New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

ROMANO v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2009-042-519, Claim No. 111809, Motion No. M-76599


Synopsis


This is a motion brought by defendants for summary judgment dismissing the claim stating that the court lacks jurisdiction, there are no material issues of fact, the claim lacks merit and claimants have failed to join a necessary party as a co-claimant. Claimants oppose the motion stating there are issues of fact and there is not a missing necessary party. The court finds that it does lack subject matter jurisdiction over the claim and therefore there is no need to address defendants’ further argument that the claim lacks merit or that there is a missing necessary party. Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claim in granted.

Case Information

UID:
2009-042-519
Claimant(s):
F. EUGENE ROMANO, LINDA COHEN, SARAH COHEN AND DNRJR TRUST
Claimant short name:
ROMANO
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
111809
Motion number(s):
M-76599
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Claimant’s attorney:
BOND, SCHOENECK & KING, PLLCBy: BRODY D. SMITH, ESQ.
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: MICHAEL A. SIMS, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
November 2, 2009
City:
Utica
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The court has considered the following papers on defendant’s motion for summary judgment:

1. Notice of Motion, filed April 28, 2009
2. Affirmation of Michael A. Sims, Esq., dated April 28, 2009
3. Exhibits A - J, annexed to the moving papers
4. Exhibit K, three Appropriation Maps, submitted in support of the motion
5. Opposition affidavit of Brody D. Smith, Esq., sworn to June 24, 2009
6. Exhibits A - B, annexed to the Smith affidavit
7. Opposition affidavit of William F. Rivet, Jr., sworn to June 20, 2009
8. Exhibits A - B, annexed to the Rivet affidavit
9. Opposition affidavit of David G. Hollister, sworn to June 23, 2009
10. Reply affirmation of Michael A. Sims, Esq., dated July 8, 2009
11. Exhibits A - C, annexed to the reply affirmation


This matter comes before the Court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim. Defendant contends that (1) as a matter of law, the Court lacks jurisdiction over the claim, (2) there are no material issues of fact, and the claim lacks merit, and (3) claimants have failed to join a necessary party as a co-claimant. Claimants oppose the motion and contend that there are issues of fact and there is no missing necessary party.

As for the underlying action:
[t]he Claim is for a viable right-of-way or alternatively for monetary damages resulting from the elimination of a railroad grade crossing by the New York State Department of Transportation that denied the Claimants all access to their Property, thereby resulting in a taking of private property without just compensation in violation of the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 7 of the New York State Constitution.
(Paragraph 3, Claim, filed January 9, 2006).

The claim alleges that claimants are the owners of a parcel of land at the end of Watson Road in the Hamlet of Thendara, in the Town of Webb. The 3.8 acre parcel is bounded on one side by a railroad right-of-way and on the other side by the Moose River. Claimants seek access to the property through the court’s declaration of a right-of-way in their favor over the railroad property, which is owned by the defendant State of New York and administered by the New York State Department of Transportation (henceforth referred to as “DOT”). While claimants have alternative theories as to the legal basis of their right-of-way, it is undisputed by the parties that the claim arose on October 23, 2003 when Stephen Burgess, the DOT Manager for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corrider, denied claimants’ application for a private grade crossing.

COURT LACKS JURISDICTION

As noted above, the claim itself commences with the declaration, in its third paragraph, that the relief sought from the court is a “viable right-of-way”. Damages are a secondary request. Likewise, the “wherefore” clause of the claim again seeks, as the primary relief, the court’s declaration of a right-of-way in claimants’ favor; damages are sought as alternative relief.

The defendant contends that the causes of action alleged in the claim cannot properly be litigated in the Court of Claims - that the appropriate remedy for claimants was through an Article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court.

Any determination of this court that the DOT’s denial of the right-of-way was improper, or that the DOT improperly determined that any prior right-of-way had been extinguished, is in fact a review of the discretionary decision of an administrative agency.

The law is well-established that “[b]ecause suits against the State are allowed only by the State’s waiver of sovereign immunity and in derogation of the common law, statutory requirements conditioning suit must be strictly construed” (Dreger v New York State Thruway Auth., 81 NY2d 721, 724; Lichtenstein v State of New York, 93 NY2d 911).

All of claimants’ causes of action and alleged damages flow from the DOT October 23, 2003 decision denying the right-of-way application and/or refusing to acknowledge a right of passage pursuant to any alleged pre-existing right-of-way. The courts have consistently held that actions brought in the Court of Claims in similar matters are, in actuality, equitable actions seeking review of administrative determinations, even though the claims may be couched as ones solely for money damages (which is not the case here, where the primary relief sought is a review - and reversal - of an administrative determination). In Madura v State of New York, 12 AD3d 759 (3d Dept 2004), lv denied 4 NY3d 704, claimant sued in the Court of Claims on the grounds of breach of implied contract arising out of a decision by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to deny claimant’s application for grant money as an onion producer, rather than commencing an Article 78 proceeding.

The court held that:
[a]s a court of limited jurisdiction, the Court of Claims has no jurisdiction to grant strictly equitable relief (see Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home v State of New York, 241 AD2d 670, 671, [1997]; see also Psaty v Duryea, 306 NY 413, [1954]. Thus, in determining the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court of Claims, the threshold 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]). Here, we are compelled to conclude that claimant’s essential claim is equitable relief, namely, she is seeking annulment of an administrative agency’s discretionary determination relative to the disbursement of grant money. To prevail in obtaining any portion of this money, claimant would need to demonstrate that the Department of Agriculture and Markets erroneously interpreted Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 § 10106 as disqualifying any onion farmer no longer in business. This is a quintessential example of a dispute governed under CPLR article 78 (see CPLR 7803 [3], [4]; see also Safety Group No. 194 - N.Y. State Sheet Metal Roofing & A.C. Contrs. Assn. v State of New York, 298 AD2d 785, 750 [2002]).

(Madura v State of New York,
12 AD3d 759, 760 - 761 [3d Dept 2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 704).

That claimants characterize this action as one which also seeks monetary damages is not determinative; rather the issue is what this court must do in order to award monetary damages (XL-Care v New York State Department of Health, UID No. 2007-015-160, Claim No. NONE, Motion No. M-72547, March 21, 2007, Collins, J.).
The jurisdiction of the Court of Claims is invoked where money damages are the essential object of the claim, unlike an instance where the principal claim is equitable in nature (such as to annul an allegedly illegal agency determination), with monetary relief being incidental to the principal claim.

(Mayhew v State of New York, 15 Misc 3d 1129(A), 841 NYS2d 219, citing Harvard Fin. Servs. v State of New York, 266 AD2d 685 [3d Dept 1999]). Likewise, claimants assertions that this is the equitable equivalent of an appropriation claim, and is thus the sole province of the Court of Claims is not persuasive. Quite simply, this action is a review of an administrative determination; this is not an appropriation case (see, Matter of Island Park, LLC v New York State Dept. of Transp, 61 AD3d 1023 [3d Dept 2009]).

In sum, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. At its core, this is an equitable action, seeking to have the court review an administrative determination.

NYS DOT IS NOT A PROPER PARTY

The state also argues that “the Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain a claim against the New York State Department of Transportation” because it is an agency of the State, and not a separate legal entity, and the State has not consented to allow it to be sued as a separate legal entity. However, there is no allegation that the defendant State was not properly served with the claim. Since the DOT is a department of the State, for which the State is legally responsible, and defendant, on this motion, does not allege a lack of service upon the defendant State, the caption is amended, sua sponte, to name the only proper party, the State of New York.

CLAIM LACKS MERIT

Inasmuch as the Court lacks jurisdiction over this matter, as the matter is

properly the subject of an Article 78 proceeding, there is no need to address defendant’s further argument that the claim lacks merit.

FAILURE TO JOIN A NECESSARY PARTY

Likewise, the Court need not address defendant’s argument that the prospective buyer of the affected parcel of real property is a “necessary party” as this argument is moot as well. Nevertheless, the Court notes that it is in accord with the position of claimants that a prospective purchaser in an unconsummated real estate transfer, the deadlines for which have expired, is not a necessary party.

Defendant’s motion to dismiss the claim is granted on the ground that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim.



November 2, 2009
Utica, New York

HON. NORMAN I. SIEGEL
Judge of the Court of Claims