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Part of my work involves reading court decisions to keep abreast of how judges decide the types of cases I handle. Below, I share some thoughts on recent decisions, including one decision in a case I personally argued in September.
Court Affirms Disqualification of Lawyer Who Did Not Get Client Consent to Conflict of Interest
Plaintiffs get to pick who represent them, but a defendant may ask the court to disqualify their lawyer anyway. Ordinarily they do this when there is a conflict of interest, such as when the plaintiff’s lawyer also represents the defendant. But defendants may make this motion in other situations as well.
For example, in a recent case, the state appellate court in Manhattan affirmed the decision by the trial court to disqualify the lawyer representing two plaintiffs in a car accident lawsuit. The defendant argues that one of the plaintiffs caused the accident by poor driving, and so the two plaintiffs may have differing interests. The court noted that the lawyer for the two plaintiffs could have sought written consent to the conflict from the plaintiffs prior to his representation, but affirmed the decision before he failed to do so.
Cases like this highlight how important it is to address conflict of interest issues at the start of a lawsuit.
Court Vacates Default Judgment Due to Improper Service
When a defendant does not respond to a lawsuit, the court may grant a default judgment against it. But this process is not automatic; a plaintiff must first satisfy certain legal requirements to make sure the defendant had notice of the lawsuit and it must submit some evidence to the court that its claims are valid.
Recently, the state appellate court in Manhattan reversed a default judgment because the plaintiff did not carefully follow the rules. In that case, the plaintiff sent lawsuit papers to the defendant’s place of business instead of his home. Although the law permits plaintiffs to do this when they do not know the defendant’s home address, the plaintiff in this case did not affirmatively state that the defendant’s home address was unknown.
Cases like this illustrate how important it is to follow technical rules when obtaining a default judgment. Even if the court grants the judgment, without strict compliance, it may not survive an appeal.
Court Distinguishes Fraudulent Misrepresentation From Fraudulent Concealment
Plaintiffs should make sure they file litigation before they expire pursuant to the statute of limitations. But if their claims are against the government or government employees, there may be additional limitation periods that apply.
This issue arose in a recent decision by the state appellate court in Manhattan. In that case, the plaintiff sued two New York police officers on the grounds that they colluded with his wife to enable her to steal from him. But he did not notify the police department within 90 days of his claim; instead he waited over a year. Even though the claim may have been otherwise timely, since it was against employees of the government, the court affirmed dismissal.
Cases like this show why it is important to notify governments quickly about claims so that they can investigate them.
Appeals Court Affirms Trial Court Divorce Judgment
In two recent decisions, the state appeals court in Albany affirmed the decisions of two different trial courts (the Supreme Court and the Family Court) that divided property following a divorce. The appeal was brought by the ex-husband, who alleged numerous deficiencies with the trial courts’ decisions. But the appeals court determined that none of those allegations had merit and affirmed underlying decisions.
I argued this case on behalf of the ex-wife and, while I did not find the legal issues presented to be novel, I did find some of them to be complicated, and the sheer number of issues in dispute to be cumbersome. Ultimately, a real challenge in this case was being prepared to succinctly explain dozens of technical issues upon the request of the judges.
Although the court found in favor of my client, I am comforted by the diligent consideration the court gave to the numerous points raised by the ex-husband.