Is Judiciary Law § 470 unconstitutional?

Schoenefeld v State of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 02674 [2015]

In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has asked us to set forth the minimum requirements necessary to satisfy the statutory directive that nonresident attorneys maintain an office within the State "for the transaction of law business" under Judiciary Law § 470. We hold that the statute requires nonresident attorneys to maintain a physical office in New York.

Plaintiff Ekaterina Schoenefeld is a New Jersey resident who was admitted to the practice of law in New York in 2006. Schoenefeld is also admitted to practice in New Jersey and maintains her only law office in Princeton. According to the complaint, in 2007, Schoenefeld attended a continuing legal education class entitled Starting Your Own Practice, which was offered by the New York State Bar Association in New York City. There, she learned of the statutory requirement that nonresident attorneys must maintain an office within New York in order to practice in this State. Specifically, under Judiciary Law § 470, "[a] person, regularly admitted to practice as an attorney and counsellor, in the courts of record of this state, whose office for the transaction of law business is within the state, may practice as such attorney or counsellor, although he resides in an adjoining state."

Schoenefeld commenced this action in federal district court in July 2008, alleging that Judiciary Law § 470 was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to nonresident attorneys in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution (US Const, art IV, § 2)[FN1]. She alleged that she was unable to practice in the State, despite her compliance with all admission requirements, because she does not maintain an office in New York. She further maintained that there was no substantial state interest served by the office requirement, which was not applicable to New York resident attorneys.

The district court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and held that section 470 violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause (see Schoenefeld v New York, 907 F Supp 2d 252, 266 [ND NY 2011]). The court determined that the office requirement implicated nonresident attorneys' fundamental right to practice law. The court then rejected the state interests proffered by defendants as insubstantial and found that, in any event, the statute did not bear a substantial relationship to the interests asserted as there were less restrictive means of accomplishing those interests.

The Second Circuit determined that the constitutionality of the statute was dependent upon the interpretation of law office requirement (see Schoenefeld v New York, 748 F3d 464, 467 [2d Cir 2014]). The court observed that the requirements that must be met by nonresident attorneys in order to practice law in New York reflect an important state interest and implicate significant policy issues. The court therefore certified the following question for our review: "Under New York Judiciary Law § 470, which mandates that a nonresident attorney maintain an 'office for the transaction of law business' within the state of New York, what are the minimum requirements necessary to satisfy that mandate?" (Schoenefeld, 748 F3d at 471). We accepted certification (23 NY3d 941 [2014]) and, as noted above, we interpret the statute as requiring nonresident attorneys to maintain a physical law office within the State.

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