Appellate Procedure: I don’t know why, but I kind of like this decision

CPLR § 5701 Appeals to appellate division from supreme and county courts
(a) Appeals as of right

(2) from an order not specified in subdivision (b), where the motion it decided was made upon notice…

Reyes v Sequeira, 2009 NY Slip Op 05986 (App. Div., 1st, 2009)

Supreme Court requested appraisals for both parcels from Skyline Appraisals Inc. and [*3]East
Coast Appraisals, and the appraisals were performed. While neither
party objected to the appraisals performed by Skyline, defendant sent a
letter to Supreme Court objecting to the appraisal performed by East
Coast. Defendant was concerned that the East Coast appraisal was
inaccurate and greatly undervalued the parcels. Defendant requested a
conference between the parties and the court to "resolve" issues
relating to the East Coast appraisal; no motion was made by either
party for any relief.

Without the prompting of a motion, Supreme Court determined the value of the parcels.

The court did not discuss the terms of the stipulation of settlement
that required the court to determine the value of the properties by
averaging two appraisals, and did not explain how its decision
to average the three appraisals was consonant with the terms of
stipulation of settlement. Nor did the court explain why it believed
that one of the valuation methods was to discard the lowest and highest
appraisals, a method that would entail no averaging. This appeal by
defendant ensued.

Prior to oral argument on this appeal, defendant moved to vacate the
stipulations of settlement — both defendant and the court that heard
and decided that motion treated the court's August 7, 2007
on-the-record statements as a stipulation; plaintiff, however, asserts
that the court gave directives to which the parties did not stipulate.
After oral argument of the appeal, Supreme Court granted the motion to
vacate. The court concluded that no binding stipulations existed, and
stated that the parties were free to conduct disclosure and file a note
of issue when the matter was ready for trial. Thus, although the order
appears not to have expressly vacated the order on appeal determining
the value of the properties, it implicitly does so
(see generally Banker v Banker, 56 AD3d 1105, 1107 [2008]; Savino v "ABC Corp.," 44 AD3d 1026, 1027 [2007]; Matter of Jefferson County Dept. of Social Servs. v Mark L.O., 12 AD3d 1037, 1037-1038 [2004], lv denied
4 NY3d 794 [2005]). Moreover, of course, the order on appeal depends
entirely on the existence and validity of the stipulations.

Regardless of whether Supreme Court correctly vacated the stipulations that are the [*5]subject
of this appeal, the stipulations have been vacated and this appeal is
moot because the rights of the parties cannot be affected by a
determination of this appeal
(Matter of Hearst Corp. v Clyne, 50 NY2d 707, 714 [1980]; see Matter of Feustel v Rosenblum,
6 NY3d 885 [2006] ["Appeal taken as of right from the Appellate
Division judgment . . . and motion for leave to appeal from said
judgment . . . dismissed as moot upon the ground that the judgment of
the Appellate Division has been vacated by a subsequent order of that
Court"]; Matter of Rodriguez v Johnson, 45 AD3d 279 [2007], lv denied 10 NY3d 705 [2008] ["Petitioner's appeal is moot because Supreme Court vacated the judgment on appeal"]; Fidata Trust Co. Mass. v Leahy Bus. Archives, 187 AD2d 270, 271 [1992] ["The order on appeal was subsequently vacated and thus rendered moot"]; see also Perez v Morse Diesel Intl., 10 AD3d 497
[2004]; Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book
7B, CPLR C5517:1, at 208 [1995] ["If the disposition of [a] motion [to
reargue, renew or vacate an order] does substantially affect the
original order . . . it may have some impact on the appeal. If it
alters the order in such a way as to remove the grievance that accounts
for the appeal, it should abate the appeal"]). Because the appeal has
been rendered moot we cannot and do not pass on the issues presented
(see Hearst Corp.,
50 NY2d at 713-714 ["It is a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence
that the power of a court to declare the law only arises out of, and is
limited to, determining the rights of persons which are actually
controverted in a particular case pending before the tribunal. This
principle, which forbids courts to pass on academic,
hypothetical, moot, or otherwise abstract questions, is founded
both in constitutional separation-of-powers doctrine, and in
methodological strictures which inhere in the decisional process of a
common-law judiciary"]).

The dissent asserts that "by ruling that the intervening order
implicitly' vacates the order on appeal, [we] thereby pass[] on a
substantive issue" and "render[] an advisory opinion construing both
the status of the order appealed from and [the] effect of an order not
even before us." As is obvious from our decision, we pass on no
substantive issues relating to the rights of the parties. Equally as
obvious, we are not "rendering an advisory opinion construing both the
status of the order appealed from and [the] effect of an order not even
before us." Rather, we simply conclude that the order on appeal is moot
(and, as discussed below, nonappealable) and therefore the appeal must
be dismissed. Of course, we first conclude that the order vacating the
stipulations implicitly vacates the order on appeal. But that
conclusion merely reflects the exercise of our jurisdiction to
determine our jurisdiction
(see United States v Mine Workers, 330 US 258, 291 [1947]).

The dissent states that by moving to vacate the stipulations, defendants "unilaterally prevent[ed] this Court
from deciding whether the motion court erred in vacating what
appears to be a valid agreement between the parties." In the first
place, however, defendants took no "unilateral" action. Defendants made
a motion on notice to vacate the stipulations, a motion Supreme Court
granted. Second, this Court is not precluded from determining whether
the stipulations are valid. To the contrary, we may determine that
precise issue should plaintiff perfect his appeal from the order
vacating the stipulations.

The appeal should be dismissed for another reason — it is from a sua sponte order from which no appeal lies (see Sholes v Meagher, 100 NY2d 333 [2003]; Person v Einhorn, 44 AD3d 363 [2007]; Unanue v Rennert, 39 AD3d 289 [2007]; Diaz v New York Mercantile Exch., 1 AD3d 242 [2003]). In Sholes
the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of the appealability of sua
sponte orders. There, an attorney was sanctioned by Supreme Court for
engaging in frivolous conduct in the course of a personal injury case.
From the bench the trial court gave the parties a briefing schedule,
requiring the attorney to submit an affidavit explaining why she should
not be sanctioned for her conduct and directing her adversary to submit
an affidavit detailing his costs and expenditures at trial. After both
sides submitted papers, the trial court ordered the attorney to pay her
adversary approximately $14,000. The attorney appealed to the Second
Department, which dismissed the appeal because the order imposing
sanctions did not decide a motion made on notice (295 AD2d 593 [2002]).

The Court of Appeals granted leave and concluded that the
Second Department had correctly dismissed the appeal. The Court of
Appeals stated that, "[w]ith limited exceptions, an appeal may be taken
to the Appellate Division as of right from an order deciding a motion
made upon notice when — among other possibilities — the order affects a
substantial right. There is, however, no right of appeal from an ex
parte order, including an order entered sua sponte"
(100 NY2d at 335
[internal citations omitted]). The Court also stated "[t]hat an order
made sua sponte is not an order deciding a motion on notice is apparent
from various CPLR provisions, including the definition of motion (see
CPLR 2211) and the provision for dismissal for failure to prosecute,
which distinguishes between a court initiative' and a party's motion' (see CPLR 3216)" (id.
at 335 n 2). While the trial court had created a procedure to ensure
that the parties had an opportunity to be heard before the court acted,
the Court stressed that
"the submissions ordered sua sponte by the trial court were not
made pursuant to a motion on notice as contemplated by CPLR 5701(a)(2).
While the procedure in this particular case may well have produced a
record sufficient for appellate review, there is no guarantee that the
same would be true in the next case. Moreover, the amount of notice
will vary from case to case, and its sufficiency may often be open to
debate. Adherence to the procedure specified by CPLR 5701(a) uniformly
provides for certainty, while at the same time affording the parties a
right of [*7]review by the Appellate Division. We are therefore unwilling to overwrite that statute"
(id. at 336).

As is evident from the briefs, the record and the attorneys'
statements at oral argument, the order determining the value of the
parcels was not the product of a motion made on notice. Rather, that
order was issued sua sponte and therefore is not appealable as of right
(id.; Person, supra; Unanue, supra; Diaz, supra).

The bold is mine.

Maybe it's the dissent.  Maybe it's the procedural wonk in me.  Maybe I'm just weird.  But I like this decision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: