Cram v Keller, 2018 NY Slip Op 08007 [2d Dept. 2018]
While defense counsel has the right to hold the plaintiff to the burden of proof on disputed issues, here, the record shows that the defendants’ ownership of the property was never genuinely disputed. In fact, Keller explicitly admitted in a portion of his deposition testimony not read by the plaintiff at trial that he and his wife owned the property. Defense counsel successfully objected to the reading of this testimony despite the lack of any apparent good faith basis in which to do so, making this an exercise in gamesmanship. The defendants did not offer any evidence at trial to dispute their ownership of the property. At an early stage of the case, the defendants submitted an answer to the complaint in which they denied having knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the plaintiff’s allegation of the defendants’ ownership of the subject property. While the answer was verified by counsel, it is difficult to accept the denial of information sufficient to form a belief as to ownership as having been asserted in good faith, as there is no reason to believe that the defendants did not know that they owned the property, given that Keller admitted at his deposition that he and his wife owned the property. While the defendants did not amend their answer after Keller’s deposition, plaintiff’s counsel knew that the defendants did not dispute ownership and defense counsel knew that as well. Under the circumstances of this case, the defendants’ posttrial motion to set aside the verdict, to the extent predicated on the issue of ownership, was frivolous, given the evidence presented by the plaintiff at trial, the failure of the defendants to offer any contrary evidence at trial, the known fact that the defendants owned the property, the lack of good faith underlying the denial of ownership appearing in the defendants’ answer, and the lack of a good faith basis for the exclusion of the additional deposition testimony that would have eliminated any doubt on the issue of ownership.