Search This Blog

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Court of Appeals Holds Where Party Represented by Counsel Family Court Objections Must Be Served Upon Him.

    In Matter of Odunbaku v Odunbaku, 2016 NY Slip Op 07705 (2016) the Court of Appeals held that if a party is represented by counsel, the time requirements set out in Family Court Act § 439 (e) for objections to a support magistrate's final order, when the order is served by mail, do not begin to run until the order is mailed to counsel.

    The mother retained Staten Island Legal Services to represent her in her efforts to obtain child support from respondent father, with whom she had a son. Through counsel, who represented her throughout the proceedings she obtained a support order. Subsequently a different support magistrate granted the father's petition for downward modification and reduced the father's child support obligation. The order and findings, dated July 24, 2013, was mailed by the Clerk of Family Court directly to the father and to the mother, but not to the father's lawyer or the mother's lawyer. On September 3, 2013, 41 days after the orders were mailed, the mother, through counsel, filed objections. Family Court denied the bjections as untimely, relying on Family Court Act § 439 (e), which provides that "[s]pecific written objections to a final order of a support magistrate may be filed by either party with the court within thirty days after receipt of the order in court or by personal service, or, if the objecting party or parties did not receive the order in court or by personal service, thirty-five days after mailing of the order to such party or parties" (emphasis added). The Court ruled that "the mailing of a copy of the order and findings of fact to a party of the proceedings satisfied the requirements of § 439 (e) and [22 NYCRR] 205.36 (b)" and that "neither the Family Court Act nor [22 NYCRR 205.36 (b)] specifically requires that the Clerk of Court shall mail a copy of the Support Magistrate's order and decision to a party's attorney."

    The mother appealed relying on Matter of Bianca v Frank (43 NY2d 168 [1977]). The Appellate Division affirmed relying on 22 NYCRR 205.36  (b) which  provides that "[a]t the time of the entry of the order of support, the clerk of [Family Court] shall cause a copy of the findings of fact and order of support to be served either in person or by mail upon the parties to the proceeding or their attorneys."

     The Court of Appeals reversed holding that Matter of Bianca v Frank was dispositive. There, it held that once counsel has appeared in a matter a Statute of Limitations or time requirement cannot begin to run unless that counsel is served with the determination or the order or judgment sought to be reviewed". The Bianca Court recognized that this principle would not apply if a legislative enactment specifically excluded the necessity of serving counsel by stating the legislative "intention to depart from the standard practice . . . in unmistakable terms" . The Court noted that the  rationale of Bianca is straightforward. "[O]nce a party chooses to be represented by counsel in an action or proceeding, whether administrative or judicial, the attorney is deemed to act as his agent in all respects relevant to the proceeding. Thus any documents, particularly those purporting to have legal effect on the proceeding, should be served on the attorney the party has chosen to handle the matter on his behalf”

    The Court held that Bianca governed and the reference to the mailing of the order to a "party or parties" in Family Court Act § 439 (e) must be read to require that the order be mailed to the party's counsel, in order for the statutory time requirement to commence. While section 439 (e) uses the term "party," the statute does not convey in language that could not be mistaken that mailing to a represented party is dispositive for time requirement purposes and mailing to counsel is unnecessary, notwithstanding Bianca.

No comments:

Post a Comment