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Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Oliver

March 27, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Ciaffa, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed Official Reports.


In an era when tent cities and new Hoovervilles are rising from the ashes of a foreclosure crisis all across America (NY Times, 3/26/09, p.1), the petitioner, Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., asserts a direct legal challenge to the Court's equitable authority to consider a request for "more time" by a family facing a post-foreclosure eviction. For the reasons stated hereinafter, the Court rejects the challenge, and reiterates that the Court retains the power and equitable discretion to consider claims of genuine hardship in the face of an imminent eviction.

By order to show cause dated March 10, 2009, the Court temporarily stayed the petitioner and the sheriff from evicting the respondent, Judith Lawrence, pending the hearing and determination of her pro-se motion for "more time." Her moving affidavit alleges that she has resided in the subject premises since 1990. During a divorce action, she sold the house to a friend who failed to pay what was owed, and the house was eventually lost through a foreclosure and sold to petitioner.

The Court file reflects that petitioner acquired the premises on October 21, 2008, via a referee's deed "in consideration of the sum of $500.00." A few weeks later, petitioner served a ten day "notice to quit" upon Tessa Oliver, "John Doe" and "Jane Doe." Thereafter, by Notice of Petition dated December 1, 2008, and made returnable January 14, 2009, respondent, Judith Lawrence, was served by name for the first time. On the return date, she entered into a stipulation of settlement on a standard form used by petitioner. As far as the Court file reflects, respondent was not represented by counsel.

In pertinent part, the stipulation provided that "[t]he Court will enter a final judgment of possession in favor of Owner and issue a warrant of eviction forthwith" and further provided "[t]he warrant will not execute until after 3/10/09 (the Vacate Date') provided Occupants do everything promised in this Agreement." The stipulation also identified respondent's 92 year old mother, Dorothy Lawrence, as a person "more than 60 years of age, mentally or physically ill or disabled" who was residing in the premises with respondent.

On February 13, 2009, Judge Fairgrieve signed a holdover judgment awarding possession of the premises to the petitioner but staying "enforcement and execution" until March 10, 2009.

Respondent, Judith Lawrence, made a timely application to this Court for "more time" by filing her request for an Order to Show Cause on March 10, 2009. Her affidavit, on a form provided by the Court, appears to ask for nothing more than "more time." Although the Court form includes broad, boilerplate language, respecting general requests for relief from a default, it also includes language through which the applicant may seek "such other and further relief as may be just and proper" as well as language providing that, "pending the determination of this motion that the . . . warrant of eviction be stayed."

Judith Lawrence's moving affidavit presents an extremely compelling equitable case for "more time." In simple, indeed moving terms, she states: "I need more time as my mom lives with me - she is 92 years. I am getting her in a nursing home and SS documents are delayed as she has dementia. I just need more time. Thank you."

The Court signed the order to show cause, temporarily staying petitioner and the sheriff from evicting respondent conditioned upon her payment into Court of $500.00. Petitioner has now presented to me an ex parte order that, if signed, would vacate the order to show cause. In pertinent part, the application to vacate contends that the order I signed "was in excess of the equitable authority of this Court as granted by statute."

According to petitioner, the "sole equitable relief" permitted on application of a holdover occupant after a judgment of possession "is the statutory authority to grant a stay of issuance or execution of a warrant of eviction for a period not greater than six months from the date of entry of judgment," further conditioned upon payment "for the occupation of the premises for the period of the stay and such deposit shall also include all rent unpaid by the occupant prior to the period of the stay" (citing RPAPL §753). Based on the provisions cited, petitioner contends that "the relief in the Order was beyond the jurisdiction of this Court to grant except upon condition of payment of $10,000.00 [for five months' use and occupancy] to the Owner or into the Court."

The Court must reject the petitioner's contentions. CPLR 2201 broadly empowers the Court to grant a stay of proceedings "in a proper case, upon such terms as may be just." The propriety of granting a stay in any given case is limited only by "the Court's own sense of discretion, prudence and justice" (Joseph v. Cheeseboro, 42 Misc 2d 917, 919 [Greenfield, J.], rev'd on other grounds, 43 Misc 2d 702).

Contrary to petitioner's contention, the RPAPL does not constrain the Court. Indeed, the provisions cited by petitioner (RPAPL §753) on their face apply only to proceedings "to recover possession of premises in the city of New York." A different section (RPAPL § 751) once incorporated provisions relating to discretionary stays "outside the city of New York" (§751[4][a]). The latter provisions, ...

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