McClelland v. Robinson

Decision Date16 February 1978
Citation94 Misc.2d 312,405 N.Y.S.2d 165
PartiesBruce McCLELLAND and Nicholas Bentley, by Lester Brudin, Agent, Petitioners, v. James ROBINSON and John Hand, Respondents.
CourtNew York City Court

Hal Eisenstein, New York City, for plaintiffs.

Robert Projansky, New York City, for defendants.


After trial respondents move by order to show cause to vacate the decision of this Court of January 10, 1978, Sup., 405 N.Y.S.2d 163 and to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The proceedings primarily involved the issue of leased loft premises used in part for residential purposes and the claim that landlords' required a residential certificate of occupancy and failure to secure it was an absolute defense to the collection of rent. It is tenants' contention that the landlords' petition is by the agent, Brudin, who also verified the petition; that pursuant to the change effected in RPAPL # 721, effective July 1, 1977, L.1977, c. 247, Sec. one repealing RPAPL # 721(8), he had no right to do so leaving no proper party petitioner and thus a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Landlords concede that Brudin was incorrectly identified as petitioner but point out that the petition both in its caption and body correctly identified the respective interests of the parties.

Tenants' answer raised the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction and reference to this defense is set forth in tenants' attorney's affirmation in support of the order to show cause. The defense was not raised at trial, however, but at oral argument on this motion the attorney contended that the defense was originally set forth only in relation to his clients' position that a multiple dwelling was involved and that only after noticing the recent decision of Zisser v. Bronx Cigar Corp., 91 Misc.2d 1025, 399 N.Y.S.2d 109, did he become aware of the applicability of the recent amendment to RPAPL # 721. The attorney for tenants at oral argument conceded personal jurisdiction, fair notice and fair trial but contends that, nevertheless, failure to have subject matter jurisdiction mandates the dismissal of the petition.

The question of what defects in a petition are serious enough to result in a jurisdictional bar denying the Court subject matter jurisdiction in a statutory proceeding ordinarily requiring strict construction continues to be troublesome. It is at odds with the liberal attitude encouraged by CPLR # 104, 2001, 2101(f), 3025 and 3026 which generally provide for correction of defects if a substantial right of a party is not prejudiced. In this regard it has been held that a petition in a summary proceeding is no different than a pleading in any other type of civil case (Jackson v. N.Y.C. Housing Authority, 88 Misc.2d 121, 387 N.Y.S.2d 38).

Also troublesome is the potential misuse of this defense. If available, it permits a party to risk the trial and if dissatisfied with the result, move to vacate for lack of subject matter jurisdiction for this defense can be raised at any stage of the litigation, even appeal. (Deile v. Boettger, 250 App.Div. 633, 295 N.Y.S. 115; 1 Weinstein, Korn & Miller, N.Y.Civil Practice, # 301.05.)

The reflex use of the rubric "subject matter jurisdiction" has come under increasing criticism. It has been suggested in Presidential Management Co. v. Farley, 78 Misc.2d 610, 359 N.Y.S.2d 424, where the Court held that a defect in a caption could be cured, that it has been too loosely applied in landlord-tenant matters. And it has been said that in petitions it has been overused and abused so as to lose its original meaning. (Fitzgerald v. Washington, 80 Misc.2d 861, 365 N.Y.S.2d 598; Rosgro Realty Co. v. Braynen, 70 Misc.2d 808, 810, 334 N.Y.S.2d 962, 965; Hirent Realty Corp. v. Mosely, 64 Misc.2d 1011, 1013, 317 N.Y.S.2d 592, 593; Jackson v. N.Y.C. Housing Authority, supra.) Also to be considered is that with the expanded jurisdiction of the Housing Court permitting tenants to initiate proceedings, (N.Y.C. Civil Court Act # 110) the potential trap of defective pleadings is no longer set for one party only.

There is a strong presumption that in rendering a judgment the Court has jurisdiction both of the person and the subject matter. (Verney v. Verney, 53 A.D.2d 608, 383 N.Y.S.2d 905; Matter of Spring, 280 App.Div. 642, 117 N.Y.S.2d 356.) The Restatement of Judgments # 10 holds that the judgment of a Court having jurisdiction over the parties to an action should generally not be vulnerable to attack for want of subject matter jurisdiction.

In determining whether a defect in...

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10 cases
  • In re Delta Motor Hotel of Syracuse, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of New York
    • April 6, 1981 McClelland v. Robinson, 94 Misc.2d 308, 309, 405 N.Y.S.2d 163 (Civ.Ct. City of N.Y., N.Y.Co.1978), motion denied, 94 Misc.2d 312, 405 N.Y.S.2d 165 (1978); see also, 21 N.Y.Jur., Estoppel, Ratification, and Waiver, § The record bears these facts concerning the party to be estopped (Le......
  • In re Eastern Systems, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of New York
    • July 19, 1989 McClelland v. Robinson, 94 Misc.2d 308, 309, 405 N.Y.S.2d 163 (Civ.Ct. City of N.Y., N.Y. Co.1978), motion denied, 94 Misc.2d 312, 405 N.Y.S.2d 165 (1978). Eastern has failed to meet its burden of proof under the theory of equitable estoppel. First, there was no conduct by UDC which ......
  • Pezner v. Schumeyer
    • United States
    • New York Family Court
    • November 25, 1986
    ...most of those decisions involve matters other than subject matter jurisdiction, such as lack of standing to sue (McClelland v. Robinson, 94 Misc.2d 312, 405 N.Y.S.2d 165 ), absence of a condition precedent to suit (1890 Realty Co. v. Ford, 121 Misc.2d 834, 469 N.Y.S.2d 533 ), procedural irr......
  • Kock v. Government of Virgin Islands
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • February 6, 1987
    ...parties submitted their original claim had subject matter jurisdiction. See Lambert, 536 F.2d at 1185; McClelland v. Robinson, 94 Misc.2d 312, 405 N.Y.S.2d 165, 167 (N.Y.Civ.Ct.1978); Restatement (Second) of Judgments Sec. 12 comment d (1982). "It is just as important that there should be a......
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