Note to ComDiv Practitioners: There’s Teeth Behind Them Thar Rules
February 06, 2020
As readers of this blog know by now, we here at New York Commercial Division Practice frequently post on new, proposed, and/or amended rules of practice in the Commercial Division. Just last month, for example, my colleague Viktoriya Liberchuk posted on the Advisory Council’s recent proposal to amend ComDiv Rule 6 (“Form of Papers”) to mandate hyperlinks in legal briefs, allowing adversaries, judges, and other court personnel immediate electronic access to cited cases, statutes, and other supporting documentary evidence.
We’ve also reported on ComDiv decisions taking lawyers to task for failing to comply with the particularities of practicing in the Commercial Division — both with respect to noncompliance with the Rules themselves, as well as noncompliance with the individual practice rules of this or that ComDiv judge.
In one of the first ComDiv decisions of 2020, Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Andrea Masley addressed the propriety of a post-argument submission by a defendant under ComDiv Rule 18 on a motion to dismiss.
Hawk Mtn. LLC v Ram Capital Group LLC involved statute-of-limitations issues vis-à-vis a promissory note and the validity of a related release. Following oral argument on its dismissal motion, the defendant submitted a recent federal-court decision out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, apparently in an effort to resolve a dispute over whether the parties in the Hawk Mtn. case qualified as “affiliates” under, and therefore were covered by, the release in question. Citing the exception to ComDiv Rule 18’s general prohibition against “sur-reply and post-submission papers” — namely, that “counsel may inform the court by letter of the citation of any post-submission court decision that is relevant to the pending issues, but there shall be no additional argument” — Judge Masley allowed the defendant to supplement the record on its dismissal motion but made perfectly clear that she would “disregard any arguments made in [the defendant’s] accompanying letter.”
Having seen the Hawk Mtn. decision, and given the recent turn of year, we thought it a worthwhile exercise to take a quick look back at 2019 for other decisions addressing issues of (non)compliance with the ComDiv Rules. What follows are a couple of notable examples from the Manhattan Commercial Division last year — both from Justice Joel M. Cohen as it just so happens — addressing ComDiv Rules 13 and 14 concerning expert disclosure and pre-motion conferences respectively.
In 30-32 W. 31st LLC v Heena Hotel LLC, Judge Cohen granted the defendants’ motion to strike an expert rebuttal report submitted by the plaintiffs in a dispute over the development and sale of a hotel. Judge Cohen found that the report did not comply with ComDiv Rule 13 in a number of important respects, including primarily the expert’s failure to provide a “complete” statement of his opinions and to identify any documentation he relied upon to support his opinions. The incompleteness of the expert’s report was perhaps captured best in his own words — to wit:
At this time and on a preliminary basis I find that I do not concur with the conclusion reached by [the defendants’ expert]. Additional forensic accounting work is required, and I reserve the right to amend and supplement this draft.
The draft report also made repeated references to “disputed factual assertions” and “significant intercompany transactions” but altogether failed to specify the facts in dispute or the transactions at issue. Such a report, according to Judge Cohen, “provides insufficient notice of any opinions [the expert] proposes to offer or the bases for those opinions” and thus offends the fundamental purpose behind expert disclosure — namely, “No Sandbaggers Allowed!”
In Village Green Mishawaka Holdings, LLC v Romanoff, Judge Cohen shot down a red-herring argument and related “barbed references” in an attorney affirmation when denying a non-party’s motion to quash a subpoena. Judge Cohen attacked the motion as “procedurally improper” as well, citing ComDiv Rule 14’s prohibition on filing motions without first requesting a pre-motion conference and finding that “there [wa]s no indication that [the non-party] ever requested such a conference prior to filing this motion.” Judge Cohen also took issue with the form of the attorney affirmation, citing his own practice rules prohibiting so-called “brief-irmations” and “brief-adavits” submitted in lieu of a proper memo of law: “All motion papers … must include a Memorandum of Law,” and “Affidavits or Affirmations of counsel containing legal argument should not be submitted.”
Check the rules, folks. Always check the rules.