Appellate Division E-Filing Begins March 1, 2018 with Brand New Uniform Rules

Just a few weeks ago, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced in her State of Our Judiciary speech that e-filing appeals in the Appellate Division would begin on March 1st. After the Office of Court Administration sought comments on proposed e-filing rules last summer, we knew that e-filing would soon begin. But the official date hadn’t yet been announced. Now, we know. As Chief Judge DiFiore explained, the courts took the bar’s comments to heart and made many changes to the final e-filing rules, which apply uniformly to all four Appellate Division departments. Here are the highlights of how the system will work.

First, this isn’t a full roll out of e-filing in every appeal. To begin on March 1, only limited kinds of cases will have to be e-filed, and they will vary by the Appellate Division Department.

As the e-filing system gets underway, and the Appellate Division works out any kinks, the list of cases will grow. Hopefully, it won’t be long before all appeals will be e-filed.

If you have a new appeal after March 1st (and your case falls within the list of selected cases), how have the appellate rules and procedures changed? First, after you file your notice of appeal, and the Appellate Division receives it, the Court will issue a Notice of Appellate Case or Docket Number. Counsel for the appellant must then file electronically a notice of appearance and, within 7 days, serve a copy of the notice on all other parties and file proof of the service. That’s an entirely new requirement.

Other counsel must then also appear on the electronic docket within 20 days after service of the Notice of Appellate Case or Docket Number, after which all briefs, records, appendices, and other documents would be deemed served when filed electronically.

Recognizing the reality that many attorneys use appellate printers to put together and file their briefs, and likely not wanting to put the appellate printing industry out of business in the state courts, the rules allow for the attorneys to designate a filing agent who may file on his or her client’s behalf. The attorney, however, is the one who remains on the hook for what is filed and ensuring that all deadlines are met.

Although some pro se parties have been previously excluded from e-filing, the new rules will allow a pro se party to choose to participate and e-file his or her brief using the same conventions as counseled parties.

And what are those conventions? Well, if you haven’t learned how to bookmark your PDF briefs and records on appeal yet, now is the time to learn because that’s what the rules require. Briefs must be filed in PDF/A format with the tables of contents of briefs and records linked to the corresponding pages inside. Never done it before? A few helpful resources can be found here (Adobe, Nuance). Also, if the record volumes get too big, they should be split into multiple documents and e-filed separately to ensure they aren’t rejected as exceeding the 100 MB maximum file size.

The new Appellate Division e-filing rules don’t entirely eliminate the need to file hard copies of your brief and record with the Court. But the total number has been reduced to an original and five copies. So, some paper will be saved, but not a ton.

Also, you don’t have to file the hard copies simultaneously with the electronic filing. Instead, the rules require that the parties wait for the Clerk’s Office to review and approve the electronic copy before filing the hard copies. Once you receive the approval notice from the Clerk’s Office, you have 2 business days to file the hard copies.

Finally, like with all other e-filing, the electronically filed documents are considered filed and served when they are uploaded to the NYSCEF system. That means attorneys are no longer constrained by the 5 p.m. (or sometimes earlier) court closing deadline. Instead, lawyers who can’t just put the pen down can write and edit until their heart’s content or midnight, whichever is earlier.  That’s good news for those of us who have had to have a courier race a brief to the Appellate Division at the last minute before 5, and bad news for procrastinators who need a firm deadline to be productive.  I see many late night filings ahead in the Appellate Division.

This is an exciting development, as New York starts to catch up with its counterparts in the federal courts. As the Appellate Division e-filing system gets underway on March 1st, it will hopefully work well enough to convince OCA that e-filing should be expanded to all appeals and, eventually, to all New York courts. Indeed, e-filing is good not only for lawyers, but it also provides the public with a valuable opportunity to get access to the court documents on which decisions are based. That, plus New York’s move to live stream all appellate arguments throughout the state, provides a level of transparency that just wasn’t present before. Now, you can read the parties’ briefs, watch the arguments, and read the court’s decision all from the comfort of your own computer screen. What could be better than that!

The new Appellate Division e-filing rules can be found here.

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Bring Your Lunch to the Court of Appeals: A Conversation with Judge Leslie Stein

It’s not often that you get the chance to have lunch with a sitting judge of your state’s high court, much less in a group of just four other people. Lucky for me, that’s the kind of quality programming that the Albany County Bar Association provides. Last time, it was lunch with Justice Michael Lynch of the Appellate Division, Third Department. This time, the ACBA’s Brown Bag Lunch program brought me to the Court of Appeals for lunch with Associate Judge Leslie Stein. As always, it was a fantastic program. Here are just a few highlights of what we talked about.

Differences Between the Trial Bench, the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals

Judge Stein’s career on the bench has run the gamut. She began in the Civil Part of City Court, was then elected to Supreme Court, elevated to the Appellate Division shortly after that, and was appointed to the Court of Appeals three years ago. So what’s the biggest differences between her stops?

Besides the general complexity of the cases before her, which of course increased as she rose to the Appellate Division and now on the Court of Appeals, Judge Stein explained that the biggest difference between sitting in City Court and the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals is learning how to make a collaborative decision on the cases you hear. While at City Court or Supreme Court, Judge Stein was the sole person responsible for the decisions in the cases she heard. She got to review the law, the facts, and decide the outcome that she thought was right every time.

Once she was elevated to the Appellate Division and especially now on the Court of Appeals, the decision-making process became much more collaborative. After oral argument, Judge Stein explained that all the judges on the case sit down at conference to discuss the issues and a possible result. In that discussion, the Judges have to convince each other of the right outcome, and no one Judge’s perspective can control.  You need at least 3 votes at the Appellate Division and 4 at the Court of Appeals to issue a decision, after all. There is much more give and take, and compromise about what the Judges are willing to agree to. That process, Judge Stein said, often leads to much narrower opinions on the relevant issues to get the agreement that the Court needs to decide a case.

The Use of Oral Argument Questions and Separate Opinions to Develop the Law

But when the Judges can’t all agree on a particular issue, Judge Stein said that questions at oral argument and writing separate opinions are often useful to help push the Court to reach agreement. In fact, oftentimes, the Judges go into oral argument with a few questions that are designed more to persuade their colleagues on an issue than they are to elicit a response from the advocates. And the Judges each have a good sense of which questions are which. The Judges have their own unique styles of questioning, Judge Stein told us, and when the questions are being used to persuade their colleagues on the Court, it’s pretty easy to see.

Judge Stein offered some important advice for advocates who argue before the Court. The Judges all know that you’re wrapped up in the particular facts and issues in your client’s case, but you have to be ready to answer the bigger question: “What rule would you have this Court adopt?” The Court wants to know where the line should be drawn not only for the particular case in front of it, but for all cases throughout the State. It’s sometimes surprising, she said, that attorneys come to argument unready to answer that question. Don’t let that be you (especially because if you’ve watched the Court’s arguments, the question about what the rule is comes up in almost every single one).

Judge Stein also told us that separate opinions can have the same persuasive purpose. About one week before the start of the argument session, each Judge is assigned to write an opinion on a case that will be argued at that term (this is a change from the Court’s prior practice where the Judges randomly were assigned writings at the conference immediately after oral argument concluded).  Thus, Judge Stein explained, when the Judges leave the bench after oral argument at the Court of Appeals, they know which cases they’ll be writing an opinion in, but not necessary whether that opinion will be for the majority or the dissent. After argument, the Judges head to conference, discuss the issues in each case, with the least senior Judge (now, Judge Feinman) beginning, and hold an initial vote on the case. If the Judge that has been assigned the writing has the majority, then he or she will write the majority opinion, and the dissent is assigned to the next least senior Judge who disagrees.

Many times, however, Judge Stein explained, the Judges who are writing the dissent write opinions that never leave the internal chambers of the Court. They are offered to persuade the majority to narrow its opinion as a part of the give and take process. The draft dissenting opinions are used for points of discussion among the Judges to see if they can reach a compromise on the issues. Many times, it works, the Judges agree to sign on to the majority, and the draft dissent is scrapped, having served its purpose.

But when it doesn’t, the dissent becomes part of the Court’s opinion, offering the bench and bar a different critique of the issues in the case. Judge Stein told us that dissents can also be valuable to signal when a Judge feels that the law should be changed, as Judge Rivera recently did in calling for a reexamination of the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule in People v Cummings or Judge Wilson did in calling for the Court to interpret its jurisdiction to include the ability to dismiss an appeal as improvidently granted.

Concurring opinions can be used the same way, Judge Stein noted. When a Judge agrees in principle with the Court’s proposed result, but would use different reasoning to get there, he or she will use a concurrence to explain the difference. Or, as Judge Fahey did recently, to explain that the issues in the case are important and should be decided, but that this particular case is not the right one in which to reach them, and to signal to the bar to bring these issues to the Court in another case.  Much of what the Court does, Judge Stein said, is about the development of the law, and not necessarily just for the case in front of it.

 

The Process of Hiring Clerks

No discussion of the inner workings of the Court of Appeals would be complete without touching on the subject of those attorneys who help the Judges do their jobs. All of the Judges on the Court have different policies on who they will hire for clerks, what kinds of experience they’re looking for, whether they want permanent or rotating clerks, and whether they’re willing to hire clerks straight out of law school.

Although some Judges on the Court have exclusively rotating clerks for 2-year terms in order to get a fresh perspective in chambers, Judge Stein has traditionally had permanent law clerks, people she has grown to know well and who know her intellectual tendencies. That, she thinks, has worked very well for her over the years. But, just recently, Judge Stein hired a new clerk on a 2-year term commitment. So, she’s willing to reevaluate her stance and her new clerk, she said, is working out very well.

When we asked what she looks for in a potential clerk, she said that it’s important for the applicant to have at least 2-3 years of experience representing clients of some sort. That perspective is important to sort through the arguments that the attorneys in each case bring to the Court. The practical experience helps Judge Stein sort through the practical impact of the cases that the Court is deciding, which is always a consideration when the Court decides cases that affect the law statewide.

Judge Stein also looks for strong writers, of course, but importantly also someone who is willing to stand up to her and tell her when the clerk thinks she is wrong on the law. It’s ultimately the Judge’s call where her opinion comes out in a case, but the process of reaching that decision is strengthened when the clerks provide a strong point of view and don’t just agree with Judge Stein’s initial reaction.

Best of all, as we finished up lunch with Judge Stein, she offered to take us on a private tour of the Court, to see the detailed hand-carved woodworking throughout the courtroom, sit in the Judges’ chairs and look at the still existing spittoon underneath the bench, tour the robing room where the Judges get ready for argument before they enter the courtroom, see the two-story conference room and the “Cardozo” room where the decisions get made, and last but certainly not least, the Judges’ chambers on the second floor.

Not bad for a brown bag lunch. Not bad at all.  It was, in fact, as fantastic program, and many thanks are owed to the Albany County Bar Association for continuing to put this great programming on for its members and to Judge Stein for taking the time out of her busy schedule between sessions to host us.

 

 

 

For the First Time, Court of Appeals Issues a Separate Opinion While Denying Leave to Appeal

When the Court of Appeals grants or denies a motion for leave to appeal, it generally does so in a one sentence order that says “motion for leave to appeal denied” or “motion for leave to appeal granted.”

At most, the Court will issue paragraph explanations sometimes when it has to dismiss a motion for leave to appeal on a complex jurisdictional ground. And it does that only so the parties understand what is preventing the Court from deciding the motion for leave on the merits.

Yesterday, however, for what I believe to be the first time, the Court of Appeals published a separate opinion in denying a motion for leave to appeal (at least that’s what my brief Westlaw research seems to suggest). You’ll see that at the United States Supreme Court sometimes when a Justice disagrees with the denial of certiorari and writes separately to explain why. But I’ve never seen it at the Court of Appeals.

In this case, Judge Eugene Fahey wrote separately to concur in the denial of leave to appeal in the so-called chimpanzee habeas corpus case. In that case, an animal rights group sought a writ of habeas corpus to free two captive chimps, Tommy and Kiko, from private owners who are keeping them in small cages within the State. Judge Fahey explains that if the Court were to grant leave, he would vote to affirm because the habeas had already been sought and denied on the chimps behalf, and two successive writs can’t be sought under the CPLR. So, he concurs in the denial of leave to appeal.

But, that’s not the end of his thoughts. Instead, Judge Fahey explains, the question of whether habeas corpus can be available for the release of a non-human animal will have to be addressed at some point.  And he offers an approach for how that question should be answered:

The Appellate Division’s conclusion that a chimpanzee cannot be considered a “person” and is not entitled to habeas relief is in fact based on nothing more than the premise that a chimpanzee is not a member of the human species. I agree with the principle that all human beings possess intrinsic dignity and value, and have, in the United States (and territory completely controlled thereby), the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus, regardless of whether they are United States citizens, but, in elevating our species, we should not lower the status of other highly intelligent species.

The better approach in my view is to ask not whether a chimpanzee fits the definition of a person or whether a chimpanzee has the same rights and duties as a human being, but instead whether he or she has the right to liberty protected by habeas corpus. That question, one of precise moral and legal status, is the one that matters here. Moreover, the answer to that question will depend on our assessment of the intrinsic nature of chimpanzees as a species. The record before us in the motion for leave to appeal contains unrebutted evidence, in the form of affidavits from eminent primatologists, that chimpanzees have advanced cognitive abilities, including being able to remember the past and plan for the future, the capacities of self-awareness and self-control, and the ability to communicate through sign language. Chimpanzees make tools to catch insects; they recognize themselves in mirrors, photographs, and television images; they imitate others; they exhibit compassion and depression when a community member dies; they even display a sense of humor. Moreover, the amici philosophers with expertise in animal ethics and related areas draw our attention to recent evidence that chimpanzees demonstrate autonomy by self-initiating intentional, adequately informed actions, free of controlling influences.

Does an intelligent nonhuman animal who thinks and plans and appreciates life as human beings do have the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary cruelties and enforced detentions visited on him or her? This is not merely a definitional question, but a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention. To treat a chimpanzee as if he or she had no right to liberty protected by habeas corpus is to regard the chimpanzee as entirely lacking independent worth, as a mere resource for human use, a thing the value of which consists exclusively in its usefulness to others. Instead, we should consider whether a chimpanzee is an individual with inherent value who has the right to be treated with respect (Fahey, J., concurring, at 4-5).

Whatever Judge Fahey’s thoughts are on the availability of habeas corpus for chimps and other animals, it is significant that the Court of Appeals seems to moving in the direction of explaining its work. A separate opinion on a motion for leave to appeal can signal to the bench and bar that a case may present important issues, but that it’s not the right vehicle for deciding those issues. It’s a welcome addition to the work of the Court.

The Court of Appeals’ motion decision can be found here.

Court of Appeals Gets “Cleaned Up,” and Also Decides an Identity Theft Case

When a thief, or these days a hacker, steals your credit card and uses it, most people call that identity theft.  The New York criminal statutes, however, haven’t been so clear about whether the use another’s personal identifying information, such as their name, bank account, or credit card number, is enough to show that the criminal has assumed the person’s identity. The Appellate Division, First Department has said that merely using another’s personal information, without more conduct actually assuming the person’s identity, isn’t enough for an identity theft conviction. The Fourth Department, on the other hand, disagreed and said that it was.

The Court of Appeals, resolving this conflict, held in People v Roberts (No. 42) and People v Rush (No. 43) that the statutory language of the identity theft statute is clear: use of another’s personal identifying information alone is sufficient for a conviction.  The statute, Penal Law §§ 190.79 and 190.80, is pretty clear. It provides that a person is guilty of identity theft:

“when [such person] knowingly and with intent to defraud assumes the identity of another person by presenting [themselves] as that other person, or by acting as that other person or by using personal identifying information of that other person, and thereby . . . commits or attempts to commit [a felony]” (Penal Law §§ 190.79 [3]; 190.80 [3]).

Using the personal identifying information of another person is enough for a conviction. As Judge Rivera writing for the majority put it:

To establish identity theft in the first or second degree, the People must establish as the mens reathat the defendant knowingly and actually intended to defraud by the actus reusof assuming the identity of another. The statute expressly limits the manner by which a defendant assumes the identity of another to three types of conduct: by presenting oneself as that other person, acting as that other person, or using that other person’s personal identifying information.3Contrary to defendants’ argument, the requirement that a defendant assumes the identity of another is not a separate element of the crime. Rather, it simply summarizes and introduces the three categories of conduct through which an identity may be assumed. In other words, the “assumes the identity of another” language is the operational text that sets forth the actus reusof identity theft, while the three types of acts listed are the legislatively-recognized methods by which a defendant satisfies that element (Opn, at 12).

But what’s really the most important part of this opinion is not what’s in the majority, but what’s in Judge Wilson’s separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. On page 6 of Judge Wilson’s writing, he does something that has never before been seen in a Court of Appeals opinion. He uses the citation signal “cleaned up”:

What’s (cleaned up), you ask? Created by Jack Metzler (@SCOTUSPlaces on Twitter), it’s a now relatively established way for attorneys to indicate in their writing that they’ve altered the form of a quote without changing its substance, and without the overly cumbersome parenthetical that you used to have to include, like (citations, quotations marks, and alteration omitted). It can also be used to eliminate unnecessary string cites to citing or quoting authority in the case you’re citing or quoting. Jack’s piece explaining the need for and use of (cleaned up) can be found here.

With Judge Wilson’s use of “cleaned up,” the Court of Appeals joins a long list of other Courts across the country, including the Fifth Circuit and others, adopting this new approach to clarifying legal writing. Now, it’s time for New York to formally adopt it in the Tan Book to make this exciting event a staple in appellate work and opinions across the entire state.

The Court of Appeals’ opinion can be found here.

Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for May 2, 2018

The Court of Appeals wraps up the April-May Session on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 with three cases on the argument docket (the Court’s case summaries can be found here). Two civil cases and one criminal case will be heard today, involving the following issues: (1) under the NYC rent control regulations that provide for deregulation when tenants reach $175,000 in adjusted gross income, must the income reported on a joint tax return be apportioned between the spouses when one of the spouses has vacated a regulated apartment; (2) does a police officer lose his entitlement to defense and indemnification from civil liability under the General Municipal Law when he admits that he intentionally disregarded alibi evidence that would have cleared a criminal suspect, leading to the suspects wrongful detention for four months; and (3) is an individual inquiry required to determine whether a juror is grossly unqualified as a result of her outburst at defendant’s counsel for his repeated use of a racial epithet during trial.

No. 70 Matter of Lemma v Nassau County Police Officer Indemnification Board

Police officers who get sued for things they do in the line of duty generally aren’t individually responsible to pay civil damages in lawsuits. Instead, General Municipal Law 50-l provides that the police department has to defend its officers in civil suits and indemnify them if the courts award damages for the officers’ conduct. But there is a limitation on that principle. Particularly, GML 50-l provides for indemnification in civil actions “from any judgment … for damages, including punitive or exemplary damages, arising out of a negligent act or other tort of such police officer committed while in the proper discharge of his duties and within the scope of his employment.” So, the officers’ conduct that gave rise to liability has to be a “proper” discharge of his duties before the police department will be on the hook for damages.

The question in this case is is Nicholas Lemma, a detective with the Nassau County Police Department, entitled to be indemnified from civil liability for his intentional withholding of alibi evidence that would have allowed a criminal suspect to go free four months earlier. That’s right. Lemma discovered that a suspect was in jail at the time of the robbery that the suspect was accused of committing, and he sat on that information to “let the chips fall where they may.” And he wants the NCPD to pay for his misconduct.

Supreme Court dismissed Lemma’s challenge to the Police Indemnification Board’s decision to deny his request for defense and indemnification. The Court held that Lemma’s actions didn’t satisfy the requirement that they be a “proper” discharge of his duties, because he purposefully withheld the alibi evidence.

The Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed. Now, the Court of Appeals will take up the question. Need an officer show that he or she was acting properly before he or she will be entitled to indemnification from civil damages?

The Appellate Division, Second Department’s order can be found here.

Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for May 1, 2018

The Court of Appeals returns for the final week of the April-May Session with four cases (three arguments) on its argument docket today (the Court’s case summaries can be found here).  The Court will hear arguments on the following issues today: (1) can the State prove that a parent has maltreated her child by using the child to facilitate shoplifting; (2) whether the State may be the proximate cause of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident at an intersection where it failed to complete a traffic study or upgrade the traffic control or warning devices; and (3) whether a criminal defendant may be convicted of depraved indifference assault where it was clear that he committed the assault intentionally.

No. 66 Brown v State of New York
No. 67 Brown, as administratrix, v State of New York

You’ve stopped at intersections before where you just can’t see any oncoming cars, trucks, or motorcycles without creeping way too far into the intersection, right? I know I have. Those intersections are dangerous, and result in far too many serious accidents. One such accident is before the Court of Appeals today.

In 2003, the plaintiff, Linda Brown, and her husband were riding a motorcycle on State Route 350 in Wayne County (where I grew up), just east of Rochester. They were driving about 55 miles per hour, which was the speed limit there, when the pickup truck driven by Henry Friend pulled into the intersection. The motorcycle slammed into Friend’s truck, killing Brown’s husband and seriously injuring her.

In the subsequent personal injury action, Brown sued the State, alleging that the intersection was dangerous because of restricted sight lines, the 55 mph speed limit was excessive for that area, and there weren’t enough warning signs of the intersection on the road. Friend testified that he came to a full stop at the intersection, looked both ways, and never saw any oncoming vehicles before the accident.

The Court of Claims agreed with Brown that the intersection was dangerous, and held that the State had prior notice of the dangerous condition due to 17 prior accidents at that intersection between 1996 and 3002. The Court, however, dismissed Brown’s claims, holding that she failed to prove that the State’s failure to complete a safety study and take corrective action was the proximate cause of the accident.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department reversed on a 3-2 vote, however, and reinstated Brown’s claims. The Court held that the proximate cause issue wasn’t whether the State’s failure to undertake a study was the proximate cause of the accident, but whether the State was aware of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it, and then that the dangerous condition was the proximate cause.  Using that standard, the Fourth Department held that Brown had shown that the State was negligent, and remitted for a determination of proximate cause.

On remittal, the Court of Claims found the State 100% liable, and awarded about $7 million for Brown’s injuries and her husband’s death.  The Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed, and now the Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the proximate cause issue.

What’s interesting here is that the Court held a municipality liable for failure to complete a traffic study on very similar facts about a year and a half ago. Will the Court extend this decision and apply the same standard to the State?  We’ll see.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department’s orders can be found here (December 2010 order) and here (November 2016 order).

Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for April 26, 2018

The Court of Appeals wraps up the first week of the April-May Session with only two criminal cases on the argument docket. Each involves claims of actual innocence and when criminal defendants can bring those claims as a basis to vacate their convictions.  Particularly, the Court will hear arguments on the following issues: (1) whether a freestanding claim of actual innocence is cognizable basis to vacate a conviction under CPL 440.10(1)(h), and whether the waives that claim by pleading guilty to the charges, and (2) whether a criminal defendant’s claim that the People committed a Brady violation and that newly discovered evidence warranted vacatur of his conviction, and whether the Court’s rejection of those claims impliedly also rejected his claim of actual innocence.

No. 62    People v Natascha Tiger

When a severely disabled child was admitted to the hospital with what appeared to be scald burns, the defendant, a licensed practical nurse who had given the child a bath earlier that day, was charged with endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person, and pled guilty. Two years later, however, she moved to vacate her conviction based on a claim that she was actually innocent. Medical evidence, she said, showed that the child had an adverse reaction to medication, and wasn’t actually burned.

After County Court denied her application without a hearing, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed. The Court held that, consistent with its prior precedent, the defendant could raise a claim of actual innocence as a basis to vacate her conviction.  the Court noted, however, that the Court of Appeals has not yet passed on that question. The Appellate Division also rejected the People’s argument that the defendant had waived her claim of actual innocence by pleading guilty to the charges, holding instead that it would offend due process for an actually innocent person to be convicted and barred from raising that claim on a post-conviction motion.

The Court of Appeals will now hear arguments and decide these open, and important, questions.

The Appellate Division, Second Department’s order can be found here.

Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for April 25, 2018

The Court of Appeals will hear arguments in three cases on this rainy Wednesday, April 25, 2018, the second day of the April-May Session. On the docket today are two criminal appeals about the right to counsel and a civil case about taxing cigarettes sold on an Indian reservation, involving the following issues: (1) whether Tax Law § 471, which imposes a tax “on all cigarettes sold on an Indian reservation to non-members of the Indian nation or tribe and to non-Indians,” violates Indian Law § 6, which prohibits state taxation on an Indian reservation, and the federal Due Process Clause; (2) whether a criminal defendant’s right to counsel was violated when he was questioned by police officers on a homicide that was “factually interwoven” with a robbery charge for which he had an attorney; and (3) whether a criminal defendant’s right to counsel was violated when a police detective, while questioning the defendant on a homicide investigation, mentioned a pending drug charge for which the defendant had counsel.

No. 59     White v Schneiderman 

Eric White, a member of the Seneca Nation, owns a convenience store on the reservation and sells cigarettes. He brought this action against the New York Attorney General and the Department of Taxation and Finance to challenge the validity of Tax Law § 471, which requires him to charge state sales tax on cigarettes sold to non-members of the Tribe. That, he says, violates Indian Law § 6, which states, “No taxes shall be assessed, for any purpose whatever, upon any Indian reservation in this state, so long as the land of such reservation shall remain the property of the nation, tribe or band occupying the same.”  He also contends that the Tribe entered a treaty with the United States that exempts activities on the reservation from state taxation, and that imposing the tax violates the federal Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause.

Supreme Court, however, dismissed his declaratory judgment action, holding that Indian Law § 6 and the treaty only prohibit the taxation of real property, not goods like cigarettes.  The Appellate Division modified slightly, but agreed that only taxation of real property is prohibited.  White, the Court held, can be required to charge sales tax to non-Indians, and this minimal burden doesn’t violate the Constitution.

The Court of Appeals is now asked to decide.  Does the State have any right to require the collection of taxes on cigarettes on an Indian Reservation?  What about for other goods sold to non-Indians? We shall see.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department order can be found here.

Court of Appeals April-May Session: Arguments of Interest for April 24, 2018

The Court of Appeals returns for the April-May Session (and so do I after a month off) on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. The Court has three cases on its argument docket (the Court’s case summaries can be found here), which involve the following issues: (1) whether accidental disability retirement benefits are a collateral source that must be offset from an award of future damages under CPLR 4545; (2) whether a New York choice of law provision in a nondisclosure agreement required application of both New York procedural and substantive law, such that the New York borrowing statute (CPLR 202) would require the plaintiff to satisfy two different statutes of limitations, New York’s and that of the forum state; and (3) whether the denial of a motion to quash in a criminal trial is appealable, and whether the Appellate Division properly granted the motion to quash based on the qualified protection for a journalist’s nonconfidential material.

No. 58      Matter of People v Conrado Juarez; Frances Robles

In a brutal case of the sexual abuse and murder of a 4 year old, the Court of Appeals will hear arguments on whether the denial of a motion to quash a subpoena in a criminal case is appealable. Should the Court decide that it is, a really interesting question of journalistic privilege lies beneath.

For 22 years, the police were unable to identify the 4-year-old murder victim who was found in a picnic cooler in Manhattan in 1991. When she was eventually identified in 2013, the police questioned her cousin, Conrado Juarez, as the suspect. He confessed after hours of interrogation, and was charged with murder. Two days later, Frances Robles, a reporter with the New York Times, interviewed him at Rikers Island, but Juarez changed his story. Instead of participating in the murder, this time he said he only helped his sister dispose of the victim’s body after she fell down the stairs.

Juarez moved to suppress his confession as involuntary, and in response the police subpoenaed Robles to testify at the suppression hearing and for her notes. Robles moved to quash the subpoena based on New York’s Shield Law, Civil Rights Law § 79-h(c), which generally protects from disclosure the information reporters gather while investigating stories.

Supreme Court denied the motions to quash the subpoenas, balancing the interests in favor of the People’s access to all evidence that could go to show that Juarez’s statements were voluntary.  The Appellate Division, First Department reversed, and granted Robles’s motions to quash, holding

the People have a videotaped confession by the defendant that has been found admissible at trial and that includes statements consistent with other evidence in the case. Under the circumstances, and in keeping with ‘the consistent tradition in this State of providing the broadest possible protection to “the sensitive role of gathering and disseminating news of public events”‘…, we find that the People have not made a ‘clear and specific showing’ that the disclosure sought from Robles (her testimony and interview notes) is ‘critical or necessary’ to the People’s proof of a material issue so as to overcome the qualified protection for the journalist’s nonconfidential material (Civil Rights Law § 79-h[c]).

On appeal, however, the People now argued that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case because a trial court order denying a nonparty’s motion to quash a subpoena in a criminal case isn’t appealable. The People’s argument is based on the Court of Appeals’ decision about one year ago in the Facebook search warrants case, where the Court held that denial of a motion to quash in a criminal case isn’t appealable, and the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the underlying merits question.

Unless the Court decides to reconsider its prior precedent from only a year ago, which is highly doubtful, or decides that search warrants are somehow different from subpoenas in criminal cases, this case is going to end up just like the Facebook case, dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and remanded for the Appellate Division to do the same. That’s really unfortunate, but it seems to me unavoidable.

The Appellate Division, First Department’s order can be found here.

Sharply Divided Court of Appeals Rejects Per Se Rule that a Gap in Treatment Longer than 2 1/2-Year Statute of Limitations Should Bar Application of Continuous Treatment Doctrine

Imagine you hurt your shoulder and it’s just not getting better. You go to the doctor after trying rehab and he says it’s time for surgery. You schedule the date, head in to the hospital, and the doctor fixes your shoulder, or at least he says he did. He tells you to follow up with him over the next year to watch how you recover from the surgery, and you do. He continues to treat you and then, at the end of the year, he says to follow up “as needed.” After 19 months go by, your shoulder starts to hurt again. You go back to the doctor, and he does a second surgery. You see him twice more over the next 20 months when your shoulder hurts.

More than 2 1/2 years pass, and your shoulder still hasn’t gotten better. Although you’re not very happy with the doctor, you don’t have much choice but to go back to him again. But he isn’t doing shoulder surgeries anymore, so he refers you to his partner. Another surgery is needed.

You’ve had it with these guys. It’s been seven years with chronic shoulder pain. Nothing that the doctor has recommended has helped. Not the rehab, the surgeries, or post-op exercises. Fed up, you leave the doctor’s practice and find a new doctor. And a few years later you sue the doctor for malpractice.

That’s what happened to the plaintiff in Lohnas v Luzi (No. 7). It was a bad situation, and brought to the Court of Appeals the issue whether the doctor continuously treated the plaintiff when there was a break in the visits for a longer time than the 2 1/2-year statute of limitations. If it was continuous treatment, Lohnas’ suit could proceed. If not, she sued too late and the case would have to be dismissed.

In a sharply divided 4-3 decision, the Court of Appeals held that questions of fact exist precluding summary judgment on whether the continuous treatment doctrine tolled the statute of limitations for Lohnas’ claim for medical malpractice against Dr. Luzi. The continuous treatment doctrine, the Court noted, ensures that a patient need not break off a relationship with a doctor and sue for malpractice immediately, but can continue to receive treatment for the original condition and then sue up to 2 1/2 years after the doctor’s care has finished. The treatment must indeed be continuous, however, and must be related to the same condition for which the doctor committed the malpractice.

The majority rejected a per se rule that would have held the continuous treatment doctrine inapplicable as a matter of law where there is a gap in treatment for more than the 2 1/2-year statute of limitations. All doctor-patient relationships are not created equal, the Court reasoned, and whether the continuous treatment toll applies depends on the unique facts of each case. Here, there was enough evidence that Lohnas and Dr. Luzi intended a continuous course of treatment for Lohnas’ shoulder injury to send the case to trial. Dr. Luzi was the only doctor she saw for the injury, and she went back to him repeatedly because she still felt pain. The 30-month gap in visits and direction to return on an as-needed basis didn’t make out a defense as a matter of law, the majority held, so the jury should be allowed to decide.

Judge Wilson, writing for the dissent, took the majority to task for confusing a chronic condition with continuous treatment. Comparing this case to the Court’s decision in Massie v Crawford (78 NY2d 516 [1991]), where the Court held that the continuous treatment doctrine couldn’t be invoked for routine regular doctor appointments, Judge Wilson explained that Lohnas’ routine follow ups for the chronic shoulder condition and the gap in treatment of more than 2 1/2 years meant the continuous treatment doctrine couldn’t apply. Indeed, he noted, Dr. Luzi tried different treatments. The alleged malpractice was improperly installing the humeral head in her shoulder during the first surgery that then wore down her rotator cuff. The second surgery was to fix the rotator cuff issue. And then Lohnas only came back after she was pushed into a wall and hurt her shoulder again.

None of these facts, Judge Wilson explained, implicated the policy concerns underlying the continuous treatment doctrine. Lohnas could have easily left the practice, as she later did, and filed suit. She wasn’t getting any treatment at all between the second surgery and the consult for the third, a period of more than 2 1/2 years.

Public policy animated our creation of the continuous treatment doctrine: a doctor engaged in continuous treatment of a patient should not have her efforts chilled by the filing of a lawsuit, nor should the patient undergoing such treatment be required to suffer the burden of suing the physician while still in her care. Where, as here, the treatment is not continuous, no such policy concerns warrant an exception to the limitations period. Indeed, when continuous treatment is absent, public policy, as embodied in the legislature’s selection of a limitations period, cuts the other way: a plaintiff whose surgery and follow- up appointments have been completed, who has been discharged from the hospital, returns to normal life activities, and still suffers “terrible” pain, is on notice that something may be wrong, and is required to take steps to determine whether she has a claim – including by consulting a different doctor if necessary – and file it within the prescribed period (Dissenting Opn, at 5-6).

The majority’s rule, Judge Wilson reasoned, allows what should be prohibited: manipulation of the statute of limitations by returning to a doctor regularly for routine check ups on a chronic condition.

With the 4-3 split Court, only one thing is really clear. No one really knows what is continuous treatment and what isn’t.

The Court of Appeals’ opinion can be found here.

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