In December, the Court of Appeals generally forgoes oral argument on new appeals, but still has two days of session called Decision Days. The Court during these days issues its final decisions from the November session, and tries to wrap up other pending matters before the start of the new year. During the first release of the Court’s decisions from this December’s Decision Days, the Court accepted two certified questions on issues of New York law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and issued a decision on the rights of a criminal defendant to appellate review of his conviction after involuntary deportation.
No. 226 Chauca v Abraham
In this case alleging pregnancy discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law, Chauca prevailed at trial and was awarded $65,500 in damages for lost compensation and pain and suffering. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, however, declined to charge the jury on punitive damages. The Court held instead that although the NYCHRL calls for liberal construction of its provisions, Chauca had not shown that her employer had intentionally discriminated with “malice” or “reckless indifference.” The Court, thus, in effect applied the Title VII standard for punitive damages to the NYCHRL.
Chauca appealed the damages award to the Second Circuit, arguing that the District Court had improperly applied Title VII’s punitive damages standard to her NYCHRL claims. Because the New York courts have not yet addressed the question of what is the standard for punitive damage awards under the NYCHRL, the Second Circuit certified the question to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals will now decide the issue upon full briefing and argument.
No. 227 Gevorkyan v Judelson
In the second certified question, the Second Circuit asks the Court of Appeals to decide whether under New York law, a bail bondsman may retain a premium paid to him by the criminal defendant where the state court rejects the bond offered and the defendant is never released from custody. In Gevorkyan, a criminal defendant obtained a bail bond in the amount of $2 million by paying the bondsman a premium of $120,560. The state court, however, upon review of the bond offered, declined to accept it because the defendant failed to establish that the premium paid for the bond was not the fruit of criminal conduct. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of the bond, and the Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. The criminal defendant was therefore never release from custody.
Afterwards Gevorkyan sought in federal court to recover the $120,560 premium she paid for the bond, because the bondsman was never exposed to the risk that the criminal defendant would not appear in court when required. The bondsman refused to return the premium, claiming that he had earned it upon presentation of the bond to the state court. Finding no controlling law, the District Court applied normal contractual principles and held that the parties did not intend for the bondsman to retain the premium if the bond was not accepted by the Court.
Finding a dearth of New York law on the issue on appeal, the Second Circuit certified the question to the Court of Appeals. The Second Circuit’s opinion can be found here and the Court of Appeals’ decision accepting the certified question here.
No. 209 People v Morales
In People v Morales (No. 209) previewed here, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed that a criminal defendant cannot be deprived of his or her right to direct appellate review of a conviction due to an involuntary deportation, regardless of whether the deportation was causally related to the conviction. In a memorandum decision, the Court noted that it had recently reversed the holding upon which the appellate court had relied in dismissing the defendant’s direct appeal. The Court therefore remitted the case to the appellate court for direct review of the criminal defendant’s conviction.
The Court of Appeals decision can be found here.