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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Court of Appeals has amended its Rules of Practice, effective June 22, 2016.

Principal briefs filed on normal course appeals, certified questions and review of the determinations of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct are subject to a 14,000 word limit. Requests to exceed the limit may be made by letter. Rule 500.1 1 submissions (the Alternative Procedure for Selected Appeals), reply briefs, amicus curiae briefs and briefs in response to amicus curiae briefs are subject to a 7,000 word limit. The amended Rules provide corresponding page limits for briefs that are handwritten or prepared on a typewriter. The new word and page limits apply to all appeals for which the preliminary appeal statement is filed on or after the June 22 effective date.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Court of Appeals Holds Consecutive Commitments are Authorized by Family Court Act § 454(3)

In Matter of Columbia County Support Collection Unit, v. Risley, 2016 WL 3147588 (2016) the Court of Appeals held that Family Court, in revoking two prior suspended orders of commitment, was authorized to order consecutive six-month sentences for each to run consecutively with a third six-month sentence imposed for a current violation. The Court, in an opinion by Judge Garcia, observed that Family Court is empowered “to use any or all enforcement powers in every proceeding brought for violation of a court order” of support (Family Ct Act § 454[1] ). Such powers include the authority to sentence willfully non-compliant parents to jail “for a term not to exceed six months [,]” but also to suspend such orders of commitment when appropriate (see Family Ct Act §§ 454[3][a], 455[1] ). The Appellate Division rejected the contention that consecutive commitments were not authorized by Family Court Act § 454(3) and concluded that “[g]iven the father’s failure to contest the amounts due and his willful refusal to voluntarily pay them despite repeated opportunities afforded to him over more than three years, we find no abuse of discretion in the determination to run the sentences consecutively” (122 AD3d 1097, 1098 [3d Dept 2014] ). The Court of Appeals agreed with the Appellate Division and affirmed its order.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Court of Appeals Rejects "adequate relevant information standard" applied by the Courts in Custody Cases

In S.L. v J.R., ___NY3d ___, 2016 NY Slip Op 04442 (2016) the Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Garcia, reversed an order of the Appellate Division, which affirmed Supreme Court's decision in a custody case not to conduct an evidentiary hearing based on its determination that the court possessed "adequate relevant information to enable it to make an informed and provident determination as to the child's best interest." The Court rejected the “undefined and imprecise” adequate relevant information" standard applied by the courts below which tolerates an unacceptably-high risk of yielding custody determinations that do not conform to the best interest of a child nor adequately protect a parent whose fundamental right, the right to control the upbringing of a child, hangs in the balance. The Court observed that in rendering a final custody award without a hearing, Supreme Court appeared to rely on, among other things, hearsay statements and the conclusion of a court-appointed forensic evaluator whose opinions and credibility were untested by either party. It pointed out that a decision regarding child custody should be based on admissible evidence, and there was no indication that a "best interest" determination was ever made based on anything more reliable than mere "information." Moreover, while Supreme Court purported to rely on allegations that were "not controverted," the affidavit filed by Mother plainly called into question or sought to explain the circumstances surrounding many of the alleged "incidents of disturbing behavior." The Court of Appeals held that these circumstances do not fit within the narrow exception to the general right to a hearing. It reaffirmed the principle that, as a general matter, custody determinations should be rendered only after a full and plenary hearing. It declined, to fashion a "one size fits all" rule mandating a hearing in every custody case statewide. However, where, as here, facts material to the best interest analysis, and the circumstances surrounding such facts, remain in dispute, a custody hearing is required. Significantly, the Court held that “ a court opting to forego a plenary hearing must take care to clearly articulate which factors were, or were not, material to its determination, and the evidence supporting its decision.” Under the circumstances of this case, a plenary hearing was necessary.