GASHI v. AMPOFO

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Civil Court, City of New York.

Fatmir GASHI, Plaintiff, v. Frank O. AMPOFO, Defendant.

SCB 79/2019

Decided: May 24, 2019

Plaintiff appeared pro se. Attorney for Defendant: Law Office of Malcolm S. Lavaud

Defendant moves pursuant to New York City Civil Court Act § 1805(b), transferring this action from the Small Claims Part to a Civil Court Part. Defendant seeks the foregoing relief on grounds that plaintiff possibly committed fraud such that discovery is required to properly defend this action. Plaintiff opposes the instant motion, averring that he did not commit any fraud and that he was not properly served with the instant motion.

For the reasons that follow hereinafter, defendant's motion is denied.

The instant action is venued in the Small Claims Part of the Civil Court and is for property damage premised upon defendant's negligence. The Small Claims Card - the equivalent of a complaint - alleges that defendant was negligent in the operation of his motor vehicle, such negligence causing damage to plaintiff's vehicle. Thus, plaintiff seeks $ 5,000 in damages.

Defendant's motion is denied. Significantly, defendant offers no cognizable legal basis for the transfer of this action to Civil Court and his basis for the transfer - discovery necessary to defend himself - is obviated by the very exhibits he appends to his motion.

New York City Civil Court Act § 1805(b) states that

t]he court shall have power to transfer any small claim or claims to any other part of the court upon such terms as the rules may provide, and proceed to hear the same according to the usual practice and procedure applicable to other parts of the court.

There is a dearth of case law interpreting and/or applying § 1805(b). However, because New York City Civil Court Act § 1804 obviates many of the rules governing actions brought in other courts, and “was [thus,] designed to facilitate the handling of minor claims and grievances without requiring the parties to resort to the use of counsel” (Buonomo v. Stalker, 40 A.D.2d 733, 336 N.Y.S.2d 687 [3d Dept. 1972]), it is clear that before an action is removed from the Small Claims Part, depriving a litigant of the ability to quickly and easily resolve a legal dispute, the proponent must make a substantial showing (David D. Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, New York City Civil Court Act § 1805 [Note: online version] [“Subdivision (b) permits a transfer of a small claim to the regular part of the court, but this may ordinarily be done only as the rules provide. It takes some strong reason to deprive a legitimate small claim of the use of the small claims part without some specific authority.”] ). Accordingly, a case ought to be transferred from Small Claims Court to Civil Court when the issues before the court are complex such that they require discovery, which is generally unavailable in Small Claims Court (New York City Civil Court Act § 1804 [“Disclosure shall be unavailable in small claims procedure except upon order of the court on showing of proper circumstances.”]; Pawling Lake Prop. Owners Ass'n v. McGoorty, 190 Misc. 2d 701, 702-03, 740 N.Y.S.2d 555 [App. Term. 2001] [“The court should have transferred the cases to a part of the court that is more suited to resolving such complex legal and factual issues. Substantial justice is not served by denying discovery and by attempting to truncate the trial of these issues.”]; Fein v. Nuccio, N.Y.L.J., Dec. 14, 2000 [App. Term. 2000] [“In this small claims action to recover a legal fee for services rendered, the court below determined that the time that would be required to determine the issues being presented would take up too much of the time allotted for small claims determinations and that the case would be better suited for the regular part of the court. [internal quotation marks omitted] ).

In support of his motion, defendant submits a subpoena which he served upon Ultra Automotive Center Inc. (Ultra) and documents responsive thereto. The subpoena, dated March 7, 2019, requested documents from Ultra relating to the repair of plaintiff's vehicle - a 2012 Toyota RAV 4. The documents which defendant represents were tendered by Ultra in response to the subpoena are five invoices for parts paid by Ultra and which total $ 1,799.67.

Defendant also submits an email exchange between defendant's counsel and Ultra, wherein Ultra states that it repaired plaintiff's vehicle and charged him $ 5,000. Lastly, defendant submits an estimate from Ultra for the repairs needed by plaintiff's vehicle. The estimated amount of repairs listed therein is $ 5,734.15. The invoice indicates that the foregoing sum was paid to Ultra by plaintiff on December 19, 2018.

Based on the foregoing, defendant fails to establish entitlement to the transfer of this action from the Small Claims Part to a Civil Court Part. As note above, Small Claims Court “was designed to facilitate the handling of minor claims and grievances without requiring the parties to resort to the use of counsel” (Buonomo at 733, 336 N.Y.S.2d 687). Thus, before an action is removed from the Small Claims Part, depriving a litigant of the ability to quickly and easily resolve a legal dispute, the proponent must make a substantial showing (David D. Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, New York City Civil Court Act § 1805 [Note: online version] ). Indeed, a case ought to be transferred from Small Claims Court to Civil Court only when the issues before the court are complex such that they require discovery (Pawling Lake Prop. Owners Ass'n at 702-03, 740 N.Y.S.2d 555; Fein, N.Y.L.J., Dec. 14, 2000). Here, the allegations of fraud asserted by defendant are insufficient to warrant discovery as fraud is not tantamount to complexity. Indeed the terms are not synonymous. Moreover, if indeed defendant seeks to establish fraud by plaintiff - namely, that he seeks to recover from defendant sums significantly more than he alleges he paid to Ultra to repair his vehicle - the very documents annexed to defendant's papers - if credited and sufficiently explained at trial - could establish the same. Accordingly, defendant's motion is denied. It is hereby

ORDERED that all parties appear for a trial on July 9, 2019, in the Small Claims Part, Room 103, at 6PM. It is further

ORDERED that defendant serve a copy of this Order with Notice of Entry upon plaintiff within thirty days (30) hereof.

This constitutes this Court's decision and Order.

Fidel E. Gomez, J.