MCO would be paying the costs, not her. The “Anticipated Payor” section indicated that an insurer would be paying. The “Private Payment” section (including costs per day) was left blank. The resident alleged that she was never informed of the rates or charges. It was claimed that the facility’s representatives engaged in wrongful conduct and misrepresentation concerning the execution of the agreement. See, Nerey v. Greenpoint Mortgage Funding, Inc., 144 AD3d 646 (2d Dept. 2016).

Rehabilitation Center

Quality of Life: The right to adequate and appropriate care

The regulations emphasize that a resident has the right to receive from the facility “the necessary care and services to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being, consistent with the resident’s comprehensive assessment and plan of care.” 42 CFR §483.24.

The resident alleged she received inadequate care at the facility, including that she had to wait many hours for the bedpan to be changed; lack of bathing; unavailability of staff when needed and for necessary help and activities. In light of the vigorous defense advocated by Your Court Street Lawyer, the facility agreed to significantly reduce the bill for rehabilitation services and settle the case with the former resident on very favorable terms.

[1] https://www.aarp.org/home-garden/livable-communities/info-2001/the_1987_nursing_home_reform_act.html

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keywords: Nursing facility, nursing home, rehabilitation center

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Plaintiffs’ Judiciary Law Section 487 cause of action was properly dismissed.

In dismissing the plaintiff’s claim against an attorney for violating Judiciary Law Section 487, the New York State Court of Appeals held:

Here, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs (see De Lourdes Torres v Jones, 26 NY3d 742, 763 [2016]), defendants established prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the Judiciary Law Section 487 (1) claim by demonstrating that plaintiffs failed to allege that defendants engaged in deceit or collusion during the course of the underlying federal intellectual property lawsuit against GM and EMI [FN2]. In response, plaintiffs failed to satisfy their burden to establish material, triable issues of fact (id.). The affidavits plaintiffs submitted in opposition to summary judgment did not allege that defendants committed any acts of deceit or collusion during the pendency of the underlying federal lawsuit. To the extent defendants were alleged to have made deceitful statements, plaintiffs’ allegation that defendants induced them to file a meritless lawsuit based on misleading legal advice preceding commencement of the lawsuit is not meaningfully distinguishable from the conduct we deemed insufficient to state a viable attorney deceit claim in Looff (97 NY at 482). The statute does not encompass the filing of a pleading or brief containing nonmeritorious legal arguments, as such statements cannot support a claim under the statute [FN3]. Similarly, even assuming it constituted deceit or collusion, defendants’ alleged months-long delay in informing plaintiffs that their federal lawsuit had been dismissed occurred after the litigation had ended and therefore falls outside the scope of Judiciary Law Section 487 (1). Thus, plaintiffs’ Judiciary Law Section 487 cause of action was properly dismissed.

Bill Birds, Inc. v Stein Law Firm, P.C. 2020 NY Slip Op 02125 Decided on March 31, 2020 Court of Appeals DiFiore, J. Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law Section 431. This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Decided on March 31, 2020
No. 19

[*1]Bill Birds, Inc. et al., Appellants,
v
Stein Law Firm, P.C. et al., Respondents.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Appeals court reverses dismissal of action in personal injury case. Proposal to install elevator gate was the smoking “gate”.

Scan of redacted proposal, with words in bold saying, about an elevator that lacked a gate on the inside of the elevator platform, "this is extremely dangerous, someone could get hurt." This image illustrates an article by Richard Klass discussing a personal injury case.

The company’s porter was operating a manually-controlled freight elevator in a large Manhattan industrial building owned by the defendants. The porter, who was employed by a tenant of the building, was in the process of bringing the elevator up to the eighth floor at the time of the accident. According to him, the heel of his left foot became caught between the fourth floor landing and the moving elevator. The elevator did not have a gate separating the interior side of the elevator cab from the elevator shaft. The porter allegedly sustained severe injuries to his left foot and ankle as a result of the accident, which, unfortunately, may later lead to the amputation of his foot.

The porter came to Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to sue the building’s owners for his severe personal injuries. Mr. Klass brought in the preeminent personal injury firm, Stefano A. Filippazzo, P.C., to pursue and litigate the porter’s case.

Elevator in compliance – when installed over 80 years ago!

This industrial building was built pre-war. The freight elevator was installed a very long time ago yet remained in operation through at least the time of the porter’s accident in 2009. It was undisputed that the elevator was in compliance with all applicable rules, regulations, and codes at the time of its installation. The building owners moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them on this basis.

Proposal: “This is extremely dangerous”

Two years before this terrible accident, the building’s owners received a proposal from their elevator service company to install a new manual gate with guide tracks and chains, which would allow for the smooth operation of the elevator with minimal risk of injury to its operator. The proposal stated: “Presently there are no gates on inside of elevator platform, building personnel are leaning over platform, this is extremely dangerous, someone could get hurt” (bold added for emphasis).

Appeals court reverses dismissal of action.

Shockingly, the trial court dismissed the porter’s lawsuit, relying on the building owners’ argument that, since the elevator was in code compliance when it was installed (despite that being a very long time ago), there could be no liability for there being no gate installed. Stefano A. Filippazzo could not give up on the case, believing that the judge got it 100% wrong! The porter appealed the dismissal, arguing that the owners’ failure to install a gate on the interior side of the freight elevator constituted a serious, defective condition.

In reversing the dismissal, the appellate court held that:

“[T]he plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendants were negligent. The plaintiff submitted evidence demonstrating that prior to the accident, the defendants were on notice of the dangerous condition of the elevator when they were provided with proposals from their own elevator service company, which proposals stated that because there was no gate on the inside of the elevator platform, an extremely dangerous condition existed (see DeCarlo v Vacchio, 147 AD3d at 725).”

No proof of code violations does not doom negligence claim.

Recognizing that the elevator was in code compliance, the appellate court was unwilling to come to the same conclusion as the trial court that there could be no personal injury claim. Rather, the court held that a trial court consider the absence of code violations in the context of the overall situation. In Romero v Waterfront N.Y., 168 AD3d 1012 [2d Dept 2019], the court opined:

However, “the absence of a violation of a specific code or ordinance is not dispositive of a plaintiff’s allegations based on common-law negligence principles” (Alexis v Motel Oasis, 143 AD3d 926, 927 [2016]; see DeCarlo v Vacchio, 147 AD3d 724, 725 [2017]; Zebzda v Hudson St., LLC, 72 AD3d 679, 680-681 [2010]). Accordingly, a defendant may be held negligent for departing from generally accepted customs and practices even when the allegedly defective condition is in compliance with the relevant codes and ordinances (see Zebzda v Hudson St., LLC, 72 AD3d at 680-681).

Based upon the appellate court’s reversal, the personal injury claim was remanded back to the trial court. When faced with both the porter’s substantial, lifetime injuries and the actual notice received from the elevator service company of the existence of a dangerous, defective condition, the building owners settled the personal injury lawsuit.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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