As New York courts reopen and the mandatory stay-at-home order is lifted, what remains unclear is how the numerous Executive Orders issued by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo during the COVID-19 pandemic will affect individuals and businesses who, based on the economic effects of the crisis, may no longer be able to abide by previously issued court orders.

In a recent decision, Justice Lawrence Knipel addressed one of likely many present-day contractual issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 538 Morgan Avenue Properties et al., v. 538 Morgan Realty LLC et al., Plaintiffs entered into a business sales contract with Defendants in 2015 whereby Plaintiff NY Stone purchased Defendant SD’s business.  At the same time, the parties entered into a separate real estate sales contract whereby Plaintiff 538 Morgan Avenue Properties purchased from Defendant the real property where SD’s business was located.  While Plaintiffs continued to make payments to Defendants under the contracts for the business and real property, Defendants cancelled the real estate contract, asserting a material breach by Plaintiffs based on their failure to pay a certain amount by the contract’s “as of date.”  In turn, Plaintiffs brought this action for breach of contract, claiming that all payments were made within a reasonable time and Defendants were in breach when they cancelled the real estate contract.

In 2017, the Court issued an order granting Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from interfering with their tenancy at the property under the condition that Plaintiffs pay a monthly use and occupancy fee in the amount of $22,986 along with a filing of an undertaking fee of $80,000.

Shortly before New York’s stay-at-home order was lifted in June 2020, Plaintiffs moved for an order modifying the preliminary injunction issued in the case concerning the use and occupancy payments due in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

In New York, although a landlord can recover use and occupancy costs for the reasonable value of the premises and use of those premises, the Court, ultimately, has broad discretion in awarding use and occupancy during the pendency of an action or proceeding (43rd St. Deli, Inc. v. Paramount Leasehold, L.P.).  When awarding use and occupancy, the Court takes into account the actual value of the property, whatever restrictions apply because of agreements between the parties, governmental decrees, and other factors (438 W. 19th St. Operating Corp. v. Metropolitan Oldsmobile, Inc.).

Here, to persuade the Court to modify the existing monthly use and occupancy payments due in light of the COVID-19 crisis, Plaintiff NY Stone argued that because it operates a stone fabrication store, which requires work to be done in person, the business was negatively affected by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the Governor’s signing of numerous executive orders, including Executive Order 202.8, which forced Plaintiffs to first decrease their workforce and then completely forbid any of their employees from working on-site.  Accordingly, Plaintiffs asked the Court to waive any use and occupancy payments for the period from March 22, 2020 until such time as Plaintiffs are legally permitted to resume business operations.

Interestingly, Executive Order 202.8 (which Plaintiffs relied on in their motion) only prohibited “enforcement of either an eviction of any tenant residential or commercial, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for a period of ninety days.”  The Executive Order, however, had no bearing on a commercial tenant’s obligations to pay rent nor did it mention forgiveness of a commercial tenant’s debt owed.

The Court recognized that because the Executive Order at issue was silent on use and occupancy fees, the Court had the power to modify use and occupancy upon a proper showing, leaving room for the possibility that a tenant’s use and occupancy could be modified or completely forgiven.

However, the Court, ultimately, denied Plaintiffs’ request for modification as Plaintiffs in this case failed to bring forth any competent evidence in the form of financial documentation or an accountant’s affidavit with supporting evidence to demonstrate that Plaintiffs could not actually pay for use and occupancy for the months during which they could not operate on-site.

Takeaway:  Courts have deference in issuing and modifying some court orders.  Even so, attorneys must make every effort to prove with the necessary evidence why a previously issued court order is entitled to and worthy of modification.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread impact on litigation, with some courts and most cases coming to a screeching halt.  Some courts have responded with Orders or rules (Massachusetts Sup. Jud. Ct. Order OE-144 [March 20, 2020]; Wisconsin S. Ct. Order [March 25, 2020]; Florida S. Ct., No. AOSC20-16 [March 18, 2020]), while others have not, leaving the practitioner to determine the logistics under existing procedural rules and whatever Executive or Administrative Orders are in place.

As of this writing, we thought it might be helpful to provide the landscape in the state and federal courts in New York, and the impact, if any, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.7 may have.  We also provide links to helpful resources as you near your first virtual deposition.  We intend to update this as the landscape changes.

New York Law on Remote Depositions

New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) 3113(b) mandates that an “officer” put the deponent under oath. The officer, or someone acting under the direction of the officer, must record the testimony.  Typically, a notary public or a stenographer serves the function of an officer who then records the testimony.

Pursuant to CPLR 3113(d), the officer administering the oath and transcribing the testimony must be physically present at the location where the deponent is testifying. Put simply, the statute does not permit the officer to be at a remote location and accessible by telephone. The rationale makes sense:  the officer who swears in the witness must have proof that the person before them is the actual witness.  SIgnifciantly, however, the statute allows the parties to stipulate otherwise (CPLR 3113[d]; In re Estate of Smith, 29 Misc 3d 832, 834 [Sur Ct 2010] [The court notes that “unless otherwise stipulated to by parties, the officer administering the oath shall be physically present at the place of the deposition”]). CPLR 3113(d), in part, states that “[u]nless otherwise stipulated to by the parties, the officer administering the oath shall be physically present at the place of the deposition and the additional costs of conducting the deposition by telephonic or other remote electronic means, such as telephone charges, shall be borne by the party requesting that the deposition be conducted by such means.”  In Washington v Montefiore Hospital et al., the Third Department held that because the court reporter who administered the oath was not present in the deponent’s office during his testimony, and rather, was present by telephone, the deposition was not conducted in accordance with CPLR 3113. However, there, the Court held that because there was no objection to the manner in which the oath was administered, thus preventing any correction of defect, the objection was waived (see Matter of Washington v Montefiore Hosp., 7 AD3d 945, 948 [3d Dept 2004]).

The rule further provides,that the testimony can be recorded by “stenographic or other means.” Indeed, CPLR 3113(d) permits the parties to “stipulate that a deposition be taken by telephone or other remote electronic means and that a party may participate electronically.” The stipulation must be agreed to by all the parties to a litigation and must detail 1) the method of recording; 2) the use of exhibits; and 3) who must and may be physically present.

Federal Law on Remote Depositions

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 30(b)(4), “the parties may stipulate – or the court may on motion order – that a deposition be taken by telephone or other remote means.” In other words, under federal law, the court can order that a deposition be taken by telephone or other remote electronic means even in the absence of an agreement between the parties (Fed R Civ P 30[b][4]). Rule 30(b)(3) further states that testimony may be recorded by “audio, audiovisual, or stenographic means” and that the party who notices the deposition bears the recording costs.  In addition, any party can arrange to have the deposition testimony transcribed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has even caused certain federal judges to temporarily supplement their individual rules to permit all depositions to be taken by remote means, including telephone and videoconference (see Judge Lewis J. Liman’s COVID-19 Emergency Individual Practices in Civil and Criminal Cases).  The rule also provides that “[f]or avoidance of doubt, a deposition will be deemed to have been conducted “before” an officer so long as that officer attends the deposition via the same remote means (e.g., telephone conference call or video conference) used to connect all other remote participants, and so long as all participants (including the officer) can clearly hear and be heard by all other participants” (see id.).

Rule 30(b)(5) states that, unless the parties stipulate otherwise, the “deposition must be conducted before an officer appointed or designated under FRCP 28 (Nowlin v Lusk, 2014 WL 298155, at *5 [WD NY Jan. 28, 2014]).  Under FRCP 28, the deposition must be taken before either: 1) an officer authorized by federal law or by the law in the place of examination to administer oaths; or 2) a person appointed by the court where the action is pending. Rule 28 defines “officer” as a “person appointed by the court under this rule or designated by the parties under Rule 29(a).”  Notably, under FRCP 29(a), the parties can stipulate that “a deposition may be taken before any person, at any time or place, on any notice, and in the manner specified – in which event it may be used in the same way as any other deposition.” Put simply, the parties can stipulate that remote video depositions will be conducted by a person who is not a notary. The stipulation can also address the remote participation of the officer. The Rule does not require the parties to obtain the court’s approval of these stipulations. However, it is important to note that local rules can require approval for these stipulations.  Therefore, it is critical to consult both the Local Rules of the operative District Court, and the Individual Rules of the assigned Magistrate and Article III Judge.

Although the parties can stipulate otherwise, federal courts have held that a deposition is deemed to have been conducted before an officer if that officer “attends the deposition via the same remote means (e.g., telephone conference call or video conference) used to connect all other remote parties, and so long as all participants (including the officer) can clearly hear and be heard by all other participants)” (see Sinceno v Riverside Church in City of New York, 2020 WL 1302053, at *1 [SD NY Mar. 18, 2020] [permitting all depositions to be taken by telephone, video conference, or other remote means in light of the COVID-19 pandemic]).

In sum, federal law, unlike New York State law, does not require the physical presence of the officer in the same location as the deponent.

Executive Order 202.7 and Depositions

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 19, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.7 (“EO”), which suspended until April 18, 2020 the rule requiring the physical appearance of a notary public for the signing of documents.  To date, it is unclear whether the suspension will be extended. It is also not clear what impact, if any, the EO has on CPLR 3113’s physical presence requirement.  The EO addresses the witnessing of document signings, not the administration of oaths at depositions. Specifically, Executive Order 202.7 permits notary services to be performed by video provided the following conditions are met:

  • The person seeking the Notary’s services, if not personally known to the Notary, must present valid photo ID to the Notary during the video conference, not merely transmit it prior to or after;
  • The video conference must allow for direct interaction between the person seeking the Notary’s services and the Notary (g., no pre-recorded videos of the person signing);
  • The person seeking the Notary’s services must affirmatively represent that he or she is physically situated in the State of New York;
  • The person seeking the Notary’s services must transmit by fax or electronic means a legible copy of the signed document directly to the Notary on the same date it was signed;
  • The Notary may notarize the transmitted copy of the document and transmit the same back to the person seeking the Notary’s services; and
  • The Notary may repeat the notarization of the original signed document as of the date of execution provided the Notary receives such original signed document together with the electronically notarized copy within thirty days after the date of execution.

The New York Department of State has issued guidance to notaries regarding Executive Order 202.7.  Below are the additional considerations for notaries:

  • Notaries public using audio-video technology must continue to follow existing requirements for notarizations that were unaltered by the Executive Order. This includes, but is not limited to, placing the notary’s expiration date and county where the notary is commissioned upon the document.
  • If the notary and signatory are in different counties, the notary should indicate on the document the county where each person is located.
  • An electronically transmitted document sent to the notary can be sent in any electronic format (e.g., PDF, JPEG, TIFF), provided it is a legible copy.
  • The notary must print and sign the document, in ink, and may not use an electronic signature to officiate the document.
  • The signatory may use an electronic signature, provided the document can be signed electronically under the Electronic Signatures and Records Act (Article 3 of the State Technology Law). If the signer uses an electronic signature, the notary must witness the electronic signature being applied to the document, as required under Executive Order 202.7.
  • The Executive Order does not authorize other officials to administer oaths or to take acknowledgments, and only applies to notary publics commissioned by the Secretary of State’s office.
  • Following remote notarization, if the notary receives the original document within 30 days, the notary may notarize the document again (i.e., physically affixing a notary stamp and hand signing the document) using the original remote notary date.
  • Additionally, when performing remote notarization pursuant to this Executive Order, the Department recommends the following best practices. (However, not following these two recommendations will not invalidate the act or be cause for discipline):
    • Keep a notary log of each remote notarization;
    • Indicate on the document that the notarization was made pursuant to Executive Order 202.7.

Some Helpful Links and Advice From Court Reporters

So what are court reporters doing in light of the pandemic?  Adapting of course!  Many are offering free virtual or on-line demonstrations of how to conduct a remote deposition, or helpful  information on how the depositions would proceed.  Some examples can be found at Enright, Veritext or Bee Reporting, to name a few.  You might want to share these “tutorials” with your witness or clients so they understand the process before “taking the stand”.

 

 

To be sure, much has been reported on here at New York Commercial Division Practice concerning Commercial Division innovation — including in the areas of courtroom technology and, more recently, in adapting to the “new norm” of virtual practice in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  As we observed a few months back, the virtual practice of law in the Commercial Division is becoming more real than virtual.  A recent amendment to the Commercial Division Rules over the summer, particularly to Commercial Division Rule 1 (“Appearance by Counsel with Knowledge and Authority”), has arguably furthered the cause by expressly allowing lawyers to request permission from the court to appear remotely by videoconference.

ComDiv Rule 1 is your basic “Be Prepared!” reminder when practicing in the Commercial Division.  It specifically requires lawyers appearing before ComDiv judges to be “fully familiar” with their cases; “fully authorized” to enter into agreements; “sufficiently versed” in e-discovery matters; and promptly “on time” for scheduled appearances.  As of July 15, 2020, Rule 1 now also provides at subsection (d) that:

Counsel may request the court’s permission to participate in court conferences and oral arguments of motions from remote locations through use of videoconferencing or other technologies. Such requests will be granted in the court’s discretion for good cause shown; however, nothing contained in this subsection (d) is intended to limit any rights which counsel may otherwise have to participate in court proceedings by appearing in person.

The language of Rule 1’s new subsection is both permissive and discretionary.  As the Commercial Division Advisory Council noted in its memorandum setting forth the reasons for the amendment, “Rule 1 enables any lawyer to decline to participate from remote locations … [and is not] intended to limit any rights which counsel may otherwise have … by appearing in court.”  As noted by the Council, “many lawyers feel that to serve their clients effectively, they must be able to make their presentations in person and see the judge in order to gauge his or her reactions to the arguments presented.”  The use of the permissive “may” in the new provision addresses that concern, among others.

The use of the phrase “in the court’s discretion” likewise addresses common concerns from the bench, including but not limited to the ability to “control overbearing or other inappropriate behavior by counsel more readily and more effectively by visual cues or otherwise.”  That said, the Advisory Council’s memo made specific reference to a videoconferencing survey circulated some years back among federal appeals judges in which the majority of the judges “indicated no difference in their understanding of the legal issues in arguments that were video-conferenced versus those that were not.”  After all, as the Council observed, “videoconferencing can replicate the experience of talking to a real person across the table, will all the nuances and body language that in-person conversations would convey.”

Notably, the amendment is limited to “court conferences and oral argument of motions and … not intended to address the more complex subject of testimony by witnesses at trials or other evidentiary hearings.”

Having been sent out for public comment over a year ago, there understandably is no mention of COVID-19 in the Advisory Council’s rationale for the amendment, which instead focused on efficiency and “obviat[ing] huge amounts of wasted time and money devoted to unnecessary travel by lawyers.”  Here’s the money quote (literally) from the Council on the topic:

A lawyer who travels from White Plains to Albany County to participate in a status conference will require a minimum of four hours of travel time and will incur out-of-pocket disbursements for travel by train or automobile. If that lawyer bills $600 per hour, the cost of the travel to the lawyer’s client would be $2,400 in attorney’s fees plus another $100 in disbursements.

In other words, a Westchester-based client may soon be pleasantly surprised to find a “.5” rather than a “5.5” next to a billing entry that says, “Travel to/from Albany County Supreme for status conference before Platkin, J.”

In short, there is much in the way of practical wisdom behind the new amendment to ComDiv Rule 1, even without consideration of the novel circumstances we’ve all been navigating over the last six months.  Add a pandemic to the mix, and the amendment couldn’t have come to us at a more perfect time.

At this point, after nearly three months of practicing law virtually from home, I think it’s fair to say that what was once novel and experimental has become a kind of new norm for the future.

Sure, state courts in New York, including the Commercial Division, have been returning slowly-but-surely to in-person operations over the last couple weeks, particularly upstate where Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, Buffalo, and the surrounding counties officially have entered Phase II of Governor Cuomo’s reopening protocols.

But make no mistake, as long as health and safety remain the priorities — and as well they should — physical interaction in the courthouse will continue to be minimized while virtual interaction is maximized.  As Chief Judge Janet DiFiore remarked earlier this week:

As we progress toward fuller in-person court operations across the State, our foremost priority remains protecting the health and safety of all those who work in and visit our court facilities.

As it stands, only essential family matters will be conducted in-person.  Criminal, juvenile-delinquency, and mental-hygiene proceedings, as well as all other “non-essential” matters, will continue to be held virtually.  Mediation and all other ADR proceedings also will continue to be conducted virtually.

No strangers to technological innovation, Commercial Division judges around the state have been embracing the new virtual norm with optimism, if not enthusiasm.  A few weeks ago, on May 11, NYSBA’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section sponsored a “Virtual Town Hall” discussion via Zoom during which Commercial Division Justices Saliann Scarpulla (NY County), Timothy Driscoll (Nassau County), and Deborah Karalunas (Onondaga County) reported on the status of litigating in the Commercial Division during COVID-19 and the methods being employed to move their cases forward.  Here are some highlights on a just a few topics from the program:

  • The Transition to Virtual Proceedings Generally.  The move to virtual courtroom practice, along with all the associated technology (primarily Skype for Business), will require much patience on the part of the bench and bar alike.  Expect some bumps in the road and be prepared to deal with them cooperatively.  Judges are welcoming and even encouraging lawyer input.  Everyone needs to be sensitive to the reality of a general unwillingness to get back to the courthouse on the part of judges and other court staff.
  • Virtual Evidentiary Hearings.  Judges for the most part are encouraging virtual evidentiary hearings and, for those that have conducted them, are finding that they proceed fairly seamlessly.  Managing exhibits remains a challenge, however, especially for document-intensive cases involving lengthy contracts, etc.  Again, patience and cooperation is required.
  • Settlement and ADR.  Judges across the board actively (and successfully) are encouraging parties to settle their cases through court settlement conferences and/or the court’s mediation/ADR programs.  Specifically, Justice Scarpulla has been encouraging settlement by reminding lawyers that their clients should not expect to receive a trial date any time soon.  Justice Driscoll personally has been conducting three-room Skype settlement conferences.  And Justice Karalunas has been emailing lawyers directly, encouraging them to resolve their cases by settlement conference or mediation.

Next week, on June 8, the Business & Commercial Law Committee of the Westchester County Bar Association will be presenting a similar program entitled “Litigating in the Westchester Commercial Division During COVID-19:  A Virtual Town Hall Discussion.”  Westchester Commercial Division Justices Linda Jamieson and Gretchen Walsh will be on hand to address questions concerning, among other topics, the virtual practices and procedures being implemented in their courtrooms, upticks in ADR and settlement, and the recently-instituted gradual reopening of the courthouse on Martin Luther King Boulevard in White Plains.  Register for the program here and join us for the discussion!

With global commerce massively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, post-pandemic litigation will undoubtedly result in a rise of interstate depositions and discovery. In turn, litigants engaged in actions pending outside of New York State will seek depositions and discovery from individuals and businesses residing in New York. As a result, New York attorneys will likely be asked to provide guidance or even be retained to assist litigants in these endeavors. This blog post provides readers with a primer on the procedures for obtaining depositions and discovery in New York pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Deposition and Discovery Act found in New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) § 3119 (the “Act”).

The following scenario illustrates the utility of the Act: AB, a plaintiff engaged in an action against CD pending in California, realizes during the course of discovery in the California action that CD’s accountant, EF, is in possession of CD’s records relevant to AB’s prosecution of the California action. The problem is EF is a resident of New York and AB does not have jurisdiction over EF in California. How can AB obtain CD’s records from EF and EF’s deposition in New York?

The Act allows AB or AB’s attorneys to obtain an “out-of-state” subpoena—California subpoena—“issued under authority of a court of record of a state other than this state” (CPLR 3119 [a] [1]; Patrick M. Connors, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, C3119:2 [2018]). Thereafter, AB must then submit the California subpoena to the county clerk in the county in which discovery is sought, typically, the county in New York where EF resides or has its principal office (CPLR 3119 [b] [3]; CPLR 503). The county clerk will then issue a New York subpoena (hereinafter, the “subpoena”) to be served on EF in New York (CPLR 3119 [b] [2]). Alternatively, AB can retain a New York licensed attorney to issue the subpoena without the need to involve the county clerk or courts (CPLR 3119 [b] [4]). AB must provide the New York attorney with either an original or a true copy of the out-of-state subpoena (CPLR 3119 [b] [4]).

Under CPLR 3119, the subpoena requires a person (defined in the statute as “an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, limited liability company, association, joint venture, public corporation, government, or governmental subdivision, agency or instrumentality, or any other legal or commercial entity”) to “attend and give testimony at a deposition;” “produce and permit inspection and copying of designated books, documents, records, electronically stored information, or tangible things in the possession, custody or control of the person;” or “permit inspection of premises under the control of the person” (CPLR 3119 [a] [2] and [a] [4] [i]-[3]; see also CPLR 3119 [d] [noting that CPLR 2303, 2305, 2306, 2307, and 2308 apply to subpoenas issued under CPLR 3119 [b]).

The New York subpoena must: “(i) incorporate the [same] terms used in the out-of-state subpoena” and “(ii) contain or be accompanied by the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all counsel of record in the proceeding to which the subpoena relates and of any party not represented by counsel” (CPLR 3119 [b] [3]).

Once issued, AB or AB’s New York attorney must serve the subpoena in accordance with CPLR 2302 (i.e., cause the subpoena to be issued with or without a court order) and CPLR 2303 (i.e., serve the subpoena in the same manner as a summons and pay in advance a witness fee for travel and attendance) (CPLR 3119 [c]).

Since there is no action or proceeding pending before any court in New York, a proceeding related to the subpoena (e.g., for protective orders or to enforce, quash or modify the subpoena) must be brought as special proceedings in the supreme court in the county where the subpoena is returnable (CPLR 3119 [e]).

In this regard, if EF fails to comply with the subpoena issued by the county clerk or a New York attorney (a non-judicial subpoena), AB can commence a special proceeding to enforce the subpoena and compel EF’s compliance pursuant to Art. 4 of the CPLR (CPLR 3119 [e]; CPLR 2308 [b] [disobedience of non-judicial subpoena]; Margulis v Zlochiver, No. 155201/2019 [Sup Ct, New York County Nov. 20, 2019] [ordering the appearance of a witness for an examination before trial “previously duly noticed . . . pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Deposition and Discovery Act and CPLR § 3119, and [to] have copies of records material to his testimony”). Likewise, if EF believes that it has grounds to seek a protective order, EF can commence a proceeding to quash or modify the subpoena (CPLR 3119 [e]; CPLR 2304). A special proceeding is commenced by filing a petition either on Notice of Petition or by Order to Show Cause (CPLR 402 and 403).

Be aware that failing to strictly comply with CPLR 3119 and the laws of New York can result in the court denying an application to compel compliance with the subpoena or for a protective order (Matter of Boyarsky, No. 53667/2014 [Sup Ct, Westchester County May 9, 2014] [denying an application for order compelling production of documents where no evidence exists that the subpoena was “issued under authority of the court of record in Massachusetts”]; Hyatt v State Franchise Tax Bd., 105 AD3d 186, 194 [2d Dept 2013] [New York law on attorney-client privilege applies on a motion for a protective order]).

Moreover, an out-of-state party cannot use a subpoena to go on a fishing expedition but only to “compel the production of specific documents that are relevant and material to the factual issues in a pending proceeding” (Matter of Home Box Office Inc. v Laster, No. 153946/2019 [Sup Ct, New York County Jun. 5, 2019] [granting motion to quash out-of-state Florida subpoena in its entirety] citing Mestel & Co., Inc. v Smythe Masterson & Judd, Inc., 215 AD2d 329 [1st Dept 1995]; Hyatt v State Franchise Tax Bd., 105 AD3d at 200-201 [citing the Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Civil Practice: “The Act recognizes that the discovery state has a significant interest in protecting its residents who become non-party witnesses in an action pending in another jurisdiction from unreasonable or burdensome discovery requests.”] [citation omitted]).

Lastly, remember that CPLR 3119 only “provides a mechanism for disclosure in New York for use in an action that is pending in another state . . . , not the other way around” (see, e.g., Lerner v Newmark & Co. Real Estate, Inc., 178 AD3d 418 [1st Dept Dec. 5, 2019] citing Matter of 91 St. Crane Collapse Litig., 159 AD3d 511, 512 [1st Dept 2018]). In the latter case, CPLR 3108 controls in instances when the other state does not have a similar Uniform Depositions and Discovery Act (see Genesis Merchant Partners, LP v Gilbride, Tusa, Last & Spellane LLC, No. 653145/2014 [Sup Ct, New York County Feb. 23, 2020] [issuing a commission pursuant to CPLR 3108 for information via deposition in Connecticut] citing Wiseman v American Motors Sales Corp., 103 AD2d 230, 235 [1st Dept 1984]).

A few weeks back, my colleague Chris Clarke reported on the response of the New York court system to the commercial chaos arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the court system generally, the Appellate Division, and of course, the Commercial Division.

Among other developments, Chris’s post highlighted Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks’s March 15 statewide Memorandum — which postponed until further notice all “non-essential” court functions as part of a “continuing and evolving effort to assure the operation of the courts in the safest possible manner for the public and our employees in this time of medical emergency” — as well as his March 19 Administrative Order — which “strongly discouraged” in-person litigation or other actions “inconsistent with prevailing health and safety directives relating to the coronavirus health emergency.”

Recent decisions throughout the state, including in New York County, suggest that courts are adhering to these directives, particularly as it relates to discovery.

For example, the day after Judge Marks’s Administrative Order, the Supreme Court in Brielmeier v Legacy Yards Tenany, LLC granted a motion to compel a post-Note of Issue IME and allowed the parties to further adjourn the IME — already more than two years delinquent due to “law office failure” — by an additional 60 days “if the IME cannot be conducted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A week later, in Galas v. Thor 1231 Third Ave. LLC, New York County Supreme denied a pre-mature motion for summary judgment and directed the parties to proceed with depositions — with the caveat that “to the extent that the parties are unable to conduct their depositions as scheduled in their last conference order due to the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis, they may reschedule them at the next conference.”

Elsewhere around Foley Square, certain SDNY judges have developed standing orders dealing with the crisis that are being adopted and issued in dozens of cases across the board.

For example, District Judge Lewis J. Liman , as well as Magistrate Judges Katherine H. Parker and Barbara Moses — in light of the federal government’s ongoing efforts “to minimize person-to-person contact” — have been issuing the following standing order concerning depositions:

ORDERED, … that all depositions in this action may be taken via telephone, videoconference, or other remote means, and may be recorded by any reliable audio or audiovisual means…. For avoidance of doubt, a deposition will be deemed to have been conducted “before” an officer so long as that officer attends the deposition via the same remote means (e.g., telephone conference call or video conference) used to connect all other remote participants, and so long as all participants (including the officer) can clearly hear and be heard by all other participants.

District Judge P. Kevin Castel, for his part, has been issuing a standing order directing that all upcoming court conferences “will be held by teleconferencing” and requiring all plaintiffs’ counsel to “contact all defendants’ counsel to provide defense counsel with call-in information; [and] email the call-in information to [Judge Castel].”

Taking the award for the “Most Humane Standing Order,” however, is Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang, whose order not only insists on the now all-too-familiar “shelter-in-place” protocol…

ORDERED, that counsel shall conduct work remotely. This includes, but is not limited to, client meetings, work meetings, and hand deliveries of courtesy copies to the Court (courtesy copies can be sent via email or mail)

… but also expresses a certain sensitivity to what may be going on in the personal lives of litigants during this crisis…

ORDERED that if any party or counsel has any private, personal, familial or medical concerns that they need to share with the Court that would necessitate further orders, counsel may email [Judge Wang] ex parte provided that they advise the other parties that they will be contacting the Court ex parte.

A final note of caution with regard to this recent trend of coronavirus compassion from the courts:

Lest any litigant be tempted to take advantage of the slack cut by these decisions and orders, one would be well-advised to heed the recent admonishment from District Judge Kenneth M. Karas in Koch v Preuss following an appeal from the dismissal of a bankruptcy proceeding for lack of prosecution:

Appellant’s attempt to invoke the recent coronavirus pandemic to excuse his failures over the past eleven months is, frankly, appalling. Over the past few days, this Court has granted every request for an extension or telephone conference with which it has been presented based on the coronavirus. The Court is acutely aware of the hardships and dislocations associated with the current pandemic, and the Court has assumed good faith by those making related requests. Appellant’s request, however, is different. While the coronavirus outbreak is recent, appearing in the United States and coming to public attention within the last month, Appellant’s failures have been lengthy, repeated and ongoing for nearly a year…. In sum, Appellant cannot excuse his longstanding failure to prosecute his appeal by retroactively capitalizing on a recent crisis.

As a result of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, court systems throughout the United States have had to rapidly adapt and issue temporary rules and procedures in order to keep court personnel, litigants and attorneys safe while continuing to serve their important societal function of administration of justice.

We wanted to provide a resource to readily access the various and ever-changing temporary rules and procedures of New York State’s Appellate and Commercial Divisions of the Supreme Court.  We will continue to monitor and post updates and other useful information at a time when policies are changing on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis.

New York State Executive Action

In keeping with Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts, Hon. Lawrence K. Marks, Memorandum of March 15, 2020, which postponed all non-essential court functions effective at 5:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order No. 202.8 on March 20, 2020 which, among other things, tolled until April 19, 2020 “any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding, as prescribed by the procedural laws of the state, including but not limited to . . . the civil practice law and rules, . . . and the uniform court acts, or by any other statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation, or part thereof.” For other Executive Orders related to the Coronavirus, click here. Correspondingly, Judge Marks issued Administrative Order 78/20 on March 22, 2020, directing an immediate prohibition to filing any papers in any matter with any county clerk’s office until further notice. This directive applies to both hard copy and electronic filings. However, certain matters deemed essential are permitted and contained on the list annexed as Exhibit A to Administrative Order 78/20.

Additional pertinent Executive actions taken include allowing NY notaries to perform notarial services using video conferencing technology provided certain conditions are met, such as the person seeking the service must transmit a valid photo ID during the video conference, be on the video conference at the time of signing and affirmatively present themselves as being physically situated in NY. See Executive Order No. 202.7.

New York Court System Generally

On March 19, 2020, Judge Marks issued Administrative Order No. 71/20 strongly discouraging litigants engaged in pending civil matters from prosecuting such matters in a manner that would require appearing in-person or travel during this health crisis. See AO 71/20 (1). Additionally, this Order directs litigants (parties and attorneys) affected by COVID-19 to use best efforts to enter agreements to adjourn discovery-related matters for a period not exceeding ninety (90) days. See AO 71/20 (2). If litigants cannot reach an agreement, the court has the ability to review the matter and issue the appropriate order once court returns to normal operation. See id.

In keeping with Judge Marks’ Memorandum and Administrative Orders, most, if not all, courts of New York State implemented temporary policies and procedures (highlighted below) to handle essential court functions virtually.

Now in an effort to ease restrictions placed on non-essential court functions, on April 7, 2020, Judge Marks circulated a new Memorandum offering the Courts preliminary steps to transition non-essential court functions to a remote/virtual court system on an ongoing basis beginning on April 13, 2020, including Judges being available to conduct conferences to aid counsel with discovery disputes via Skype or telephone. Judge Marks then issued Administrative Order dated April 8, 2020 (AO/85/20) providing additional procedures and protocols concerning specific matters trial courts will address such as conferencing pending cases, deciding fully submitted motions, discovery, and video technology. Nevertheless, litigants are still unable to file new non-essential matters until further notice.

Appellate Division

Generally, on March 17, 2020, all the Appellate Divisions of New York’s four (4) Judicial Departments issued emergency Orders. While similar in substance, each Judicial Department’s temporary rules and procedures vary slightly. We urge you to review the particular rules and procedures pertinent to your matter.

First Department

On March 17, 2020, the First Department issued an Order temporarily suspending deadlines, with the exception of matters perfected for May 2020 and June 2020 terms, the Court suspended indefinitely deadlines for all perfection, filing and other deadlines set forth by court order, Parts 1240 and 1250 of the Rules of the Appellate Division, Parts 600 and 603 of the Rules of the Appellate Division First Department, or Part 1245 of the Electronic Filing Rules of the Appellate Division. Additionally, and again, with the exception of all matters perfected for the May 2020 and June 2020 term, the March 17th Order granted all motions or applications for extensions of time to perfect or file that were pending as of March 17, 2020. See Order. Contemporaneous to the March 17th Order, the First Department also issued emergency procedures. See Covid-19 Emergency Procedures as of March 17, 2020.

Second Department

Unlike the First Department’s March 17th Order, the Second Department’s March 17th Order did not place a limitation on when suspensions or extensions would commence and indefinitely suspended deadlines, granted pending motions or applications for extension of time until further order of the Court. All dates for perfecting, filing, motions or applications for extensions, and all other motions were suspended until further directive of the Court.

The Second Department also issued additional Notices regarding:

(i) Limitation of Court Operations – Presently, the Court is processing its calendars through April 2, 2020. But for appeals between March 17, 2020 and April 2, 2020, such appeals will be on submission only unless a request to hear such appeal via Skype is made to Court via email at ad2clerk@nycourts.gov. Also, for emergency applications and motions presently pending considered to be an emergency, you should contact the Court via email to ad2clerk@nycourts.gov indicating that the matter is urgent.

(ii) Hard copy filings at the Court’s Clerk’s Office – Hard copy filings are NOT permitted and e-filing is mandatory until further notice.

(iii) Oral arguments before the Court – Beginning on March 17, 2020, all matters are on submission but the Court will permit oral argument via Skype on request to the Court at ad2clerk@nycourts.gov to make arrangements.

Click here for all other Second Department Notices related to Covid-19.

Third Department

Similar to the Second Department, the Third Department’s March 17, 2020 Order indefinitely suspended deadlines, granted pending motions or applications for extension of time. However, the Third Department’s extension did not apply where a statute confers a deadline.

Beginning on March 17, 2020, the Third Department began only entertaining emergency matters. However, if you deem a matter an emergency, the Court requests that you notify it in writing, on notice to your adversaries, as a request that “the Court treat your matter as urgent” to ad3clerksoffice@nycourts.gov with the subject indicating that the matter is urgent. Also, calendared matters for the March term will be heard on submission and matters for the April term are adjourned to a date in a later term. See Third Department’s Covid-19 Emergency Procedures as of March 17, 2020. Click here for additional Third Department Covid-19 related updates.

Fourth Department

The Fourth Department’s March 17, 2020 Order substantially mirrors the Order issued by the Third Department. The Fourth Department also intends to only entertain matters on an emergency basis with staffing significantly reduced. Matters calendared for the March and April terms are being considered on submission only and matters scheduled for the May term are adjourned to be re-calendared for a later term. Requests for emergency relief should be made by email to ad4-clerk@nycourts.gov. For additional information, contact the Fourth Department Clerk’s office at (585) 530-3100.

Commercial Division

Presently, all of the Justices of the Commercial Division, New York County have issued temporary rules or procedures, including procedures for requesting remote conferences in keeping AO/85/20.

Given the rapid changes, we plan to maintain regular updates to this blog for the foreseeable future. For this reason, each Commercial Division of the New York Supreme Court is listed below. Please check back regularly for updates.

7th Judicial District – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, and Yates Counties

For essential and emergency court matters, contact court staff directly. Click here for a list of contact numbers and links to additional important information about the 7th Judicial District.

o Hon. J. Scott Odorisi

8th Judicial District – Erie County

o Hon. Deborah Chimes
o Hon. Emilio Colaiacovo
o Hon. Henry J. Nowak
o Hon. Timothy J. Walker

Albany County

o Hon. Richard Platkin

Kings County

o Hon. Lawrence Knipel
o Hon. Larry D. Martin
o Hon. Leon Ruchelsman

Nassau County

Supreme Court, Nassau County has implemented virtual chambers protocols and provided a list of virtual chambers contacts and conference request forms. For additional important information concerning Nassau County Courts operations during COVID-19, click here.

o Hon. Stephen A. Bucaria
o Hon. Vito M. DeStefano
o Hon. Timothy S. Driscoll
o Hon. Jerome Murphy

New York County

o Hon. Andrew Borrok – Requests for conferences in Part 53 may be made via email to sfc-part53@nycourts.gov.

o Hon. Joel M. Cohen – Requests for conferences in Part 3 may be made via email to sfc-part3@nycourts.gov.

o Hon. Marcy Friedman
o Hon. Andrea Masley

o Hon. Barry Ostranger – Requests for conferences in part 61 – sfc-part61@nycourts.gov.

o Hon. Saliann Scarpulla – Requests for conferences in Part 39 may be made via email to part-39@nycourts.gov.

o Hon. Jennifer G. Schecter
o Hon. O. Peter Sherwood

In addition, a party wishing to request a remote conference in all New York County Supreme Court Civil Parts can complete the request form found annexed to the below link and email the completed form to sfcconferencerequest@nycourts.gov. The completed form will be forwarded to the assigned judge. See https://www.nycourts.gov/legacypdfs/courts/1jd/supctmanh/PDF/Remote-Conference-Protocol.pdf for more information.

Onondaga County

o Hon. Deborah H. Karalunas
o Hon. Anthony J. Paris
o Hon. Donald A. Greenwood

Queens County

o Hon. Marguerite A. Grays
o Hon. Leonard Livote
o Hon. Joseph Risi

Suffolk County

o Hon. Jerry Garguilo
o Hon. Elizabeth H. Emerson
o Hon. James Hudson

Westchester County

o Hon. Linda S. Jamieson
o Hon. Gretchen Walsh

For general Coronavirus updates from the New York State Courts, visit https://www.nycourts.gov/ or call the Court’s Coronavirus Hotline at (833) 503-0447.