Court of Appeals January Session: Arguments of Interest for January 10, 2018

The Court of Appeals wraps up its January Session arguments on January 10, 2018 with cases that make the procedural geek in me smile. There are three cases on the argument calendar today (the Court’s case summaries can be found here), two of which involve really interesting (to me at least) procedural issues about counterclaims and the courts’ interests of justice jurisdiction. Here are the issues the Court will address: (1) does the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s mandatory counterclaims rule apply in New York state litigation to give res judicata effect to a counterclaim that was not pled in a prior federal suit; (2) does an appellate court have interests of justice jurisdiction to review an issue that a criminal defendant waived before the trial court; and (3) is a criminal defendant denied effective assistance of counsel by withdrawing a Hundley motion to suppress a videotaped confession after the trial court has granted a hearing on the motion.

No. 16    Paramount Pictures Corporation v Allianz Risk Transfer AG

In a suit about a lost investment in movies, the issue before the Court of Appeals has absolutely nothing to do with the movie or the lost investment. Instead, it’s the kind of issue that sparks interest in the community of appellate lawyers who look at how the courts work. In this case, Allianz invested in a Paramount film, but agreed to waive any claims against Paramount and not to sue if the investment went south.

The investment tanked, and Allianz sued Paramount in federal court anyway, notwithstanding the waiver of claims and bar to lawsuits. Paramount defended the litigation based on the waiver provision, but never raised the covenant not to sue as an affirmative defense or pled Allianz’s breach of it as a counterclaim in the federal suit. What’s noteworthy about that is that Rule 13(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require any party to a suit to assert any mandatory counterclaims that it has in that litigation or else they will later be barred from doing so.

After the federal court predictably dismissed the case because of the waiver provision, Paramount brought this breach of contract suit in state court based Allianz’s breach of the covenant not to sue. Allianz moved to dismiss, arguing that res judicata barred Paramount’s breach of contract claim because it was a mandatory counterclaim that was never asserted in the federal suit and was barred by FRCP Rule 13(a).

Supreme Court denied the motion to dismiss, citing New York’s permissive counterclaims rule under CPLR 3011. New York doesn’t subscribe to the federal mandatory counterclaim rule, the Court held, and to adopt it would conflict with New York’s rule.

The Appellate Division, First Department, however, reversed and dismissed the suit. The Court held that Rule 13(a) should be applied in state court litigation, and Paramount’s breach of contract claim was thus barred by res judicata for failure to assert it as a mandatory counterclaim in the federal suit.

The Court of Appeals will now hear arguments on this issue of first impression in New York. In a practical sense, it would make sense to me that res judicata should bar any mandatory counterclaim that a party was required to assert in a prior federal suit, but failed to do so. Holding the other way would be a disservice to judicial economy and would allow parties to litigate multiple suits in different forums (with different judges and rules) claims that could all be resolved in a single case all at once. But that will be up to the Court to decide.

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

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