50-h from the Court of Appeals

Colon v Martin, 2020 NY Slip Op 02681 [2020]

General Municipal Law § 50-h requires a claimant to comply with a municipality’s demand for a pre-action oral examination before commencing suit against the municipality. The novel statutory interpretation issue on this appeal is whether a claimant has the right to observe a coclaimant’s section 50-h oral examination over the municipality’s objection. We hold that section 50-h provides no such right.

3212 [Partial summary judgment on liability]

Short version: "To be entitled to partial summary judgment a plaintiff does not bear the double burden of establishing a prima facie case of defendant's liability and the absence of his or her own comparative fault."

Rodriguez v City of New York, 2018 NY Slip Op 02287 [2018]

This appeal requires us to answer a question that has perplexed courts for some time: Whether a plaintiff is entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of a defendant's liability, when, as here, defendant has arguably raised an issue of fact regarding plaintiff's comparative negligence. Stated differently, to obtain partial summary judgment in a comparative negligence case, must plaintiffs establish the absence of their own comparative negligence. We hold that a plaintiff does not bear that burden.


Plaintiff Carlos Rodriguez was employed by the New York City Department of Sanitation (DOS) as a garage utility worker. He was injured while "outfitting" sanitation trucks with tire chains and plows to enable them to clear the streets of snow and ice. The following facts are uncontradicted: On a snowy winter day, plaintiff and his two coworkers were tasked with outfitting sanitation trucks with tire chains and plows at the Manhattan 5 facility. Typically, the driver backs the truck into one of the garage bays, and the driver and other members of the team "dress" the truck. One person acts as a guide, assisting the driver by providing directions through appropriate hand signals while standing on the passenger's side of the truck. Once the truck is safely parked in the garage, the driver, the guide, and the third member of the team (here, plaintiff) place chains on the truck's tires.

At the time of his accident, plaintiff was standing between the front of a parked Toyota Prius and a rack of tires outside of the garage bay while the driver began backing the sanitation truck into the garage. The guide, at some point, stood on the driver's side of the sanitation truck while directing the driver in violation of established DOS safety practices. The sanitation truck began skidding and eventually crashed into the front of the parked Toyota Prius, propelling the car into plaintiff and pinning him up against the rack of tires. Plaintiff was taken to the hospital and ultimately had to undergo spinal fusion surgery, a course of lumbar epidural steroid injections, and extensive physical therapy. He is permanently disabled from working.

Plaintiff commenced this negligence action against the City of New York. After discovery, he moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's liability pursuant to CPLR 3212. Defendant opposed the motion and cross-moved for summary judgment in its favor. Supreme Court denied both motions. In denying plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, Supreme Court held that there were triable issues of fact regarding foreseeability, causation, and plaintiff's comparative negligence.[FN1]

The Appellate Division, among other things, affirmed the denial of plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Rodriguez v City of New York, 142 AD3d 778 [1st Dept 2016]). The majority, relying on this Court's memorandum decision in Thoma v Ronai (82 NY2d 736 [1993]), held that plaintiff was not entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, because he failed to make a prima facie showing that he was free of comparative negligence. The dissent, relying on the language and purpose of CPLR article 14-A, would have held that plaintiff does not bear the burden of disproving the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, and thus, plaintiff should have been granted partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's liability (Rodriguez, 142 AD3d at 797 [Acosta, J., dissenting]).

The Appellate Division granted plaintiff leave to appeal to this Court (lv granted — AD3d &mdash, 2016 NY Slip Op 96039[U] [1st Dept 2016]), certifying the following question: "Was the order of the Supreme Court, as affirmed by this Court, properly made?"[FN2]


Whether a plaintiff must demonstrate the absence of his or her own comparative negligence to be entitled to partial summary judgment as to a defendant's liability is a question of statutory construction of the CPLR. The usual rules of statutory construction apply to the provisions of the CPLR (seee.g.Chianese v Meier, 98 NY2d 270, 275 [2002]). "In matters of statutory interpretation, our primary consideration is to discern and give effect to the Legislature's intention" (Matter of Albany Law School v New York State Off. of Mental Retardation & Dev. Disabilities, 19 NY3d 106, 120 [2012]). We look "first to the plain language of the statute[ ] as the best evidence of legislative intent" (Matter of Malta Town Ctr. I, Ltd. v Town of Malta Bd. of Assessment Review, 3 NY3d 563, 568 [2004]).

CPLR 3212, which governs summary judgment motions, provides that "[t]he motion shall be granted if . . . the cause of action . . . [is] established sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in favor of any party" (CPLR 3212[b]). The motion for summary judgment must also "show that there is no defense to the cause of action" (id.). Further, subsection [c] of the same section sets forth the procedure for obtaining partial summary judgment and states that "[i]f it appears that the only triable issues of fact arising on a motion for summary judgment relate to the amount or extent of damages . . . the court may, when appropriate for the expeditious disposition of the controversy, order an immediate trial of such issues of fact raised by the motion" (CPLR 3212[c]).

Article 14-A of the CPLR contains our State's codified comparative negligence principles. CPLR 1411 provides that:

"In any action to recover damages for personal injury, injury to property, or wrongful death, the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or to the decedent, including contributory negligence or assumption of risk shall not bar recovery, but the amount of damages otherwise recoverable shall be diminished in the proportion which the culpable conduct attributable to the claimant or decedent bears to the culpable conduct which caused the damages."

(CPLR 1411 [emphasis added]). CPLR 1412 further states that "[c]ulpable conduct claimed in diminution of damages, in accordance with [CPLR 1411], shall be an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proved by the party asserting the defense."

Placing the burden on the plaintiff to show an absence of comparative fault is inconsistent with the plain language of CPLR 1412. In 1975, New York adopted a system of pure comparative negligence, and, in so doing, directed courts to consider a plaintiff's comparative fault only when considering the amount of damages a defendant owes to plaintiff. The approach urged by defendant is therefore at odds with the plain language of CPLR 1412, because it flips the burden, requiring the plaintiff, instead of the defendant, to prove an absence of comparative fault in order to make out a prima facie case on the issue of defendant's liability.[FN3]

Defendant's approach also defies the plain language of CPLR 1411, and, if adopted, would permit a possible windfall to defendants. CPLR 1411 explicitly provides that "[i]n any action to recover damages for personal injury . . . the culpable conduct attributable to the [plaintiff] . . . shall not bar recovery, but the amount of damages otherwise recoverable shall be diminished in the proportion . . . attributable to the claimant." For example, assuming in a hypothetical case a defendant's negligence could be established as a matter of law because defendant's conduct was in violation of a statute (see PJI 2:26) and further assuming plaintiff was denied partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's negligence because plaintiff failed to establish the absence of his or her own comparative negligence, the jury would be permitted to decide the question of whether defendant was negligent and whether defendant's negligence proximately caused plaintiff's injuries. If the jury answers in the negative on the question of defendant's negligence, the plaintiff would be barred from recovery even though defendant's negligence was established as a matter of law and in contradiction to the plain language of CPLR 1411. Such a windfall to a defendant would violate Section 1411's mandate that a plaintiff's comparative negligence "shall not bar recovery" and should only go to the diminution of damages recoverable by plaintiff. Furthermore, it is no answer to this conundrum that the trial court could set aside the verdict. The whole purpose of partial summary judgment is to streamline and focus the factfinder on the issues that need resolution, and avoid having juries make findings that are contrary to law.

Defendant's attempts to rely on CPLR 3212's plain language in support of its preferred approach are also unavailing. Specifically, defendant points to CPLR 3212(b), which provides; "[a] motion for summary judgment shall . . . show that there is no defense to the cause of action." Defendant's approach would have us consider comparative fault a defense. But, comparative negligence is not a defense to the cause of action of negligence, because it is not a defense to any element (duty, breach, causation) of plaintiff's prima facie cause of action for negligence, and as CPLR 1411 plainly states, is not a bar to plaintiff's recovery, but rather a diminishment of the amount of damages.

The approach we adopt is also supported by the legislative history of article 14-A. (see Tompkins Cty. Support Collection Unit ex rel. Chamberlin v Chamberlin, 99 NY2d 328, 335 [2003] ["[T]he legislative history of an enactment may also be relevant and is not to be ignored, even if words be clear."] [quotations and citations omitted]). Article 14-A's enactment was proposed by the 1975 Judicial Conference of the State of New York (the Conference) in response to this Court's decision in Dole v Dow Chemical Co. (30 NY2d 143 [1972]), which first provided for the apportionment of negligent responsibility among joint tortfeasors. In proposing the section which later became CPLR 1411, the Conference specifically noted that neither the defense of contributory negligence or assumption of risk "shall continue to serve as complete defenses" in negligence actions (20th Ann Rep of NY Jud Conf at 240). In proposing the section which became CPLR 1412, the Conference urged the adoption of the then-majority rule in this country, which provided that "in all negligence actions . . . the defendant claiming contributory negligence of the plaintiff has the burden of showing it" (id. at 245). The Conference also observed that the "burden of pleading and burden of proof are usually parallel" and that "[t]his article may be viewed as having created a partial defense, the effect of which is to mitigate damages, and such defenses traditionally must be pleaded affirmatively" (id. at 246).

When article 14-A was proposed in the Legislature, the Introducer's Memorandum before the New York Assembly noted that the then-current system of traditional contributory negligence had "become an obstacle to the dispensing of substantial justice" (Assembly Introducer's Mem in Support, Bill Jacket, L 1975, ch 69 at 5 — 7). The purpose of the law was to bring "New York law into conformity with the majority rule and represents the culmination of the gradual but persistent erosion of the rule that freedom from contributory negligence must be pleaded and proven by the plaintiff" (id., citing Rossman v La Grega, 28 NY2d 300, 304 [1971]). The legislative history of article 14-A makes clear that a plaintiff's comparative negligence is no longer a complete defense to be pleaded and proven by the plaintiff, but rather is only relevant to the mitigation of plaintiff's damages and should be pleaded and proven by the defendant.[FN4]

Resolution of the issue before us necessarily turns on the interpretation and interplay of these various CPLR provisions. In Thoma v Ronai, 82 NY2d 736 [1993], this Court held that the plaintiff there did not meet her burden of demonstrating the absence of any material fact; "a factual question of her reasonable care" existed, and thus [plaintiff] was properly denied summary judgment (id. at 737). However, Thoma never addressed the precise question we now confront. The decision itself never considered the import of article 14-A, and a review of the briefs publicly filed in that case reveal that the plaintiff proceeded on the assumption that if a question of fact existed as to her negligence, summary judgment on the issue of liability would be denied. The plaintiff in Thoma, in her limited submissions to this Court, maintained that "[t]he crux of the case is the existence, as a matter of law, of any question of culpable conduct (contributory negligence) by the Plaintiff that would warrant the Trial Court's denial of summary judgment pursuant to C.P.L.R. 3212 on the issue of the Defendant's liability" (Thoma, App's Br. at 1). Thus, to the extent that the Departments of the Appellate Division have interpreted Thoma as explicitly holding that a plaintiff must show an absence of comparative fault in order to obtain partial summary judgment on liability, such a reading of Thoma is mistaken (see Global Reinsurance Corp. v Century Indemnity Co., 30 NY3d 508, 517 [2017] ["[T]he Court's holding comprises only those statements of law which address issues which were presented to the [Court] for determination.'"], quoting Village of Kiryas Joel v County of Orange, 144 AD3d 895, 900 [2d Dept 2016]).[FN5]

On this appeal, plaintiff raises the issue not addressed in Thoma. Plaintiff contends, even assuming there is an issue of fact regarding his comparative fault, that he is entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's liability. Defendant would have us follow the line of cases that hold that plaintiff bears the burden of disproving comparative fault as a component of establishing his prima facie entitlement to partial summary judgment on the issue of defendant's liability. Defendant points to various instances of plaintiff's conduct in this case and asserts that plaintiff was comparatively negligent. We agree with plaintiff that to obtain partial summary judgment on defendant's liability he does not have to demonstrate the absence of his own comparative fault.

We also reject defendant's contention that granting the plaintiff partial summary judgment on defendant's liability serves no practical purpose. A principal rationale of partial summary judgment is to narrow the number of issues presented to the jury (see Janos v Peck, 21 AD2d 529, 531 [1964], affd 15 NY2d 509 [1964]). In a typical comparative negligence trial, the jury is asked to answer five questions:

  1. Was the defendant negligent?
  2. Was defendant's negligence a substantial factor in causing [the injury or the accident]?
  3. Was plaintiff negligent?
  4. Was plaintiff's negligence a substantial factor in causing (his or her) own injuries?
  5. What was the percentage of fault of the defendant and what was the percentage of fault of the plaintiff?

(PJI 2:36). Where plaintiff has already established defendant's liability as a matter of law, granting plaintiff partial judgment eliminates the first two questions submitted to the jury, thereby serving the beneficial purpose of focusing the jury on questions and issues that are in dispute.

Nor do we agree with defendant that what it characterizes as bifurcation of the issues of defendant's liability from plaintiff's liability runs counter to the Pattern Jury Instructions. When a defendant's liability is established as a matter of law before trial, the jury must still determine whether the plaintiff was negligent and whether such negligence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's injuries. If so, the comparative fault of each party is then apportioned by the jury. Therefore, the jury is still tasked with considering the plaintiff's and defendant's culpability together. As a practical matter, a trial court will instruct the jury in a modified version of Pattern Jury Instruction 1:2B that the issue of defendant's negligence, and in some cases, the related proximate cause question, have been previously determined as a matter of law. Trial courts are experienced in crafting such instructions, for example when liability has already been determined in a bifurcated trial, or when an Appellate Division upholds a liability determination and remands solely for a recalculation of damages, or a trial on damages has been ordered pursuant to CPLR 3212(c).


To be entitled to partial summary judgment a plaintiff does not bear the double burden of establishing a prima facie case of defendant's liability and the absence of his or her own comparative fault. Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division, insofar as appealed from, should be reversed, with costs, and the case remitted to the Appellate Division for consideration of issues raised but not determined on the appeal to that court and the certified question answered in the negative.

There is a dissent

No-Fault in the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals opted to designate the appeal [APL-2017-00225] of Andrew Carothers, M.D., P.C. v Progressive Ins. Co., 150 AD3d 192 [2nd Dept 2017], under 500.11, which means no traditional briefs and no argument.

The Court of Appeals originally designated the appeal [APL-2016-00111] of Contact Chiropractic, P.C. v New York City Tr. Auth., 135 AD3d 804 [2nd Dept 2016] under 500.11, but decided it wanted briefs instead.  The appeal is scheduled to be argued on March 21, 2018.



Facebook Discovery

Forman v Henkin, 2018 NY Slip Op 01015 [2018]

New York discovery rules do not condition a party's receipt of disclosure on a showing that the items the party seeks actually exist; rather, the request need only be appropriately tailored and reasonably calculated to yield relevant information. Indeed, as the name suggests, the purpose of discovery is to determine if material relevant to a claim or defense exists. In many if not most instances, a party seeking disclosure will not be able to demonstrate that items it has not yet obtained contain material evidence. Thus, we reject the notion that the account holder's so-called "privacy" settings govern the scope of disclosure of social media materials.

That being said, we agree with other courts that have rejected the notion that commencement of a personal injury action renders a party's entire Facebook account automatically discoverable (see e.g. Kregg v Maldonado, 98 AD3d 1289, 1290 [4th Dept 2012] [rejecting motion to compel disclosure of all social media accounts involving injured party without prejudice to narrowly-tailored request seeking only relevant information]; Giacchettosupra, 293 FRD 112, 115; Kennedy v Contract Pharmacal Corp., 2013 WL 1966219, *2 [ED NY 2013]). Directing disclosure of a party's entire Facebook account is comparable to ordering discovery of every photograph or communication that party shared with any person on any topic prior to or since the incident giving rise to litigation — such an order would be likely to yield far more nonrelevant than relevant information. Even under our broad disclosure paradigm, litigants are protected from "unnecessarily onerous application of the discovery statutes" (Kavanaughsupra, 92 NY2d at 954).

Rather than applying a one-size-fits-all rule at either of these extremes, courts addressing disputes over the scope of social media discovery should employ our well-established rules — there is no need for a specialized or heightened factual predicate to avoid improper "fishing expeditions." In the event that judicial intervention becomes necessary, courts should first consider the nature of the event giving rise to the litigation and the injuries claimed, as well as any other information specific to the case, to assess whether relevant material is likely to be found on the Facebook account. Second, balancing the potential utility of the information sought against any specific "privacy" or other concerns raised by the account holder, the court should issue an order tailored to the particular controversy that identifies the types of materials that must be disclosed while avoiding disclosure of nonrelevant materials. In a personal injury case such as this it is appropriate to consider the nature of the underlying incident and the injuries claimed and to craft a rule for discovering information specific to each. Temporal limitations may also be appropriate — for example, the court should consider whether photographs or messages posted years before an accident are likely to be germane to the litigation. Moreover, to the extent the account may contain sensitive or embarrassing materials of marginal relevance, the account holder can seek protection from the court (see CPLR 3103[a]). Here, for example, Supreme Court exempted from disclosure any photographs of plaintiff depicting nudity or romantic encounters.

Plaintiff suggests that disclosure of social media materials necessarily constitutes an unjustified invasion of privacy. We assume for purposes of resolving the narrow issue before us that some materials on a Facebook account may fairly be characterized as private [FN5]. But even private materials may be subject to discovery if they are [*5]relevant. For example, medical records enjoy protection in many contexts under the physician-patient privilege (see CPLR 4504). But when a party commences an action, affirmatively placing a mental or physical condition in issue, certain privacy interests relating to relevant medical records — including the physician-patient privilege — are waived (see Arons v Jutkowitz, 9 NY3d 393, 409 [2007]; Dillenbeck v Hess, 73 NY2d 278, 287 [1989]). For purposes of disclosure, the threshold inquiry is not whether the materials sought are private but whether they are reasonably calculated to contain relevant information.

Applying these principles here, the Appellate Division erred in modifying Supreme Court's order to further restrict disclosure of plaintiff's Facebook account, limiting discovery to only those photographs plaintiff intended to introduce at trial [FN6]. With respect to the items Supreme Court ordered to be disclosed (the only portion of the discovery request we may consider), defendant more than met his threshold burden of showing that plaintiff's Facebook account was reasonably likely to yield relevant evidence. At her deposition, plaintiff indicated that, during the period prior to the accident, she posted "a lot" of photographs showing her active lifestyle. Likewise, given plaintiff's acknowledged tendency to post photographs representative of her activities on Facebook, there was a basis to infer that photographs she posted after the accident might be reflective of her post-accident activities and/or limitations. The request for these photographs was reasonably calculated to yield evidence relevant to plaintiff's assertion that she could no longer engage in the activities she enjoyed before the accident and that she had become reclusive. It happens in this case that the order was naturally limited in temporal scope because plaintiff deactivated her Facebook account six months after the accident and Supreme Court further exercised its discretion to exclude photographs showing nudity or romantic encounters, if any, presumably to avoid undue embarrassment or invasion of privacy.

In addition, it was reasonably likely that the data revealing the timing and number of characters in posted messages would be relevant to plaintiffs' claim that she suffered cognitive injuries that caused her to have difficulty writing and using the computer, particularly her claim that she is painstakingly slow in crafting messages. Because Supreme Court provided defendant no access to the content of any messages on the Facebook account (an aspect of the order we cannot review given defendant's failure to appeal to the Appellate Division), we have no occasion to further address whether defendant made a showing sufficient to obtain disclosure of such content and, if so, how the order could have been tailored, in light of the facts and circumstances of this case, to avoid discovery of nonrelevant materials.[FN7]

In sum, the Appellate Division erred in concluding that defendant had not met his threshold burden of showing that the materials from plaintiff's Facebook account that were ordered to be disclosed pursuant to Supreme Court's order were reasonably calculated to contain evidence "material and necessary" to the litigation. A remittal is not necessary here because, in opposition to the motion, plaintiff neither made a claim of statutory privilege, nor offered any other specific reason — beyond the general assertion that defendant did not meet his threshold burden — why any of those materials should be shielded from disclosure.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division order insofar as appealed from should be reversed, with costs, the Supreme Court order reinstated and the certified question answered in the negative.

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.

CPLR 202 [borrowing statute] and CPLR 205(a) [savings statute] [Ct. App]

CPLR 202

CPLR 205(a)

note the amicus


Norex Petroleum Ltd. v Blavatnik, 2014 NY Slip Op 04802 [2014]

This dramatic and long-running contest over control of a lucrative oil field in Western Siberia reduces at present to an open question of New York civil procedure involving the interplay of CPLR 202, New York's "borrowing" statute, and CPLR 205 (a), New York's "savings" statute. When a cause of action accrues outside New York and the plaintiff is a nonresident, section 202 "borrows" the statute of limitations of the jurisdiction where the claim [*2]arose, if shorter than New York's, to measure the lawsuit's timeliness [FN1]. New York's "savings" statute, section 205 (a), allows a plaintiff to refile claims within six months of a timely prior action's termination for reasons other than the merits or a plaintiff's unwillingness to prosecute the claims in a diligent manner.[FN2]

This appeal calls upon us to decide whether a nonresident plaintiff who filed a timely action in a New York federal court may refile claims arising from the same transaction in state court within six months of the federal action's non-merits termination, even though the suit would be untimely in the out-of-state jurisdiction where the claims accrued. We hold that such a lawsuit is not time-barred, and therefore reverse the Appellate Division.[FN3]

Its a long decision, click the case to read the rest.

Medical Reports: 22 NYCRR 202.17 [Ct. App.]

CPLR 3121(a)

CPLR 3101

CPLR 4411

22 NYCRR 202.17(b)(1)

Hamilton v Miller, 2014 NY Slip Op 04230 [2014]

In most personal injury cases, disclosure under this rule is straightforward. The injured plaintiff goes to the doctor for diagnosis and treatment. The doctor drafts a report. The plaintiff turns over the report to the defendant.

This case is more complicated. Plaintiffs allegedly suffered lead poisoning as children. Now adults, plaintiffs allege that their childhood exposure to lead caused them numerous injuries. It appears from the dearth of medical evidence in the record that plaintiffs may never have been treated for or diagnosed with many of the alleged injuries. This raises the question of what plaintiffs must disclose in order to comply with rule 202.17 (b) (1).

Plaintiffs argue that the rule requires them to turn over only those reports that currently exist from providers who have "previously treated or examined" them. They argue that they are not required to document or create medical evidence of every alleged injury. To the extent that plaintiffs are arguing that the rule does not obligate them to hire a medical provider to examine them and create a report solely for purposes of the litigations, we agree. Requiring a personal injury plaintiff to hire a medical professional to draft a report purely to satisfy 22 NYCRR 202.17 (b) (1) could make it prohibitively expensive for some plaintiffs to bring legitimate personal injury suits. Some plaintiffs may not be able to afford a medical examination or may not even have access to a doctor. Plaintiffs therefore need only produce reports from medical providers who have "previously treated or examined" them.

To the extent, however, that plaintiffs claim that they need to turn over only those medical reports that currently exist, we disagree. The rule obligates plaintiffs to provide comprehensive reports from their treating and examining medical providers — the reports "shall include a recital of the injuries and conditions as to which testimony will be offered at the trial" (22 NYCRR 202.17 [b] [1]) [emphasis added]). Plaintiffs therefore cannot avoid disclosure simply because their treating or examining medical providers have not drafted any reports within the meaning of rule 202.17 (b) (1) (see Ciriello v Virgues, 156 AD2d 417, 418 [2d Dept 1989] ["[T]he fact that a report never was prepared does not obviate the party's obligation under the rules"]; Davidson v Steer/Peanut Gallery, 277 AD2d 965, 965 [4th Dept 2000]; Pierson v [*3]Yourish, 122 AD2d 202, 203 [2d Dept 1986]). If plaintiffs' medical reports do not contain the information required by the rule, then plaintiffs must have the medical providers draft reports setting forth that information (see id.)[FN2]. If that is not possible, plaintiffs must seek relief from disclosure and explain why they cannot comply with the rule (see 22 NYCRR 202.17 [j]).

We conclude therefore that Supreme Court abused its discretion in requiring plaintiffs to provide medical evidence ofeach alleged injury or otherwise be precluded from offering evidence of that injury at trial. Supreme Court's motivation for granting that relief is understandable. Plaintiffs' counsel filed boilerplate bills of particulars and then did not disclose medical records substantiating the alleged injuries. To that end, plaintiffs should amend their respective bills of particulars to reflect those injuries actually sustained. Nonetheless, although Supreme Court had wide, inherent discretion to manage discovery, foster orderly proceedings, and limit counsel's gamesmanship (see Kavanagh v Ogden Allied Maintenance Corp., 92 NY2d 952, 954 [1998]), the ordered relief exceeded the court's power.

Supreme Court also granted relief beyond that contemplated by rule 22 NYCRR 202.17 (b) (1) by requiring plaintiffs to produce, prior to the defense examination, a medical report causally relating plaintiffs' injuries to lead paint exposure or be precluded from offering proof of such injuries at trial. The rule requires that the medical reports "include a recital of the injuries and the conditions as to which testimony will be offered at the trial, . . . including a [*4]description of the injuries, a diagnosis, and a prognosis." There is no requirement that medical providers causally relate the injury to the defendant's negligence or, in this case, the lead paint exposure.

If determining causation requires evidence from a medical professional, causation is more appropriately dealt with at the expert discovery phase and pursuant to CPLR 3101 (d). If defendants wish to expedite expert discovery, they can move in Supreme Court for amendment of the scheduling orders. Should plaintiffs fail to produce any evidence of causation, then defendants can move for and obtain summary judgment.

Supreme Court properly denied plaintiff Hamilton's CPLR 4511 motion to take judicial notice of 42 USC § 4851. That provision contains Congress's findings justifying legislation aimed at reducing lead — findings such as: "at low levels, lead poisoning in children causes intelligence quotient deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, and behavior problems;" and "the Federal Government must take a leadership role in building the infrastructure—including an informed public, State and local delivery systems, certified inspectors, contractors, and laboratories, trained workers, and available financing and insurance—necessary to ensure that the national goal of eliminating lead-based paint hazards in housing can be achieved as expeditiously as possible" (42 USC § 4851 [2], [8]). Hamilton apparently sought judicial notice of the federal provision in order to avoid having to prove general causation — that lead paint exposure can cause some or all of his alleged injuries.

CPLR 4511 allows a court to take notice of federal and foreign state law, not facts, that is relevant to a proceeding (CPLR 4511; Pfleuger v Pfleuger, 304 NY 148, 151 [1952]). The congressional findings in support of legislation seeking to reduce amounts of lead in homes, though codified in a federal statute, are not "law" that is relevant to Hamilton's case. Taking judicial notice of them under CPLR 4511 would be inappropriate.

What Hamilton really wanted was to have Supreme Court take judicial notice of the fact that exposure to lead paint can cause injury. "To be sure, a court may take judicial notice of facts which are capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to easily accessible sources of indisputable accuracy" (People v Jones, 73 NY2d 427, 431 [1989] [internal quotation marks omitted]). But general causation, at least in scientifically complex cases, is not such a fact. Hamilton needs to prove, through scientific evidence, that exposure to lead-based paint can cause the injuries of which he complains (see Parker v Mobile Oil Corp., 7 NY3d 434, 448 [2006]). He cannot avoid that burden simply because Congress, in statutory preambles, has opined on the dangers of lead-based paint.Accordingly, in each case, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by remitting to Supreme Court for further [*5]proceedings in accordance with this opinion and, as so modified, affirmed, and the certified question answered in the negative.

Non-Party Subpoenas [Ct. App.]

CPLR 3119

CPLR 3101

CPLR 2304

CPLR 3103

Matter of Kapon v Koch, 2014 NY Slip Op 02327 [2014]

The Second and Third Departments, while acknowledging that the "special circumstances" requirement no longer applies, nonetheless require the party seeking discovery to meet the "material and necessary" standard and more. Specifically, in those departments, a motion to quash a subpoena will be granted if "the party issuing the subpoena has failed to show that the disclosure sought cannot be obtained from sources other than the nonparty, and properly denied when the party has shown that the evidence cannot be obtained from other sources" (Kooper v Kooper, 74 AD3d 6, 16-17 [2d Dept 2010] [citations omitted]; see American Heritage Realty LLC v Strathmore Ins. Co., 101 AD3d 1522, 1524 [3d Dept 2012]; Cotton v Cotton, 91 AD3d 697, 699 [2d Dept 2012]).

We conclude that the "material and necessary" standard adopted by the First and Fourth Departments is the appropriate one and is in keeping with this State's policy of liberal discovery. The words "material and necessary" as used in section 3101 must "be interpreted liberally to require disclosure, upon request, of any facts bearing on the controversy which will assist preparation for trial by sharpening the issues and reducing delay and prolixity" (Allen v Crowell-Collier Publishing Co., 21 NY2d 403, 406 [1968]). Section 3101 (a) (4) imposes no requirement that the subpoenaing party demonstrate that it cannot obtain the requested disclosure from any other source. Thus, so long as the disclosure sought is relevant to the prosecution or defense of an action, it must be provided by the nonparty.