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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.

Court Refuses to Permit Defendant Pay Settlement in Coins

Parties in a commercial dispute have to follow laws and contractual obligations.  But they must also act reasonably, even if there are no specific rules governing a particular act.  This is because judges often find ways to punish litigants for unreasonable conduct.

One such instance caught some press attention.  After two litigants settled a case out of court, one decided to make its $23,500 in coins.  The agreement did not expressly prohibit them from doing so, but the plaintiff went to court and the judge not only ordered that the payment be made by check or some other appropriate means, but it ordered the defendant to pay additional expenses arising from the stunt.  It reasoned that the coin payment did not fully compensate the plaintiff since it had to spend extra money to transport thousands of pounds of coins.

Cases like this illustrate the need for parties to act reasonably in disputes, even after settlement.

Appeals Court Recognizes Preserved Defense

Good legal arguments state things plainly so a busy judge won’t miss important information. Long arguments that ramble may obscure an important point, requiring an appeal that carries its own risks, costs, and delays.

For example, in a recent case in Manhattan, a defendant filed an answer to a lawsuit in 2013. The answer plainly stated that one of the defenses to the case was that the plaintiffs did not have the legal ability to bring their claims. Nine years later, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to assert this defense. The defendant’s response did not clearly quote the plain text that shows that it did, and the trial court decided the issue was waived. Only on appeal did that issue get properly decided.

Cases like this illustrate the need for litigants to be clear when opposing arguments that have simple responses.

Appeals Refuses to Hear Appeal Arising from Default

In New York, the state appeals court generally only hears cases that have been decided by a trial court or administrative agency.  When a petitioner seeks to reverse a default judgment, the product of one side failing to contest the case and not a decision on the merits, the appeals court may not hear the appeal.  Instead, the trial court alone may hear the case.

For example, in a recent case before the state appeals court in Manhattan, the loser of an arbitration asked a trial court to vacate the arbitration decision.  The winner only submitted an unsworn letter in response.  The trial court did not consider the letter to be an opposition and granted the loser’s request on default, not deciding the merits of the case.  The appeals court decided to dismiss the case since it arose from a default.

Cases like this illustrate the importance of not defaulting and submitting sufficient opposition at the trial court stage.

Appeals Considers Different Claims Arising From Employee Disability

An employer’s failure to accommodate an employee’s disability may subject it to separate liability from its discrimination against the employee for the disability.  Accordingly, once an employer learns of an employee’s disability, it should consider its legal obligations and not just ignore the information.

For example, in a recent case before the state appeals court in Manhattan, a former detective sued the New York Police Department for insensitive treatment following a kidney disorder.  While the court affirmed dismissal of his discrimination claims, that arose from negative comments about his medical condition, it reversed the dismissal of his claim for failure to accommodate, since the department should have worked cooperatively with him to find accommodations for him to continue working.

Decisions like this illustrate the need for employers to consider their exposure to liability when an employee discloses a disability.