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Supreme Court, Appellate Term,

RADIOLOGY TODAY, P.C. as Assignee of Roydon Pile, Appellant, v. GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent.

Decided: April 26, 2011

Present:  GOLIA, J.P., PESCE and STEINHARDT, JJ. G.H. Chen & Associates, P.C., New York City (Graeme H. Chen and David B. O'Connor of counsel), for appellant. John E. McCormack, P.C., Garden City (Erin M. Crowley of counsel), for respondent.

Appeal from a judgment of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Queens County (Anna Culley, J.), entered November 16, 2009.   The judgment, insofar as appealed from, dismissed the complaint.

ORDERED that the judgment, insofar as appealed from, is affirmed, without costs.

In this action by a healthcare provider to recover assigned first-party no-fault benefits, defendant sought discovery of documents and information, and to depose Dr. Solomon, a principal of plaintiff, in relation to the propriety of plaintiff's incorporation and operation (see State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Mallela, 4 N.Y.3d 313, 794 N.Y.S.2d 700, 827 N.E.2d 758 [2005] ).   After serving plaintiff with further discovery demands, defendant moved for an order, among other matters, consolidating this action with 201 other actions pending between the parties, compelling Dr. Solomon to appear for a deposition in relation to the consolidated actions, compelling discovery of the documents and information previously sought and authorizing additional discovery with respect to plaintiff's contractual relationships with other corporate providers and with certain named individuals.   Plaintiff opposed defendant's motion, arguing that defendant had failed to plead a defense based on fraud, and, in any event, that the discovery demands were overbroad, and cross-moved, pursuant to CPLR 3103, for a protective order “denying defendant's request for further discovery and/or depositions,” and, alternatively, compelling its own discovery.   Plaintiff argued that defendant had produced no proof that plaintiff's incorporation or operation violated state licensing laws, and that defendant's failure timely to pay or deny the claim forfeited all defenses including those based on plaintiff's alleged fraudulent incorporation or operation.   Defendant opposed the cross motion and argued that plaintiff's January 5, 2009 stipulation, in an unrelated no-fault benefits recovery action, to produce much of the discovery sought by the defendant therein, should be construed to evidence the absence of merit to plaintiff's opposition to discovery.   In an order entered June 11, 2009, the Civil Court denied plaintiff's cross motion for a protective order, in part, because “[plaintiff had] stipulated to the exact relief it now wishes to dispute.”   The order further granted defendant's motion to the extent of consolidating the 202 actions “for the limited purpose of determining ․ issues of plaintiff's fraudulent incorporation within the meaning of Mallela,” and directing that, within 90 days of the order, plaintiff must produce Dr. Solomon for a deposition “to answer questions concerning plaintiff's fraudulent incorporation within the meaning of Mallela ” and that, within 60 days, plaintiff must “[p]rovide complete responses to defendant's discovery demands including but not limited to all factoring agreements or assignment of the disputed bills in question, all federal, state and local income tax returns for Radiology Today, P.C. from 2006 to present, the names and addresses of all persons and entities with financial interest in the plaintiff as defined by Public Health Law § 238 ․, all employee information as demanded ․ [and] all management agreements and personal tax return[s] of Dr. Robert Solomon from the year 2006 to [the] present.”

The order also stated that plaintiff's failure to provide the discovery granted would “support motions to dismiss.”   Plaintiff declined to comply with the order insofar as it granted defendant's motion to compel discovery, and, by order dated October 9, 2009, the Civil Court dismissed the 202 consolidated actions.   A judgment was entered on November 16, 2009.   Plaintiff appeals from so much of the judgment as dismissed the complaint in the case at bar.

 The defense that plaintiff is ineligible to receive no-fault benefits because it failed to comply with state or local licensing requirements “is not waived by the failure to assert it in a denial of claim form ․ nor is it precluded as a result of an untimely denial” (Multiquest, P.L.L.C. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 17 Misc.3d 37, 39, 844 N.Y.S.2d 565 [App. Term, 2d & 11th Jud. Dists. 2007] [citations omitted] ).   No-fault benefits may not be paid to medical service corporations which submit “materially false filings with state regulators” (Mallela, 4 N.Y.3d at 321, 794 N.Y.S.2d 700, 827 N.E.2d 758) or, if properly formed under the “facially valid cover of ․ nominal physician-owners” (id. at 319, 794 N.Y.S.2d 700, 827 N.E.2d 758), are operated by nonphysicians (id. at 321, 794 N.Y.S.2d 700, 827 N.E.2d 758).   In the latter case, “carriers may look beyond the face of licensing documents to identify willful and material failure to abide by state and local law” (id.), in particular, “New York State or local licensing requirement [s]” (Insurance Department Regulations [11 NYCRR] 65–3.16[a] [12] ).

 Plaintiff contends that the discovery order was improper because, in the answer and in support of its motion to compel discovery, defendant failed to “state[ ] in detail” the “circumstances constituting the wrong,” citing CPLR 3016(b).  There is no requirement that a defense predicated upon the failure to comply with “New York State or local licensing requirement[s]” (Insurance Department Regulations [11 NYCRR] 65–3.16[a][12] ) be pleaded with particularity pursuant to CPLR 3016(b) (see generally V.S. Med. Servs., P.C. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 25 Misc.3d 39, 889 N.Y.S.2d 360 [App. Term, 2d, 11th & 13th Dists. 2009] ).   In addition, while mere conclusory allegations are never sufficient to obtain discovery with respect to a Mallela-based defense, defendant's motion papers were sufficient to demonstrate that a Mallela-based defense was potentially meritorious.   Plaintiff's motion for a protective order, filed nearly four months after defendant had served its supplemental discovery, was untimely (see CPLR 3122[a];  Fair Price Med. Supply Corp. v. ELRAC Inc., 12 Misc.3d 119, 122, 820 N.Y.S.2d 679 [App. Term, 2d & 11th Jud. Dists. 2006] ).   The failure of a party to timely challenge the propriety of discovery demands normally “obligate[s] it to produce the information sought” (New Era Acupuncture, P.C. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 24 Misc.3d 134[A], 2009 N.Y. Slip Op. 51396[U], *1, 2009 WL 1927831 [App. Term, 9th & 10th Jud. Dists. 2009];  see Fausto v. City of New York, 17 A.D.3d 520, 522, 793 N.Y.S.2d 165 [2005] ), with the exception of items which are palpably improper or privileged (see Fausto, 17 A.D.3d at 522, 793 N.Y.S.2d 165;  Marino v. County of Nassau, 16 A.D.3d 628, 791 N.Y.S.2d 438 [2005] ).   As most of the discovery demands were not palpably improper or privileged, and in light of plaintiff's failure to provide any discovery, the judgment, insofar as appealed from, dismissing the complaint in the case at bar is affirmed.

In view of the foregoing, we pass on no other issue.