Order to Show Cause, Affidavit in Support 1,2
Correspondence dated July 17, 2000 from Thomas F. Shannon, Esq. 3
Following oral argument, this Court rendered its decision from the bench. This
decision and order confirms and memorializes that ruling.
This claim was filed January 21, 1999, and alleges acts of negligence,
recklessness, and carelessness by the State, resulting in the death of Jill
Catherine Cahill on October 28, 1998, when she was a patient at the State
University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse, New York. The Court
notes that an action arising out of the same set of facts has been commenced in
Supreme Court against the provider of security services at the Health Science
The Court was previously advised that depositions of certain State employees of
the Health Science Center, as well as an inspection of the center, were
scheduled for March, 2000. Shortly before they were to take place, the State
discovered a Certificate of Insurance indicating potential liability insurance
coverage for this claim. The State therefore requested an adjournment of the
scheduled depositions and inspection while it investigated the possible
insurance coverage, and claimant's counsel consented to the adjournment.
Several months later, this Court held a conference with counsel for the parties
to this claim on June 19, 2000. The Court issued a scheduling order following
this conference, dated June 27, 2000. Pursuant to the order, this Court
ordered, inter alia, that an inspection of the Health Science Center was
to be scheduled and conducted by August 1, 2000. Pursuant to this order, the
parties apparently scheduled such an inspection.
Prior to the inspection, defendant submitted to the Court the order to show
cause requesting a stay of all further proceedings in this claim pending a
determination of a declaratory judgment action being pursued in Onondaga County
Supreme Court. By this declaratory judgment action, the State seeks to
determine its rights under the aforesaid certificate of insurance, as the
insurance carrier has declined coverage for this claim under its policy. The
Attorney General argues that participation in the discovery process will
completely undermine the State's efforts in the declaratory judgment action.
Specifically, the Attorney General argues that if the State is compelled to
participate in discovery, undertake the inspection of the facility, and conduct
depositions in this claim at this time, such actions will automatically create a
defense for the insurance carrier in the declaratory judgment action, which will
argue that the rights of the carrier have been prejudiced by the Attorney
General undertaking the defense of this claim.
Furthermore, the Attorney General argues that claimant has been afforded a full
and fair opportunity to conduct discovery within the context of the separate
Supreme Court case against the provider of security services, and therefore
claimant will not be prejudiced by any stay of discovery in this claim.
CPLR § 2201 provides that a court "may grant a stay of proceedings in a
proper case, upon such terms as may be just." A decision on granting a stay is
discretionary with the Court, and involves a balancing of the interests of the
parties. A Court should consider such factors as the potential length of a
stay, whether discovery is inevitable in any event, and the potential prejudice
to each party.
In this claim, the Court finds that the claimant would be more severely
prejudiced by a stay than the State would be if it is required to proceed
without the stay. The arguments of the Attorney General are based upon a
potential prejudice to the State that may possibly be raised as an issue in the
declaratory judgment action. However, if the Court were to grant a stay of
proceedings in this claim, the prejudice to the claimant would be very real,
resulting in an undetermined but extended delay in the discovery process.
It has been approximately 18 months since this claim was filed, and depositions
of State witnesses, as well as the inspection of the Health Science Center
facility, must still be scheduled and completed. Further delay in such
proceedings could very well jeopardize the claimant's ability to prosecute this
claim, due to the unavailability of witnesses, as well as their loss of memory
regarding the facts of this incident. In fact, it was explained to the Court
that certain of these witnesses have since left State employment, creating
additional difficulties in locating these witnesses and securing their
After due and careful consideration, the Court therefore finds and concludes
that a stay of all proceedings in this claim should not be granted.
Based on the above, it is hereby
ORDERED, that Motion No. M-61978 is hereby DENIED; and it is further
ORDERED, that pursuant to the request for an extension of time to complete the
inspection of the Health Science Center, made by the Attorney General at oral
argument, the parties shall have until August 8, 2000, to schedule and complete
said inspection; and it is further
ORDERED, that in all other aspects, the scheduling order dated June 27, 2000,
shall remain in full force and effect.