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
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
As a result, Claimant's motion must be denied.
The Court has considered the following documents in deciding this motion:
Affirmation of James L. Alexander, Esquire, in support, with
Affirmation of Roger B. Williams, Esquire, Assistant Attorney General,
Responding Affirmation of James L. Alexander, Esquire, in