New York SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE TERM, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 9th and 10th JUDICIAL DISTRICTS
April 27, 2012
FREDERICK KLARER, ESQ., RESPONDENT, --
GREGORY JOHN FISCHER, APPELLANT. GREGORY JOHN FISCHER, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
ASHLEY ANNE CLARK, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.
Appeal from a judgment of the District Court of Suffolk County, Third District (C. Stephen Hackeling, J.), entered December 14, 2010.
Klarer v Fischer
Decided on April 27, 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This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.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: IANNACCI, J.P., NICOLAI and MOLIA, JJ
The judgment, entered pursuant to an order of the same court dated January 19, 2010 granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability and setting the matter down for an inquest on the issue of damages, awarded plaintiff, following the inquest, the principal sum of $9,705.
ORDERED that the appeal is dismissed and all proceedings taken in the District Court, including the judgment entered December 14, 2010, the "decision after inquest" entered April 27, 2010, and the order dated January 19, 2010, are vacated.
Plaintiff brought this action in the District Court of Suffolk County to recover amounts allegedly due and owing for services rendered to defendant, a former client, in connection with plaintiff's legal representation of defendant in a Family Court proceeding. As a first cause of action, plaintiff sought to recover $14,195.10 in legal fees, plus costs and disbursements, representing the value of the legal services rendered in the Family Court proceeding pursuant to a retainer agreement executed between the parties. As a second cause of action, plaintiff sought to recover, pursuant to the terms of the retainer agreement, the "reasonable legal fees" incurred in the instant action, in an amount to be determined by the court, "but not to exceed $15,000." Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, which defendant opposed. By order dated January 19, 2010, the District Court granted plaintiff's motion on the issue of liability and set the matter down for an inquest. Following the inquest, the District Court determined, in a "decision after inquest" entered April 27, 2010, that plaintiff was entitled to the principal sum of $9,705. A judgment was entered on December 14, 2010. On this court's own motion (see 2011 NY Slip Op 93512[U]), defendant's notice of appeal from the "decision after inquest" entered April 27, 2010 has been deemed to be a premature notice of appeal from the judgment entered December 14, 2010 (see CPLR 5520 [c]).
Pursuant to UDCA 202, the District Court has jurisdiction over money
actions in which the amount sought to be recovered does not exceed
$15,000. Where several causes of action are asserted in a complaint,
and each of them would be within the monetary jurisdiction of the
court if sued upon separately, the District Court has jurisdiction
over the action (UDCA 211). In the instant case, plaintiff's claims
for attorney's fees and for breach of contract are interrelated (see
Board of Mgrs. of Sea Breeze II Condominium v Kwiecinski, 2003 NY Slip
Op 51434[U] [App Term, 9th
& 10th Jud Dists 2003]) since defendant's alleged breach of his payment
obligations arose under a single retainer agreement, and therefore constitute a single
cause of action (see 930 Fifth Corp. v King, 42 NY2d 886, 887-888 ). A single cause of
action may not be divided merely for the convenience of the plaintiff in seeking a forum so as to
circumvent the monetary jurisdictional limit of the court (see Swiss Hamlet Homeowners Assoc., Inc. v
Souza, 13 Misc 3d 87 [App Term, 9th & 10th Jud Dists 2006]), and the aggregate sum of plaintiff's "two"
causes of action exceeded the District Court's monetary jurisdictional limit.
Accordingly, since the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the appeal is dismissed, and all proceedings taken in the District Court, including the judgment entered December 14, 2010, the "decision after inquest" entered April 27, 2010, and the order dated January 19, 2010 are vacated since they are nullities.
Iannacci, J.P., Nicolai and Molia, JJ., concur.
Decision Date: April 27, 2012
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