New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BEAUMONT v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-018-332, Claim No. 105155, Motion No. M-68483


Synopsis


Claimant's motion to withdraw Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal and Order is DENIED.

Case Information

UID:
2004-018-332
Claimant(s):
BRIAN BEAUMONT
Claimant short name:
BEAUMONT
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
105155
Motion number(s):
M-68483
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Claimant's attorney:
ALEXANDER & CATALANO, LLCBy: James L. Alexander, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Roger B. Williams, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
September 22, 2004
City:
Syracuse
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant's counsel brings a motion seeking an order relieving Claimant from the terms ofa Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal and permitting his claim to be reactivated. Defendant opposes the motion.

In a claim asserting catastrophic injuries, it is alleged that the State was negligent in the maintenance of the roadway and signage on Connors Road, located in the Town of Van Buren and intersecting with State Route 31. Claimant alleges that the State owns, controls, and is responsible for the maintenance on the Connors Road approach to State Route 31, where overgrowth of the foliage on Connors Road obscured a stop sign, or stop ahead sign. This led to the collision of a Federal Express truck, which failed to stop or yield to Claimant's on-coming motorcycle traveling on State Route 31 on July 20, 2001. A notice of intention was served on the Attorney General on August 13, 2001, and the claim was filed on November 2, 2001. A verified answer with discovery demands was served and filed on December 11, 2001. On March 26, 2002, a preliminary conference was held which included a schedule for discovery. Claimant also commenced an action against the driver of the Federal Express truck, Michael P. Smyth, Federal Express, and the Town of Van Buren in Supreme Court.

On March 28, 2002, the parties herein entered into a Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal, in sum dismissing the Court of Claims action pending a final resolution of the Supreme Court action, and allowing Claimant, after the conclusion of the Supreme Court case, to reactivate the Court of Claims action by taking certain specified actions. The stipulation permits discovery to proceed and stipulates to the Court retaining jurisdiction for purposes of securing and scheduling disclosure. The stipulation was "So Ordered" on June 5, 2002 and filed on July 5, 2002.

On March 17, 2004, this Court received a letter from Claimant's counsel, requesting a conference due to a dilemma that had arisen during settlement negotiations between the parties in the Supreme Court case. The Court held a conference with counsel, in an effort to discuss procedural options and assess whether a settlement of the cases, both the Supreme Court action and the Court of Claims action, could be obtained or an agreement could be reached to reactivate the claim. The cases were not settled and the issue of the Court's ability to "reactivate" the claim with the outstanding Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal in place was raised, prompting this motion.

Claimant's counsel, by this motion, requests that this Court "order that the previous Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal and Order be lifted and the Claimant's claim reactivated." As Claimant's motion papers present, the difficulty that has arisen stems from General Obligations Law § 15-108, and the jurisdictionally required different venues for suit against the State and the Defendants in the Supreme Court action. General Obligations Law § 15-108 precludes a tortfeasor who has settled a claim and obtained his own release from liability from seeking contribution from any other person. As a result, Federal Express, a Defendant in the Supreme Court action, refuses to settle the Claimant's Supreme Court action and give up its right to seek contribution from the State in the Court of Claims. The State, Claimant's counsel argues, refuses to participate in settlement discussions because the Claimant's Court of Claims case has been dismissed, albeit conditionally, and is not ripe for reactivation pursuant to the terms of the stipulation. Thus, Claimant's counsel perceives that the State will not pursue the channels for settlement of a case that, at this time, is no longer pending.

Defendant, in its responding papers, points out that the Court lacks the ability to open or vacate a stipulation executed by the parties and reduced to a Court Order, absent proof of one of the grounds for invalidating a contract. Moreover, the State argues that its liability is legitimately in issue and settlement is "far from a foregone conclusion" even if the Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal is vacated.

After reviewing the case law, the Court finds that absent an agreement by the parties, under these circumstances it has no discretion to "lift" the Stipulation of Conditional Dismissal. A party will not be relieved from the terms of a stipulation made during the course of litigation unless grounds to invalidate a contract can be shown, such as fraud, collusion, mistake or accident (see Newman v Holland, 178 AD2d 866; Matter of Garson, 191 AD2d 562; see also Johnson v State of New York, 256 AD2d 1179; Pline v State of New York, 198 AD2d 753). No such showing has been made here.

As a result, Claimant's motion must be denied.


September 22, 2004
Syracuse, New York

HON. DIANE L. FITZPATRICK
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court has considered the following documents in deciding this motion:


Notice of Motion.........................................................................................................1


Affirmation of James L. Alexander, Esquire, in support, with attachment................2


Affirmation of Roger B. Williams, Esquire, Assistant Attorney General,

in opposition....................................................................................................3


Responding Affirmation of James L. Alexander, Esquire, in support.........................4