New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BIRNBAUM, M v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2008-039-074, Claim No. 114418, Motion No. M-74317


Synopsis


Defendant’s motion to dismiss the claim is granted. Claimants seek an order from the Court enforcing a closing agreement and directing defendant to accept 80% of the determined tax liability for various calendar years or, in the alternative, a determination by the Court that the parties entered into the closing agreement as a result of mutual mistake and that the agreement is therefore void ab initio. Since the nature of the relief sought is equitable, and the Court is without authority to direct a state officer to take action or to order relief in the nature of mandamus, the motion must be granted and the claim dismissed

Case Information

UID:
2008-039-074
Claimant(s):
MENASHE BIRNBAUM and MARGA BIRNBAUM
Claimant short name:
BIRNBAUM, M
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
114418
Motion number(s):
M-74317
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JAMES H. FERREIRA
Claimant’s attorney:
Cohen, Estis & Associates, LLPBy: Todd N. Robinson, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Jeane L. Strickland SmithAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
April 7, 2008
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

Claimants Menashe Birnbaum and Marga Birnbaum (hereinafter “claimants”) seek relief arising from a Closing Agreement (hereinafter “Agreement”) executed in March 2005 between claimants and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Claimants essentially contend that the Agreement, which resolved outstanding tax liabilities that accrued between 1995 and 1999, obligated them to only pay 80% of the determined tax liabilities for the years 2000 through 2003. Claimants contend further that this Agreement was breached via a letter dated August 27, 2007 from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which expressly rejected claimants’ interpretation of the Agreement relative to tax liabilities for the years 2000 through 2003. In their claim, claimants demand judgment “[e]nforcing the Closing Agreement, and directing the State to accept 80% of the determined tax liability for years 2000 through 2003 ... in full satisfaction of the claimants’ ... tax liabilities for years 2000 through 2003; [or] in the alternative ... a judgment that the parties entered into the Closing Agreement as a result of a mutual mistake and the same should be declared void ab initio.”

Defendant commenced the instant motion to dismiss dated December 5, 2007, pursuant to Court of Claims Act §§ 8 and 9 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, defendant avers that since the claim seeks equitable relief, the Court has no jurisdiction to entertain the claim. Claimants do not oppose the motion.

It is well settled that the Court of Claims, as a court of limited jurisdiction, has no jurisdiction to grant strictly equitable relief (Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d 759, 760 [2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 704 [2005]; Matter of Gebman v Pataki, 256 AD2d 854, 855 [1998] lv denied 93 NY2d 808 [1999]). Although the Court “may apply equitable considerations and perhaps, to some extent, may grant some sort of incidental equitable relief ... [the] court’s primary jurisdiction is limited to actions seeking money damages against the State in appropriation, contract or tort cases” (Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home v State of New York, 241 AD2d 670, 671 [1997] [citations omitted]; see also Psaty v Duryea, 282 App Div 94 [1953], affd 306 NY 413 [1954]). Thus, in examining whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction of a claim, a pivotal question is "[w]hether the essential nature of the claim is to recover money, or whether the monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim” (Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988]; see also Guy v State of New York, 18 AD3d 936 [2005]). Here, it is clear that the nature of the relief sought is equitable. No money damages are sought. Rather, claimants seek enforcement of the Agreement or a judgment that the Agreement is void on the ground of mutual mistake.
Moreover, since the Court has no jurisdiction to direct
a state officer to take action or to order relief in the nature of mandamus (see Matter of Silverman v Comptroller of State of N.Y.
,
40 AD2d 225 [1972]), asking the Court to enforce the Agreement and to direct defendant to accept 80% of the tax liability owed defendant for the years 2000 through 2003 is beyond the Court’s limited jurisdiction (see Amberge v State of New York, 186 AD2d 962 [1992]). Similarly, urging the Court to declare the Agreement void ab initio is a “ ‘quintessential example of a dispute governed under CPLR article 78 [citations omitted]’ and it is well settled that ‘[t]he Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction of a cause of action where the primary relief sought is obtainable in an article 78 proceeding, regardless of how a claimant characterizes his [or her] claim’ ” (Guy v State of New York, supra at 937 [citations omitted]). Therefore, under the circumstances herein, the Court is constrained to find that it has no subject matter jurisdiction of the claim.
Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that Motion No. M-74317 is granted and the claim is dismissed.
April 7, 2008
Albany, New York
HON. JAMES H. FERREIRA
Judge of the Court of Claims
Papers Considered
:
  1. Notice of Motion dated December 5, 2007; and
  2. Affirmation in Support of Motion to Dismiss by Jeane L. Strickland Smith, Esq., affirmed on December 5, 2007 with exhibits.