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Law & Mediation Office of Lewis S. Calderon

Successfully resolving family disputes for over 20 years

Successfully resolving family disputes for over 20 years

Successfully resolving family disputes for over 20 years

Can A Court Exceed Its Authority In Granting Summary Judgment?

| Jan 19, 2021 | Firm News |

I recently argued exactly that in support to my client’s appeal of Family Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) in an abuse and neglect matter.  In Matter of Tereza R. Docket 2020-07155 (2nd Dept.), ACS filed a motion in Family Court for summary judgment on its claim for sexual abuse against the mother’s boyfriend as a matter of collateral estoppel based upon his plea of guilty to endangering the welfare of a child.  Family Court denied summary judgment on the abuse claim, but it made a finding of neglect, finding that the respondent was collaterally estopped on the issue of neglect based upon his criminal conviction.  Family Court also rejected the respondent’s argument that the conviction was not based upon the same events plead in the petition where the petition alleged that the abuse occurred in the summer and the respondent plead to events that occurred between April and June.

Summary Judgment Is Limited to Issued Raised in the Motion.

On appeal, I argued that on a motion for summary judgment, the Court is limited to the issues or defenses that are the subject of the motion before the court.  Where the Court addresses arguments not raised by the moving party, the Court deprives the non-moving party of notice and opportunity to be heard which implicates the fundamental issue of fairness that is the cornerstone of due process.  I argued that ACS’ motion contained only one argument, i.e., that appellant’s conviction for endangering the welfare of a child provides collateral estoppel as to the issue of abuse as defined in Family Court Act §1012(e)(iii).  ACS never raised the argument that the conviction provided collateral estoppel for neglect under Family Court Act §1012(f)(i)(B), a distinct statute that has its own separate definition and requirements.  I argued that Family Court exceeded its authority in searching the record and making a finding of neglect pursuant to Family Court Act §1012(f)(i)(B) where there was no argument raised for such a finding.

Summary Judgment May Not Be Granted On Contested Facts.

In the alternative, I argued that Family Court erred in applying collateral estoppel effect to the criminal conviction where there was a discrepancy as to when the incidents allegedly occurred.  On a motion for summary judgment, the totality of the evidence should be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and the evidence should be accorded the benefit of every reasonable inference to that moving party.  I argued that Summary judgment is a drastic remedy that deprives a litigant of his or her day in court, and it should only be employed when there is no doubt as to the absence of triable issues.  The function of a court on a motion for summary judgment is not to resolve issues of fact or determine matters of credibility, but merely to determine whether such issues exist. Summary judgment should only be granted where there are no material and triable issues of fact, and the papers should be carefully scrutinized in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.  I argued that ACS’ summary judgment motion sought to invoke collateral estoppel and it is the party seeking to invoke collateral estoppel who bears the burden of establishing identity of issue.  I argued that Family Court erred in finding identity of issue as there was a discrepancy as to whether the incidents alleged in the petition that allegedly occurred in the summer of 2017 were the same incidents upon which appellant plead guilty to and which occurred sometime between April 19, 2017 and June 27, 2017.  On a motion for summary judgment, Family Court is not permitted to determine disputed factual issues especially where the Court is obligated to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party an accord the nonmoving party the benefit of every reasonable inference.

As this case demonstrates, the authority of a trial court is not unlimited when it comes to granting summary judgment and it is important to understand the appropriate standards in arguing whether summary judgment is appropriate.

The Law & Mediation Office of Lewis S. Calderon is available to discuss all your appellate needs and our office works with other law firms of counsel to assist in representing your clients, whether appealing an adverse decision or to defend against an appeal of a decision in your favor.

By:  Lewis S. Calderon of the Law & Mediation Office of Lewis S. Calderon.

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