Justia New York Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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In this dispute between members of the Cayuga Nation, a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming the denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that permitting this action to proceed would require New York state courts to pass upon an internal tribal governance dispute over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants, Jacobs Council, claimed that Plaintiffs, Halftown Council, had been removed from their positions on the Nation Council under Cayuga law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ultimately recognized the Halftown Council as the governing body authorized to contract on behalf of the Nation for certain funding. The Halftown Council later commenced this action. Supreme Court denied the Jacobs Council's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that although New York courts generally lack the ability to resolve an intra-tribal leadership dispute, they did not need do so here because the BIA's recognition determination established Plaintiffs as the Nation's lawful Council. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the BIA's determination did not resolve the disputed issues of tribal law implicated by the merits of this action, and therefore, New York state courts lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Halftown Council's legal claims. View "Cayuga Nation v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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In this case involving injuries Plaintiff received from the condition of demised premises the Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Supreme Court's order holding that Defendants, owners of the property, were out-of-possession landlords and were entitled to the protection of the general rule that such landlords will not be liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on the leased premises. In Putnam v. Stout, 38 N.Y.2d 607 (1976), the Court of Appeals recognized a limited exception to the rule that an out-of-possession landlord is not liable for injuries resulting from the condition of the demised premises where the landlord covenants in the lease or otherwise to keep the land in repair. At issue in this case was whether the exception recognized in Putnam applied to a regulatory agreement between Defendants and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, as guarantor of the mortgage on Defendants' premises. The Court of Appeals held that the exception to the general rule set forth in Putnam was inapplicable to the regulatory agreement at issue in this case and that the general rule that the landlord was not liable for conditions upon the land after the transfer of possession applied. View "Henry v. Hamilton Equities, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division reversing Supreme Court's order denying Defendants' motion for summary judgment and rejecting their arguments that out-of-possession landowners are not liable for personal injuries based on negligent sidewalk maintenance where, under lease terms, the lessee agreed to maintain the abutting sidewalks, holding that Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment due solely to the owners' out-of-possession status. Plaintiff sued owners of property in New York City for personal injuries arising from Plaintiff's slip and fall on the ice that had accumulated on the sidewalk abutting the property. The Appellate Division reversed Supreme Court and granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that the out-of-possession landowners had no contractual obligation to maintain sidewalks. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) section 7-210 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York makes no exception to the general rule that real property owners have a nondelegable duty to maintain City sidewalks abutting their land in a reasonably safe condition; and (2) therefore, Defendants were subject to the nondelegable duty imposed by section 7-210, exposing them to potential liability for injuries allegedly caused by their failure to properly remove snow and ice from the sidewalks abutting their property. View "Xiang Fu He v. Troon Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division modifying Supreme Court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' amended class action complaint by denying the part of the motion seeking dismissal of the class action claims against Defendants except to the extent those allegations addressed the cause of action for violation of N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law 349, holding that the claims for class relief should not have been dismissed without a judicial determination as to whether the prerequisites of N.Y. C.P.L.R. 902 had been satisfied. Plaintiffs, current and former tenants in buildings within multiple apartment buildings, alleged that individual corporate defendants that owned various buildings at issue were owned or controlled by a single holding company and that Defendants, in an effort to extract additional value from the properties, engaged in improper and illegal conduct" by, among other things, inflating rents above the amounts Defendant were legally permitted to charge. Before an answer was filed, Supreme Court dismissed the complaint, concluding that there was no basis for class relief. The Appellate Division modified Supreme Court's order, concluding that dismissal at this stage was premature. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that dismissal of class claims based on allegations of a methodical attempt to illegally inflate rents was premature. View "Maddicks v Big City Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the challenged portion of the order of the Appellate Division affirming Supreme Court's upholding the determination of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that permits seasonal snowmobile use on an existing roadway on property recently acquired by the state and added to the Adirondack Forest Preserve, holding that DEC did not exceed its authority to approve limited seasonal snowmobile use on the property. In this N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 proceeding, Petitioners, environmental groups, argued that the DEC's determination contravened controlling motor vehicle use restrictions in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (Master Plan) and Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act (Rivers Act), ECL 15-2701 et seq., and was otherwise irrational. The lower courts disagreed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the challenged portion of DEC's determination was not irrational, arbitrary and capricious, or contrary to law. View "Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve v. New York State Adirondack Park Agency" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the conclusion of the Appellate Division that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Defendant's N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 330.30 motion to set aside the verdict against him based on juror misconduct, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was entitled to a new trial. Defendant was convicted by a jury of murder and tampering with physical evidence. During the trial, one of the jurors sent and received hundreds of text messages about the case, accessed local media websites that were covering the trial, and lied under oath to the court to hide her misconduct. Defendant moved to set aside the verdict based on juror misconduct. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the juror's misconduct did not render the trial unfair. The Appellate Division reversed and granted a new trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the scope and egregiousness of the deception that occurred in this case required reversal of the conviction and a new trial. View "People v. Neulander" on Justia Law

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In this N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 proceeding, the Court of Appeals held that Tax Appeals Tribunal of the State of New York (the Tribunal) rationally determined that the information services receipts at issue in this case were not excluded from the sales tax imposed by N.Y. Tax Law 1105(c)(1). Tax law 1105(c)(1) imposes sales tax on certain information services but excludes the furnishing of information that is personal or individual in nature. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance (the Department) conducted an audit of the sales and use tax liability of Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., a regional supermarket chain, and determined that Wegmans's purchases of competitive price audits (CPAs) of its competitors and corresponding reports from RetailData, LLC were taxable receipts under Tax Law 1105(c)(1). Accordingly, the Department imposed additional sales tax. Wegmans petitioned the Division of Tax Appeals, arguing that RetailData's services qualified as an exempt information service that was personal and individual in nature. An ALJ denied the petition. The Tribunal affirmed. The Appellate Division annulled the Tribunal's determination, concluding that the tax exclusion applied. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the information RetailData furnished to Wegmans was not personal or individual in nature. View "In re Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. v. Tax Appeals Tribunal of State of New York" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division reversing the judgment of County County convicting Defendant, a level three sex offender, of failing to register his Facebook account, concluding that Facebook is not an "internet identifier" and that the existence of a Facebook account need not be disclosed to the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) pursuant to N.Y. Corp. Law 168-f(4). Pursuant to section 168-a(18), "internet identifiers" are defined as "electronic mail addresses and designations used for purposes of chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar internet communication." The People argued that Defendant was required to register his Facebook account as an "internet identifier" pursuant to section 168-f(4). The Appellate Division concluded that a Facebook account is not an "internet identifier" that Defendant must disclose to DCJS. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that that Facebook is not an "internet identifier" and that the existence of a Facebook account - as opposed to the internet identifiers a sex offender may use to access Facebook or interact with other users on Facebook - need not be disclosed to DCJS pursuant to section 168-f(4). View "People v. Ellis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals accepted a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals and answered that if an entered divorce judgment grants a spouse an interest in real property pursuant to N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law 236, and the spouse does not docket the divorce judgment in the county where the property is located, the spouse's interest is not subject to attachment by a subsequent judgment creditor that has docketed its judgment and seeks to execute against the property. A judgment creditor sought to execute against property that, in a divorce settlement, was to be sold and Wife was to receive a portion of the proceeds. The judgment creditor argued that, because it docketed its judgment before Wife docketed her judgment of divorce, the creditor had priority over Wife with respect to the property. The federal district court concluded that the judgment of divorce did not transform Wife into a judgment creditor of Husband but, rather, worked an equitable distribution of their marital assets. The federal court of appeals certified a question of law to the Court of Appeals, which held that the divorce judgment did not render Wife a judgment creditor of Husband, and therefore, Wife was not subject to the docketing requirements of N.Y. C.P.L.R. 5203. View "Pangea Capital Management, LLC v. Lakian" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the People violated their constitutional obligation to disclose a surveillance video that captured the scene at the time of the shooting, and there was a reasonable probability that the disclosure of the video would have produced a different result at trial. Defendant was convicted of murder for shooting Ruben Alexandre outside an apartment building. The surveillance video of the scene in this case included images of the victim and a key prosecution witness. After receiving the video, Defendant moved to vacate his conviction, arguing that the People's failure to disclose the video violated their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The trial court denied the motion. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that where the video was withheld from the defense and the jury was told it did not exist, the aggregate effect of the suppression of the evidence undermined confidence in the verdict, and therefore, Defendant was entitled to a new trial. View "People v. Ulett" on Justia Law