Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
PROGRESSIVE MAX INSURANCE COMPANY a/s/o Jocelyn Santiago, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF BUFFALO, Defendant.
In this action seeking damages for negligence arising from an automobile accident, the Defendant City of Buffalo (William P. Matthewson, Esq., of counsel) moves pursuant to CPLR 3212 for summary judgment dismissing the Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety. The following documents were read on this motion for summary judgment: Complaint, Answer, Reply to Counterclaim, Notice of Motion, and Affirmation of William P. Matthewson, Esq., with exhibits.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Under New York law, any party may move for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212. Summary judgment, however, is considered a drastic remedy as it deprives the non-moving party its day in court. It should only be employed when there is “no doubt as to the absence of triable issues” (Millerton Agway Coop v Briarcliff Farms, 17 NY2d 57 ). According to CPLR 3212, New York courts may grant summary judgment only where the movant shows by affidavit or other evidence that there are “no material issues of fact” for a claim at issue and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law (CPLR 3212 [b]; Brill v City of New York, 2 NY3d 648, 651 ). Only when sole questions of law exist in an action may the court decide the case upon the parties’ submissions without a trial.
On any motion for summary judgment, the moving party must make a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by the submission of evidentiary proof in admissible form sufficient to establish the absence of any material, triable issue(s) of fact (CPLR 3212 [b]; Jacobsen v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 22 NY3d 824, 833 ; Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 ; Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562 ).
In the event that the moving party fails to meet this burden and establish its claim or defense sufficiently to require a direct judgment as a matter of law, the motion must be denied regardless of the sufficiency of the non-moving party's papers (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320 ; see also Giaquinto v Town of Hempstead, 106 AD3d 1049 [2d Dept 2013]; see also O'Halloran v City of New York, 78 AD3d 536 [1st Dept 2010]). The underlying rationale behind this well-established principle is that “summary judgment is a drastic remedy, the procedural equivalent of a trial. It should not be granted if there is any doubt about the issue (Bronx-Lebanon Hosp. Ctr. v Mount Eden Ctr., 161 AD2d at 480 [1st Dept 1990]), quoting Nesbitt v Nimmich, 34 AD2d 958, 959 [2d Dept 1970]
Notwithstanding the availability of summary judgment in all cases pursuant to CPLR 3212 (a), New York courts seldom grant a motion for summary judgment in the context of a negligence case (Andre v Pomeroy, 35 NY2d 361, 364 ). The Court of Appeals has held that while this does not mean that summary judgment is never available when a suit is founded upon a claim of negligence, summary judgment should granted only in such negligence “cases in which there is no conflict at all in the evidence, the defendant's conduct fell far below any permissible standard of due care, and the plaintiff's conduct either was not really involved (such as with a passenger) or was clearly of exemplary prudence in the circumstances” (id. at 364-365, citing 4 Weinstein-Korn-Miller, NY Civ. Prac., par. 3212.03).
For the reasons set forth more fully below, the Defendant City of Buffalo's motion for summary judgment is DENIED in its entirety. Denial of the instant motion is required on two separate and independent grounds. First, this Court finds that the Andre doctrine, as described above, is controlling and determinative in this action, notwithstanding that the instant motion is brought by the Defendant City of Buffalo. Second, Defendant's counsel failed to address all elements showing that his client is entitled to relief under CPLR 3212; despite mere assertions, the Affirmation remains silent on the material issues of fact and credibility that remain.
The outcome of the instant action, being one founded upon a theory of negligence, turns on a nearly fifty-year-old principle that the Court of Appeals first articulated in Andre v Pomeroy, (35 NY2d 361, 364 ). While acknowledging that negligence actions are not immune from summary judgment per se, New York trial courts may only grant a motion for summary judgment in a negligence action (i) in which there is no conflict at all in the evidence; (ii) the defendant's conduct fell far below any permissible standard of due care, and (iii) the plaintiff's conduct either was not really involved (such as with a passenger) or was clearly exemplary prudence in the circumstance” (id. at 364-365).
I. DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO CPLR 3212 FAILS UNDER THE ANDRE DOCTRINE
For the reasons described below, the Andre doctrine applies to the instant motion, notwithstanding that the motion is made by the Defendant City of Buffalo. The soundness of this conclusion requires the application of several well-known and well-understood principles and techniques of formal logic.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes notoriously resisted the notion that the application of logic to a legal dispute was, or could be, dispositive in any legal case. This is best illustrated in Justice Holmes’ oft repeated maxim that “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law 1 ). This personal credo of Justice Holmes was exemplified throughout his entire lifetime of written work and culminated in his celebrated Lochner dissent (Lochner v New York, 198 US 45  [Holmes, J. dissenting] [“General propositions do not decide concrete cases. The decision will depend on a judgment or intuition more subtle than any articulate major premise.”])
Justice Holmes’ derisive attitude toward the priority of logic in jurisprudence became a hallmark of the American Legal Realist tradition that he co-founded with Karl Llewelyn and dominated academic legal discourse well into the mid-twentieth century. This attitude, closely tied to rule-skepticism and the Indeterminacy Thesis—the former being the idea that the law consists not of rules but of mere predictions of how courts decide cases and the latter being the idea that the authoritative legal materials in a legal system cannot determine a unique outcome in any case—eventually gave way to the devastating critique of H.L.A. Hart, who demolished rule-skepticism by finding its central logical flaw: if legal rules are merely predictions of how courts will decide cases, a jurist would find no recourse in rule skepticism by merely asking himself how he would decide the case (H.L.A. Hart, 125-154 ).
Hart's approach to analytic jurisprudence revived the primacy of logic as a component in the judicial process. Even Lon Fuller, whose academic disputes with his polar opposite Hart culminated in what came to be known as the 1958 Hart-Fuller debate, proposed a procedural natural law jurisprudence that implicitly required a logical substructure to any system of laws (Lon Fuller, Morality of Law  [setting forth eight criteria for any valid legal system: generality, publicity, non-retroactivity, clarity, non-contradiction, constancy, and congruence]).
With that in mind, no serious legal scholar would seek to banish logic from the city walls of jurisprudence, and courts are within their powers to apply the basic rules of first-order logic (also known as predicate calculus) to analyze and apply relevant case law. This Court will now take judicial notice of several operative logical principles used in the determination of Defendant's instant CPLR 3212 motion for summary judgment.
a. Judicial Notice of Operative Logical Principles.
New York law provides that judicial notice of recognized scientific and mathematical facts, the practical application of which are generally known, is permissible (Yelder v Walters, 64 AD3d 762, 768 [2d Dept 2009] [taking judicial notice of the mathematical formula speed divided by time equals distance]). Well-established scientific and mathematical facts are entitled to judicial notice without resort to expert testimony. (id. at 768; see People v Magri, 3 NY2d 562, 566 ; Prince, Richardson on Evidence § 2-204 [Farrell 11th ed]). Without question, first-order logic and the underlying rules of transformation and inference contained therein, form the basis for all recognized scientific and mathematical practice (John Alan Robinson, Computational Logic: Memories of the Past and Challenges for the Future  [“Logic is stable and universal, and is identified with classical first order logic. Other logics are here considered to be first order theories, syntactically sugared in notationally convenient forms. From this point of view higher order logic is essentially first order set theory.”])
Accordingly, this Court now takes judicial notice of the entire principles of first-order logic (Alfred Tarski, Introduction to Logic: And to the Methodology of Deductive Sciences ; W.V. Quine, Methods of Logic ). To wit: the operative principles used in this Court's analysis are use of the contrapositive and the law of the excluded middle, the latter which forms the basis for a commonly used proof technique known as proof by contradiction. The Appellate Division has itself employed proof by contradiction in the context of natural language arguments under the guise of “reductio ad absurdum” reasoning (Glenel Realty Corp v Worthington, 4 AD2d 702 [2d Dept 1957])
b. Logical analysis of the Andre doctrine requires its application in this case
To establish that the Andre doctrine must apply in the instant 3212 motion, we turn our attention to its logical form. As articulated above, Andre sets three necessary conditions that must be obtained for the availability of relief under CPLR 3212 in a negligence case: (i) there must be no conflict in the evidence; (ii) the defendant's conduct must fall far below any permissible standard of due care; and (iii) the plaintiff's conduct was either not involved in the resulting harm or was of exemplary prudence under the circumstances (Andre, 35 NY2d at 364 , citing 4 Weinstein-Korn-Miller, NY Civ. Prac., par. 3212.03). This test easily lends itself to translation into a simple material conditional: If all three Andre elements are satisfied, only then may summary judgment issue.
The Court now takes the contrapositive of the Andre doctrine. Tarski describes the process of taking the contrapositive sentence as follows:
“The inverse sentence is obtained by replacing both the antecedent and the consequent of the given sentence by their negations. The contrapositive is the result of interchanging the antecedent and the consequent in the inverse sentence; the contrapositive sentence is, therefore, the converse of the inverse sentence and also the inverse of the converse sentence ․ whenever an implication is true, the same applies to the corresponding contrapositive sentence. This fact may be confirmed by numerous examples, and it finds its expression in a general law of sentential calculus, namely the so-called law of transposition or contraposition” (Tarski at § 14).
Quite simply, the contrapositive of the statement “If p, then q,” is taken as “If ~p, then ~q,” and the contrapositive retains the same truth-value of the original conditional statement. Applied to Andre, then, the contrapositive holds that summary judgment must be denied when a single of the three articulated elements is missing from the record. Otherwise, the truth-value in Andre fails to hold and the basic premise of stare decisis is violated.
Andre, however, expressly pertains to plaintiffs seeking CPLR 3212 relief in action founded upon a negligence theory but to end the inquiry there would be fallacious reasoning. This Court next takes judicial notice of, and applies, one additional method of logical inference to conclude that Andre also applies to defendants seeking the same relief in a negligence action; a proof technique universally known as proof by contradiction.
Proof by contradiction is a straightforward technique: One assumes the negation of the statement and argues to a step that contradicts some known fact. The law of the excluded middle—that is, the assumption that either some statement p or its negation ~p, but not both, is true—is assumed as a prerequisite to the validity of proof by contradiction. Thus, if a contradiction is obtained by logical derivations from the negation of some statement p, the original statement p must have a positive truth value (Andrew Wohlgemuth, Introduction to Proof in Abstract Mathematics § 1.8 ). Conditional statements, that is, statement of the form if-then, are especially amenable to being proven using the proof by contradiction method (id. at § 1.8).
To recap, New York trial courts may grant plaintiffs summary judgment in negligence actions only if three conditions are satisfied. The Court employs proof by contradiction here by first assuming the negation of its conclusion, namely, Andre does not apply to plaintiffs moving for summary judgment in negligence actions. Assuming the negation of the Court's conclusion to be true, the implication occurs that plaintiffs and defendants will be simultaneously held to different standards for summary judgment within the same negligence action. From that paradoxical result a Fourteenth Amendment violation occurs, and this Court easily rejects that logical-legal contradiction. Therefore, the Andre doctrine applies here.
Despite assertions to the contrary, this Court finds that none of the three Andre elements are present here to grant summary judgment in favor of the Defendant City of Buffalo. No testimony has been adduced regarding the reasonableness of the parties’ actions under the circumstances leading to the accident at issue; reasonableness being an essential element in determining an essential element of any negligence action. Additionally, it is not clear from the record that the Defendant exercised the standard of due care owed to the Plaintiff. Moreover, the Defendant has failed to establish that its conduct was not really involved in the accident or exercised exemplary prudence in the circumstance. For this reason, Defendant's motion pursuant to CPLR 3212 to dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety is DENIED.
II. THE RECORD UNQUESTIONABLY REFLECTS THAT MATERIAL ISSUES OF FACT AND CREDIBILITY REMAIN, NOTWITHSTANDING ASSERTIONS CONTAINED IN DEFENDANT'S AFFIRMATION
In order to prevail on a negligence claim in New York, “a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach thereof, and (3) injury proximately resulting therefrom.” (Pasternack v Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, 27 NY3d 817 ). In the case of automobile negligence, it is the duty of each driver to operate their motor vehicle with reasonable care taking into account the actual and potential dangers existing from driving conditions. Motorists are under a duty to maintain a reasonably safe rate of speed; to have their automobile under reasonable control; to keep a proper lookout under the circumstances; and to use reasonable care to avoid an accident. (Harstein v U.S. Trucking Corp., 260 AD 643 [1st Dept 1940]; Patenaude v Fortin, 4 AD2d 410 [3d Dept 1957]; Oberman v Alexander's Rent-A-Car, 56 AD2d 814 [1st Dept 1977]; Baker v Close, 204 NY 92 ; see Regdos v Buffalo, 132 AD3d 1343 [4th Dept 2015] [citing PJI]).
This instant negligence involves an accident with a trailing vehicle. Vehicle stops which are foreseeable under the prevailing traffic conditions, even if sudden and frequent, must be anticipated by the driver who follows, since he or she is under a duty to maintain a safe distance between his or her car and the car ahead (Shamah v Richmond County Ambulance Serv., 279 AD2d 564, 565 ; see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1129 [a]; Levine v Taylor, 268 AD2d 566 ; see also David v New York City Bd. Of Educ., 19 AD3d 639 ; Malone v Morillo, 6 AD3d 324 ). Importantly, the mere assertion that a defendant's vehicle is unable to stop will not rebut the inference of negligence on part of the trailing vehicle (see Faul v Reilly, 29 AD3d 626 ; Pincus v Cohen, 198 AD2d 405 ; Schmidt v Edelman, 263 AD2d 502, 503 ; Benyarko v Avis Rent A Car Sys., 162 AD2d 572, 573 ; see also Hart v Town of N. Castle, 305 AD2d 543 ; Kosinski v Sayers, 294 AD2d 407 ).
Here, the Defendant's legal theory relies chiefly on two Appellate Division cases. The twelfth paragraph of the Defendant's Affirmation cites Blajszczak v McGhee-Reynolds, (191 AD3d 1339 [4th Dept 2021]). This case is inapplicable to the current action as it involves the Appellate Division's affirmance of the trial court's denial to grant summary judgment to a defendant, citing issues of fact that remained notwithstanding the principle articulated in the Defendant City of Buffalo's Affirmation. Defendant's conclusory allegations here do not consist of a non-negligent explanation for the rear-end collision. This Court finds that there are numerous issues that speak to each element of negligence that are still unresolved by the existing record in this case.
Although defense counsel challenged one element of the cause of action, counsel failed to address the remaining elements, most importantly, the reasonableness of the Defendant's conduct which is always an essential element of any negligence action. By his silence, defense counsel has failed to address the remaining elements of a negligence action and this Court reasonably infers that such issues of material fact and credibility remain and the credibility of witnesses who may testify thereto. Moreover, the mere assertions contained in the accompanying exhibits to the Plaintiff's motion do not necessarily rebut the presumption of negligence by themselves.
Because the Defendant failed to meet its burden to establish a defense sufficient to require a direct judgment as a matter of law, the herein Plaintiff will not be denied its day in court. Upon these grounds viewed independently from § I of this decision, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
This Court has analyzed the other points of counsel raised in the Defendant's Affirmation and found them to be entirely without merit.
Accordingly, for the foregoing independent reasons, it is
ORDERED that the Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212 is denied in its entirety.
Rebecca L. Town, J.
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Docket No: Index No. CV-2706-20
Decided: June 01, 2023
Court: City Court, New York,
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)