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John P. Buvis v. Peter R. Buvis

New York Supreme and/or Appellate Courts SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE TERM, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2d, 11th and 13th JUDICIAL DISTRICTS

January 14, 2013


Appeal from a judgment of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Queens County (Stephen S. Gottlieb, J.H.O.), entered July 1, 2009.

Buvis v Buvis

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This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on January 14, 2013


The judgment, after a non-jury trial, awarded plaintiff the principal sum of $3,039.56.

ORDERED that the judgment is affirmed, without costs.

Plaintiff commenced this small claims action to recover from defendant, his brother, the amount plaintiff had paid for defendant's share of property and school taxes on property jointly owned by six members of their family. After a non-jury trial, the Civil Court awarded plaintiff the principal sum of $3,039.56.

The decision of a fact-finding court should not be disturbed upon appeal unless it is obvious that the court's conclusions could not be reached under any fair interpretation of the evidence (see Claridge Gardens v Menotti, 160 AD2d 544 [1990]). This standard applies with greater force to judgments rendered in the Small Claims Part of the court (see Williams v Roper, 269 AD2d 125, 126 [2000]). The determination of a trier of fact as to issues of credibility is given substantial deference, as a trial court's opportunity to observe and evaluate the testimony and demeanor of the witnesses affords it a better perspective from which to assess their credibility (see Vizzari v State of New York, 184 AD2d 564 [1992]; Kincade v Kincade, 178 AD2d 510, 511 [1991]).

A small claims court is generally not "bound by statutory provisions or rules of practice, procedure, pleading or evidence," and all that is required is that proceedings be conducted "in such manner as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law" (CCA 1804). In this non-jury trial involving two self-represented parties, defendant claims that he did not get a fair trial because he was not afforded the opportunity to call a witness on his behalf or to cross-examine plaintiff's witnesses. While much of the questioning of the witnesses was done by the Civil Court, in an attempt to elicit the relevant facts, defendant failed to raise any objection during the trial concerning its conduct, and there is no indication from the reconstructed record that he was prevented from raising such objections.

Contrary to defendant's contention, the Civil Court, in determining the amount to be awarded plaintiff, did not consider defendant's unpaid share of taxes dating from 1986. Instead, it advised the parties that it would consider only the tax payments which plaintiff had made during the six years prior to the commencement of the action (see CPLR 213). Furthermore, the court properly calculated defendant's share of the taxes at 12.7%, which, defendant acknowledged, was the share for which he was responsible. At trial, plaintiff stated that he was seeking to recover $3,090.96, which was the total amount of defendant's share of taxes that plaintiff demonstrated he had paid during the course of the past six years. Although the tax documents submitted to the court support this amount, the court awarded plaintiff judgment in the principal sum of $3,039.56. However, because plaintiff does not cross-appeal from the judgment on the ground of inadequacy, we leave the judgment undisturbed and find that it rendered substantial justice between the parties in accordance with the rules and principles of substantive law (CCA 1807).

Accordingly, the judgment is affirmed.

Pesce, P.J., Weston and Aliotta, JJ., concur. Decision Date: January 14, 2013


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