Monday, August 11, 2008

This Is the Way We Lick the Stamp, Lick the Stamp, Lick the Stamp...

Horton Med., P.C. a/a/o Steve Williams v. New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co.

(App. Term, 2nd Dept., decided 7/30/2008)

In REVERSING the Queens County Civil Court's award of summary judgment to the plaintiff, the Appellate Term, Second Department, majority (Patterson and Rios) held that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should have been denied because the affirmation submitted by plaintiff's billing manager was insufficient to establish that she possessed personal knowledge of plaintiff's office practices and procedures so as to lay a foundation for the admission, as business records, of the documents annexed to plaintiff's moving papers.

The majority sustained the denial of New York Central's summary judgment cross motion, however, based on its finding that the affidavit executed by defendant's no-fault litigation examiner failed to establish that New York Central timely mailed its verification requests based upon its standard office practice or procedure designed to ensure that items are properly addressed and mailed.

With respect to the issue of attorneys' fees, the majority noted:
Since the issue is not raised, we do not pass on whether the eighth cause of action, seeking attorney's fees, constitutes a separate cause of action for pleading purposes under the No-Fault Law or whether it is merely an element of the damages recoverable on the substantive causes of action (see generally Rocanova v Equitable Life Assur. Socy. of U.S., 83 NY2d 603, 616 [1994]). We note, however, that even were we to find that it is not a separate cause of action for pleading purposes, we would, upon dismissing said "cause of action," deem the complaint amended to demand attorney's fees as part of the damages sought in each of the remaining causes of action (see Bunker v Bunker, 73 AD2d 530 [1979]).
Justice Golia authored a strong dissent to the majority's disapproval of the affidavit of New York Central's mailing procedures:
My disagreement with my colleagues turns, in large part, on the issue of what constitutes sufficient proof of mailing. I find that the affidavit of Ms. Annie Jordan, defendant's no-fault litigation examiner, is more than sufficient to establish that the verification requests were mailed and that the follow-up requests were timely and properly sent in accordance with the protocols set forth in the regulations. Unlike the facts in Hospital for Joint Diseases v Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. (284 AD2d 374, 375 [2002]), in which the court found that the "employee had no personal knowledge that the . . . form had been mailed . . .," in this case, Ms. Jordan specifically states that "I have personal knowledge that in compliance with that policy and business duty . . . the verification letters were dated and generated, copies of the verification letters were mailed to Horton Medical P.C., 40 Horton Ave., Lynbrook, N.Y. . . . ."

She further stated in her affidavit that:

"It is [defendant's] office practice and [defendant's] claims examiners are under a business duty to mail all verification letters to the address applicant lists on the bills on the same day the verification letters are dated and generated. I have personal knowledge that in compliance with that policy and business duty, on 08/24/05, 09/08/05, 09/14/05, 09/28/05, 09/29/05, 10/11/05. 10/14/05, 11/03/05, 11/16/05, 12/19/05, the dates the verification letters were mailed to [plaintiff at] the address listed on the bills. Copies were also mailed to Plaintiff's assignor. I have personal knowledge that the postal service did not return the verification letters as being undeliverable."

As stated by the Court of Appeals in Nassau Ins. Co. v Murray (46 NY2d 828, 830 [1978]), the real question is whether or not the party has established the following:

"office practice must be geared so as to ensure the likelihood that a notice . . . is always properly addressed and mailed."

To the best of my understanding, the only reason that I can intuit as to why the majority finds this affidavit of mailing procedures to be insufficient is that it does not deconstruct the process itself. That is, it does not state that the office procedure entails affixing the proper postage, placing the envelopes in the care and custody of the U.S. Postal Service, etc.

I do not believe that such a strict catechism is necessary in order to trigger the legal presumption of mailing. Indeed, the plain meaning of the word "mailing" in and of itself denotes a process and not a concept. It is applicable only to the U.S. Postal Service. Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed 2004) defines "mail" as a noun meaning:

"one or more items that have been properly addressed, stamped with postage, and deposited for delivery in the postal system."

"Mail" is also defined as a verb to mean:

"to ensure that a letter, package, etc. is properly addressed, stamped, and placed into a receptacle for mail pickup."
It should not be the province of this Court to require that a party to an action recite all the component parts encompassed by the act of this unique word "mailing" in much the same way that "plebes" at a military academy are required to recite all the component elements of the act of "walking" before taking a walk. For the military to require such strict adherence can make sense. For the courts to do so is unreasonable.
Atten-hut! I can see it now. No-fault insurers forming precision mailing drill teams and competing in statewide competitions, perhaps as entertainment for the state legislators during one of their emergency summer budget sessions. Now that would be demonstrative evidence.

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