Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Second Department Holds Defective Acknowledgement in Prenuptial Agreement Can be Cured by Extrinsic Proof of Notary who took signature.

            In Koegel v Koegel, --- N.Y.S.3d ----, 2018 WL 736117, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 00833 (2d Dept., 2017), the Appellate Division observed that the Court of Appeals, in Galetta, left open the issue of whether a defective acknowledgment can be cured by extrinsic proof provided by the notary public who took a party’s signature, and held that under the circumstances of this case such proof remedied the defective acknowledgment.

            At the outset it pointed out that Matisoff v Dobi, 90 N.Y.2d 127, 681 N.E.2d 376, 659 N.Y.S.2d 209, (1997) was not controlling here. In Matisoff, a case involving a postnuptial agreement in which the parties waived any rights of election provided by the EPTL, “it [wa]s undisputed…that the document was not acknowledged by the parties or anyone else” (90 NY2d at 130). The case at bar differed from Matisoff since here, there were certificates of acknowledgment of the signatures of Irene and the decedent, but the certificates did not contain the required language for acknowledgment as currently required by the Real Property Law. Similarly, reliance on D’Elia was misplaced since the agreement in that case was not acknowledged at the time of execution. The statement in D’Elia that “[i]t is uncontroverted that the parties’ postnuptial agreement was not properly acknowledged at the time that it was executed” (14 AD3d at 478) was not referring to a defective acknowledgment, but instead, to the absence of any acknowledgment,

            In Galetta v Galetta, 21 N.Y.3d 186, 991 N.E.2d 684, 969 N.Y.S.2d 826 (2013) the parties executed a prenuptial agreement before different notaries at different times one week before their wedding took place in July 1997 (21 NY3d at 189). As here, it was undisputed that the signatures on the document were authentic and there was no claim that the agreement was procured through fraud or duress. The certificate of acknowledgment relating to the wife’s signature contained the proper language (see id. at 190). However, in the acknowledgment relating to the husband’s signature, the certificate failed to indicate that the notary “confirmed the identity of the person executing the document or that the person was the individual described in the document” (id.). The husband filed for divorce and the wife separately filed for divorce and for a declaration that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable (see id.). The wife moved for summary judgment on her cause of action seeking declaratory relief, contending that the agreement was invalid because the certificate of acknowledgment relating to the husband’s signature did not comport with the Real Property Law requirements. The husband opposed the motion on the basis that the language of the acknowledgment substantially complied with the Real Property Law. He also submitted an affidavit from the notary who had witnessed his signature in 1997 and executed the certificate of acknowledgment (see id.). “The notary, an employee of a local bank where the husband then did business, averred that it was his custom and practice, prior to acknowledging a signature, to confirm the identity of the signer and assure that the signer was the person named in the document. He stated in the affidavit that he presumed he had followed that practice before acknowledging the husband’s signature” (id. [emphasis added]). The Supreme Court denied the wife’s motion, finding that the acknowledgment substantially complied with the requirements of the Real Property Law. A divided Fourth Department affirmed the order albeit on the different ground that, although the acknowledgment was defective, the deficiency could be cured after the fact and that the notary’s affidavit raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the agreement had been properly acknowledged when executed (see 96 AD3d 1565, revd 21 NY3d 186)

            With respect to the issue of whether the certificate of acknowledgment accompanying the husband’s signature was defective, the Court of Appeals determined that without stating” to me known and known to me,’” the certificate failed to indicate either that the notary knew the husband or had ascertained through some form of proof that the husband was the person described in the prenuptial agreement (21 NY3d at 193). The Court noted that: “At the time the parties here signed the prenuptial agreement in 1997, proper certificates of acknowledgment typically contained boilerplate language substantially the same as that included in the certificate accompanying the wife’s signature: before me came (name of signer) to me known and known to me to be the person described in and who executed the foregoing instrument and duly acknowledged to me that s/he executed the same’” (id. [footnote omitted]). The Court pointed out that the” to me known and known to me to be the person described in the document’” language “satisfied the requirement that the official indicate that he or she knew or had ascertained that the signer was the person described in the document” (id.). It also observed that” [t]he clause beginning with the words and duly acknowledged’ established that the signer had made the requisite oral declaration” (id.). Given the failure to include this language in the acknowledgment of the husband’s signature, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Fourth Department that the acknowledgment did not conform with statutory requirements (see id. at 194).

            Since the Court of Appeals determined that the certificate was defective, it then turned to address the question of “whether such a deficiency can be cured and, if so, whether the affidavit of the notary public prepared in the course of litigation was sufficient to raise a question of fact precluding summary judgment in the wife’s favor” (id.). However, in looking at the proof submitted by the husband, the Court of Appeals stated that it “need not definitively resolve the question of whether a cure is possible because, similar to what occurred in Matisoff, the proof submitted here was insufficient” (id. at 197).

            The Court of Appeals analyzed in detail the affidavit of the notary submitted by the husband in opposing the wife’s summary judgment motion. The Court pointed out that the notary only recognized his own signature and had no independent recollection of notarizing the subject document (see id.). Given these statements, the Court found that the husband could not rely on the notary’s custom and practice to fill in the evidentiary gaps because “the averments presented by the notary public in this case [we]re too conclusory to fall into this category” (id.). Further, the Court stated that if the notary had recalled acknowledging the husband’s signature, “he might have been able to fill in the gap in the certificate by averring that he recalled having confirmed [the husband's] identity, without specifying how” (id. at 198). However, since the notary did not recall acknowledging the husband’s signature and was attempting to rely on custom and practice evidence, the Court stated that “it was crucial that the affidavit describe a specific protocol that the notary repeatedly and invariably used — and proof of that type is absent here” (id.).

            In Koegel, the Appellate Division found that the situation at bar was akin to the hypothetical described by the Court of Appeals in Galetta, where the notaries here, the decedent’s law partner and Irene’s attorney, actually recalled acknowledging the signatures at issue. In such a situation, the Court of Appeals explained that the confirmation of the identity of the signer, through an affidavit, is sufficient without having to explain how the identity was confirmed (see id.). Although, in support of her motion, Irene submitted the prenuptial agreement with the defective acknowledgments to demonstrate that the agreement was invalid, the Surrogate’s Court properly declined to dismiss the petition on the basis of documentary evidence in light of John’s submission in opposition to her motion. To supplement the allegations of the petition, in opposition, John submitted affidavits which showed that the petition may be meritorious in spite of the documentary evidence. In response to the assertion that the prenuptial agreement was invalid as improperly acknowledged, the affidavits of Donovan and Jacobsen specifically stated that each observed the document being signed, took the acknowledgment in question, and personally knew the individual signer signing before him. In so doing, the defect in the acknowledgment was cured in order to give vitality to the expressed intent of the parties set forth in the prenuptial agreement. Accordingly, the Surrogate’s Court properly denied Irene’s motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and Domestic Relations Law §236(B)(3) to dismiss the petition. Therefore, the order was affirmed.

No comments:

Post a Comment