Courts are unusual institutions. Sometimes they believe they have the power to do anything, or create their own procedures. Take the example of Pavel Yutsis Physician, P.C. v Staten Is. Univ. Hosp., 2008 NY Slip Op 00469 decided by the Second Department on Tuesday.
In April 1999, the plaintiffs had entered into a contract with the defendants to provide administrative and professional services. However, based upon what they believed were improper billing and business practices, the defendants issued a letter dated February 20, 2002, to the plaintiffs which terminated the agreement.
The plaintiffs commenced an action and their complaint alleged that the defendants breached their contract with the plaintiffs by failing to pay the sum of $290,000 relating to services the plaintiffs performed in January 2002, and by failing to pay the sum of $250,000 relating to services the plaintiffs performed between February 1, 2002, and February 20, 2002. In pre-trial proceedings, the Supreme Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ equitable claims and directed a jury trial. The jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the defendants finding that it was the plaintiffs that had breached the agreement, not the defendants.
The plaintiffs then, however, made a post-verdict motion in which they requested “a hearing to determine the amount due to plaintiffs from defendants under [the parties’ contract] for the period January 1, 2002 through February 20, 2002.” For reasons which were not clear from the record, this portion of the breach of contract cause of action was not submitted to the jury. In response to this post-verdict motion, the trial court ordered the defendants to produce certain evidence that had not been adduced at trial. The defendants, over objection, complied and produced voluminous records. Based on these post-verdict submissions, the trial court issued an order finding that the plaintiffs were entitled to judgment in their favor in the principal sum of $441,697.
The Second Department reversed finding that the trial court simply had no authority, after the jury trial had concluded with a verdict in favor of the defendants, to compel the defendants to produce additional evidence and then, based on such evidence, issue a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. It stated that the CPLR does not authorize this procedural course of action.
Indeed it would appear that the only action the trial court could have taken would be under a post-trial motion under CPLR 4404(a) to either (1) set aside the verdict and direct that judgment be entered in favor of the plaintiff as a matter of law, or (2) order a new trial if the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. There is nothing in CPLR 4404, or elsewhere, which would allow the court to take additional evidence on motion and then render a judgment on that evidence.