By Joe Latwin
The Rye City Court has jurisdiction over several types of civil cases.
Civil Actions for Monetary Damages
The first category are general civil actions for money damages where the amount demanded is $15,000 or less. No injunctive or equitable relief is allowed. Most of these cases involve failure to pay credit card balances, failure to pay tradesmen, and breaches of contracts.
These cases can only be brought if there is a connection to the City of Rye. Either plaintiff or defendant must be a resident of Rye, or have a regular place of employment or place for transaction of business in Rye. The defendant must have: transacted business within the city; committed a tortious act within the city, except for defamation of character arising from the act; or owns, uses or possesses any real property situated within the city. The defendant must be amenable to be served within Westchester County.
The parties usually have an attorney since legal papers must be prepared and filed by the parties. After the plaintiff files and serves a summons and complaint, the defendant must file an answer, usually within 30 days after service of the complaint. If the defendant fails to file an answer, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. When an answer is filed the Court will hold a preliminary conference to see if the case can be settled, and if not, enter an order setting forth the timetable for the parties to make discovery, complete motions, and to set a pretrial conference date. The trial will follow. Although permitted, these cases rarely have jury trials.
The second category is landlord-tenant cases. The rented property must be in Rye. Most are cases for non-payment of rent. The amount or rent that may be recovered is unlimited. Some of the landlord-tenant cases are holdover proceedings where the tenant is alleged to remain in the property after the lease term ends due to the expiration of the lease or some breach of the lease that ends the lease.
Almost all landlords use attorneys since the papers and procedures are highly technical and minor mistakes may lead to dismissal or delay. There are often predicate documents that also must be delivered, i.e., demands for rent, or notices of termination. The proceeding is commenced by the filing and service of a notice of petition and petition. Short time periods are involved. On the return date, the tenant must enter an answer, either in writing or orally.
Sometimes, tenants will enter defenses or counterclaims, such as a breach of the warranty of habitability or the lack of a proper predicate document. No disclosure is allowed except by court order which is rarely granted. A prompt trial date is required. Because of the possibility of eviction, many of these cases are settled before trial.
After the trial, if the landlord is successful, the court will enter a judgment and issue a warrant of eviction. The City Marshal will give notice to the tenant and after the expiration of the notice period may evict the tenant from the premises and return possession to the landlord. These cases rarely have jury trials.
Next week Latwin plans to discuss small claims and commercial claims.