Establishing a cause of action under Judiciary Law Section 487 can be difficult.

Establishing a cause of action under Judiciary Law Section 487 can be difficult. In Long Is. Med. Anesthesiology, P.C. v Rosenberg Fortuna & Laitman, LLP, 191 AD3d 864 [2d Dept 2021], the court dismissed the cause of action, holding:

An attorney is liable under Judiciary Law § 487(1) if he or she “[i]s guilty of any deceit or collusion, or consents to any deceit or collusion, with intent to deceive the court or any party.” “ ‘A cause of action alleging a violation of Judiciary Law § 487 must be pleaded with specificity’ ” (Sammy v. Haupel, 170 A.D.3d 1224, 1225, 97 N.Y.S.3d 269, quoting Betz v. Blatt, 160 A.D.3d at 698, 74 N.Y.S.3d 75). “Judiciary Law § 487 focuses on the attorney’s intent to deceive, not the deceit’s success” (Sammy v. Haupel, 170 A.D.3d at 1225, 97 N.Y.S.3d 269 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Betz v. Blatt, 160 A.D.3d at 699, 74 N.Y.S.3d 75). Here, the Supreme Court correctly determined that, even accepting the plaintiffs’ allegations as true and giving the complaint the benefit of every favorable inference (see Arnell Constr. Corp. v. New York City Sch. Constr. Auth., 177 A.D.3d 595, 596, 112 N.Y.S.3d 169), the plaintiffs failed to plead this cause of action with sufficient particularity to withstand a motion to dismiss.

R. A. Klass
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#CourtStreetLawyer #LegalMalpractice #litigation #section487

Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Ejectment of Boxing Gym: Throw in the Towel!

Two men in business suits in boxing ring, one unconscious on the mat, one standing. Illustrating article by Richard Klass about ejectment of a boxing gym.

COVID-19 has had a deleterious effect on New York’s commercial landlords. Due to the pandemic, many tenants have been unable to meet their lease obligations; in turn, this has resulted in the domino effect of landlords being unable to meet their mortgage obligations. Landlords have been hampered from evicting non-paying commercial tenants because of the Governor’s executive orders placing a moratorium on commercial evictions for over a year.

Caught up in the current quagmire, landlords whose tenants have defaulted under their commercial leases for reasons other than nonpayment of rent have had a difficult time removing them from the premises.

Boxing gym with troubling lease violations

According to the landlord, a fitness center specializing in boxing, martial arts and MMA-inspired workout routines was violating the terms of its lease prior to the pandemic. The allegations against the fitness center included:

  • Lack of special fitness center permit: NYC Zoning Regulations §12-10 define a “physical culture or health establishment” as “any establishment or facility, including commercial and non-commercial clubs, which is equipped and arranged to provide instruction, services, or activities which improve or affect a person’s physical condition by physical exercise or by massage.” The NYC Department of Buildings requires that businesses operating as a physical culture establishment or facility have a special permit in order to operate. The tenant never obtained the special permit and was alleged to have abandoned the application process;
  • Failure to obtain a health club license: The tenant agreed in the lease to “file any and all applications for permits and licenses required by any local, federal, state or city municipal agency for the conduct of tenant’s business and the operation and maintenance of the demised premises.” The lack of the license was alleged to be a breach of the lease;
  • Dissolution of corporation: The tenant was operating the fitness center despite the corporation having been dissolved by the New York Secretary of State years ago;
  • Lack of insurance: The lease required the tenant to maintain general liability insurance to cover any claims for bodily injury or death or property damage occurring on the premises of at lease $2 million per occurrence. The tenant did not provide the landlord with proof of insurance;
  • Non-payment of rent: The landlord claimed substantial rent arrears were due from the tenant for many months’ worth of rent and taxes owed.

Immediate Request for Order of Ejectment

The landlord retained Richard A. Klass, Esq., Your Court Street Lawyer, to bring an action against the fitness center to regain possession of the premises. An action for “ejectment” of the tenant from the premises was commenced and an Order to Show Cause was immediately filed, asking the judge to issue an Order of Ejectment.

Preliminary injunction request

Under CPLR 6301, a court is authorized to grant a preliminary injunction where it appears that the defendant threatens or is about to do an act in violation of the plaintiff’s rights regarding the subject of the action, which would tend to render any judgment ineffectual. The court may also grant a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) where it appears that there is the potential for immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage. The plaintiff must show that: (1) there is a likelihood of the plaintiff’s success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm will occur without an injunction; and (3) a balancing of the equities tips in the plaintiff’s favor. See, Hoeffner v. John F. Frank Inc., 302 AD2d 428 [2 Dept. 2003].

  • Likelihood of success on the merits: The landlord alleged that the tenant remained in possession of the premises, continuing to operate its fitness center, despite the lease having been terminated; the tenant owing substantial rent arrears; the corporation having been dissolved; there being no license or permit to operate as a health club; and the lack of insurance coverage. The landlord made a prima facie showing of its right to relief. See, Terrell v. Terrell, 279 AD2d 301 [1 Dept. 2001].
  • Irreparable harm or injury: The tenant allegedly continued operating as a fitness center to the detriment of not only the landlord but also its gym patrons and the general public. The landlord urged that the threats to the public included the lack of liability insurance, operating an unlicensed facility with lack of proper permits, and the potential exposure of bodily injury or damage claims. These were alleged to be of actual, imminent harms to be suffered and were not remote possibilities or speculation. See, Khan v. State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn, 271 AD2d 656 [1 Dept. 2000].
  • Balancing of the equities: The landlord asked the judge to consider the harms each side would suffer and that they would tilt in favor of ejecting the tenant. In balancing the equities of the situation, “it must be shown that the irreparable injury to be sustained … is more burdensome [to the plaintiff] than the harm caused to the defendant through imposition of the injunction.” McLaughlin, Piven, Vogel, Inc. v. W.J. Nolan & Co. Inc., 114 AD2d 165 [2 Dept. 1986].

The judge considered the landlord’s request and granted the Order of Ejectment. The New York City Sheriff immediately issued process on the fitness center and, acting on the Order of Ejectment, delivered possession of the boxing gym to the landlord.

R. A. Klass
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Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Statute of limitations and doctrine of continuous representation.

In Keshner v Hein Waters & Klein, 185 AD3d 808, 808-09 [2d Dept 2020], the court considered whether, on a motion to dismiss, the client was able to prove that there was a toll on the statute of limitations for legal malpractice based upon continuous representation, holding:

The statute of limitations for a cause of action alleging legal malpractice is three years (see CPLR 214 [6]). “However, ‘[c]auses of action alleging legal malpractice which would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations are timely if the doctrine of continuous representation applies’ ” (Farage v Ehrenberg, 124 AD3d 159, 164 [2014], quoting *809 Macaluso v Del Col, 95 AD3d 959, 960 [2012]; see Glamm v Allen, 57 NY2d 87, 94 [1982]). “[T]he rule of continuous representation tolls the running of the Statute of Limitations on the malpractice claim until the ongoing representation is completed” (Glamm v Allen, 57 NY2d at 94; see Farage v Ehrenberg, 124 AD3d at 164). “The two prerequisites for continuous representation tolling are a claim of misconduct concerning the manner in which professional services were performed, and the ongoing provision of professional services with respect to the contested matter or transaction” (Matter of Lawrence, 24 NY3d 320, 341 [2014]; see Williamson v PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 9 NY3d 1, 9, 11 [2007]; McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 306 [2002]).

Here, the defendants met their initial burden of establishing, prima facie, that the legal malpractice cause of action was untimely (see CPLR 214 [6]). In opposition, however, the plaintiff raised a question of fact as to whether the statute of limitations was tolled by the doctrine of continuous representation (see Kitty Jie Yuan v 2368 W. 12th St., LLC, 119 AD3d 674, 674 [2014]; Macaluso v Del Col, 95 AD3d at 960; Kennedy v H. Bruce Fischer, Esq., P.C., 78 AD3d 1016, 1017-1018 [2010]).

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Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Attorney not liable to client for testimony of a witness at a deposition

In Caso v Miranda Sambursky Slone Sklarin Verveniotis LLP, 180 AD3d 611, 612-13 [1st Dept 2020], the court held that the attorney was not liable to his client for testimony of a witness at a deposition:

Plaintiff’s contention in this legal malpractice action is that Arenas should have been better “prepared” for his deposition in the underlying personal injury action, so he could “remember” the statements he made to the detective. Plaintiff claims that, had defendants not been negligent, there would have been a plaintiff’s verdict. He claims that Arenas’s testimony damaged his case and prevented him from prevailing.

“[M]ere speculation of a loss resulting from an attorney’s alleged omissions … is insufficient to sustain a claim” for legal malpractice” (Gallet, Dreyer & Berkey, LLP v. Basile, 141 A.D.3d 405, 405–406, 35 N.Y.S.3d 56 [1st Dept. 2016] [internal quotation marks omitted]; Geller v. Harris, 258 A.D.2d 421, 685 N.Y.S.2d 734 [1st Dept. 1999] ). Plaintiff’s assertion that, had Arenas been better prepared, the jury would have returned a favorable verdict is pure speculation (Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 443, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385 [2007]; Brookwood v. Alston & Bird, LLC, 146 A.D.3d 662, 49 N.Y.S.3d 10 [1st Dept. 2017]. Defendants met their burden of showing that plaintiff cannot establish causation, in that plaintiff cannot prove that it would have prevailed in the underlying action “but for” defendant’s alleged negligence in preparing Arenas for his deposition (see Rudolf v. Shayne, 8 N.Y.3d 438 at 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385).

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Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Breach of contract action against an attorney

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
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