Commercial Division Justice Andrew Borrok recently issued a decision in Lonny Matlick et al. v. AmTrust Financial Services, Inc., addressing the following question:
Can an issuer be held liable under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933 for the failure to disclose the risk that certain securities could be delisted when the issuer never guaranteed the listing of such securities in the first instance?
The answer, as Justice Borrok explained, is no.
On March 20, 2020, in order to limit court operations in light of the evolving COVID-19 emergency, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.8. That order, among other things, tolls through April 19, 2020 “any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding, as prescribed by the procedural laws of the state[.]” This order means that parties who are facing a deadline to file a civil action have an extension up and until April 19, 2020 in order to do so, unless a further extension of this deadline is granted.
Commercial Division Holds that Imposition of Direct Liability on Directors Who Oversaw Fraudulent Conveyance Requires Piercing the Corporate Veil
Do the directors who oversaw the fraudulent conveyance of a corporation’s assets face direct liability for it? Not unless the entities were shams and the directors exerted total dominion and control, according to Commercial Division Justice Andrew Borrok’s recent decision in Acacia Investments, B.S.C.(c) v. West End Equity I, Ltd. In Acacia, Justice Borrok allowed fraudulent conveyance claims to proceed against the entities involved in an alleged transfer of judgment-debtors’ assets to a new family of companies, but did not allow direct claims against the directors of the entities. He held that Delaware law does not create a claim for director liability, and that there was no factual basis for piercing the entities’ corporate veils to hold the directors liable for the alleged fraud.
Over the last few days, Judge Lawrence K. Marks, the Chief Administrative Judge of the New York State Unified Court System, issued two memoranda bearing on COVID-19’s effect on the Commercial Division.
In Behrend v. New Windsor Group, LLC, the Second Department affirmed the denial of Plaintiff Julius Behrend’s (“Behrend”) motion for summary judgment in his action seeking a declaratory judgment that he held a membership interest in defendant New Windsor Group, LLC (“New Windsor”) or an interest in New Windsor’s assets. The Court’s decision affirmed a ruling by former Queens County Commercial Division Justice Martin E. Ritholtz. The opinion addressed the effect of a putative assignment of interest in New Windsor from Joseph Klein (“Klein”) to Behrend pursuant to a memorandum of understanding between them. Behrend failed to seek consent to the assignment from New Windsor’s managing member, Andrew Perkal (“Perkal”), as was required by New Windsor’s operating agreement.
Commercial Division Holds that Representatives of a Deceased Limited Partner’s Estate Do Not Have Standing to Maintain a Derivative Lawsuit
A recent Commercial Division decision demonstrates the ability of partnership agreement provisions to limit the executors of the plaintiff-limited-partner from continuing a derivative lawsuit after that partner’s death. In Weinstein v. RAS Prop. Mgmt. LLC, 2020 NY Slip Op 30311(U) (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cnty. Feb.5, 2020), Justice Andrew Borrok denied a motion to substitute a deceased plaintiff with the plaintiff’s executors The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s executors lacked standing under the applicable partnership agreement.
On January 29, 2020, the Second Department affirmed a Suffolk County Commercial Division decision applying both the de facto merger doctrine and the veil piercing doctrine. Each doctrine often plays an important role in determining whether plaintiffs in business disputes can recover from certain entities and their owners who are not signatories to operative agreements. The Second Department’s analysis in reviewing a decision by Justice Elizabeth Hazlitt Emerson of the Commercial Division provides a helpful review of these concepts.
Commercial Division Opinion Suggests that Subcontractor Can Potentially Recover From General Contractor and Property Owner for Work Outside Scope of Subcontract
Suppose a property owner hires a general contractor for a time-sensitive project. The general contractor in turn hires a subcontractor. After the project hits some snags and delays, the property owner tries to move things along by assuring the subcontractor that it will get paid for certain additional tasks that the owner requests. However, the subcontractor never enters into a formal written agreement covering the additional work. If the subcontractor is not fully paid for the work, can it successfully sue the property owner, the general contractor, or both for contractual or quasi-contractual damages? A recent decision by Justice Andrea Masley of the Commercial Division in Corporate Electrical Technologies, Inc. v. Structure Tone, Inc., suggests that in certain circumstances, the answer is yes: the subcontractor can recover from the property owner or the general contractor for the additional work, even absent a written contract covering that work, based on the parties’ course of conduct.
First Department Holds Source Code to Be a Trade Secret and Defines Bounds of Judicial Proceedings Privilege
On November 12, 2019, in BEC Capital, LLC et al. v. Bistrovic et al., 177 A.D.3d 438 (1st Dep’t 2019), the Appellate Division, the First Department issued a decision reversing an order of the Commercial Division and holding that the Defendants’ source code is a trade secret, and therefore should have been ordered to be produced under an “attorneys and expert eyes only” form of review. The First Department also held that an email produced prior to the litigation was not subject to privilege from defamation and thus could support Defendants’ counter-claim for defamation.
Justice Craig Doran, the Administrative Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, assigned Justice J. Scott Odorisi to the Commercial Division. Justice Odorisi replaces Justice Matthew Rosenbaum. Justice Odorisi was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 2013 and worked in private practice before going on the bench.
Last summer, we discussed a decision by the Court of Appeals that upheld the use in commercial leases of waivers of declaratory relief. In response to that decision, the New York Legislature enacted Real Property Law Section 235-h, which now voids waivers of declaratory relief in commercial leases as against public policy.
Last month, New York enacted the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (“UVTA”), which seeks to modernize the state’s fraudulent conveyance law.
Since its introduction by the Uniform Law Commission in 2014, the UVTA has now been adopted by 21 states. The UVTA was originally drafted by the Uniform Law Commission as an amendment to the 1984 Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“UFTA”); New York was one of only seven states that did not adopt the original UFTA.
Commercial Division Advisory Council Proposes Requiring Briefs to Include Hyperlinks to NYSCEF Docket Entries
The Administrative Board of the Courts is seeking public comment on a proposal by the Commercial Division Advisory Council to amend Commercial Division Rule 6 to (i) require legal memoranda to include hyperlinks to cited documents that have already been filed on NYSCEF and (ii) give judges discretion to require that citations include hyperlinks to legal databases such as LexisNexis, Westlaw, or government websites.
2019 was a momentous year for the Commercial Division. Below are the top developments related to the Commercial Division that our blog covered in 2019.
Patterson Belknap Publishes an Updated, Second Edition of the New York Commercial Division Practice Guide
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of its New York Commercial Division Practice Guide. As with the first edition, the guide is organized into various chapters drafted by Patterson Belknap lawyers. Each chapter contains useful information about litigating in the Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court, and an excerpt is available to download here.
In Pozner v. Fox Broadcasting Co., Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the Commercial Division dismissed plaintiff Cliff Pozner’s (“Pozner”) retaliation claim, which alleged that counterclaims filed against him by defendant Fox Broadcasting Company’s (“Fox”) constituted unlawful retaliation in violation of the New York Executive Law and the New York City Administrative Code. The Court’s decision addressed an issue of first impression in New York: i.e., whether the Noerr-Pennington doctrine—which holds “‘that parties may not be subjected to liability for petitioning the government’ such as by filing litigation”—may be applied in the context of unlawful retaliation claims.
In Matter of GreenSky, Inc. Sec. Litig., Justice Jennifer G. Schecter of the Commercial Division denied defendants’ motion to stay the state court action pending resolution of a later-filed, federal action involving virtually identical claims made under the Securities Act of 1933 (“1933 Act”). Justice Schecter did grant defendants’ alternative request for a stay of discovery pending the court’s decision on their motion to dismiss. The court’s decision addressed: 1) whether state courts should stay 1933 Act cases in deference to federal cases involving similar claims; and 2) whether the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Reform Act”) requires a stay of discovery in state court pending the court’s decision on a motion to dismiss.
A corporation that acquires the assets of another is generally not liable for the pre-existing liabilities of the acquired corporation. However, as the Commercial Division’s recent decision in 47 East 34th Street (NY), L.P. v. BridgeStreet Worldwide, Inc. demonstrates, there is an exception to this rule when the successor is deemed to be a mere continuation of the acquired corporation. In 47 East 34th Street, Justice Andrew Borrok relied on the mere continuation doctrine to deny a motion to dismiss claims asserted against a successor guarantor to a lease that had acquired the assets of the original guarantor through a consensual foreclosure.
The Commercial Division recently ruled, in a case captioned as Hopkins v. Ackerman, that derivative claims on behalf of an LLC need to be brought before the LLC ceases to exist. In Hopkins, Justice Saliann Scarpulla granted a motion to dismiss several derivative claims involving now-cancelled Delaware LLCs because, under Delaware law, a cancelled LLC does not have the ability to bring legal claims. The Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ efforts to cast most of the claims as direct claims on behalf of a specific member in the LLCs.
Commercial Division Holds That Russian Law Restrictions on Document Discovery Do Not Absolve Russian Party From Responsibility to Produce Documents
The Commercial Division regularly hears suits involving foreign parties, in part because contract parties, anywhere in the world, can choose to have a dispute heard by the Commercial Division as long as the transaction at issue concerns $1 million or more. However, the Commercial Division’s rules sometimes provide for more extensive discovery than would be allowed in a foreign party’s home country. And in some instances, the Commercial Division’s rules may even provide for discovery that would be illegal in the foreign party’s home country. Justice Andrew Borrok’s recent decision in Starr Russia Investments III B.V. v. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. provides an illustration of how the Commercial Division may navigate this thorny issue.
Commercial Division Rules that Arbitration Awardee Lacked Standing to Enforce Award Based on Collection Procedures Agreed to in the Underlying Contract
Arbitration is a creature of contract and, as such, enforcing an arbitral award requires strict adherence to the procedures set forth in the relevant agreements. This is true even where those procedures might preclude a party to the arbitration from taking steps to enforce its own award. In Zachariou v. Manios, Justice Andrea Masley of the Commercial Division dismissed an awardee’s enforcement action for lack of standing on the ground that the relevant arbitration agreement conferred exclusive authority over collecting and enforcing party distributions to a third-party trustee—and not to the plaintiff.
New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore issued a press release on September 25, 2019 announcing proposed amendments to the New York State Constitution that would streamline and simplify the State’s Unified Court System. The Chief Judge’s proposal calls for the elimination of “New York’s complex maze of 11 separate trial courts” and would “replace it with a simplified three-level structure to make the courts easier to navigate, increase operational efficiency and reduce costs to litigants, among other potential benefits.” If successful, these structural changes would represent the first major Constitutional changes to court system organizations since reforms were passed over 40 years ago in 1977. These changes are also likely to affect the Commercial Division parts because, if adopted, they have the potential of increasing the overall efficiency of the state court system and the way judges are appointed to the Appellate Division. These reforms, in turn, would likely help shape the development of commercial law in the State.
There has been a new development in the Xerox and Fujifilm (“Fuji”) litigation: Justice Ostrager of the New York Commercial Division declined to (i) certify the putative class, (ii) approve the proposed class settlement, and (iii) award the class attorney’s fees pursuant to a memorandum of understanding that was reached by defendant Xerox and putative class plaintiffs. The material terms of this agreement—changes to the Xerox Board of Directors—already took effect prior to the Justice Ostrager ruling.
The final month of summer has seen a flurry of rulemaking activity with the Advisory Council”) proposing four changes to the Commercial Division Rules. The Office of Court Administration has requested public comment on each proposal, and we will provide an update if any of the proposed amendments are adopted.
Commercial Division Dismisses Shareholder Derivative Suit Because General News Reports and Articles Were Insufficient to Plead Demand Futility with Particularity
Before filing a shareholder derivative suit, the plaintiff must typically serve a pre-litigation demand upon the company’s Board of Directors, except in narrow circumstances where the demand may be futile. In Gammel v. Immelt, Justice Andrea Masley of the New York Commercial Division dismissed the shareholder derivative suit because the plaintiff did not meet the pre-litigation demand requirement and failed to plead with particularity the circumstances establishing the futility exception.
At her annual State of the Judiciary speech held on February 26, 2019 at Bronx County Supreme Court, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced that the Commercial Division will be expanding to Bronx County, effective April 1, 2019. On August 4, 2019, the Bronx County Supreme Court designated the Honorable Eddie McShan, who is a Supreme Court Justice from Bronx County, as the Commercial Division Justice presiding over the newly-created Part 32 beginning September 3, 2019. The Honorable Kenneth L. Thompson will handle the Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) component.
Commercial Division Prevents End-Run Around Rule Precluding Judicial Dissolution of Foreign Business Entities
In Matter of Raharney Capital, LLC v. Capital Stack LLC, the First Department held that New York courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over foreign company dissolution proceedings. Now, a recent Commercial Division decision rendered by Justice Saliann Scarpulla, Rosania v. Gluck, has clarified that the Raharney rule also applies to litigants’ attempts to obtain equitable relief associated with a judicial dissolution of a foreign business.
First Department Confirms Award of Attorney’s Fees, But Vacates Damages Award for Counterclaim as Non-Arbitrable
On July 2, 2019, the First Department, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Dianne T. Renwick, reversed a decision of former Commercial Division Justice Eileen Bransten confirming an arbitration award. The First Department concluded that the arbitrator’s award of attorney’s fees was not in manifest disregard of New York law, but that the arbitrator did not have jurisdiction over counterclaims brought by a related-third-party pursuant to an agreement that did not contain an arbitration clause. The opinion provides a helpful review of New York law regarding both the award of attorney’s fees in arbitration and on jurisdictional objections to arbitration.
Last month, the First Department in Madison Sullivan Partners LLC v. PMG Sullivan St., LLC, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 04460 (June 6, 2019), affirmed the decision of former Commercial Division Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich that the Plaintiff in a LLC dispute failed to sufficiently allege a breach of fiduciary duty claim. The case concerned the parties’ relationship in a joint venture to develop Manhattan real estate as a mixed use project that was formed using several LLCs. In a detailed amended complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that Defendants collected monthly sums for work on a construction project for the venture, when Defendants were not actually working on the construction project but instead pursuing their own ventures.
Commercial Division Advisory Council Highlights the Benefits of the Commercial Division to the State of New York
The Commercial Division Advisory Council recently released a memorandum describing the benefits that the Commercial Division offers to the State of New York. The memorandum highlights the many advantages of having a dedicated business court for the state and business and legal communities. It is worth a read for any lawyer whose practice focuses on business disputes.
In Hoffman v. AT&T Inc., Justice Ostrager of the Commercial Division recently denied a motion to stay a securities class action in favor of a subsequently filed and more comprehensive action brought in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). In doing so, he asserted the Commercial Division’s role in securities litigation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver Cty. Emps. Ret. Fund, 138 S. Ct. 1061 (2018).
New York’s International Arbitration Center Hosts Welcome Reception for Commercial Division’s New International Arbitration Justice
On June 11, 2019, the New York International Arbitration Center (“NYIAC”) and members of New York’s international arbitration bar held a reception to welcome Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the New York County Commercial Division. Earlier this year, Justice Scarpulla assumed responsibility for the Commercial Division’s specialized international arbitration part and, in that role, will hear all international arbitration matters coming before the Court.
In Matter of Capital Enterprises Co. v. Dworman, the Appellate Division, the First Department held that an arbitrator has broad discretion to order the dissolution of a New York general partnership, so long as the issue of dissolution was within the scope of the arbitration clause and the question of whether to dissolve the partnership was properly before the arbitrator. In so doing, the First Department affirmed an order issued by Commercial Division Justice Jennifer G. Schecter which confirmed an arbitration award that had ordered a dissolution of a partnership.
On Wednesday June 5, 2019, all eight of the New York County Commercial Division justices participated on a panel for the New York State Bar Association’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section on “Motion Practice Before the Commercial Division.” Motion practice is one of the most frequently used aspects of practice in the Commercial Division. The format was an informal question and answer session on motion practice, moderated by the Section’s Past Chair, Robert Holtzman.
Commercial Division Holds That Electronic Communications Between Out-of-State Defendant and New York-Based Company Can Support the Exercise of Personal Jurisdiction Over Defendants in New York
In High Street Capital Partners, LLC v. ICC Holdings, LLC, Justice Joel M. Cohen of the Commercial Division denied defendants ICC Holdings, LLC (“ICC”) and related entities’ (collectively, “Defendants”) motion to dismiss plaintiff High Street Capital Partners, LLC’s (“High Street”) action for breach of contract for lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. The court’s decision addressed issues of whether electronic communications between an out-of-state defendant and a New York-based company are sufficient to satisfy the requirements of New York’s long-arm statute and render New York a convenient forum.
In a closely watched appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed by a 4-3 vote that a waiver contained in a commercial lease of the right to bring a declaratory judgment action is enforceable and not contrary to public policy. The case, 159 MP Corp. v. Redbridge Bedford, LLC, No. 26, was not brought in the Commercial Division, but will have a significant impact on the drafting and enforcement of commercial leases.
On May 14, 2019, the New York State Unified Court System announced that it will begin rollout and implementation of a “presumptive” alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) program. Under the new program, parties in civil cases will be referred to either mediation or some other form of ADR as an initial step for most lawsuits filed in New York State courts. The “presumptive” ADR program will apply to a broad range of civil cases, including commercial disputes.
In considering a motion to dismiss related to a real estate development joint-venture gone bad, a recent decision by Justice Andrea Masley in 3P-733, LLC v Davis (No. 650800/2018 [N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., April 2, 2019]) highlights several issues that frequently arise at the motion to dismiss stage in the Commercial Division.
On April 11, 2019, the First Department unanimously affirmed a decision issued by Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, formerly of the Commercial Division, which denied the plaintiffs’ motion for final approval of a class action settlement in City Trading Fund v. Nye (2019 NY Slip Op 02789). This was the second time the Appellate Division had considered Justice Kornreich’s denial of approval of a settlement in this case, having reversed her prior denial of preliminary approval of the settlement in November 2016 and remanding the case for a fairness hearing in order to review the settlement terms.
Commercial Division Decision Illustrates Potential Issues that May Arise in CPLR Article 52 Turnover Order Proceedings
A party seeking to enforce a judgment against an asset of a judgment debtor that is held by a third party may petition for a turnover order through a special proceeding provided for by CPLR Article 52. Justice Saliann Scarpulla’s recent decision in The Wimbledon Fund, SPC (Class TT) v. Weston Capital Partners Master Fund II, LTD (Wimbledon) illustrates several of the potential issues that may arise during such a proceeding.
Commercial Division Decision Spotlights the Limits of the “Automatic Renewal Doctrine” for Contracts
In Mountain & Isles, LLC v. Gillz, LLC, Justice Masley of the Commercial Division provided a useful reminder of the continuing vitality of New York’s “automatic renewal doctrine” for contracts and its limitations.
At her annual State of the Judiciary speech held on February 26, 2019 at Bronx County Supreme Court, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced that the Commercial Division will be expanding to Bronx County, effective April 1, 2019. The Chief Judge explained that this expansion was in recognition of the Bronx’s ongoing economic resurgence and the growing number of commercial cases being filed there. There has not yet been any announcement as to the jurisdiction of this new part or which judges will be assigned to it.
Beginning in April 2019, the First Department has changed its practice to assign panels of four justices for oral argument, as opposed to five justices as has been the traditional practice of the court. This change is the result of three ongoing vacancies on the First Department that have remained unfilled by Governor Cuomo. The Presiding Justice of the First Department, Hon. Rolando Acosta, explained that the move to four justice panels is necessary because there are not enough judges to hear all the pending appeals. Aware that four justice panels could create a two-to-two split, Presiding Justice Acosta explained that a fifth judge can be brought in to issue a decision if needed. Parties can preserve their right to reargue or submit the case to a fifth justice by making a statement on the oral argument record. This change will likely remain in place until new judges are appointed to the court.
In Magomedov et al. v. Lebedev et al., an opinion dated February 19, 2019, Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the Commercial Division dismissed most claims related to a Russian oil joint venture as time-barred under the statute of limitations. The case also raises the issue of waiver of personal jurisdiction by bringing related lawsuits within New York.
On Monday February 26, 2019, four retired Justices of the Commercial Division, New York County – Justices Ellen Bransten, Shirley Kornreich, Charles Ramos, and Melvin Schweitzer – took the stage at the New York City Bar to discuss the past, present and future of the Commercial Division, as well as their own experiences on the court. The discussion was moderated by retired Justice Carolyn Demarest of the Commercial Division, Kings County.
Following Justice Charles Ramos’s retirement from the Commercial Division at the end of last year, commercial practitioners have awaited an announcement reallocating responsibility for the Division’s international arbitration matters. Since 2013, all international arbitration cases filed in the Commercial Division—including those arising under CPLR Article 75 and the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.—had been assigned to Justice Ramos as part of an effort to establish a dedicated part specializing in the international arbitration field.
Non-Party to Arbitration Agreement Successfully Petitions the Commercial Division to Avoid Being Compelled to Join Arbitration
Arbitration is a matter of contract and, as such, non-parties generally cannot be compelled to arbitrate under agreements that they have not signed or agreed to. In IQVIA RDS Inc. v. Eisai Co. Ltd., the Commercial Division recently highlighted two exceptions to this general rule. Although the Court ultimately found neither exception to be applicable, the case raises important issues that merit attention.
On December 5, 2018, New York’s Chief Administrative Judge, Lawrence K. Marks, issued an administrative order amending Commercial Division Rule 3(a), which addresses alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”). This new amendment encourages opposing counsel to work together to select a mediator for commercial cases, including by consulting rosters of neutral mediators provided by Commercial Division courts.
Corporate Officer Escapes Corporate-Capacity Fraud Claims in Alleged Ponzi Scheme Case in Commercial Division
Coast-to-Coast-Energy-Inc-v-Ga.pdfIn corporate fraud suits, it is common for plaintiffs to file claims against executives in their capacity as corporate officers. However, to succeed on a corporate-capacity claim, a plaintiff must be able to show that the corporate veil should be pierced so as to hold an officer personally liable for the corporation’s legal obligations. This issue is illustrated by the Commercial Division’s recent decision in Coast to Coast Energy, Inc. v. Gasarch.
The arrival of the new year is a bittersweet time for the Commercial Division as it bids farewell to two of its most senior judges: Justice Charles E. Ramos and Justice Eileen Bransten. Notably, both will be staying on to serve the Court as Judicial Hearing Officers.
- Page 1 of 4