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Juma Daniels v. New York University College of Dentistry

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK APPELLATE TERM: 2nd, 11th and 13th JUDICIAL DISTRICTS


January 24, 2012

JUMA DANIELS,
APPELLANT,
v.
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF DENTISTRY,
RESPONDENT.

Appeal from a judgment of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Richmond County (Mary Kim Dollard, J.), entered April 28, 2010.

Daniels v New York Univ. Coll. of Dentistry

Decided on January 24, 2012

Appellate Term, Second Department

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

This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

PRESENT: WESTON, J.P., PESCE and RIOS, JJ

The judgment, after a non-jury trial, dismissed the action.

ORDERED that the judgment is affirmed, without costs.

In this small claims action, plaintiff seeks to recover the sum of $5,000 based on a claim of dental malpractice. Following a non-jury trial, the Civil Court found in favor of defendant, and a judgment was entered dismissing the action.

The standard of review on appeal of a small claims judgment is whether "substantial justice has . . . been done between the parties according to the rules and principles of substantive law" (CCA 1807). Resolution of issues of credibility is for the trier of fact, as it had the opportunity to observe and evaluate the testimony and demeanor of the witnesses (see McGuirk v Mugs Pub, 250 AD2d 824 [1998]; Richard's Home Ctr. & Lbr. v Kraft, 199 AD2d 254 [1993]), and its decision should not be disturbed on appeal unless it is obvious that its determination could not have been reached under any fair interpretation of the evidence (see Claridge Gardens v Menotti, 160 AD2d 544 [1990]). The deference normally accorded to the credibility determinations of a trial court "applies with greater force" in small claims proceedings (Williams v Roper, 269 AD2d 125, 126 [2000]), given the limited scope of review (see CCA 1807) and the often attenuated record available on appeal.

A plaintiff in a dental malpractice action must establish that the defendant departed from good and accepted dental practice and that such departure was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries (see Cohen v Kalman, 54 AD3d 307 [2008]; Knutson v Sand, 282 AD2d 42 [2001]). Although small claims courts are held to a more relaxed standard concerning certain statutory rules of evidence (see CCA 1804), a plaintiff in a small claims action for dental malpractice generally must establish the elements of malpractice through expert testimony (see Blum v Yuabov, 12 Misc 3d 139[A], 2006 NY Slip Op 51333[U] [App Term, 2d & 11th Jud Dists 2006]; Davis v Levine, 4 Misc 3d 143[A], 2004 NY Slip Op 51101[U] [App Term, 2d & 11th Jud Dists 2004]; see also Cava v Fox, 22 Misc 3d 132[A], 2008 NY Slip Op 52648[U] [App Term, 9th & 10th Jud Dists 2008]; Crennan v Omnicare Dental, 9 Misc 3d 127[A], 2005 NY Slip Op 51503[U] [App Term, 1st Dept 2005]). A review of the record in this case indicates that plaintiff failed to establish, through expert testimony, the elements of dental malpractice.

To the extent that plaintiff contends that the dental students who treated him were not sufficiently supervised by defendant's faculty, in violation of the Education Law, the defense witness testified to the contrary and the defense exhibits supported that testimony. The Civil Court found defendant's version of the facts to be more credible, and we find no basis to disturb that determination.

Accordingly, as the Civil Court's determination provided the parties with substantial justice according to the rules and principles of substantive law (see CCA 1804, 1807), the judgment is affirmed.

Weston, J.P., Pesce and Rios, JJ., concur.

Decision Date: January 24, 2012

20120124

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