NEW YORK LITIGATION: WHY THE RULES COUNT
When someone sues you or your company, you have to pick a lawyer who knows the rules of the game. The rules are intricate and, even two situations that look similar, are not always governed by the same rules. When even judges can apply the wrong rule, it is better to know what should have happened, so you can decide what your options are. That is what a good attorney does: she explains what your options are, and your realistic chances of success with each, so you can best protect your interests.
A recent appellate decision makes this point. 1259 Lincoln Place Corp. v Bank of N.Y., 2018 NY Slip Op 02177, Appellate Division, Second Department, was decided on March 28, 2018. It really is a fight over a lot of money, disguised as an attempt to quiet title pursuant to RPAPL Art. 15; and the fight ultimately turned on which set of rules should be used to decide the dispute. The trial court selected one, and the Appellate Division determined that another should have been used.
The facts are straightforward: A bank took a mortgage on a property in Brooklyn. The mortgage secured a large loan. The borrower evidently defaulted so the bank attempted to foreclose and filed a notice of pendency against the property. The problem was, the borrower apparently did not own the property; even worse, the Bank already paid approximately $200,000 in property taxes on it. The titled owner wanted to keep its property, so it sued the Bank to quiet title; i.e., it asked the court to declare it was the rightful owner of the property and to cancel the notice of pendency. The titled owner made a summary judgement motion, which means it asked the court to declare it the rightful owner of the property without a trial, just based on the motion papers alone. Faced with losing the case outright, the Bank came up with a backup plan: It tried to assert a new claim that it should have an equitable lien; i.e., it paid out money to maintain the property (the real estate taxes), which the rightful owner received the benefit of, so it is only fair that the Bank should get the money back. The problem was that it needed the court’s permission, so it made a cross-motion to assert a counterclaim for an equitable lien to at least recover some of the money it paid.