Court of Appeals January Session: Arguments of Interest for January 3, 2018

The Court of Appeals’ January Session continues on January 3, 2018 with three cases on the argument calendar (the Court’s case summaries can be found here). The Court will address the following issues today: (1) whether the New York City Housing Authority arbitrarily denied a son succession rights to his deceased mother’s apartment after he had lived with her, without NYCHA’s permission, to care for her during her failing health; (2) can a criminal defendant be convicted of conspiracy to fire-bomb a home where he was present at gang meeting when the plan was discussed and he knew the details of the plan, but was arrested for unrelated crimes before the arson took place; and (3) does the continuing treatment doctrine save a medical malpractice action from the expiration of the statute of limitations where a patient continues to see the doctor for a specific issue even if more than 2 1/2 years lapses between treatments.

No. 5     Matter of Aponte v Olatoye

Jonas Aponte was a good son. After his mother was diagnosed with advanced dementia and her doctors told him it was unsafe for her to live on her own, he moved into her apartment in NYCHA’s Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx to take care of her. NYCHA, however, denied him permanent permission to live in the one-bedroom apartment because it would “create overcrowding conditions.” Although NYCHA was fully aware of the mother’s health condition, it denied a second request to add Aponte as a permanent occupant of the apartment, and also denied his request to keep the apartment pursuant to succession rights after his mother passed away.

After Supreme Court dismissed Aponte’s challenges to the NYCHA determinations, the Appellate Division, First Department reversed, with two Justices dissenting. The majority held that the NYCHA denial of succession rights was arbitrary and capricious because it never considered the mother’s genuine disability, and put Aponte in “an unacceptable Catch-22 — a request to add an additional family member will almost always result in overcrowding [if] NYCHA fails simultaneously to consider transferring the applicant to a larger apartment.” Because, the Court held, NYCHA never gave Aponte or his mother a chance to show what would have been a reasonable accommodation for the mother’s disability, NYCHA’s denial of succession rights can’t be held rational.

The dissenters, on the other hand, would have upheld NYCHA’s determination because Aponte was never an authorized occupant of the apartment for the required one-year period before her death.  Without that precondition, Aponte wasn’t entitled to succession rights to the apartment.

To me, it seems a simple case. NYCHA never really considered the documented need for Aponte to live in his mother’s apartment to care for her, and thus should be estopped from claiming that he didn’t acquire succession rights.  But, I’m not on the Court of Appeals, and it will now have the chance to decide.

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


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