A Tragic Outcome That Could Not Be Prevented
A child falls from the window. The window had no child-guards. The landlord is at fault. The law firms sue and get a judgment. The landlord sells the building and disappears. The money is hidden. is the attorney at fault?
Noel v. Law Off of Mark E. Feinberg, 2014 NY Slip Op 50516(U) Decided on March 31, 2014
Supreme Court, Kings County Schmidt, J. is an awful story. A landlord without insurance sells the buildings and successfully eludes a collection effort. What should the PI attorney have done? A lis pendens? Pre-judgment attachment? Sadly, NY law does not permit either.
"Plaintiff commenced this action seeking to recover damages for the alleged malpractice committed by defendants in the Personal Injury Action. Therein, plaintiffs sought to recover damages for injuries sustained by the infant plaintiff on July 12, 1997 when he fell out of a window that did not have proper and/or adequate window guards. Plaintiff alleges that in that action, defendants committed malpractice when they failed to obtain a pre-trial order of attachment for properties owned by Mr. George or to file a lis pendens against the properties. They allege that as the result of this malpractice and negligence on defendants' part, the judgment they obtained is can not be collected, since the properties owned by Mr. George were sold before the judgment was filed and immediately after the trial, Mr. George physically disappeared and cannot be located.
Plaintiff first retained the law firm of Jacoby & Meyers to bring the Personal Injury Action, but apparently due to the lack of liability insurance and general perception that Mr. George was insolvent, that firm did not actively prosecute the case. Accordingly, plaintiff retained defendants. On October 9, 1998, defendants filed a complaint on plaintiff's behalf in the Personal Injury Action. Defendants retained the firm of Weicholz, Monteleone, Peters & Studley (the Weicholz Firm) to act as trial counsel. Following a four day jury trial before the Honorable Gerald S. Held, the court rendered a directed verdict on the issue of liability and the jury rendered a verdict on the issue of damages in the amount of $500,000 for conscious pain and suffering and $1,500,000 for future conscious pain and suffering. The court accordingly entered a judgment in the amount of $2,010,545 on plaintiff's behalf.
Defendants then retained Michael T. Sucher, Esq., an experienced collections attorney, to enforce the judgment. Despite his efforts, he was unable to locate Mr. George or any assets belonging to him. Accordingly, plaintiff's judgment remains unsatisfied. "
"Pursuant to CPLR 6201(3), the only provision that could be applicable to the facts now before the court:
"An order of attachment may be granted in any action . . . where the plaintiff has demanded and would be entitled, in whole or in part, or in the alternative, to a money judgment against one or more defendants, when:
"[T]he defendant, with intent to defraud his creditors or frustrate the enforcement of a judgment that might be rendered in plaintiff's favor, has assigned, disposed of, encumbered or secreted property, or removed it from the state or is about to do any of these acts."
(see generally Crescentini v Slate Hill Biomass Energy, LLC, 113 AD3d 806 ; Corsi v Vroman, 37 AD3d 397 ). " Furthermore, the mere removal, assignment or other disposition of property is not grounds for attachment'" (Corsi, 37 AD3d at 397, quoting Computer Strategies v Commodore Bus. Machs., 105 AD2d 167, 173 ; accord Mitchell v Fidelity Borrowing LLC, 34 AD3d 366, 366-367 ).
As is also of particular relevance in the instant case, "[t]he moving papers must contain evidentiary facts, as opposed to conclusions, proving the fraud" (Benedict v Browne, 289 AD2d 433, 433 , citing Arzu v Arzu, 190 AD2d 87, 91 , Societe Generale Alsacienne De Banque, Zurich v Flemingdon Dev., 118 AD2d 769, 772 ; accord Laco X-Ray Sys. v Fingerhut, 88 AD2d 425, 429 , lv denied 88 AD2d 425  [fraud cannot be inferred; it must be proved]). It has also been held that " [t]he fact that the affidavits in support of an attachment contain allegations raising a suspicion [*6]of an intent to defraud is not enough'" (Mitchell, 34 AD3d at 366-367, quoting Rosenthal v Rochester Button Co., 148 AD2d 375, 376 ).
Applying these general principles of law to the facts of this case, defendants have made a prima facie showing that plaintiff could not have obtained a pre-judgment order of attachment in the Personal Injury Action. Plaintiff does not refute this showing. Most significantly, in support of his position, plaintiff relies solely upon the fact that Mr. George transferred his properties prior to entry of the judgment. As discussed above, the fact that a defendant transfers property, standing alone, is insufficient to establish fraud (see Mitchell, 34 AD3d at 366-367; Corsi, 37 AD3d at 397; Computer Strategies, 105 AD2d at 173). Plaintiff offers no other evidentiary basis upon which this court can find an intent to defraud on the part of Mr. George (see Benedict, 289 AD2d at 433, Societe Generale Alsacienne De Banque, Zurich, 118 AD2d at 772; Laco X-Ray Sys., 88 AD2d at 429). Thus, in the absence of raising a question of fact with regard to whether the court would have granted a pre-judgment attachment in the Personal Injury Action, it is irrelevant whether defendants made an oral application or submitted a motion on papers.
CPLR 6501 provides, in relevant part, that "[a] notice of pendency may be filed in any action in a court of the state or of the United States in which the judgment demanded would affect the title to, or the possession, use or enjoyment of, real property."
"[B]ecause of the powerful impact that this device has on the alienability of property,' together with the facility with which it may be obtained,' the courts have applied a narrow interpretation in reviewing whether an action is one affecting the title to, or the possession, use or enjoyment of, real property."
(Shkolnik v Krutoy, 32 AD3d 536, 537 , quoting 5303 Realty Corp. v O & Y Equity Corp., 64 NY2d 313, 315-316, 321 ). Thus, it is well settled that "[a] notice of pendency is not available where a plaintiff claims no right, title or interest in the property itself" (Long Island City Sav. & Loan Asso. v Gottlieb, 90 AD2d 766 , mod on other grounds 58 NY2d 931 ; see also Khanal v Sheldon, 55 AD3d 684, 686 , lv denied 12 NY3d 714  [notice of pendency should be cancelled where plaintiff asserted only a claim for money, not a right, title, or interest in the property itself]).
Applying these general principles of law to the facts of this case, defendants have also made a prima facie showing that plaintiff could not have obtained a pre-judgment order of attachment in the Personal Injury Action. Again, plaintiff does not refute this showing, since it is clear that plaintiff was seeking money damages in the Personal Injury Action, so that his action clearly did not "affect the title to, or the possession, use or enjoyment of, real property." Accordingly, plaintiff fails to establish that defendants were [*7]negligent in not filing a lis pendens in the Personal Injury Action. "