Stipulations [2104] – Authority

Chae Shin Oh v Jeannot, 2018 NY Slip Op 02446 [2d Dept 2018]

On March 7, 2017, the plaintiff's new counsel sent a stop work letter and consent to change attorneys to the plaintiff's prior counsel. On April 7, 2017, the plaintiff moved by order to show cause, inter alia, to vacate the stipulation, contending that the plaintiff did not authorize her prior counsel to enter into the stipulation. The Supreme Court granted that branch of the motion which was to vacate the stipulation. The defendant appeals.

The Supreme Court improvidently exercised its discretion in granting that branch of the plaintiff's motion which was to vacate the stipulation. The stipulation, signed by counsel for each party in this action during a court appearance, is a binding contract (see CPLR 2104; Daibes v Kahn, 116 AD3d 994, 995; Cervera v Bressler, 85 AD3d 839, 841; Kirkland v Fayne, 78 AD3d 660, 660; Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Swim Tech Pool Servs., Inc., 37 AD3d 706Aivaliotis v Continental Broker-Dealer Corp., 30 AD3d 446, 447). Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, her counsel at the time of the stipulation had the apparent authority to enter into the stipulation. This prior counsel signed and verified the summons and complaint, appeared for the plaintiff at the preliminary conference and the compliance conference, and filed a note of issue, all before entering into the stipulation on the plaintiff's behalf. The presence of an attorney at pretrial conferences constitutes "an implied representation by [the client] to defendants that [the attorney] had authority" to bind the [*2]client to a stipulation (Hallock v State of New York, 64 NY2d 224, 231-232). Indeed, only attorneys who are authorized to enter into binding stipulations may appear at pretrial conferences (see 22 NYCRR 202.26[e]; cf. 22 NYCRR 202.12[b]). Here, the plaintiff's engagement of her prior counsel to represent her throughout the litigation and to appear on her behalf at pretrial and compliance conferences precludes her from arguing that prior counsel lacked the authority to bind her to the stipulation. "A stipulation made by the attorney may bind a client even where it exceeds the attorney's actual authority if the attorney had apparent authority to enter into the stipulation" (Davidson v Metropolitan Tr. Auth., 44 AD3d 819, 819, citing Hallock v State of New York, 64 NY2d at 231).

Thus, only where there is cause sufficient to invalidate a contract, such as fraud, collusion, mistake, or accident, will a party be relieved from the consequences of a stipulation made during litigation (see Hallock v State of New York, 64 NY2d at 230). It was the plaintiff, as the party seeking to set aside the stipulation, who had the burden of showing that the agreement was the result of fraud, duress, or overreaching, or that its terms were unconscionable (see Cervera v Bressler, 85 AD3d at 841). The plaintiff failed to present any such evidence in this case (see Kirkland v Fayne, 78 AD3d at 660; Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Swim Tech Pool Servs., Inc., 37 AD3d at 706).

 

Halstead v Fournia, 2018 NY Slip Op 02525 [3d Dept. 2018]

We begin our analysis with the recognition that courts have long favored and encouraged the fashioning of stipulations by parties to litigation and that "[s]trong policy considerations" favor the enforcement of such agreements (Denburg v Parker Chapin Flattau & Klimpl, 82 NY2d 375, 383 [1993]; see Hallock v State of New York, 64 NY2d 224, 230 [1984]). As the Court of Appeals has explained: "Stipulations not only provide litigants with predictability and assurance that courts will honor their prior agreements, but also promote judicial economy by narrowing the scope of issues for trial. To achieve these policy objectives, a stipulation is generally binding on parties that have legal capacity to negotiate, do in fact freely negotiate their agreement and either reduce their stipulation to a properly subscribed writing or enter the stipulation orally on the record in open court" (McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 302 [2002] [citations omitted]; see Hallock v State of New York, 64 NY2d at 230; Mitchell v New York Hosp., 61 NY2d 208, 214 [1984]; Mann v Simpson & Co., 286 NY 450, 459 [1941]). When a stipulation satisfies these requirements, as it does here, it is to be construed as an independent contract subject to principles of contract interpretation (see Matter of Banos v Rhea, 25 NY3d 266, 276 [2015]; McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d at 302; Rainbow v Swisher, 72 NY2d 106, 109 [1988]; Fulginiti v Fulginiti, 127 AD3d 1382, 1384 [2015]). So construed, a valid stipulation may not be set aside "absent a showing of good cause such as fraud, collusion, mistake or duress; or unless the agreement is unconscionable or contrary to public policy; or unless it suggests an ambiguity indicating that the words [do] not fully and accurately represent the parties' agreement" (McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d at 302 [internal citations omitted]; accord Matter of Badruddin, 152 AD3d 1010, 1011 [2017], lv dismissed 30 NY3d 1080 [2018]; Matter of Kaczor v Kaczor, 101 AD3d 1403, 1404 [2012]; see Tverskoy v Ramaswami, 83 AD3d 1195, 1196 [2011]).

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