Throughout this book, there may be some terms and symbols of which you are not familiar. Please note the following:
The symbol “§” refers to the term “Section.” Statutes, laws and rules are generally organized into volumes dedicated to certain areas of law, such as Domestic Relations Law, Criminal Law, etc. Within those statutes, they are broken down into sections. The reader is free to search by the statute section in order to read the specific statute or find similar cases relying on that statute section.
Case names are identified by italicized names and citations for reference. One of the bedrocks of the legal system of most countries is the concept of stare decisis — that the court should recognize and follow past precedents adopted by earlier courts. For this reason, judges will generally rely upon prior decisions in making theirs (unless they are looking to either change the law or distinguish the present case from prior ones).
In following up on the above, it is important to be mindful that lower courts are bound by the decisions of appellate courts. In New York State, the highest court is called the New York State Court of Appeals (based in Albany). Below the Court of Appeals are four appellate courts known as the Appellate Division (First Department — covering Manhattan and Bronx; Second Department — covering Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and several other surrounding counties; Third Department — covering central and northern counties; and Fourth Department — covering western counties). In each of the 62 counties of the State, there is a Supreme Court, which is a court of general jurisdiction, which means it can hear any case from a parking ticket to the death penalty. Within each county, there are also courts of limited jurisdiction, which means that they are set up to handle specific matters, such as County Court, Justice Court, District Court or Civil Court. Most of these courts handle cases of lesser monetary value. In New York City, the Civil Court handles cases where the amount claimed is $25,000 or less. In Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the District Court handles cases where the amount claimed is $15,000 or less.
Next to the italicized names of cases are the (a) volume and page number in law books where the case can be found — called the “citation” — and (b) the court which rendered the decision and the year it did so. The court which rendered the decision is important because, for instance, if the present case is to be heard in the New York County Civil Court and the Appellate Division, First Department already ruled on the specific legal issue at hand, the Civil Court is “bound” to that ruling. The year may be important too; either an old decision may be so widely accepted that a court cannot ignore it, or a new decision may address a new legal issue not envisioned by an older court decision considering the issue (this especially comes up in matters involving new technologies or methods).
There are some references to federal laws. According to our United States Constitution, when a state law is in conflict with a federal law, the federal law may override the state law. Congress may enact a law that covers the whole country, and may be applied in any court, even if it overrides an existing state law. For this reason, some of the laws and statute relied upon by a state court judge are federal ones, which are then applied to the case at hand.
The term “Plaintiff” refers to the person bringing the law suit (which, in the credit card case, is typically the credit card company). The term “Defendant” refers to the person being sued (usually, the account holder).
The term “Motion” refers to the method of making a request of a judge to render a decision. There are two types of motions: (a) “Notice of Motion” — where the party first gives notice to the other side that he is going to ask the judge to make a decision; and (b) “Order to Show Cause” — where the party first goes to ask the judge to make a decision on a temporary basis and then notifies the other side of the request. Depending on the situation, a party would use one or the other to make the request; generally, a party will bring a motion by Order to Show Cause when it is necessary to obtain a “stay” (like a “stop sign”) of something about to happen or happening, such as a wage garnishment or restraint of a bank account.
The term “CPLR” refers to the “Civil Practice Law and Rules” — the ‘playbook’ for the rules of the litigation game that the parties and judge must follow. The term “Uniform Rules of Court” refers to some administrative rules which, while not part of the general CPLR playbook, also apply to the case because they allow for the general flow of the litigation.
If there is any other question you have concerning the material in this book, please feel free to contact me, Richard Klass, for more information.