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Comments on Recent Cases: December 2022


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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 Allows Accelerated Procedure to Enforce Settlement Agreement

Lawsuits can take a long time before a plaintiff obtains a judgment.  But New York offers an accelerated litigation procedure for plaintiffs who are looking to collect a debt: summary judgment in lieu of complaint.  It is only available, though, for the enforcement of an “instrument for the payment of money only” and not for other kinds of contracts. Naturally, parties litigate whether a particular contract meets that definition.

This issue arose in a recent case before the state appellate court in Manhattan.  The plaintiff in that case used the procedure to enforce a settlement agreement.  The defendant claimed that the settlement agreement was not such a contract since it also required the defendant to release the plaintiff from any potential claims he had against him and to submit to an inquest in connection with payments.  The appellate court disagreed, however, holding that the settlement agreement qualified since its sole requirement of the defendant was to pay money.

Cases like this illustrate the kinds of agreements that qualify for summary judgment in lieu of complaint.

Court Narrowly Construes Insurance Policy Exemption in Covid-Related Case

Courts often interpret insurance contracts in a very sympathetic light to policyholders and harshly to insurance companies.  This is likely because they recognize the tremendous power imbalance between the two parties: insurance companies can write the policies and policyholders have very little say into the terms.

A recent case before the state appellate court in Manhattan illustrates this manner interpretation as it applies to coverage related to covid-19.  A Broadway show made an insurance claim since it had to close during the pandemic.  The insurance company said the claim was excluded by a provision that applied to losses related to “the imposition of quarantine or restriction in movement of people or animals by any national or international body or agency.”  The appeals court affirmed the trial court holding that, since New York’s quarantines were imposed by the state and not the federal government or an international agency, the provision did not apply.

Cases like this provide interesting insight into questions raised a few years ago about how insurance policies would apply in the pandemic.

Court Upholds Restrictions on Attorney Advertising Related to Pharmaceutical Cases

Litigation News, a magazine published by the American Bar Association, featured an article I wrote about a Court of Appeals decision that affirmed attorney advertising regulations over a free speech challenge.

West Virginia adopted regulations to govern how lawyers could advertise to clients seeking to sue pharmaceutical companies. Although the trial court had sided with lawyers challenging the law that its restrictions interfered with protected speech, the appellate court reversed and upheld the law.

I found this case to be a very interesting examination of the protections afforded to commercial speech and an illustrating example of the litigation that ensues when governments adopt regulations that may seem like common sense.

Plaintiff Fails to Meet Burden for Imposition of Discovery Sanctions on Defendant

Parties in litigation are required to preserve evidence so they may provide it to their adversaries. A party may request that the court punish a litigant who destroys or “spoliates” evidence. But the burden to prove that a litigant spoliated evidence is high.

The state appellate court in Manhattan recently considered this burden in a recent case. The plaintiff in that case asked the court to punish the defendant for its failure to produce handwritten records of mechanic visits and a log book. The court denied sanctions because there was insufficient evidence the records existed and because the plaintiff never tried to get the book from the party most likely to currently possess it.

Cases like this illustrate the difficulty parties face in seeking discovery sanctions.


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