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Shaw v. Point Lookout Toys, LLC

City Court of Long Beach, Nassau County

January 2, 2018

Jamie Shaw and CHRISTINA SHAW, Plaintiffs,
Point Lookout Toys, LLC., 110 OCEAN, BMJC, LLC, LOUIS G. CORNACCHIA, Defendants.

          The plaintiffs are represented by: Robert A. Smith, Esq.

          The defendants are represented by: Maria J. Aramanda, Esq.

          COREY E. KLEIN J.

         This small claims matter arises out of a dispute involving a multi-million dollar beachfront property located at 110 Ocean Boulevard in Point Lookout, New York. The plaintiffs, Jamie Shaw and Christina Shaw, commenced the instant small claims action against the defendants, Point Lookout Toys, LLC, 110 Ocean, BMJC, LLC, and Louis G. Cornacchia, seeking to recover $5, 000, alleging that they were entitled to the return of a security deposit they provided to the defendants in connection with a residential lease for the subject premises. The defendants filed an answer with counterclaims, wherein they alleged that the plaintiffs caused certain damage to the subject premises in the amount of $11, 156.55, and in which they also sought attorney's fees pursuant to the subject lease agreement.

         In recognition of the small claims court's monetary jurisdiction of $5, 000 (see Uniform City Court Act ["UCCA"] §1801), counsel for the defendants filed an amended answer with a counterclaim detailing an alleged breach of the lease agreement and damages allegedly caused by the plaintiffs. Such counterclaim capped the relief sought at $5, 000, and eliminated the claim for attorney's fees. In the amended answer, the defendants referenced a complaint they had filed in the Supreme Court, Nassau County, seeking monetary damages, a declaratory judgment, and attorney's fees. A review of that complaint indicates that it seeks damages in an unspecified amount expected to exceed $15, 000.

         At a conference before this Court held on November 1, 2017, the parties addressed the potential impact that the defendants' Supreme Court action might have upon the instant action. [1] Defense counsel stressed that due to this Court's jurisdictional constraints, the defendants' claims could only be partially litigated in this Court. Defense counsel contended that the Supreme Court action would provide the defendants with an opportunity to fully litigate its claims. Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that, irrespective of the Supreme Court action, the instant action should be litigated in this Court.

         The Court requested the parties to submit legal memoranda addressing the issue of how the instant matter should proceed. In the defendants' papers, the defendants argue that the instant matter should be dismissed, or, in the alternative, stayed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court action. The plaintiffs challenge the legitimacy of both the equitable relief and the amount of damages sought by the defendants in the Supreme Court action, suggesting that the defendants' motivation for both is to "get away from the Long Beach Court." The plaintiffs, citing UCCA §1805, also contend that a transfer to the civil part of the Long Beach City Court is the appropriate procedural remedy in circumstances where a small claims counterclaim exceeds $5, 000.

         The Court will first address the plaintiffs' arguments. As to the plaintiffs' claims regarding the legitimacy of the relief sought in the Supreme Court action, this Court is without authority or jurisdiction to act with regard to the Supreme Court action. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs remain free to pursue whatever defense strategy and/or motion practice in the Supreme Court as they see fit.

         Turning to the plaintiffs' reference to UCCA §1805, the Court must initially acknowledge subdivision (c) of that section, which provides:

"No counterclaim shall be permitted in a small claims action, unless the court would have had monetary jurisdiction over the counterclaim if it had been filed as a small claim. Any other claim sought to be maintained against the claimant may be filed in any court of competent jurisdiction."Thus, this subdivision simply precludes counterclaims in the small claims part which exceed the jurisdictional limit of $5, 000. It also, however, permits a defendant in a small claims action to pursue a claim against the small claims plaintiff in any court of competent jurisdiction. The jurisdictional limit of this Court's civil part is $15, 000 (see UCCA §202), which precluded the filing of the Supreme Court action in that part.

         The Court must also acknowledge UCCA §1805(b), which permits the transfer of "any small claim or claims to any other part of the court upon such terms as the rules may provide, and proceed to hear the same according to the usual practice and procedure applicable to other parts of the court." This provision, however, is inapplicable to the instant circumstances. As it stands, the plaintiffs have filed a small claims action in this Court, and the defendants have filed an action in the Supreme Court seeking equitable relief and a money judgment in excess of $15, 000. As stated above, this Court has no authority over the Supreme Court action, and there is no reason for this Court to consider a transfer of the small claims action to the civil part of this Court at this time. Therefore, although it does not appear that the plaintiffs are seeking a transfer of the instant matter to the civil part, the Court does note that the plaintiffs' interpretation of UCCA §1805 is incorrect.

         Turning to the defendants' position, defendants seek either dismissal of the instant action or, alternatively, a stay of the instant action to make a motion in the Supreme Court, ostensibly pursuant to CPLR 325(b), for removal of the instant action to the Supreme Court. The defendants' rationale for such relief is based upon their concerns regarding potential inconsistent rulings and judicial economy, should the instant small claims action proceed along with the Supreme Court action.

         While the Court appreciates the defendants' concerns, they must be weighed against the "salutary purposes of small claims courts which is to provide a simple, informal and inexpensive procedure for the prompt determination of claims within its jurisdiction" (Kilinski v Melendez, 182 Misc.2d 55, 57 [Sup Ct, Nassau Co. 1999], citing UDCA §1802 [the UCCA §1802 counterpart applicable to District Court]). Indeed, these underpinnings of small claims court have been deemed a substantial right to which parties are entitled.

         For example, in Moise v Brown, 26 Misc.3d 1224 (A) (Sup Ct, Kings Co. 2010), the plaintiff, Charles V. Moise, commenced an action in the Supreme Court, Kings County, alleging that a motor vehicle owned by defendant Clarence Brown and operated by Keon K. Brown, came into contact with a motor vehicle owned by the plaintiff, causing injury. The plaintiff Moise moved, pursuant to CPLR 602, to transfer to the Supreme Court an action commenced by Keon K. Brown against the plaintiff Moise in the small claims court, and, after transfer, consolidating the small claims action with the Supreme Court action for a joint trial. The Supreme Court denied the motion, finding that transfer and consolidation would prejudice a substantial right of the ...

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