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People v. Zappula

New York Justice Court, Village of Muttontown, Nassau

October 10, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of New York,
v.
Luke ZAPPULA, Defendant.

Joseph R. Carrieri, Carrieri & Carrieri, Mineola, for the People.

Adam H. Rosenblum, The Rosenblum Law Firm, Clifton, for Defendant.

MARTIN I. KAMINSKY, J.

By Opinion & Order on July 17, 2013, the Court dismissed without prejudice an [975 N.Y.S.2d 599] earlier action against this defendant alleging a speeding violation (per Simplified Information No. BD73141941) since the People had not served a supporting deposition timely. People v. Nuccio, 78 N.Y.2d 102, 571 N.Y.S.2d 693, 575 N.E.2d 111 (dismissal for failure to serve a timely supporting deposition does not preclude re-filing of the case); People v. Green, 192 Misc.2d 296, 745 N.Y.S.2d 656; People v. Rossi, 154 Misc.2d 616, 624, 587 N.Y.S.2d 511.

Thereafter, the People sought to re-institute the case by mailing a new Simplified Information, i.e. an appearance ticket (No. BD7314914), alleging the same violation to defendant and the attorney who had represented him in the original action. Defendant moves to dismiss the new action on the ground that service was allegedly legally insufficient because the appearance ticket was not personally served upon him. Cf. § 150.40(2) of the Criminal Procedure Law, which provides that " [a]n appearance ticket, other than one for a traffic infraction relating to parking, must be served personally ..." . Prieser, Practice Commentary to CPL 150.40(2) , 11A McKinney's Consol. Laws of N.Y. § 150.40(2) at 580 (" the ticket [must] be served personally in all cases other than a traffic infraction parking violation" ).

The People contend in response that, because this is merely a " re-filing" of the case and that defendant was already aware of the charge, their service was proper.[1] In other words, the People say this case is a continuation of the prior case, not a new action and, in any event, that personal service of the accusatory instrument is not required in these circumstances.

The questions presented thus are: [1] does a dismissal " without prejudice" require the filing of a new separate action, or does it allow one to proceed on new papers in the existing action?; and [2] if a separate action, must service of process be made as required for an entirely new action, or can service be made in a less formal manner, since the defendant already has notice of the charge against him?

A threshold matter is whether the Court can even determine this motion at this time since, in a traffic case like this, jurisdiction is generally obtained only after an arraignment; so that a motion to dismiss before arraignment is a nullity. See, e.g., People v. Byfield, 131 Misc.2d 884, 885, 502 N.Y.S.2d 346 (" service of an appearance ticket upon a person, whether proper or improper, does not confer personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction" ); People v. Ayala, 37 Misc.3d 1232(A), 966 N.Y.S.2d 348, 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 52295(U) (an appearance ticket issued to a defendant is merely an invitation to appear'). See also: People v. MacFarlane Co., 130 Misc.2d 70, 494 N.Y.S.2d 826. While accepting the basic premise of the Byfield ruling, the Court believes that the question here relates to personal jurisdiction, not subject matter jurisdiction. Defendant's objection to service is, in effect, an objection to the Court's exercising jurisdiction over him. However, the Criminal Procedure Law does not have a provision like § 320(c) of the Civil Practice Law and Rules allowing a defendant to make a special appearance to contest service without subjecting himself/herself to jurisdiction. Morris et al., Village, Town and [975 N.Y.S.2d 600] District Courts in N.Y. § 3:209 at 3-95(2012); Byfield, supra. Hence, by appearing and asking for the Court's assistance, the defendant waived any objection he may have to personal jurisdiction. Ayala, supra. Hence, the Court will hear this motion on the merits.

The Court has not been cited to, and is not aware of, New York authority squarely on point on the two questions presented. But, authority in other contexts is instructive.

Cases dealing with the effect of a " without prejudice" dismissal under the Civil Practice Law & Rules have held that such a dismissal requires that an entirely new action be filed. For example, in Chiacchia & Fleming LLP v. Guerra, 309 A.D.2d 1213, 1214, 765 N.Y.S.2d 134, rearg. and lv. to app. den., 2 A.D.3d 1491, 2003 WL 23111400, app. den. 2 N.Y.3d 704, 778 N.Y.S.2d 774, 811 N.E.2d 36, the court dismissed the case when, following a dismissal without prejudice, the plaintiff simply filed a new Summons and Complaint under the original index number. The court held that, because CPLR § 304 requires the purchase of an index number for the commencement of an action, that same requirement applies when one seeks to re-file a prior action which has been dismissed without prejudice. Accord Sosa v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 2004 WL 5641557, Sup.Ct. Kings No. 46343/01 Slip Op. of April 20, 2004 Cf. Schoemann v. Adams, 28 A.D.3d 1212, 1213, 814 N.Y.S.2d 469 (denying dismissal where, when the new action was filed, the court clerk had incorrectly assigned the old index number to the new action).

This strict approach to the commencement of a civil action has since been relaxed. In 2007, CPLR § 2001 was amended to provide that mistakes, errors and technical defects in the commencement of an action, including the defects in the cases cited above, may be " corrected" or, where non-prejudical, even " disregarded" . See discussion in Ruffin v. Lion Corp., 15 N.Y.3d 578, 580, 915 N.Y.S.2d 204, 940 N.E.2d 909.[2] However, the amendment did not address the effect of a dismissal " without prejudice" ; so that Chiacchia & Fleming remains good law on that subject.

The Court has not found authority as to effect of a " without prejudice" dismissal under the Criminal Procedure Law. But there does not appear to be a cogent reason not to reach the same result on this issue as that in civil cases. Unlike a without-prejudice-dismissal that is coupled with leave to replead or do something further in the same case, the dismissal here did not provide for the Court to retain jurisdiction for anything further in the original action. Therefore, the dismissal [975 N.Y.S.2d 601] ended the original case; and that action is over. That the dismissal was " without prejudice" means that the prior decision did not necessarily finally resolve the parties' controversy, because, in absence of another legal impediment (e.g. expiration of a limitations period), the People can file a new case to purse their claim. [3] But, if the People wish to proceed against defendant, they had to and have to comply with the rules applicable to a new action.

That said, the question remains whether, in such a new action, service of process must be made in the same manner as any other new action. More specifically, since defendant is admittedly aware of the charge and took active steps to defend against it in the original action, did the " without prejudice" nature of the dismissal of that action eliminate the requirement in the CPL for personal service in a new action based on the same charge?

Here again, practice under the CPLR is instructive. Adopting the legislature's relaxed approach to CPLR § 2001, the Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the 2007 amendment also applies to " technical nonprejudicial [sic] defects" in the service of process. Ruffin, supra. But, the Court made clear that it was not referring to the " substantial" defects in the mode of service and that " simply mailing the documents to the defendant or e-mailing them ... would present more than a technical infirmity" warranting correction or disregard under CPLR 2001. Id. Thus, service in a civil action must still be made in accordance with the language of the applicable CPLR section regarding service. See, e.g., Mtr. of Grant v. Senkowski, 95 N.Y.2d 605, 609, 721 N.Y.S.2d 597, 744 N.E.2d 132.

CPLR § 308, like CPL § 150.40(2), specifies the required mode of service on a " natural person" . CPLR § 308 is generally applied as written; and the fact that the defendant learned of the action still does not cure improper service when the defendant timely moves to dismiss on that ground. Ruffin, supra (" defendant's actual receipt of the summons and complaint is not dispositive of the efficacy of service" ). See also Macchia v. Russo, 67 N.Y.2d 592, 594-95, 505 N.Y.S.2d 591, 496 N.E.2d 680 (" the statutory requirements [for personal service] could not be plainer", and " in a challenge to service of process, the fact that a defendant has received prompt notice is of no moment" ).

Because jurisdiction attaches in a different manner under the CPL and the CPLR, there is scant authority as to the requirements of service and the effect of insufficient service. Morris et al., supra § 3:206 at 3-94. But, the policy as to service of process is persuasive under the CPL, even though other procedural issues under those statutes vary. Thus, the case law under CPL § 150.40(2), albeit not involving re-filing after a dismissal without prejudice, has required strict adherence to the stature's express requirement of personal service. People v. DiLorenzo, 149 Misc.2d 791, 794, 566 N.Y.S.2d 458 (" CPL article 150 must be construed, in light of its language and purpose, to require personal delivery of an appearance ticket to the defendant." ). See also People v. Neuberger, 149 Misc.2d 1, 5, 570 N.Y.S.2d 256; People v. Baxter, 148 Misc.2d 1009, 562 N.Y.S.2d 354; People v. Gross, 148 Misc.2d 232, 560 N.Y.S.2d 227, rejecting proffered rationale for service by mail.

As the Court explained in DiLorenzo, supra, " personal service on a ‘ defendant, whose liberty will be at stake in a criminal action, serves to assure his right to adequate notice ...’ " This concern is [975 N.Y.S.2d 602] equally applicable to a re-filed action since, without assurance of notice to the defendant, he/she may not realize that the People have actually recommenced a dismissed case against him/her. Even where possible incarceration may not be involved, the penalties involved in a traffic case are severe enough to require that the defendant be served as the legislature decreed. Service is sufficiently important that, even if (as here) the defendant does learn of the re-filing, he/she is entitled to the type of service as required by CPL § 150.40(2) for the same reasons that is required in a civil action.

The People admittedly did not serve the new Uniform Traffic Summons as required by CPL § 150.40(2). The statute is explicit as to how the summons should have been served; and the defendant has declined to waive that requirement. Accordingly, service of process in this action was defective and insufficient.

For the foregoing reasons, this action is dismissed for failure to make legally sufficient service of process.

So Ordered.


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